23 SES 09 A, School Policies of Diversification
The concept of social innovation covers a broad range of processes and contexts focused on the development of innovative solutions to catering for social needs (Mulgan 2006). There is a fast growing literature on this, where different fields or sectors are discussed (Howaldt & Schwartz 2010). Education is one of them, but much less frequently treated than fields like housing, intercultural relations, environmental issues and childcare. The aim of this paper is to (a) develop an understanding of social innovation in the field of education, (b) to illustrate this through analysis of a specific case, and (c) to discuss the relationship and potential tension between social innovation and education policy especially in the context of European varieties of the welfare state.
Some definitions (for instance Phills, Deiglmeier & Miller 2008) emphasize that social innovation is a creative social process, in which actors with different roles and resources engage with each other in order to clarify needs and explore solutions. It thus has a strong element of what is usually termed user-driven innovation.
Emphasizing the process element also serves to clarify the difference between social innovation and general public policy. Social innovation is mainly a bottom-up process emerging in specific social settings in response to neglected social needs. Schemes developed through social innovation may later be generalized through public policy, and public policy can also deliberately try to encourage social innovation through frameworks and funding schemes. Social innovation strategies may be pursued at different levels, but the logic of the concept is that strategies should always be linked to the level of citizens’ everyday life situation and problems (Pedersen & Johansen 2012).
Different models of welfare policy and social provision are found in Europe, and they present different conditions and prospects for social innovation. For instance some countries have well established systems for general and vocational adult education including funding schemes that share costs between students and public funds, while other countries have little in the way of institutionalized adult education and funding schemes (Green et al 2006). In the first type of countries social innovation may concern for example the introduction of information technology or the establishment of new types of links between adult education institutions, workplaces and communities, while in the second type social innovation may more often concern the establishment of institutions frameworks and professionalized teaching arrangements for adult learners (Holford et al 2008).
A specific Danish case of social innovation will be presented and discussed in this context. It involves the development of special provision for gifted children in a municipal school system (Rasmussen & Rasmussen 2007). Given the strong tradition of comprehensive public schooling in Denmark this was a project confronting tensions and objections from different actors. I argue that an innovative and balanced way of supporting the gifted children was found and map the conditions and strategies that made this possible.
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