As a part of the UPLIFT project the Community of Knowledge meets to evaluate youth-focused social policy innovations. The committee is made of representatives from the partner organisations and meets bi-weekly to share findings and discuss many topics related to policy innovations as we work through our research at our independent organizations. One of the topics that we recently discussed was the role of EU funding in influencing the creation, development and spread of policy innovations. Since UPLIFT is an EU funded project, we want to understand how we are a part of policy innovation and what limitations we may face.
After discussing examples of innovative policies across the EU and having some healthy debate about what characteristics make these policies transformative, the group concluded that EU funds can often facilitate innovation by financing policy innovation projects. New policy solutions can be risky since they aim to try new solutions, and ones that sometimes that haven’t been tested or proven yet. As such, it can be difficult for governments to take the risk to fund these projects. Therefore, the EU can take over this risk by funding projects, making these innovative policies possible. This is very common in Central and Southern Europe, where most of the policies that can be considered innovative are financed from EU sources. In many Member States, EU funds create the financial freedom for public organizations to take risks that they wouldn't otherwise have the financial or political independence to take, since they would need to follow clear directions from the central state who can’t always take the opportunity to try something transformative, but uncertain.
As with most topics we discuss though, there are many sides to the argument. While EU funds do allow for flexibility, they also create barriers for developing innovative solutions. Innovation is possible when there is a space to experiment and flexibility to define how a policy will be implemented and adjust as the programme is carried out. In many cases EU resources tend to be rigid, with fairly strict rules and reporting requirements, making it difficult to be flexible. So, EU funds are good tools for mitigating risk and facilitating innovation to a certain extent, when the policy/programme is somewhat standardized, however real flexible and bottom-up solutions are rarely born on the soil of EU funds.
The Community of Knowledge meets bi-weekly to discuss some of the broader themes coming out of this project, which we will continue to share here. Look out for a mind map of youth policy innovation and more discussion on how we can be innovators in policy.