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Social innovation in local development:

Swedish national context

Funding and governance of Swedish services

Sweden is currently divided into 290 municipalities and 20 county councils/regions. For many years, an ongoing process of restructuring the county councils/regions has been occurring. The merger of county councils into larger units was first suggested in 2007 and the most recent investigation into regional reform began in summer 2015. In Sweden, municipalities and county councils are responsible for public services in a variety of welfare sectors. Municipalities are responsible for basic schooling, care services for children and for the elderly, recreational and cultural activities, water supply and sewerage, rescue services and refuse disposal. County council responsibilities centre mainly on public health and medical services, but also include some duties in connection with public transport and regional cultural institutions. Municipalities and county councils collect taxes directly from their citizens, giving them a rather high degree of autonomy and strength.

Key issues in remote and sparsely populated areas

The rural parts of Sweden are quite diverse, encompassing sparsely populated areas, urban fringes, archipelagos and smaller cities. In June 2015 the Swedish Government launched a new national strategy for regional development with four key societal challenges at its core – demographic development; globalisation; climate, environment and energy; and social cohesion. Four regional development policy priorities for 2020 were set:

  • Innovation and entrepreneurship
  • Attractive environments and accessibility
  • Competence maintenance, and
  • International cooperation.

To enhance the collaboration and dialogue between the national and regional levels, a new forum for collaboration was established for civil servants and politicians at both levels. A parliamentary committee was also formed which will develop proposals for a comprehensive policy for sustainable rural development in Sweden. Final conclusions are to be delivered in 2017 and “should contribute in rural areas to innovative and resilient companies, attractive living and housing environments, and sustainable use of natural resources”. SI is not mentioned in the directives.

Social innovation in Sweden

There is currently a lack of common understanding and definition of both social innovation and social enterprise in Sweden. In the Innovation strategy for Sweden adopted by the former (centre-right) government in 2012, SI and SE were highlighted as important aspects of the national strategy to address societal challenges in both urban and rural areas. Within the innovation strategy work, there was an effort to widen the policy discourse to embrace a wider set of stakeholders and policy areas, and also to put societal challenges at the heart of the efforts of enhancing the national innovation capability. Another initiative of the strategy was the establishment of the Forum for Social Innovation, hosted at the University of Malmö, designed to be a national knowledge hub for social innovation and social entrepreneurship.

The current Swedish government (Social Democrats and Green Party alliance) has put innovation at the forefront of the policy agenda including the Innovation Council in February 2015. To date, the focus of the Council has been on issues such as life science, environmental technology, innovation procurement and digitalisation however there has been discussion of the need for a stronger emphasis on social innovation. Whether rural development forms part of this discussion is yet unclear.

Social innovation in local development

There have been substantial efforts to align the Innovation strategy for Sweden, with regional and local development strategies as well as the negotiated policy framework at the EU level regarding cohesion policy. Despite this, the explicit prioritisation of SI at the EU level, for example in the structural funds, is not clearly reflected in Swedish regional development policy. Despite this, there are a host of different actors in the Swedish policy landscape relevant to SI in a rural context including, Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket), Vinnova, the national innovation agency, The Swedish Board of Agriculture and the Swedish Association for Local and Regional Authorities. At a regional level, development strategies or innovation strategies at times relate explicitly to SI, though its relative importance and form varies from region to region. Jämtland-Härjedalen, Kronoberg ,Västerbotten and Skåne are examples of regions which explicitly address SI in a rural context through their innovation strategies.

Download the full National Contexts report including a complete listing of sources cited


Page last updated September 2016