Business growth and innovation funding targeted at small and medium enterprises (SMEs) help them build their skills and capacity, develop new products and services, and ultimately be more competitive and profitable. This in a longer term contributes to building the wealth and wellbeing of regions, however local citizens often do not see the immediate effects of support provided from a public purse. Innovative solutions developed through support programmes are often deployed far away from where they were born hence the skill and potential is underutilized in the local communities. SMEs that have been already supported, rarely have a follow-up relationship with the support provider organisation, resulting to the lack of information of the development these SMEs have shown in that time and the return on investment made.
To address those issues, three partners have come together to exchange good practises and collaboratively propose solutions through a Horizon 2020 funded project – Design Challenge Pilot.
Business and Cultural Development Centre – KEPA (Greece), Estonian Design Centre and PDR’s Design & Innovation Policy Team peer reviewed co-creation approaches to setting up a solution that addresses a local challenge, satisfying the affected target group, capitalizing the expertise of the innovative SMEs of the region/country and enabling local authorities both improve the use of public money and raise their citizens’ satisfaction rates.
Based on the identified good practices and through a remote co-creation process, the partnership developed a design-led methodology for solving local challenges with engagement of the community and SMEs. The process emphasizes the importance of the preparatory phase – identifying and clearly articulating the issue to be addressed and well as getting on board all relevant stakeholders. The methodology was tested in Thessaloniki by the lead partner KEPA. Together with a civil society organisation - Social Dynamo, a joint initiative of the Bodossaki Foundation and the City of Athens, they decided to direct the urban social challenge towards the empowerment of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Thessaloniki. KEPA and Social Dynamo brought together CSOs and SMEs in a series of online workshops called the Super CitizenS(ME) Lab. They were working together to propose potential and viable social impact projects that could be delivered in collaboration between the parties. These workshops demonstrate that the innovative capability within SMEs can be redirected towards positive social impact, and that Design Thinking activities present a useful approach in stimulating the required activity. This is an important first step in harnessing SME innovative capability for social impact and provides an opportunity for innovation policy that benefits SMEs, CSO and governmental social impact ambitions.
Project activities – the peer-learning process and the pilot action, are documented in the Design Options Paper – that will hopefully serve as an inspiration to other innovation support organisations to activate their SMEs in solving local challenges.