Local background of the social innovations
The history of social policies in Navarra during the last 30 years shows a certain degree of ambivalence. The regional and local governments have frequently boasted of having a level of social service provision clearly above the Spanish average and of being a pioneer in the development of social services. A financially and politically strong regional and local government in a small, comparatively wealthy and less unequal region has allowed a stronger development of services. In some cases, especially during the 1980s and early 1990s, this meant the introduction of services previously unknown in the region.
Civil society organisations have a long tradition in Navarra. This is a result of a strong conservative tradition of local self–government, going back to the Carlist traditionalism of the nineteenth century, the strength of the Catholic church and its organisations and of the complex political development of these traditions since the 1960s. The radical changes undergone in Navarra beginning in the 1960s transformed a rural agrarian region into an industrial and service based one, concentrated much of its population in the capital, Pamplona, and opened up dramatic political cleavages between left and right, and between Basque nationalism and Navarrese regionalism.
Third sector organisations (TSOs) emerging from these processes are generally very much respected by most of the political and social spectrum, as they represent the spirit of solidarity of Navarra and its concern for the weakest. Although social innovation doesn’t seem to be an explicit political priority, new initiatives coming from TSOs tend to be seen with sympathy, even when they challenge the dominant views in the political sphere.
There are several ways in which they may be integrated. In some cases, they may be seen as limited actions for some special cases that fall out of mainstream programmes and require a careful personalised treatment, for which TSOs seem to be the perfect solution. This may be widely accepted by the “left” (as a way of expanding social action when it’s not possible to do it directly by means of public programmes) and the “right” (which feels quite comfortable when expanding the role of TSOs and containing direct public provision). In many cases a widespread political consensus on an initiative may not translate into the idea becoming an actual priority. The possibility of integrating the initiatives into two different (and sometimes opposed) narratives helps to establish consensus in many cases.
Aside from TSO initiatives and government predisposition towards allowing TSOs to develop their initiatives, pressure from the European Union (EU) and the central government have played a role. The pressure to establish action plans for social inclusion (Navarra set up its own plan long before it became compulsory) has eased the development of some initiatives (something has to be done in a specific field). On the other hand, the widespread discourse on “best practices” has encouraged the development of innovative initiatives, although they don’t always make their way into the mainstream.