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Filling the Right Knowledge Gaps: What Tools do Policy Makers Really Need to Promote SSE Through Public Policies?

17 Dec 2019

Filling the Right Knowledge Gaps: What Tools do Policy Makers Really Need to Promote SSE Through Public Policies?
The UNRISD project Promoting SSE through Public Policies: Guidelines for Local Governments is investigating which policy and institutional frameworks can best foster the development of robust social and solidarity economy (SSE) ecosystems at the subnational level. To do so, researchers are analysing original empirical evidence from six cities on four continents; and based on the results, they will develop guidelines that local governments can use to design and implement public policies that support SSE organizations and enterprises.

What type of information do policy makers want to see in these guidelines? Where are the gaps in their knowledge and experience that UNRISD research could usefully fill? To find out, the research team interviewed five policy makers at different levels of governance (city/regional/national) active in Catalonia, Cyprus, Mali, Mexico City and South Africa. This think piece summarizes what they told us about their needs and expectations, and can guide the research team as they move ahead with the project.


Our interviewees were selected based on recommendations from the scholars who are conducting the primary investigation in the six city case studies. The interviewees were first asked to fill in a questionnaire, which was followed by a semi-structured interview to follow up on their answers in more depth. The main objective was to learn about policy makers’ needs and expectations regarding the tools and information designed to support their work on SSE.


Areas of Policy
As respondents outlined issues they plan to work on over the next few years, the following knowledge gaps emerged that they would like to learn more about. They are organized by areas of public policies.

📋 Legal (constitutional) frameworks for SSE
  • Material related to the implementation of SSE and social enterprise laws, including more examples that are culturally relevant to each country's context.
  • Systematic collection and analytical comparison of existing legislation related to running a social enterprise certification programme.

📋 Supporting organizations for SSE
  • Material that contrasts different operating modes of local SSE networks (such as the ones in France or Canada) and explains how financial and institutional support can be granted to representative and apex organizations.

📋 Capacity building
  • Various tools intended to help SSE organizations become financially sustainable.

📋 Access to markets and finance
  • A review of subsidy schemes and tax incentives targeted at social economy enterprises.
  • A review of appropriate pathways to support social enterprises through public procurement (for example connected to the certification system mentioned above under Legal frameworks for SSE), and what types of services and products (such as care) lend themselves best to procurement from SSE organizations.
  • A review of innovative options (like “share doubling” in Italy, where the state or other actors finance one additional euro for every euro that members contribute to social cooperatives). “We need to know not only that such models exist, but which of these models actually work. And for those that didn’t work, it is equally important to know why they didn’t work; we need results from evaluations.”

📋 Research, data collection and knowledge transfer
  • Information on ways to improve and expand education programmes related to SSE, especially at the post-secondary level but also through other types of life-long learning such as vocational training, in-employment training and capacity development.
  • Information on ways to support research, data collection and knowledge transfer by linking the SSE sector to universities and strengthening research institutions.

📋 Other issues raised by the interviewees
  • Insights on how to work across “silos”, that is, how to coordinate and streamline work across different departments supporting SSE within the city administration.
  • Ideas for solutions to the challenges of gender inequality, and of maintaining institutional continuity as one generation of SSE leaders retires.
  • How SSE organizations can leverage technology and innovation.

Format of Guidelines
Respondents were also asked about their needs and expectations regarding the format of guidelines and other tools designed to support their work. They expressed the following preferences.
  • Examples that are culturally relevant to their context, which means going beyond the typical examples which are already well known. For example, there are very few case studies from Africa or the Middle East. New case studies should go off the beaten track.
  • Shorter formats that allow comparison between several cases and do not exceed a few pages. Checklists or comparative tables of good practices are very useful, making it quick and easy to spot relevant information.
  • Interactive methods of knowledge exchange, such as workshops and face-to-face training.
  • Online e-learning tools.
  • Practical information related to implementation, rather than a theoretical focus on development of legal frameworks and policy.


Co-creation practices, such as involving practitioners and potential users during the development and implementation of research projects, can help ensure that the findings and outputs address real needs and greatly enhance the potential for research uptake. This survey should serve to inform the development of the proposed guidelines, in terms of content, format and delivery, to the mutual benefit and satisfaction of not just the final users, but also the research team and the project’s funding partner.

The authors express wholehearted thanks to the interviewees for their time and thoughtful responses.


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This article reflects the views of the author(s) and does not necessarily represent those of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.