Digital Social Innovation for Better Connected Government: The Case of Republic of Macedonia

Digital Social Innovation for Better Connected Government: The Case of Republic of Macedonia

Natalija Najdova (University Ss Cyril and Methodius in Skopje, Macedonia), Jasmina Belchovska Tasevska (United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Skopje, Macedonia), Smilka Janeska Sarkanjac (University Ss Cyril and Methodius in Skopje, Macedonia), Branislav Sarkanjac (University Ss Cyril and Methodius in Skopje, Macedonia) and Dimitar Trajanov (University Ss Cyril and Methodius in Skopje, Macedonia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4570-6.ch007


Social innovation (SI) refers to new products, processes, and methods that, in a creative and sustainable way, offer a better solution to social demands, which often requires changes in the practices of existing social systems. Digital social innovation (DSI) is ICT-based SI that uses digital technologies to invoke such changes. This chapter presents an insight into DSI in the Republic of Macedonia and reports the results of a survey to show the level of understanding, awareness, and knowledge of DSI in the country. Although the idea of DSI is to bypass the governments, motivate people to self-organize, and solve their societal problems, results suggest that without a good strategy, enough funding, and suitable societal governance, it is difficult to tackle the challenges of raising the awareness of an individual or a community that it is they themselves who are the change-enablers as members of a social network.
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Societies in the 21st century are facing numerous complex challenges. Among many of these societies, climate change, aging populations, high unemployment rates and inequality, corruption, urban overcrowding, increased conflicts, health, and education services for marginalized groups, demand urgent action. Traditional approaches to solving these challenges are undertaken by institutions like ministries, governments, and agencies, but this classic concept of good governance with its pillars (of market, state and civil society) are no longer sufficient or even adequate (Howaldt, Domanski & Kaletka, 2016; Murray, Mulgan & Caulier-Grice, 2008). Thus, a growing number of scientists and researchers are looking for the answers in the field of social innovation (SI). SI tends to be defined quite generically as new products, processes and methods that, in a creative and sustainable way, offer a better solution to one or more social demands whose satisfaction involves changes in the social practices of the existing social systems (Anheier & Korreck, 2013; Tevdovski, 2014; Hubert, 2010; Howaldt & Schwarz, 2010; Phills, Deiglmeier & Dale, 2008; Alvord, Brown & Letts 2004; Crozier & Friedberg, 1993; Datta, 2011).

The authors of this chapter prefer to use the definition of social innovation that highlights the importance of fostering social relationships and the concerted actions of citizens (Hubert, 2010), viz:

Social innovations are innovations that are social in both their ends and their means. Specifically, social innovations are defined as new ideas (products, services and models) that simultaneously meet social needs (more effectively than alternatives) and create new social relationships or collaborations. They are innovations that are not only good for society but also enhance society’s capacity to act.

Therefore, social innovation can be considered as a process of deliberate change in the existing social practices. It encompasses new ways of actions that are introduced in a certain social area. Social innovations include an intent, a plan, and effect or expected impact on the targeted social settings (Howaldt & Schwarz, 2010).

In a general sense, social innovation is as old as civilization itself. The novelty to the concept brought by the 21st century is ICT-based social innovation, generally known as Digital Social Innovation (DSI). Rapid changes in almost all segments of human life are today fueled mainly by technology (especially Information, Communication, and Mobile Technologies) as it has shaped this century more drastically than any other technology that existed before. However, ICT innovation is not usually driven by social needs, but is primarily focused on spotting opportunities for profit, especially in todays mechanized societies. Even though Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations has reconciled the personal and the social interest, it is evident that for-profit endeavors, or current political or non-governmental structures, these are not powerful enough to solve the abovementioned pressing social demands (Autio, Kenney, Mustar, Siegel & Wright, 2014; Saunders & Baeck, 2015; Heeks, 2009).

To put it more directly, here is a relevant question as posed by Antadze & Westley (2010):

What is the alternative to the market model? Are there ways in which the complexity of social innovation can work in favor of those wishing to see successful cases of social innovations changing social systems? If growth in demand is so hard to assess, in what ways can the media, governments, and foundations play a role in making disruptive innovations more successful, assuming that this is a goal?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Knowledge-Based Society (KBS): It is generally accepted that education, research and innovation make the knowledge-based society that strives for comprehensive human development. Hence, improvement of the quality of education and learning at all levels is needed. In the case of Macedonia, the populism of the main political parties, week culture of entrepreneurship and the fragile capacities of local communities have been undermining the road to KBS for decades. Main question is how to build the culture of respect for the educated.

Collibration: It is an intervention by a government to use the social energy created by the tension between two or more social groupings habitually locked in opposition to one another in order to achieve a policy objective by altering the conditions of their engagement without destroying the tension. Collibration could be very important for the countries of Western Balkans.

Republic of Macedonia: This is landlocked country in the Balkans region that has been granted the status of a candidate for accession to the European Union (EU) since December 2005. Macedonia has one of the weakest economies in Europe and has been in a painful and exhausting process of transition for 30 years, both economically and politically. The country is still struggling with high unemployment, corruption, weak infrastructure and a lack of investment.

Smart Economy: This is technology based, closely connected and using ICT applications for economic advancement, urban planning, and public health improvement. It brings together higher productivity, efficiency, and competitiveness through increased innovation. It is characterized by many new flexible forms of working and start-ups. Smart economy is expected to generate more products and services with less energy and pollution, and create social benefits. Smart economy in Macedonia should result from improvement of education and promotion of innovation.

Socio-Political Governance: This emphasizes the interactive framework involving both public and private actors in order to solve social problems or create social opportunities. We consider it as crucial responsibility shared by both public and private actors, Self-organization and autonomy at the micro level.

Washington Consensus: This covers policies and reforms, as presented by John Williamson of the Institute for International Economics in 1989. These were reforms designed for Third World countries, first in South America and later applied in the so-called transition from socialism to capitalism of the eastern European countries, after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. Here are some of those reforms: privatization of state-owned companies, deregulation, trade liberalization; opening up to foreign direct investment; strict fiscal policy, tax reform; market-determined interest rates, legal protection of property rights.

Digital Social Innovation: It is used to refer to the growing movement of people, projects and organizations using digital technologies to tackle some of society's biggest problems.

Health Promotion: It helps to go beyond the one-dimensional biomedical model of health and disease. It emphasizes the balance between man and his environment, and takes into account political, economic, social and cultural factors that determine health.

Good Governance: Here, we refer to The World Bank’s identification of four aspects to good governance: Public-sector management, accountability, legal framework for development, and transparency and information. To these, we can add deregulation, diffusion of knowledge and the importance of civil society, to extend the definition.

Developing Country: This refers to low- and middle-income generating countries (LMIC), that are relatively less developed, or in some cases underdeveloped countries with a less developed industrial base and a low Human Development Index (HDI) relative to developed countries.

Social Innovation: It is a process of deliberately changing of existing social practices. It encompasses new ways of actions that are introduced in a certain social area. Social innovations include an intent, a plan, and effect or expected impact on the targeted social setting.

Western Balkans: This area includes Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is one of the most underdeveloped regions in Europe. The Western Balkans includes countries that face numerous challenges such as unemployment, immigration, economic stagnation, and ethnic tensions.

ICT: It is a widely accepted abbreviation that refers to information and communication technologies that include any communication tools, instruments, or applications, including hardware and software for computers and networks, satellite systems, radio, television, mobile phones, etc., and diverse services related to them.

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