The social dimension has been in the European Agenda since the very beginning of the process of European integration, with social progress being explicitly mentioned in the Treaty on the European Union. It has since been the focus of several documents from the European Commission and included in the European strategies. As a means to measure it, and following the structure of the global Social Progress Index, the European Commission published the EU Regional Social Progress Index (EU-SPI) in 2016 and has recently launched a second edition with updated results.
The ambition of the European Commission was that the EU-SPI could inform regional development strategies, by helping to identify investment priorities and evaluate progress towards regional development goals. However, how can this be achieved?. For the last two years, Orkestra has worked with other European partners in the multi-region pilot project “Measuring what Matters to EU Citizens: Social Progress in the European regions” in trying to address this question. Here, we summarize some of the project’s findings, highlighting some examples from the regions involved, with the aim of inspiring reflection and debate among regional policymakers and other stakeholders that are also immersed in the ‘beyond GDP’ debate.
The first issue that emerges from the research is that the EU-SPI framework can be used by regional policymakers as a starting point when integrating social progress dimensions in the design and implementation of policies. For example, in Bratislava it has contributed to a better understanding of the municipal needs in terms of social progress and, consequently, a better use of funds. The methodology guide that Western Greece has developed on how to use the EU-SPI to identify which the major social weaknesses are and how they can be addressed with regional development means, can be a useful tool for other regions interested in such a process.
The second element that arises from the research is the potentiality of the index as a tool to measure social progress, allowing comparison with other European regions and opening the possibility to be used in conjunction with other frameworks such as the SDGs or the European Social Pillar Rights. Centro (Portugal) has developed a barometer that addresses both social and economic dimensions and provides a ranking of the region in different dimensions against the other Portuguese regions. Centro is also a good example of how the engagement of different type of stakeholders (academia, business, society…) is needed for building awareness on the value of social progress measurement in the territory.
The third element found is the application of the index at different territorial scales. For example, at the subregional level, taking into account territorial context is considered necessary in order to deepen the understating of the index results. Identifying social progress at the subregional level appears to be of high interest in the design and geographical implementation of policies, due to the heterogeneity that is found in the different social dimensions performance within a region (for instance, air pollution, an element of the EU-SPI environmental component, is more prevalent in cities than it is in the countryside). However, indicators at subregional level are hardly available for comparison across all European regions. The Catalonian case illustrates how this issue has been tackled: the EU-SPI has been replicated in two of the four NUTS3 Catalonian regions: Girona and Lleida. However, in order to understand the differences in performance within the region, the analysis has been conducted specifically in the components of the index in which Catalonia has the worst score, such as education, democratic quality and housing.
The fourth takeaway identified is that the sociodemographic context is also important for the index. Gender, race and age are not well reflected in the current index, but some regions are working in this direction. Umeå Municipality (Sweden) has used the EU-SPI and the SDGs as the main tools that permit the city to follow its performance over time on gender-related key issues and allows comparison with other regions in Europe. Hungary has acknowledged that low performance in the education component particularly affect their Roma population and has developed a programme devoted to support Roma students to get university or college degrees.
In summary, we can say that the new 2020 EU-SPI has incorporated some suggestions from the EU-SPI Pilot Project developed in 2018-2020. The multi-pilot field research has allowed the regions and the consortium to open a dialogue channel with DG Regio, in order to transmit the real needs and challenges related to the EUSPI when used as a policymaking tool. We have to keep in mind that the EU-SPI is not perfect, but it is important in the beyond-GDP agenda in combination with other data. Taking into account the different experiences gathered in the pilot project, it is possible to say that the EU-SPI is a good tool to raise awareness on the differences between economic and social progress performance and to identify strengths and weaknesses. Now we know that the index does not compete with the 2030 Agenda, but can rather help to assess them.
The project has contributed to investigate how to improve the EU-SPI usefulness for different policy makers at different administrative levels, and even more when it is complemented with sub-regional social progress indices; it is a fact that not only policy-makers find it useful but also, reaching different stakeholders and cooperating is needed to have impact.
Dr. Susana Franco is a Senior Researcher at Orkestra and holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Nottingham and is working in Orkestra-Basque Institute of Competitiveness as a researcher since 2010. Her main activities and responsibilities include conducting quantitative and qualitative research and coordinating, developing and managing projects within the areas of clusters, competitiveness, regional development, employment and wellbeing; publishing research output in international academic journals, books and reports; interacting with different regional and international agents; contributing to training in the field of competitiveness; and supervising doctoral students.
Usue Lorenz, research facilitator at Orkestra, has a Degree in Economic and Business Science, specializing in International Management, and completed her training with a Master's Degree in International Management and various courses related to the competitiveness of regions (courses and conferences related to innovation, regional development and European innovation programmes).
Mercedes Oleaga, seniro technician at Orkestra, hols a degree in Sociology and a Diploma in Advanced Studies in International Economics and Development and a postgraduate degree in Applied Social Research, all from the University of the Basque Country.