Beyond Imagination. A Social Innovation Europe


Social Innovation Community has organized a final event named “Beyond Imagination: A socially innovative Europe” that will be held on 12-13 November in Seville, Spain. Together, we will celebrate the achievements of the past decade, imagine the way a new future for a socially innovative Europe, and develop practical ways to achieve this new future together. Key questions to be explored including:

  • What does it take to design the future we want?
  • How can we use more experimentation and participatory learning approaches?
  • What is the role of research and technology in Social Innovation?
  • How the #SIDeclaration can influence future policy?
  • How do we need to work differently in order to tackle the challenges ahead?

This is the agenda for the second day, when I will be discussing with really interesting colleagues about the need for better impact:


0830 | Registration

0900 | Turning imagination into reality

  • Justyna Król, Urban Workshop, Poland
  • Martha Giannakopoulou Architect (Urban Design) / Urban Consultant Athens Municipality, Greece

0930 | Introducing the #SIDeclaration    Led by Nesta

  • Agnes Hubert, G5+, Belgium
  • Phil Martin, European Commission, Belgium
  • Marija Babovic, EAPN, Serbia
  • Luigi Martignetti, REVES, Belgium

1015 | Refreshment break

1045 | From reimagining the future to co-creating it

Parallel breakout sessions interrogating the #SIDeclaration

As part of Europe’s social innovation community, what role do participants have in realising the vision set out in the #SIDeclaration

  • Growing the visibility and impact of Europe’s social innovation community
  • Realising the power of social innovation in driving Local and Urban Development
  • Public sector as a key enabler of social innovation
  • Research as a critical driver of social innovation transformation
  • Funding and investing social innovation projects, services and products
  • Harnessing the digital revolution for social innovation

1215 | Refreshment break

1245 | Reconnecting the silos

1315 | Why are still not making the impact we need? What is getting in the way                       – Final provocation

1415 | SIC Final Remarks

1430 | Programme ends


Professorship of Practice at McGill University

This is a description of my work in Montreal at McGill University in 2018.

URBP 542 : New Social Innovation Dynamics

During the Winter 2018 semester, Gorka Espiau teaches a one-credit course in the School of Urban Planning at McGill University that demonstrates how social innovation, on the community level, contributes to the positive and systemic transformation of a community.Students are invited to challenge traditional approaches to innovation, which often rely on the myth of the “solo entrepreneur.” More specifically, they observe, through case studies and the studies of pilot projects carried out in Bilbao (Basque Country) and in Côte-des-Neiges (Montreal), the different ways in which community narratives are produced and captured, as well as reflect on how to co-create new initiatives or concrete actions likely to generate broad and inclusive benefits for communities based on story analysis. The course is thus designed to allow students to improve their ability to deconstruct the detrimental narrative that ordinary citizens are not perceived as “change-makers” or “innovators” and to explore various theories of change and innovative practices.

Lunch-seminars and conferences

The CIRM Professor of Practice continues his collaboration with Hoi Kong (Faculty of Law, McGill) to publish a collective based on the series Montreal Manifesto for Social Innovation, three workshops that took place in 2017. The volume will be published in 2019. On October 13th, 2017, Gorka Espiau participates in a discussion on the book, Les communautés d’innovation. De la liberté créatrice à l’innovation, led by Richard Shearmur (School of Urban Planning, McGill), with Rami Bebawi (KANVA), Diane de Courcy (Je fais Mtl/City of Montréal), Zoé Gagnon-Paquin (Magnéto), Pierre Emmanuel Moyse (Faculty of Law, McGill), and Julie Aurore Rijpens (SIIL, McGill), in the presence of Laurent Simon (HEC), who co-edited the work with Patrick Cohendet (HEC), and Benoit Sarazin.

He also speaks during the round table titled “From Big Data and Open Data to Community Actions and Impacts. Which Practices to implement?” on February 20th. The session is moderated by Jayne Engle(Program Director, Cities for People, McConnell Foundation and Adjunct Professor, School of Urban Planning, McGill) along with panelists Stéphan Guidoin (Director, Montréal, Smart City), Charles-Antoine Julien (Assistant Professor, School of Information Studies, McGill), Jean-Noé Landry (Executive Director, Open North), Pierre Luc Bacon (PhD Student, School of Computer Science, Reasoning and Learning Laboratory, McGill), Geneviève Boisjoly (PhD Student, School of Urban Planning, McGill), and Vincent Thomas (Dean, Faculty of Law-Economics and Political Sciences, Dijon).

Shaping Neighborhoods Series

From April to June, CIRM and the Quartier de l’innovation (QI) are putting together a new kind of experiential meetings which address local innovative initiatives related to urban life. Shaping Neighborhoods: Experience and innovation is a series of “experience-conferences” that encourage communities in the city to (re)discover urban planning projects and to engage in conversations around community projects, university research, and municipal initiatives that are taking place there.

Gorka Espiau participates in the first of the three experience-conferences, Build, which takes place on April 17th and which focuses on the creation of shared spaces. This discussion, led by Richard Shearmur (School of Urban Planning, McGill), takes place at the Wellington Control Tower and at Project Young, with Philémon Gravel (Cofounder, Entremise), Pauline Butiaux (Development Director, Wellington Control Tower), Jonathan Cha (Lecturer,Département d’études urbaines et touristiques, UQAM), Carla Rangel (Development Director, Wellington Control Tower), and Marie-Philip Roy-Lasselle (Project Manager, Service des partenariats et du soutien à l’innovation, UQAM).

Collaboration with the McConnell Foundation

Amplifier Montréal

After having provided his expertise to the ethnographic work carried out by Amplifier CdN in the summer of 2017, Gorka Espiau is still contributing to the processes of innovation and social transformation underway in Côte-des-Neiges, due to to the commitment and vision of many neighbourhood actors, including the Table de quartier. In collaboration with Lyne Poitras and at the request of the McConnell Foundation, he has written a report that illustrates what concrete actions can be introduced into the neighbourhood ecosystem, stemming from ethnographic listening and responding to needs, challenges, and aspirations of the citizens.

The “Countless Rebellions” Series

The McConnell Foundation aims to share the acquired expertise on how social change is generated through the project Countless Rebellions, a series of interviews that explores social innovation and systemic change. Discover their interview with Gorka Espiau here.

The Observatory of Montreal’s Narratives

Gorka Espiau contributes to the conceptualization and creation of the Observatory of Montreal’s Narratives. It is a tool for analyzing, interpreting and visualizing narratives that can act as a positive lever for the social transformation for neighbourhoods and cities. The data will come from numerous collaborations established with the various community and municipal actors of the metropolis as well as the interdisciplinary research community. Gorka Espiau will participate in a series of Observatory design workshops during the academic year 2018-2019. He also continues to publicize the project abroad to build an international platform for learning about tools that could be useful for the transformation of cities.

Memorandum of Understanding: CIRM and the Agirre Lehendekaria Center

Through the work conducted at CIRM and at the Agirre Lehendakaria Center for Social and Political Studies in the Basque Country, Gorka Espiau facilitated the creation of a memorandum of understanding between the two centres as well as the Etxepare Basque Institute. Theses agreements are signed on April 20th, 2018, aiming to foster collaboration and cooperation between these institutions and their social innovation projects, comparing the case of the Basque Country and to that of Montreal and the province of Quebec.

Signing ceremony of the Memorandum of Understanding, April 20th, 2018. From left to right: Mr. Juan José Ibarretxe, Ms. Irene Larraza, Mr. Bingen Zupiria, and Mr. Philip Oxhorn, respectively the Director of the Agirre Lehendakaria Center, the Director-General of the Etxepare Basque Institute, the Basque Minister for Culture, and the Associate Provost (International) of McGill University.

Widening Spheres of Democracy

The 21st century has seen an explosion in Worker Cooperatives—particularly since capitalism’s 2008 crisis. In Part 1 of this 2-part series, UPSTREAM PODCAST explore how worker coops present a radically different kind of ownership and management structure—one that has the power to bring democracy into the workplace and into the economy as a whole. Upstream Podcast takes a deep dive into the cooperatively owned and run bike/skate shop Rich City Rides, exploring how they have created a community hub that puts racial & economic justice front and center. The podcast also takes a trip to the Basque Country to explore how the cooperative environment compares to that of the United States and the San Francisco Bay Area specifically.


Richard Wolff Economics professor emeritus at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, founder of Democracy at Work, and host of the weekly radio show Economic Update

Gopal Dayaneni– Co-founder of Cooperation Richmond & Staff Member at Movement Generation

Doria Robinson– Founder of Urban Tilth and Co-Founder of Cooperation Richmond

Esteban Kelly – Executive Director of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives

Gorka Espiau – Senior Fellow at the Agirre Lehendakaria Center at the University of the Basque Country and Professor of Practice at McGill University

Najari Smith – Worker/member of Rich City Rides bike & skate shop

Roxanne Villaluz – Worker/member of a cooperative bakery & pizzeria

Sofa Gradin – Political Organizer and Lecturer in Politics at King’s College in London

Many thanks to Phil Wrigglesworth for the cover art.


This part 1 of a 2-part series.

Listen to Part 2:

Worker Cooperatives Pt. 2

Shaping Neighborhoods

This April, the Quartier de l’Innovation and the McGill University Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Montreal (CIRM) invite you to try new experiential meetings focused on innovative local initiatives aimed at improving urban life.

Shaping Neighborhoods: Experience and Innovation is a series of “conference experiments” designed to encourage Quartier de l’Innovation communities to reconnect with the Quartier’s urban planning projects and spur discussion on its community projects, academic research and municipal programs. They are an opportunity to reflect as well as to develop and build a resilient neighborhood that’s open to its residents’ ideas. At each meeting, participants will visit a prominent location in the neighborhood and talk with local organizations that are rethinking their living environment. Contributors and academic researchers will also join the discussion to connect the actions undertaken locally to research conducted on these projects.


Why has place-making become necessary? Most places in most cities developed organically over time, as people and builders appropriated space, modelled it and gave it character. In this era where buildings and neighborhoods are built and torn down, rethinking architecture has become essential.

Date: April 17, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Meeting point: Wellington Control Tower (click here to see how to get there)

Academic Leader: Richard Shearmur, Director of the School of Urban Planning, McGill University

Program: Visit of the Wellington Control Tower, a research/action, dissemination and incubation venue with a café-bistro, which will serve as a meeting hub for all who are rethinking and building the city of today and tomorrow. The visit will be followed by a discussion in the Young Project transitory space created by Entremise.


  • Ms. Pauline Butiaux, vice-president and treasurer, Manoeuvres / Wellington Control Tower
  • Professor Gorka Espiau : professor pr practice, McConnell Foundation / CIRM 
  • Mr. Philémon Gravel, co-founder, director of de urban planning, Entremise
  • Mr. Jonathan Cha : urbanologist, landscape architect, heritage consultant, landscaping consultant for Jean-Drapeau Park, lecturer at UQAM and UdeM, co-founder of MTL\ville en mouvement, co-director at Le Virage MTL
  • Ms. Carla Rangel Garcia and Ms. Marie-Philip Roy-Lasselle : Mont Réel project and ConstructLab Berlin

Wayfinder Istanbul

In 2017, Social Innovation Exchange hosted the first Wayfinder in London at a time when social innovation globally was at a crossroads. In some ways, social innovation has achieved a huge amount over the last decade. However, compared to the scale of the social challenges facing the world, this success is marginal. The London Wayfinder explored how we can create large scale, deep and systemic change over the next 10 years.

One year on, some progress has been made, but many of these challenges remain — we need to continue focusing on getting truly multi-sector, prioritizing people and planet, and supporting leadership rich social innovation ecosystems globally. With the support of local, regional and international partners, the Wayfinder is heading to Istanbul, Turkey to dive deeper into these calls of action from the inaugural Wayfinder.

Together, we will explore: how do we get to transformational change, such as achieving the SDGs? What more can be done to tackle systemic barriers to systemic change over the next ten years? Istanbul Wayfinder will build on two calls to action from London:

  • Getting truly multi-sector in social innovation — with an emphasis on integrating corporate, government and philanthropic social innovation;
  • Creating enabling platforms to enrich social innovation ecosystems — learning from around the world about the key conditions and overcoming barriers.

I am really honored to have been invited as a member of this selected group of 150 innovators, experts, and entrepreneurs from around the world and across Turkey, who have played, and will continue to play, a critical role in building the social innovation field.icon.png

As we embark on a shared global learning experience for two days, we will specifically be listening and learning to help inform a regional social innovation hub Istanbul — a unique historical crossroads of trade, information, culture and business flows between east and west.

Istanbul Wayfinder is convened by Social Innovation Exchange (SIX), hosted by Zorlu Holding, powered by imece, in knowledge partnership with ATÖLYE and S360, ‎and supported by UNDP Regional Hub Istanbul and Brookings Doha Centre.

Global Festival of Action

Organised by the UN SDG Action Campaign with the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the German Federal Foreign Office, the Global Festival of Action brings together the global community taking action to make the Sustainable Development Goals a reality. It will recognize and celebrate the innovators, conveners and breakthrough actors who are transforming lives and generating practical solutions to some of the world’s most intractable problems.

Taking place in Bonn each year, the Global Festival of Action for Sustainable Development provides a dynamic and interactive space to showcase the latest innovations, tools and approaches to SDG implementation and connect organizations and individuals from different sectors and regions to exchange, build partnerships, and make the impact of their solutions scale.

I am really honored to take part in the panel that will present the Work4Progress initiative powered by La Caixa Foundation.

Screen Shot 2018-03-15 at 17.57.06.png

Putting Innovation in a Box


The Centre for Intellectual Property Policy (CIPP) is organizing, with multiple partners, a week of conferences, workshops and roundtables focused on public policy supporting innovation and intellectual property in Montreal.

Innovation week schedule > Programme de la semaine


RSVP/information (les places sont limitées):

Mon > Lun 19 The End of Innovation as We Know It with Richard Gold (CIPP/CPPI, McGill)

12h-13h30, McGill Law (3644 Peel, room 316), $20 for lawyers seeking CLE credit

Tue > Mar 20 From Big Data and Open Data to Community Actions and Impacts with Gorka Espiau (CIRM/CRIEM, McGill), Stéphane Guidoin, Charles-Antoine Julien, Jean-Noé Landry, Pierre Luc Bacon, Geneviève Boisjoly

13h30-15h30, CEIM (20 Queen Street)

Wed > Mer 21 Law and the Blockchain: A Crash Course with Allison Christians (McGill), Max Jarvie, Kendra Rossi, Marc Richardson Arnoud

12h-14hMcGill Law (3644 Peel, room 316), $30 for lawyers seeking CLE credit

Thu > Jeu 22 Putting Innovation in a Box: Tax and IP Policy, Society, and the State with Allison Christians and Pierre-Emmanuel Moyse (McGill), Nicolas Binctin, Alessandra Flamini, Irma Mosquera, Lyne Latulippe, Alain Strowel, Edoardo Traversa, Jean-Pierre Vidal, Laurens van Apeldoorn

13h30-17h30, CEIM (20 Queen Street),  $50 for lawyers seeking CLE credit

Fri > Ven 23 Innovating at the International Level – CETA, BREXIT, NAFTA with Armand de Mestral (McGill), Marc Bungenberg, Charles-Emmanuel Côté, Henri Culot, Graeme Dinwoodie, Alain Strowel, Edoardo Traversa, Lukas Vanhonnaeker

9h00-15h00, Faculty Club (3450 McTavish), $50 for lawyers seeking CLE credit

For more details about the events, click here.


Forging empowering civic narratives

At the beginning of 2017, the McConnell Foundation embarked on a project to share learning about how social change happens. Rather than share the perspectives of their own team, they went outside McConnell, wanting to amplify the incredible efforts of individuals working on transforming systems in diverse fields. That project became “Countless Rebellions,” an interview series dedicated to exploring social innovation and systems change. This is a summary of the interview I have recorded for this series:


“When you think back to when you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I studied journalism so I guess that was what I wanted to be.  I’m from Bilbao and there was at the time a lot of violence and a deep social and economic crisis. It was a perfect storm at the end of the Spanish dictatorship. That has conditioned the way I see things and why I’m doing what I’m trying to do.

What did you end up becoming?

I don’t know. I have three kids. They keep asking me what I do and it’s really difficult to explain. Sometimes I respond that I am a journalist, just to avoid the complexity of explaining. But if we look at it from the social innovation perspective, I think I’ve become a movement builder around social innovation initiatives, connecting grassroots initiatives with public and private institutions in order to make them scale … But, it’s a very difficult definition.

Can you describe the scale of the problem(s) that you work on?

It depends on the place. For example, in Montreal, we are working on how to generate a movement of transformation in the city. We are talking about a very large scale. How do we connect the key institutions of the city — public and private — with ordinary citizens, in order to create a movement of transformation? These are very big worlds and it’s a very ambitious vision. But, at the same time, this has implications for how you tackle, for example, security or transportation in a particular street in Montreal. We are operating at the macro and the micro level all the time.

We’ve been asking all of the key protagonists. They never say “We made this decision, or we made the right investment.” They always refer to the values.

I’m trying to bring new actors into the discussion that have the capacity to operate on a larger scale. For example, I’m working very closely with the Mondragon corporative. It’s the largest industrial corporative in the world. They created their own social innovation ecosystem out of nothing. They created their own schools, their own companies, their own banks, their own universities — everything — out of nothing, during really difficult times.

What are you learning about right now?

We are finalizing this work with Mondragon cooperative, so I’m learning about the logic of the private sector, but also about the connection between the private sector and social transformations. I’m also learning a lot about the cultural dimension of innovation and of transformation processes.

What does the cultural dimension of social innovation look like?

I’ve been involved in analyzing the transformation of the Basque area. It was a really difficult situation only a few years ago. Now we have a social-economic model that incorporates equality at the heart of the system.  We’ve been asking the key people that were involved in the transformation about why did they made certain decisions. For example, the decision of building the Guggenheim Museum by Frank Gehry in Bilbao. That idea is celebrated internationally. At the time it was a mad idea. To think, at the time, that the Guggenheim would come to Bilbao was totally irrational because there were no conditions for such a thing to happen.

Positive transformation is generated when everybody feels they are allowed to generate innovation.

We’ve been asking all of the key protagonists. They never say “We made this decision, or we made the right investment.” They always refer to the values. They always say, “we did this because we were serving a set of values about how to transform this society, and those values helped us to create a history of ourselves that was aspirational, connected with reality, and then the decisions were made based on those narratives and values.”

This is what we have documented, and this is consistent with a lot of research about long-term aesthetic decisions that are normally made based on values. There is evidence about how we make decisions. It is always a combination of rational, and value-based thinking. But we haven’t really explored what the soft cultural space is. Through an ethnographic process, we have identified in the case of Mondragon five core values that that are still present in that company today. If we can demonstrate that successful projects were actually implemented on a common value system, then we can understand a lot about how successful transformations in the social sphere — territorial but also thematic — incorporate this cultural dimension. By culture, we mean the set of values, the narratives, the beliefs and the aesthetic decisions that are made by a group, by a city, by a particular society in a particular period of time.

Is there anything you’ve noticed that people get wrong about social innovation?

For me, the most important thing is how innovation takes place at the community level. I think we have it totally wrong, applying the myth of the solo entrepreneur, the myth of Silicon Valley, which is all about the individual. This is false, it doesn’t exist, and when it happens, it has a negative social impact.

Positive transformation is generated when everybody feels they are allowed to generate innovation. We have seen this in the Mondragon experience, but we have also seen that in our work in Leeds, in the UK, and this is what we are documenting in Montreal at the moment.”

« Value systems, equality, and inequality in different socio-economic contexts: elite London and the Mondragon Valley ». Une conférence de Luna Glucksberg (LSE)

Gorka Espiau, professeur praticien de la Fondation McConnell au CRIEM, vous invite à rencontrer Mme Luna Glucksberg, chercheuse et anthropologue urbaine à l’Institut international des inégalités de la London School of Economics and Political Science, le mardi 23 janvier prochain, de 15h00 à 16h30.

De passage à Montréal pour participer au séminaire de notre professeur praticien offert aux étudiants McGillois, Mme Glucksberg s’arrêtera également au CRIEM pour présenter ses plus récents travaux au public lors d’une conférence intitulée « Value systems, equality and inequality in different socio-economic contexts: elite London and the Mondragon Valley ».  La rencontre se déroulera dans nos locaux (3438, rue McTavish, salle 100).