What is Social Tech ?

For a “digital permaculture” – generative ecosystems based on the Social and Digital Economy: consolidating and deploying “Social Tech” in Europe

The Social Good Accelerator wishes to strengthen and spread the concept of Social Tech in Europe, at the crossroads of the librist models (citizen tech) and the economic and democratic models of the Social and Solidarity Economy. 

The Social Tech, according to Wikipedia quoting the French journalist Chrystèle Bazin, is the use of technology for social, societal and citizen action, such as: acting on inequalities, weaving new solidarities, or producing social innovation. By mobilising technological capacities, social tech promises everyone the ability to act in the service of the general interest.

Social Tech is therefore made up of technological models that rely on the stakeholders and infrastructures of the social and solidarity economy to propose systems with a high social and environmental impact. The pooling of infrastructures allows for a reduction in operating costs, the value generated is redistributed in an equitable manner to the stakeholders and the infrastructure is governed in a democratic manner. Models have multiplied in Europe and around the world and are ready to be scaled up.

The Social Solidarity Economy must move into the digital age: it is a question of preserving our intangible social heritage, which is at the heart of the European model and cohesion, but also of accelerating the social and ecological transition. Rather than Schumpeterian creative destruction, let us consider the digital “upcycling” of the social economy as a species essential to the survival of the European social and solidarity ecosystem. Like all economic actors, SSE actors must lead a profound change in their organisation, integrate a culture of innovation at all levels, and upgrade their teams. It is time for SSE to embrace Tech not as an end in itself, but as a means to improve, sustain and strengthen its models, jobs, influence and impact on the final beneficiaries.

In order to “encapacitate” the social and solidarity economy in the digital world, it is necessary to draw knowledge from the technological market models, share it, digest it and finally transform it into commons oriented towards the social and environmental impact.

In the long term, to be able to generate all the value resulting from the crossroads between the social economy and the digital economy, and to encourage its start-up, it is necessary to reconsider the production of value not only economically but also socially and environmentally (measured in terms of collective savings) in order to be able to put in place a system of remuneration for citizen value. This is a necessary condition for ‘transinvestment’ (D. Kleiner and B. Gottlied, 2016). This means overhauling national accounting systems to include this value. Civil society would become productive through the participation of citizens in the collaborative creation of collective value. Before we can generalise this new accounting and these “commons”, we need to be able to prototype them at European level, by creating centres of competitiveness around Services of General Interest (SGI) and the Commons (water management, sustainable food, energy, digital, postal and telecom networks, etc.).

To this end, we support the proposals of European thinkers Michel Bauwens and Vassilis Kostakis in their Manifesto for a truly collaborative economy (2018). As they recommend, in order to base from a ‘micro’ to a ‘macro’ existence, the prototyping of these types of solutions requires an ‘institutionalisation’ (both in terms of relaxing or opening up regulatory frameworks to allow experimentation and in terms of financial guarantee) of three categories of systems, whose co-dependence and identification constitute the conditions for scaling up:

  • A “productive community”, including non-personal data providers, to organise the generation of products, services and knowledge (civil society): these models are already found in Wikipedia, Open Street Map, Open Food facts in terms of data generation and moderation of this data
  • An “entrepreneurial coalition”: professionals who manage and add value, who generate profits and paid value (generative production) to create and manage value (workers) on a cooperative and solidarity-based model for the allocation of financial and physical resources. An ecosystem of start-ups that would redistribute part of the value generated to the common and to the infrastructure in a cooperative mode would constitute a virtuous economic model.
  • Finally, a legal infrastructure, the “social benefit association”, is needed to protect and govern the commons in a democratic manner and in a logic of limited lucrativeness or non-lucrativeness, supported by a partner “State”.

Thus, in the technological sector, we would find a diversity of actors and modalities of mutualisation and partnerships for the common good around digital services of general interest. This sub-sector would operate according to the well-tried rules of the Social and Solidarity Economy such as defined by our partner Social Economy Europe :

  • primacy of the person and the social object over capital,
  • voluntary and open membership,
  • democratic control by the members
  • defence and application of the principles of solidarity and responsibility
  • management autonomy and independence from public authorities,
  • allocation of the majority of surpluses to the achievement of objectives that promote sustainable development and serve the interests of the members and the general interest.

To make this digital Social Solidarity Economy in Europe a leading sector for the ecological and societal transition of the continent, its digital transformation must be considerably accelerated in the coming years, by acting on three aspects

  • Resources & infrastructure: strengthening the means and cooperation for a digital and collaborative social economy
  • Value proposition and socio-economic models: valuing and developing new models of “commons” at the heart of the recovery plan
  • Skills: digital acculturation and new professions



You can consult our papers and other public contributions on digital transition and social economy