The Role of the Jury: Bestow awards on few, but appreciate all

05/01/2019

Social Innovation Insights

The principle of awarding prizes requires the establishment of a sort of hierarchy, although this can neither be achieved continuously, nor in an irrefutably exact manner in every respect. Faced with this dilemma, the jury follows some rules and principles. Written by Josef Hochgerner, jury member. 

Year after year, around 200 to 300 organisations, initiative groups, or individuals submit their social innovation projects in the hope of winning one of the 15 SozialMarie prizes. Just as regularly, the experts in the countries and the members of the jury applaud the successful innovators. This is true of their achievement, but only a few can finally be congratulated on receiving a prize. The principle of awarding prizes requires the establishment of a sort of hierarchy, although this can neither be achieved continuously, nor in an irrefutably exact manner in every respect. Faced with this dilemma, the jury follows some rules and principles.

A first principle comprises the fact that three categories of applications are to be commended: First, the nominated projects, often making up more than ten percent; thereafter, the twelve equally valued € 2,000 prizes; and finally, the particular distinction and ranking of the first three prizes. A general principle guiding the jury is accountable justice. This is based on the following consideration: We agree with all who develop and implement social innovations, that concerted social action can lead to better living conditions, less inequality, and more social justice. Assessing the extent to which this goal has been achieved in the individual case is the most challenging task in the selection process.

Currently, social innovation is not just about continuing or improving social welfare. In addition, setbacks and increasing gaps in the fabric of social security as a result of significant shifts in policies and financial cuts concerning social issues, health, and education must be compensated for. Along with old unresolved problems, such as poverty, inequality, and exclusion, globalisation and neo-liberal economic policies are creating new challenges regarding environment, climate, migration, and ethnic conflict.

SozialMarie is constantly honouring new social ideas that have been successfully realised. The prize is intended to promote awareness, encouragement, and public appreciation. The indispensable selection is not aimed at devaluing the majority of the projects, but at assessing particular features of social innovation. The primary criteria include novelty, relevance to the target group, effectiveness, and external positive appeal (the potential for expansion and imitation). Thereby evaluated projects should highlight those that can best act as “ambassadors” to represent the diversity of social innovations. In addition, secondary aspects are analysed or discussed, such as what type of problem-solving is sought: Is the concrete social innovation geared to an immediate need for a specific target group, to addressing a more general social problem, or – rarely – to systemic change? Not least, the respective socio-economic context plays a major role. To this effect the decision-making process is particularly supported by on-site exploration.

The composition of the jury represents diverse professional, social, and cultural competences from all participating countries of SozialMarie. Requirements for the participants include the combination of critical ability with respect for criticism, and constant willingness to learn. Though all social innovators contribute to a better understanding and development of social progress, any particular case requires a differentiated analysis of the project’s potential and factual effectiveness. Accordingly, the experts and jurors attain rampant „learning curves“. New observations and insights are to be further communicated through the award ceremony and associated public response.

Concluding: Social innovations are a significant part of social change. Their success and survival is based on interactions and exchange between all actors. Therefore, all submissions are valuable and are appreciated. In their entirety, their performance and achievements provide a current image of the status and dynamics of social development for each respective year.

Written by Josef Hochgerner, jury member, published in the SozialMarie Brochure 2019.