A canvas for social economy
Photo credit: https://flickr.com/photos/bw-art/

A Canvas for Social Economy

A project in collaboration with the Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW).


In the course of the last decades the roots of traditional economic theory have been increasingly questioned by a growing number of theorists and practitioners who look beyond self-interest and profit as drivers and measure of success and well-being. This new, emerging corpus of theory and practice needs new tools to integrate societal and environmental values with traditional economic dimensions. The development of practical, actionable, easy-to-use, people-centred methods to develop regenerative activities, such as the Social Economy Canvas, is not only a direct response to this need, but also reflects a bottom-up approach to the current environmental state of emergency and increasing social inequalities.


The Social Economy Canvas is a visual sense making framework inspired by design and by complex-adaptive systems theory. It intends to provide policymakers with an ongoing, bottom-up, macro-assessment of social economy in Europe while supporting practitioners’ development of new ideas for a regenerative economy at micro-level.


The inception of the pilot was to identify, dis-entangle and visualize the several dimensions and actors at play in social economy.

Desk research produced an initial context mapping that was iterated several times in co-design workshops with policy-makers, practitioners, academics and designers. Mapping the context is the first step towards the discovery of an emerging framework: it allows each actor and dimension to be visualised and considered in their mutual relevance and importance. This visual approach to sense making is one of the design-inspired methods adopted at the EU Policy Lab for its ability to overcome cultural, cognitive and linguistic barriers and to foster complex-adaptive systems thinking.

The result of the exercise was the current prototype of Social Economy Canvas, a method and a visual tool to comprehend the social, environmental and economic implications of any human activity by maintaining structured, strategic conversations with the ideators and with their beneficiaries.

The canvas is used in micro/local settings by communities, entrepreneurs, support agencies and social investors to empower the design and development of social economy activities. It is also used in macro/global settings by policymakers to contextualise different local activities and identify common challenges and opportunities for the development of new policies.


The testing phase, started in December 2019, will refine the canvas as a policy and entrepreneurship tool to identify weaknesses and improve the performance of social economy ecosystems. Eventually, it should contribute to the development of a sound rationale and priorities for legal frameworks and public policy interventions. In parallel, it should also become a useful tool for entrepreneurs and for support agencies that want to align their efforts in favour of a culturally rich and economically prosperous social ecosystem.

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Join the online Community on Social Economy to download the latest version of the Canvas and to learn more.

How to sign up to the Social Economy Community online

Go to the EU Login page at https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/cas/

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Once you have logged in, go to the home page of the WIKI space of the European Commission at https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/fpfis/wikis/ and click Log in

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You are set! You will be added to the community momentarily. Meanwhile, you can find all the material and the information on the Canvas at https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/fpfis/wikis/display/SEC/Social+Economy+Canvas