Public Policies Fostering the Social and Solidarity Economy in Barcelona (2016-2019)

Date of Publication: 
July 2020
Publication Type: 
Case study
Published by: 
United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD)
Available in: 
English, Spanish


Barcelona’s Pla d’impuls de l’economia social I solidària (Plan to Boost the Social and Solidarity Economy–PIESS) represents a successful new breed of social economy policy. It exhibits specific features of this type of policy: it is transversal in nature, often engages in partnerships and adopts a transformative socio-political perspective. The policy also uses mainstreaming approaches, political innovation and the institutionalization of strategy to achieve its means, and additionally, it mobilizes the local government and its public promotional body, the Comissionat.

A significant characteristic of the PIESS is its Catalonian public administration which has for the first time promoted a cross-sectional policy initiative, in that, it holistically acts on SSE, not just part of it. That is, according to CIRIEC (2017), it promotes both social enterprise initiatives and social community ones. It also addresses both the market social economy and the non-market social economy, including economic activities such as ethical financing, fair trade, responsible consumption, the commons, and social currency. In fact, the new Catalan bill for SSE is compromised of the SSE market, which includes companies that operate in the market by selling goods and services, as well as non-market SSE, which obtain their resources from outside the market, for example through donations, property income and fees.

The public-community partnership approach of the PIESS has resulted in both the co-construction and co-production of this policy, fully exhibiting characteristics of the social economy. The application of this public policy partnership approach relied on three elements. First, a space for participation and dialogue of its own, referred to as a participatory area of SSE policy (PA). Second, a public administration adapted to this partnership approach, along with appropriate intragovernmental and intergovernmental coordination. And third, a sector of SSE structured both on the cognitive plane (social imaginary and common identity) and on the organizational one (structures and spaces for inter-cooperation) which can be the administration’s partners.

The socio-political perspective of the PIESS in relation to the SSE, which it conceives as a transforming vector and not palliative welfare, has required the government and SSE policy makers to have a systemic and comprehensive vision both of different spheres of public action and of the multiplicity of socio-economic activities that constitute “problems” and need to be addressed. The mainstreaming approach of this policy has sought, with modest results, to integrate this policy and the SSE into the other policies developed by the City Council and policies of other administrations, in order to break down silos.

The PIESS forms a complex political strategy, focused around two major general objectives, six lines of work, 24 specific objectives, 31 instruments and 124 actions. Many of these actions are public policy innovations. At the time of writing the PIESS had been implemented over a period of four years and, from an evaluative perspective, it has above all contributed to increasing public funding for the SSE, to increasing visibility and sensitivity towards the SSE both by citizens and the municipal administration, to providing a cognitive and organizational framework for the SSE, and to the establishment of a stable space for participation of the social economy in public policy.

Paper authors

Rafael Chaves-Avila (Institut IUDESCOOP, Universitat de València); Jordi Via-Llop (Arç cooperativa); Jordi Garcia-Jané (Apostrof cooperativa)

This case study is also available in Spanish