Gipuzkoa Workplace Innovation
A Series of Dialogues

Egoitz Pomares
Sinnergiak, Spain

Promoted by the Territorial Government of Gipuzkoa (Diputación Foral de Gipuzkoa) and Sinnergiak (University of the Basque Country), the Series of Dialogues held during May 2017 took place in Donostia-San Sebastian (Basque Country, Spain). These five consecutive dialogue-based conferences brought together over 10 experts from across Europe to share their experiences, learn from another and debate the future development of work organisation, participation and continuous improvement.

Each of five meetings was structured around expert presentations and interactive dialogues based on semi-structured and open questions, designed to allow all participants to engage in practical discussion.

The Series of Dialogues was a key activity for Gipuzkoa Workplace Innovation, both as a second conference (the first being the launch of the project back in May 2015), continuing the initial action-research project; and secondly as the introduction to workplace innovation for a growing body of policymakers, researchers, social agents, universities, training centres and territorial development agencies. They also provided an opportunity to dig beneath the surface of EU development programmes to explore underlying economic and social factors.

The Series was organised around five topics in five consecutive meetings, each providing a forum for reflection and dialogue:

  • May 3rd Dialogue on Participation
  • May 8th Dialogue on Legislation and the Regulatory Framework
  • May 15th Dialogue on Territorial Development
  • May 22nd Dialogue on the Business Ecosystem
  • May 29th Dialogue on Learning Processes

For those readers familiar with the European Workplace Innovation Network, these topics might sound familiar. On 10th October 2016, EUWIN organised a major event in Brussels as part of its initial 4 year programme. The network, led by Professors Steven Dhondt and Peter Totterdill, supported by its Advisory Group, configured an afternoon session under the question What needs to change? Panel discussion on main factors shaping innovative workplaces. This included five topics: partnership, regulation, learning, regional development and business. It was not a coincidence that it focused on the development of territorially-linked coalitions and networks.

In addition, the Series of Dialogues engaged a wide number of experts, researchers, agents and policymakers in benchmarking and two-way practical discussion. European experts were invited to each panel according to the orientation of their expertise. The full programme and its content can be found on the Website.


Ainhoa Aizpurua, Deputy for Economic Promotion in Gipuzkoa, presented the first of the Dialogues focused on Participation, which introduced the Territorial strategy based on workers participation, partnership and lifelong learning. This led Stavroula Demetriades, Senior Research Manager at the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, to discuss “Innovative Change and HR Practices in European Companies”, part of the newly released “Innovative Change in European Companies” report (see below). Tuomo Alasoini, Senior Adviser at TEKES (the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation), followed up with a presentation on the experience of participatory workplace innovation promotion in Finland over more than 20 years, including the challenges faced during this time.

Legislation and Regulatory Framework

On the second Dialogue, the conference gathered jurists to share their perspectives on soft law. Development programmes can be considered as indirect forms designed to promote working life reform and workplace innovation. For this purpose Tomás Arrieta, the President of the Basque Labour Relations Council, highlighted the legal model for workers’ participation at company level. His presentation was complemented by Juan Pablo Landa, Chair of Labour Law at the University of the Basque Country, who reflected on change management at company level.

Territorial Development

EUWIN coordinator Peter Totterdill, and Clare Alexander, Head of Workplace Innovation at Scottish Enterprise, brought together theory and action relating to territorial approaches and workplace innovation. As Totterdill focused on the importance of dialogue with social agents and collaboration with research and universities, Clare Alexander showed how the Scottish Government supports business through workplace innovation programmes. Read Clare’s blog here.

Business Ecosystem

The opportunities and challenges of work organisation, robotisation and digitalisation were presented by Steven Dhondt, EUWIN coordinator, introducing workplace innovation as the core building block of a high-road business ecosystem. Claudio Zettel, Head of Workplace Innovation at the Project Management Agency of the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education, introduced a public-policy perspective by focusing on workplace development programmes within the framework of R&D policy in Germany.

Learning Processes

Last but not least, the fifth Dialogue was centered on learning which, as well as partnership and participation, is one of the key pillars of the development programmes in Gipuzkoa. The Economic Promotion Deputy, Ainhoa Aizpuru, presented the policy background of the Territory since the 80´s on lifelong learning and its convergence with workplace innovation policies.

The Basque Government´s Vice-Minister of Vocational and Educational Training, Jorge Arévalo, introduced the regional education system and its orientation to innovation, change, technology and the creation of intelligent organisations. During the session, the importance of competence and capacity building was complemented by the concept of “active jobs”. Frank Pot, President of the EUWIN Advisory Board, showed evidence on the opportunities of learning in day-to-day activities and the importance of engaging and creating conditions for workers’ participation at job design.

What´s Next…

Over the last few years’ workplace innovation has gained importance in policymaking. Workers participation is now central to the Economic Recovery Plan, the Governmental Management Plan (2015-2019) and other flagship initiatives and programmes such as Gipuzkoa Future (Etorkizuna Eraikiz) based on new territorial governance models. Gathering policymakers, social agents, researchers and practitioners will be central to taking the next step; a shared framework to create a common diagnostic on how to foster sustainable development and quality of working life.