Mainstreaming came to prominence in Europe in the mid 1990s because of gender mainstreaming which had itself been mainstreamed as a concept largely due to the support of large institutions (UN, European Union etc). However, its origins are from the battle in schools in the USA over the rights of children with disabilities to be educated in mainstream schools.

The term was used extensively in the [EQUAL]Community Initiative where it was used to describe a process whereby pilot projects become integrated into [ESF] and [ERDF] Structural Fund programmes and into policy both at EU level and Member State level.

EQUAL institutionalised the mainstreaming process by structuring its programme in three phases the last of which was [Action 3] for mainstreaming and dissemination. [Action 1] was intended to last six months and was dedicated to programme design and partnership building, [Action 2] was normally for two years and was the main implementation phase. The three phase structure of equal along with its [Development Partnerships] structure were major drivers of innovation in the programme and appear to have produced good results despite early criticisms that the programme had a slow start.