Boosting social innovation in European Cities WELLBEING IN CITIES: A SOCIAL INNOVATION REVOLUTION Commentary by Fabio Sgaragli1 Boostinno Ad hoc expert The importance of social innovation lies mostly in the underlying assumption that the current model of social development is undergoing a massive crisis, both in terms of its sustainability and its capacity to deliver sense and equal prosperity to all. Social innovation represents a new and specific process for innovation through which alternative models of social development can be invented, prototyped, tested and scaled. The mission of social innovation is therefore to help us find a novel and shared ecosystem of interactions and interrelations based on an integrated approach to development, one that takes into account the economic, social and environmental dimensions. In the context of the many papers, publications and final project reports on the fashionable topic of social innovation, the Boostinno project’s final report “Wellbeing in cities: a social innovation revolution” is a welcome novelty. Written as a smart guide for cities wanting to either start or grow a local ecosystem for social innovation, this online document is an easy-to-read manual with a variety of insights, examples and external references that make it useful and practical at the same time. Today, innovative and competitive cities use a menu of interventions to increase competitiveness and social inclusion, including policy frameworks and regulations, infrastructures and re-use of public buildings, skills and education, and enterprise support and finance. According to the Boostinno network of cities, social innovation is not yet another ingredient in the recipe, it is the recipe itself that can support cities in their journey to local integrated sustainable development. Once relatively closed and insular environments, leading local governments around the world are now looking to engage with outside ideas and innovators to support their growth, improve city services and create new solutions to complex problems—revolutionizing the way the city works and engages with citizens. This is probably Boostinno’s key message: as Prof. Ezio Manzini would put it, it is “citizens who make and re-make their cities”, and local administrations’ new role is to act as brokers and facilitators of those movements, trying to connect top down strategy and planning with bottom up, spontaneous innovations. In light of the above, the report explores some of the key dimensions of social innovation in cities, by bringing in the experiences and perspectives of the ten Cities involved in the Boostinno network, experts, practitioners and International institutions. The document provides interesting answers to the following questions: 1
What policies, instruments and resources are available today to cities to promote social innovation as a catalyst for inclusive growth? What examples and practices are there of successful interventions at the city level to F. Sgaragli, Open and Social Innovation Manager, Fondatione Giacomo Brodolini
increase the urban context capacity to: generate social innovation, engage citizens in co-generation processes, support bottom up initiatives? What is the role of enabling technologies in helping cities to work on sustainable integrated local development and generate inclusive growth? What policies and tools are available to cities in order to explore, test and engage with those new technologies? How can open and social innovation processes support cities in matching demand and supply of innovation and generate “shared value” for the benefit of citizens and stakeholders? How can we measure and represent impact? What are some of the models for measuring impact available today to cities? How can elected representatives and public servants learn to perform into their new role as brokers and facilitators of innovation and change? Finally, how can cities balance experimentation and risk in the game of social innovation?
One particularly interesting notion in the report refers to a new emerging field of interesting connections being born at the city level, where old types of relationship between old actors is being replaced by new types of relationship between new actors. We are indeed witnessing a paradigm shift where grass-root, bottom-up, spontaneous movements and communities of change are shaping new ecosystems that will probably replace existing ones; they are global in reach, but grounded at the local level. These new ecosystems are forming around a clear set of values: shared intent, common purpose, collaboration, transparency, openness. The new actors involved are often agile in their seize and hybrid in their being a mix between social purposes, entrepreneurial attitude and profit orientation. It is therefore a recognised challenge for cities to learn how to engage and interact with these new actors, and to tune in to new approaches to dialogue and creation, that are based on equal power balance and shared responsibilities. The experience of the Boostinno’s network of cities is very valuable and their learning journey into social innovation is well represented in the document. As many cities across Europe, and the globe, are trying new approaches to solve “wicked” problems in their communities, the Boostinno final report can represent an opportunity for many of them to explore, reflect and act into a new way of enabling positive change in their local realities.