Social and Institutional Innovation in Self-Organising Cities
From Firenze University Press Book
Camilla Perrone, University of Florence
Flavia Giallorenzo, University of Florence
Maddalena Rossi, University of Florence
Social and institutional innovation has become increasingly influential both as a scientific concept and a social and institutional practice (Moulaert and Nussbaumer 2005; 2007; Moulaert et al. 2013; Urbact II 2015; Mieg and Töpfer K. 2012; European Commission 2020).
It is a conceptual foundation for community-based trust, think thanks, corporate management practice and government funding programs in every continent, leading to a wide range of projects and international networks which recognize past failures of conventional service delivery to tackle poverty and social exclusion, and seek to promote new ways of doing things, grounded in the social relations and experiences of those in need (Moulaert et al. 2013, 1).
What underlies the path of social innovation is not a social problem to be solved through services or new products, but the social change it brings about. Accordingly, we could say that social innovation takes form when a new idea establishes a different way of thinking and acting that changes existing paradigms. So social innovations can be described as new social
practices created from collective, intentional, and goal-oriented actions aimed at prompting social change through the reconfiguration of how social goals are accomplished. Social innovation is indeed influenced and generated by the complex interaction between agents and social structures.
In the Green Paper on Innovation (1995), the first document created by the European Commission to identify the factors on which innovation in Europe depends and to elaborate proposals to foster innovation capacity in Europe, the social element of innovation is highlighted as follow: «Innovation is not just an economic mechanism or a technical process. It is above all a social phenomenon […]. By its purpose, its effects, or its methods, innovation is
thus intimately involved in the social conditions in which it is produced» (European Commission 1995, 11).
In 2015, the ESDN (European Sustainable Development Network) Quarterly Report №36 on Social Innovation in Europe, social innovation gains the centre stage on the political agenda, «not only as new way of addressing social issues often overlooked either by the private sector or the public sector, but also as a chance to respond to the multiple social, economic and environmental crises that are faced by societies all over the world» (Pisano et al. 2015, 5).
The report remarks that social innovation engages with a social problem in a way that is:
more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions; thence that social innovations are “new solutions (products, services, models, markets, processes etc.) that simultaneously meet a social need […] and lead to new or improved capabilities and relationships and better use of assets and resources. In other words, social innovations are both good for society and enhance society’s capacity to act (Caulier-Grice et al. 2012, 18)” (Pisano et al. 2015, 5).
Social innovation is very context-dependent. It takes place in broader social, cultural, economic and environmental contexts where innovations are formulated and embedded.
Throughout the reports of the European Commission (2015; 2019; 2020a; b; c), the theme of innovation becomes increasingly central and constitutive, an indispensable requirement of the EU research and innovation for and with cities crosscutting all fields of intervention from nature-based solutions for sustainable development, to governance, climate change, circular economy, poverty, resilience, etc.
The approach of the “human-centred city” is focused as an overarching dimension to accomplish the UN SDGs (sustainable developments goals). It aims at promoting an integrated vision towards innovative urban planning and design that relies on co-creation and co-implementation among different policy areas, urban sectors and stakeholders and fully engage citizens as ‘city makers’ and actors of innovation in participatory governance and policymaking in a city for all.
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