The enabling city: places of social innovation

“Social innovation thrives on the ideas and efforts of social entrepreneurs and creative individuals whose socially conscious work contributes to environmentalism in a variety of ways”, writes Chiara Camponeschi in her 2010 e-book, The Enabling City; Place-Based Creative Problem-Solving and the Power of the Everyday. Here, the sources of innovation are found in “the most unlikely (according to some) places — the sites of need and frustration, imagination and opportunity — that shape our public lives. They are the places where citizens, individually or in concert with one another, nurture creative projects that make their lives, and those of others, a little better. They are the streets, living rooms, gardens, and squares reshaping the way we think of the public sphere. They are the places where social innovation begins.”

This is a wonderful collection of social innovations aimed at building better communities. Among her list of “ideas to help cities and communities enhance their everyday reality and spark new experiments and experiences in participatory governance” are ideas for scaling up innovative projects:

  1. When thinking about scaling a project, choose problems that are locally relevant but have wider scope;
  2. Investigate effective demand for the innovation: Can it capture the imagination of the community? Are there individuals or organizations willing to support it?
  3. Assess the project’s capacity to grow: What is its vision? What is the business model? How does the governance structure reflect the values of the social economy?
  4. Once the project is underway, raise awareness and scale it up through community advocacy, professional/social networks, and inter-stakeholder dialogue;
  5. Build learning systems that can nurture and scale up local innovation, investing in face-to-face relationships where mutual trust can grow and local needs can be truly understood;
  6. Learn and adapt by sharing lessons learned.
  7. Lobby governments and institutions to:
    • invest in creating diverse and widespread capabilities for innovation across the public, social, and commercial sectors;
    • pass new laws and policies that support the initiatives of ‘creative communities’ by providing low barriers to entry and an enabling environment for social innovation;
    • commit to spending and investing in infrastructure that stimulates social innovation and focuses on the equitable distribution of funding.

To keep innovations meaningful:

  1. Get to know the community: organize periodical get-togethers or idea potlucks as a way for informal networking and idea- exchange to take place;
  2. Make sure the innovation, collaboration, or participation agenda is not co-opted or treated as a managerial tool. Always ask: Why participation? Whose design? Whose solutions?
  3. Invest in communities as an approach to community resilience;
  4. Avoid fixating exclusively on innovations and dismissing every established method of meeting people’s needs. Innovation is often stifled by narrow definitions of high performance;
  5. Bring social justice and intercultural dialogue into the heart of government and the institutions that (should) support the social economy;
  6. Foster deliberation, not just consultation; and
  7. Enable public servants to understand the shifts from leading to enabling, from controlling to influencing, and from operating in isolation to working in partnership with others in order to better serve the public.

Visit the website for more information: The Enabling City – Social innovation for urban sustainability and participatory governance