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Amsterdam – Conclusions


Undeniably, financial contributions by the municipality/city districts played a role for all three social innovations that were presented in this report. Without the financial support of the municipality (and the additional funds that were available for the implementation of the wijkaanpak), all of these social innovations would have been more difficult to set up, and perhaps some would not have been set up at all. However, whilst the availability of governmental funding may stimulate/fasten the start up of social innovations, in times of “crisis”, continuous budget cuts, and general instability, it is questionable to what extent municipal funding also benefits the sustainability of these innovations.

An important aspect of the larger framework of the Neighbourhood Development Programme is the explicit emphasis of the municipal wijkaanpak on “result-driven” projects – if a certain social innovation is considered to be successful, it will continue to be supported by the municipality/city districts, both politically and financially; if not it will be considered “an experiment” that failed, but that was a good “learning experience” nonetheless. In welfare provisions that are especially innovative in the way in which they bring different actors together, there are bound to be many different goals. To assure the continuation of a particular innovation it is therefore important that there is some sort of understanding, or at least compromise, between the various actors involved about what those “results” should be. Regarding the “success” of BOOTs for instance, what some actors may deem to be the main goal, others perceive to be an “extra bonus”.

In general housing corporations and city districts are very happy, because with a minimal investment they do obtain quite some results in a neighbourhood. And then, “results”, that’s something you have to be careful with, because it is very difficult to measure some things. Also the children that have been with us for 4 years now: is it really measurable that they have become better at math and language? We are trying to measure it now, but I am always very careful with this, also because I do not look at it like this. It would be great of course! But the fact that these children have structurally been coming for 2.5 hours, and have been working with the students, that is a result on its own already. And that’s how we look at it too – that a lot of the things that we are doing, the dynamic between students and residents, that creates a lot of things that are very difficult to measure. And that’s why you have to be careful not to get involved with huge organisations with a lot of money, because…well, that’s not of these times. And you shouldn’t do that either, because for that you cannot clearly indicate what the investment is worth. So you have to keep it very informal, and especially (focus) on the fact that it’s the students that are developing themselves. That’s where the win–win situation is at for BOOT: that we have a better view of the working field, and that students can develop themselves within that field. And everything that this concretely adds to a neighbourhood, things that make a neighbourhood better, well that is a welcome bonus of course.

(Manager, BOOT)

For innovations that rely on municipal funding, “success”, and thus sustainability, is partly determined by the municipality, who wants to see tangible results to justify investments. A noteworthy difference between BOOTs (and Neighbourhood Mothers Catering) and NMCs in this respect is the extent to which they depend on governmental support. In the case of NMCs, city districts are providing funding on a structural basis. In the case of BOOTs, city districts are important sponsors as well, but the financial reliance is far less structural – proportionately the HvA invests much more (funding, personnel and time) than city districts. The HvA thus also has a greater right of say in the “right to existence” of BOOTs.

As for NMCs, the main goal for the housing corporation is to provide a service/information point for the residents in areas that are being renovated, and to be more visible/accessible – as a large, and otherwise more “distant” organisation – in those neighbourhoods. And in this regard, NMCs are indeed successful – which makes them a worthy investment for the housing corporation. The fact that, on top of that, they can also organise this in a way that creates traineeships and activation programmes for people with a distance to the labour market is an added bonus for the housing corporation, whose primary focus is still the (physical) renovation of the neighbourhood. Instead, city districts may be more interested in the re-integration trajectories that NMCs offer to (young) residents with a distance to the labour market. Even though housing corporations are now also expected to contribute to the “liveability” of neighbourhoods, considering the (traditional) division of (welfare) tasks between different kinds of actors, city districts (and the organisations they subsidise) are still more focused on the social and economic development of a neighbourhood than housing corporations. The fact that merely two youngsters at a time can follow a traineeship in a technical team, and that of those two, one might get a job in the regular labour market, may not be considered enough of a “success” by the city districts – at least, not in proportion to their investment. Yet, within the present construction of NMCs, city districts are crucial partners. In a context where funding is directly linked to performance, which, in turn, depends on one’s perspective, the sustainability of NMCs is most at risk.

Of the social innovations that were presented here, the importance of the availability of municipal funds for the functioning and the sustainability of a particular innovation is thus most striking in the case of NMCs. However, since the municipality and city districts have been known to be dealing with budget restraints for some time now, “social innovators” are generally also constantly innovating themselves in that regard too, preparing themselves for the fact that there will be less municipal subsidies to resort to in the future. Hence, what is equally important for the sustainability of social innovations (and perhaps even more so than financial support) is that the municipality and city districts support change, first of all administratively, but also “culturally” – culturally in the sense that the local governments must play a leading role in steering and stimulating a change in the traditional patterns of behaviour of the organisations that are involved in the provision of welfare services.

Furthermore, in a city with such a large and divided public administration, the challenge is not only to bring about movement among third sector welfare organisations and “novice” actors on the scene, but also to change the attitude of its very own public sector, and then especially of its civil servants. At the moment, as a result of a long-standing history in which the public sector has been subdivided into many very specific clusters, civil servants too are still very much anchored in certain modes of thinking and/or doing. As the case of Neighbourhood Mothers Catering in particular also suggested, to stimulate sustainable social innovations, the public sector too needs to “go with the flow”, so to speak.

That’s the difficult thing – on the one hand people want to do all sorts of things, and on the other hand there comes a civil servant from the municipal Work and Income Service and says: “Yes but you are retracting yourself from the labour market, and you are not allowed to do that”. And if they get paid even just 100 euros, they immediately get penalised on their social assistance benefits, so people lose all their motivation. In that sense the Netherlands is a bit weird, the system… People are hindered from taking any initiative. Also in the neighbourhood – at the moment you hear a lot about how citizen initiatives are the solution for the lack of municipal funds. But then when citizens take initiatives, they have to make all sorts of budgets and those budgets have to be according to all sorts of rules. While, these are volunteers, they cannot make such complicated schemes…yet it all has to be professionally all of a sudden. And well…that’s where it clashes. Something goes wrong there.

(Assistant Professor, Dept of Political Science, University of Amsterdam)


To assess the potential for diffusion of social innovations, one must look at what kind of actors initiated a particular project, and, especially, what interests and rights of say they have. In terms of the kinds of actors involved in the social innovations presented here, within the Netherlands, if the willingness is there, all three could be diffused to another city. In fact, there are already concepts in other cities in the Netherlands that are similar to those of NMCs, BOOTs and Neighbourhood Mothers Catering. Outside of the Netherlands, though, some of these social innovations may be “easier” to introduce than others. NMCs are the most “typically Dutch”, considering the role that housing corporations play herein. Yet, similar constructions could be envisaged in contexts where local governments are in charge of both employment and housing policies, and are able to match different policy-fields at the local level. The BOOTs – for which the motivation and the driving force comes from more “common” educational facilities – are perhaps a type of innovation that is more likely to be diffused in an international context, and, as a matter of fact, already is:

We talk a lot with other educational facilities – like Regionaal OpleidingenCentrum (ROC, Regional Education Center) InHolland, the University of Applied Sciences in Nijmegen – to see how they could do that within their own context. And that gives us a lot of interesting information. So there are also other BOOT concepts in other parts of the Netherlands, who do it in their own way. That fits with their university; that fits with the needs of the residents that live in those neighbourhoods. And that is a movement that I think has been very good, to see how higher educational facilities can do more than just education in the traditional way. But how can you really use that exchange with the city? And that’s a trend that you see in the whole of the Netherlands, even in Europe.

(Manager, BOOT)

What certainly helps the diffusion of social innovations that were discussed in this report is the existence of an extensive network of third sector (welfare) organisations and the presence of local governments that take on a leading and steering role. In the case of Amsterdam, the fact that there are already many local welfare provisions in place means that knowledge and personnel are often there, but it is a matter of coordinating efforts more efficiently. While local governments may not be able to provide financial support the way they used to in the past, it is all the more important that they remain active in bringing scattered and disjointed (welfare) organisations closer together. In Amsterdam, although the public administration surrounding welfare provisions is bulky and fragmented, the fact that it is a capital city that wants to “set an example” in the Netherlands also puts pressure on the administration to be innovative and dynamic. In other words, politically, a change of (organisational) culture must be supported, and encouraged.

Last but certainly not least, especially now that local governments are increasingly calling on citizens to be self-reliant and take on more individual responsibilities, it is critical that the inhabitants of a city support the social innovations. With regard hereto, in addition to having certain “institutionalised” structures, Amsterdam is also “blessed” with a particular social structure – its people are generally “social” and “entrepreneurial” at the same time. In recent years, the entrepreneurial attitude has perhaps become more pronounced, yet the people of Amsterdam (many of whom are highly educated) also have a long-lasting history of “active citizenship” (think of the local squatting movement) and the desire of individual citizens to want to “mean” something for a fellow-citizen is still strong. In reality, despite the fact that Amsterdam is often externally perceived as arrogant and perhaps even uncooperative, it is, internally, still fairly solidarity-based and social. As the case of the Neighbourhood Mothers Catering showed, at a time in which local governments are retrenching, “social” and “active” citizens are vital for the emergence of sustainable social innovations. The challenge for local governments is to be (administratively) responsive and (politically) supportive of such societal dynamics.

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Amsterdam – Conclusions

Categories: Conclusions