Local background of the social innovations
The administrative decentralisation of the political structure in Spain grants regional and local councils a set of legislative and executive competencies which, in the case of social welfare services, are very far-reaching (Aguilar et al. 2011). This decentralisation of competencies has given considerable leeway to each territory in the design of their social protection systems. The case of the city of Barcelona is a good example for studying the main forces that have marked the way in which the social welfare system has developed at a local level. In order to understand it, we need to analyse what has happened over the last few decades. The social innovations that we find in Barcelona today are related to three basic factors: (a) the political/administrative structure of the country; (b) the specific city government; and (c) the dynamics of civil society.
(a) The political/administrative structure
At the time of the first local elections after the restoration of democracy in 1979, there was no organised social welfare system in Spain. Health and education were the only areas of social policy that had not been discontinued during the dictatorship. The Spanish constitution now establishes that the autonomous communities have competency over a network of services and benefits aimed at meeting the population’s needs. The state legislation on local government also establishes that cities of over 200,000 inhabitants must design their own services in this area.
(b) The specific city government
From these first local elections, and until 2010, a period of over 30 years, the city council of Barcelona was in the hands of the Left (the Socialist Party won the elections and governed in coalition with two other left-wing parties). The main characteristics of the social welfare system of the city, therefore, are: (1) continuity in the government team over a long period of time, (2) starting from zero, i.e. they had to build the system from scratch, and (3) citizens who – after the long period of dictatorship – wanted to be involved in political action, to participate. Municipal policymakers made the most of this potential when it came to setting up the local welfare system, as did other political stakeholders (the opposition parties and civil society) to some extent.
The first decade, the 1980s, saw the creation of the social services network and, at the regional level, the passing of the first Social Services Act, but it was probably not until the 1990s that it could be said that the city’s social welfare model was consolidated. Some years earlier, in 1987, a Social Welfare Department had been set up by the municipal government. It is significant that this was the first time any government body in Spain had used the term “social welfare” to define an area of political action. A ministry was later created in the government of Spain and a regional ministry in the Autonomous Community of Catalonia. For over 10 years the department was run by the same politicians, a situation which has had an impact on its development right up until today.
In more general terms, in Barcelona we find an objective that cuts across all areas of political action: the “modernisation” of the city. This is a manifestation of the desire to recover the spirit of enterprise that the city once had, to recover its own brand of economic and cultural dynamism that was forbidden during the years of the dictatorship. It finds its expression in the construction of the “Barcelona model”, a model that can be seen clearly in the changes in urban development as a result of the 1992 Olympic Games, the success of which was to a large extent due to the involvement of civil society (a kind of ritual act of “civil religion” as one author described it), although it also affected other areas of society.
Policymakers in the Social Welfare Department set themselves a basic goal of building a social services model that was participative. As no welfare services system yet existed, there was no widespread culture of commitment to, or participation in, the city’s social welfare. The structures used to encourage and enable people to commit themselves to collective responsibilities would also have to be created (see Montagut et al., 2012).
(c) The dynamics of civil society
Civil society in the Autonomous Community of Catalonia has traditionally been participative and enterprising, as demonstrated by the large number of cooperatives that existed in Barcelona at the end of the nineteenth century. Another example reflecting the dynamism of citizen participation is found in the “neighbourhood associations” established in different neighbourhoods of Barcelona at the end of the dictatorship in the 1970s to influence municipal politics. These associations, organised citywide as the Federation of Neighbourhood Associations of Barcelona (Federación de Asociaciones de Vecinos de Barcelona, or FAVB), continue to be political stakeholders working on behalf of citizens’ interests (in some cases with ties to certain left-wing parties through leaders active in both). In certain actions (e.g. urban projects to rejuvenate neighbourhoods) some associations have played a role resembling that of speculators more than advocates for the interests of neighbourhood residents, which has resulted in conflicts between a particular neighbourhood association and the FAVB. There have also been some conflicts within certain neighbourhoods, which have led to the rise of new associations that aim to more closely represent citizens’ interests, but even so, these different associations have managed to work together, creating strong participation networks.
The search for a “Barcelona model”has meanwhile continued ever more seriously in various political arenas, and collaboration with civil society in social welfare matters has also increased significantly, representing a force for social innovation in the city. In the following sections we present three innovative projects in the area of social welfare at the local level. These three distinct approaches – all taking place in the same period – reveal the search among the different stakeholders involved to construct or transform the local social welfare system.