Bern – Introduction
Local background of the social innovations
Bern is trying to identity itself as a social and innovative city. Although it is the capital, Bern is only the fourth largest city in Switzerland. The head trio is Zurich, often identified as the financial capital, Geneva known for its banks and its numerous international organisation, and Basel, with its dynamic pharmaceutical industry. The three of them have an international airport and close links with neighbouring countries.
In a famous quote of 1932, the American judge, Brandeis, enthusiastically stated: “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”1 Being in charge of welfare, Switzerland’s 26 cantons and 2,495 communes enjoy considerable latitude in experimenting new forms of welfare policies. Cattacin (1996) showed how this room for manoeuvre allowed some communes or cantons to implement very innovative social policies, which would have had no chance on the national level. These innovations – in the field of addiction for example – were sometimes spread throughout the country, not by being scaled up and taken over by the federal government, but through a coordination between territorial units.
If we consider social rights as an essential part of citizenship, we could argue that urban welfare contributes to build urban citizenship. Marshall’s analysis addressed the national level, but it could apply to a sub-national level. A local welfare system could contribute to a feeling of belonging to the urban community, and hereby influence the perceived identity of the city. In this way, innovative policies are a feature of an innovative city. As well as tolerance toward the alternative cultural centre “Reithalle”, or the realisation of architectural flagship projects, innovative social policies contribute to the fulfilment of an image of the city as it is thought of by the local elites. As a goal and as a slogan, some recent administrative documents have used this headline: “Bern is a growing city, a creative city, a ecologic city, a world open city, a social city”.
The three innovations to be presented in this document are flagship projects of the governing (left) coalition. All three occasioned extensive communication. Scientific documents preceded and accompanied the projects. Resources and information are available on paper and on the internet, addressing a large public. Evaluations are also made public. This effort of communication and transparency is meant to increase the project’s efficiency as well as its acceptance and to prevent political criticism. The first project is a compensatory preschool education programme. The second is a concept of guidelines and recommendations regarding integration of migrant populations. The third and most recent is a professional integration project addressing unemployed young mothers facing economic difficulties.