The description of innovations presented here can be discussed and developed further in various directions and within various frameworks. Three possible ways – all to be dealt with in the WILCO project – will be sketched here in the conclusive remarks.
Social services research: innovations as illustrative examples for a new generation of social services
Obviously, the innovations we have described are marked by the specificity of time and circumstances – the special situation in Berlin with its mix of innovative traditions but likewise rather stable traditions of how to handle social inclusion issues by local welfare administrations, the more general problem of new attempts in times of austerity and pressing household depths. However, it can be assumed that behind the diversity of single innovations in Berlin and in other cities and countries, there are recurrent patterns of how to handle service issues differently, to be found across cities and countries. While there are obviously national and local specificities, many traits of these innovations are inter-national in character:
- Innovations entail approaches and instruments that enrich and change the classical tool kits of social welfare and service policies, e.g. moving from fixed entitlements to flexible support budgets and ad hoc support; developing services that give personalised bundles of support; creating new forms of social investments into people’s capabilities;
- Innovations entail innovations in public governance, at least to a certain degree. Some innovations have a governance focus; groups organise and present themselves and their concerns in new ways; networks and coalition building across departments and sectors are part of many innovative projects and sometimes even “meta-governance” takes new forms of deliberation and consent finding in search for the public good;
- There are shared features that point to the links between these innovations and post-traditional welfare concepts: services that address the strengths and not merely the weaknesses of their target groups are examples for enabling welfare concepts; the focus on critical transitional stages rather than standard situations links with the debate on new risks and a life-course-orientation in welfare; the ways new services are more family minded, personalised, but yet tying in people’s support networks contributes to an upgrading of the role of communities in mixed welfare systems; finally, the ways many innovative projects in local development link concerns of economic and social development exemplifies a social investment perspective on public welfare.
Researching innovation and change on the local level: The importance of the local context
A second line of making further use of our findings is to look at the inter-connectedness of innovations with the local context. As far as this context has been mentioned here our analysis underlines the central importance of four issues at given stages in the development of innovations:
- Plurality of discourses. In order to understand the interplay of context and innovations it is important to see them in a tension field structured by the juxtaposition and rivalry of different discourses, e.g. about classical welfare issues, more managerial approaches to welfare and one where concerns with autonomy, participation and pluralism prevail.
- The impact of history. Practices and values that guide action and politics are very much shaped by historical developments, experiences and the ways they crystallise in a locality. A deeper analysis of the dynamics of local innovations must take historical underpinnings into account.
- The welfare system, encompassing more than the political administrative system. We understand a welfare system as a large and mixed one, that comprises the fields of family and community, the business sector and the third sector of associations – looking at all of them from the perspective of welfare developments and their role as parts of a mixed welfare system. In such a perspective, a welfare system encompasses more than the field of professional politics and welfare administrations, even though the latter usually plays a dominating role. Social innovations should be understood in relation to this wider environment and not solely with respect to one of the sectors of the welfare system
- Differences by policy fields. Often innovative ideas, while restricted by the locally prevalent general discourse, may get much endorsement by a community of experts in a special policy field. Then, the overall impact of a productivist discourse for instance (as it has been sketched for the city of Muenster) may set less limits for innovative concepts in child care, compared to labour market politics; vertical (policy-field related) differences can be as important as horizontal (locally prevailing values and concepts) ones.
Researching the role of innovations in local politics and governance
Most innovations, like those presented here, are small scale and located at the margins of the political administrative system (PAS). However among the many context factors that have an impact on their upcoming and moreover their further development, the strategies and value orientations of the local PAS are of special importance. Local politics and governance increasingly include interactions with partners, reaching from casual arrangements and agreements in networks over to cross-sector partnerships and corporatist frameworks. What role can innovative organisations play within these forms of governance and policymaking? We assume pointing at the “innovative” quality of organisations and projects can give additional support for developing the kind of policies that give social innovation a place in the overall changing architecture of welfare governance.
Therefore, rather than only looking at special programmes in support of special innovation projects it might be preferable both in analytic and policy terms to look at the range of ways in which public policies already make use and take up new approaches from partners, developing policies that support innovations without explicitly using this label.
While our paper has just traced some ways found in Berlin, the real picture will be much wider. For decades, an increasing role of time-limited social programs, pilot schemes and targeted support-schemes for ‘new’ services, professional practices or rules of the game have arisen. In many of these programmes and their governance schemes one finds a mix of participants from different sectors: state, business, the third sector of associations, hybrid organisations, and groups that represent community action and family concerns. It is this increasingly pluralist character of projects and policies that can favour innovations of political and governance concepts. What do we know about the achievements and limits of these forms of linking change agents and mainstream stakeholders? What about their selection as forms of scaling up social innovation? Do they just support what works in short-term measurable forms or do they work as social investments where one is ready to take a risk? Into what kind of overarching discourse do the respective partners and participants get involved?
Bringing concerns with social innovations and their scaling up into this context may enrich the already ongoing debate about new “welfare mixes”, divisions of responsibility “paradigms of social interventions” and respective “mixed” and open forms of governance. The degree to which an outspoken reference to innovation makes a difference, depends on two critical issues: one must acknowledge what spills over in social innovations in terms of prospects and visions beyond immediate practical issues; there must also be a degree of readiness to put the wider context of institutionalised practices and policies at disposal. Otherwise a kind of new dialectic between small-scale innovation and wider ranging reform will not be put into motion.