Among the innovations presented in this report, some are recent (support for self-renovation, Parler Bambins) and others are fragile (Potes en Ciel). In other words, the description and analysis of past initiatives shows that they are not all success stories. But the ability to overcome certain difficulties also influences the conditions for their sustainability.
From being in step with local priorities to being able to resist changes in the local political agenda
This is more or less a question of chance and opportunism. Social innovations can be in step with dominant issues on national and local political agendas. From time to time priorities change, highlighting new practices and leaving previous innovations in the shade.
For instance, parental participation was considered as innovative by child-care institutions a few years ago, but this is less the case at present. Conversely, local solutions such as Parler Bambins to fight against social and educational inequalities at the early preschool age are in keeping with the spirit of the times. In the housing and urban field, participation by inhabitants was a key component of urban social policies in the 1980s and 90s before it was progressively forgotten in favour of urban renewal policies in the 2000s, which were based on the demolition and reconstruction of former social housing areas. In this regard, some local authorities retain an ability to maintain their own political agendas concerning innovative issues, as illustrated by the action launched by Lille city council to promote self-renovation initiatives. Processes such as participation by inhabitants could re-emerge via a locally contentious context, for example, as triggered by the association Rase pas mon quartier [Don’t demolish my neighbourhood] that was the starting point for the Ilot Stephenson experiment in co-producing a neighbourhood urban renewal project.
From initial political support to institutional coalition
Initial support from the local political sphere is often a crucial factor in the process by which local social policy innovations emerge, depending as they do mainly on public funding, along with other local services of general interest. In Lille, Parler Bambins is clearly an experiment strongly supported by the elected councillor in charge of child care. Support for self-renovation has been promoted internally by professionals in the Lille council housing department. Patrick Bouchain and his architects were called in by the mayor of Tourcoing and the semi-public company in charge of the Union renewal urban project. Even when the opportunity to support an initiative is the subject of political disputes or administrative resistance, as was initially the case for the children’s café Potes en Ciel, local allies among elected officials opened windows of opportunities. The challenge of sustainability is to strengthen the initial political and/or administrative support over time and ensure that it is not merely a temporary boost. Longstanding commitment is decisive for building broader local coalitions of stakeholders and creating bridges between different political fields and administrative departments. This is, for instance, the strategy used by Les compagnons bâtisseurs for strengthening housing self-renovation experiments.
Diversification and consolidation strategies for mobilising funds and resources
This is a key point because funding support for innovation remains fragile. It is often project-based, limited in time and depreciation-based. Co-funding strategies are often the result of local authorities’ rules and practices; as they are reluctant to invest in a project alone, building a local coalition of funders is often necessary. In this context, diversification strategies can mean getting funds from local authorities and public institutions at different levels and in charge of skills in different fields. Mixed funding also implies mobilising private resources from private foundations, user contributions or the sale of services. Finally, non-monetary contributions from user participation or volunteer contributions could also be a component in a hybridised balance of resources. We can identify user participation in most of the initiatives analysed. In some of them, it is at the heart of the projects, as in the children’s café where parents are co-producers of the activities provided or in support for housing self-renovation where household contributions are accounted for. In this context, renewal of volunteers, user participation and social mix are both key internal human resource for the sustainability of the service and an important external factor of legitimation support from partners and funders.
Recognition and consolidation of new trades, atypical job profiles and skills mix
An interesting aspect studied in several initiatives is the emergence of new professional practices or job profiles asking for a skills mix at the crossroads of different existing trades. For instance, being an advisor in the support team for housing self-renovation requires a mix of skills coming from the construction trades and social work sector. The architect’s immersion in the building site led to direct management of relationships with inhabitants, not only with professionals in the urban renewal operation. In the early childhood centres in Faubourg de Bethune, the director of the part-time child care service has, besides her management function, a social development mission in the district in relation to various neighbourhood associations and local institutions (schools, social centre. etc.) seeking to improve living conditions and social inclusion for families with young children. Making this kind of job sustainable is the challenge facing social innovators. It requires finding and attracting workers with a relatively rare profile who are sufficiently motivated to want to escape professional routines. The process of consolidating these atypical professions also requires social entrepreneurs to invent complex or tailored funding packages as well as specific deals with existing reference qualifications and training programmes.
From singular initiative to innovative concept
Dissemination means a way of translating a process for transforming specific practices emerging within a specific context into a more or less mainstream concept or story able to influence collective representations of what is or is not innovative, and to become relevant to people and institutions from outside. Dissemination cannot be disconnected from discursive innovations, which are often crystalised as an expression of a concept that can be circulated through different socio-cultural contexts. Several local initiatives studied in Lille (Parler Bambins, Café Potes en Ciel and support for housing self-renovation) are examples of the dissemination of innovations conceptualised elsewhere and adapted in response to local issues. Specifically, notions such as Parler Bambins, Potes en Ciel and support for housing self-renovation cover similar groups of initiatives, which have already been tested in different cities. These are not products that can be technically reproduced, nor are they turnkey solutions; rather they are approaches, methods and organisations that could be characterised or formalised as principles of action and recommendations for implementation. The Ilot Stephenson case is interesting because conceptualisation is an ongoing process, expressed by the slogan Faire ensemble, le grand ensemble [Working together to build the whole urban area], which has not yet stabilised.
Communications channels and media coverage
This is a more ambiguous form of dissemination. Examples such as Ilot Stephenson or Parler Bambins demonstrate how an initiative, launched recently and yet having achieved much, can become the go-to concept despite the first positive outcomes yet to be confirmed. Even if a deeper analysis is needed of the role of communications as a key factor in the reputation of innovative practices, we can note that using different channels of communication facilitates broader coverage. A mix between major institutional communications (making a film, special website), local press articles, publications in academic and trade press, participation in diverse conferences or public events all constitute a favourable terrain for reaching the national media. How well social innovation performs does not always seem to be directly connected to effective results. However, excessively rapid overexposure also risks compromising the longevity of social innovation.
Formalising mechanisms for transferring and adapting know-how and skills to different contexts
Dissemination processes need formalised mechanisms for transferring and adapting concepts, know-how and skills to various promoters and stakeholders. This point can be illustrated in different ways via the Lille case studies: specific training sessions for local professional teams in the experimental Parler Bambins project and support for housing self-renovation, reference to and membership of a national charter for children cafés for Potes en Ciel, publication of a book on alternative and participative approaches to social housing construction and urban renewal neighbourhoods by the team of architects and urban planners from the Construire company. The dissemination challenge is based on the ability of pioneers and social innovators to transmit not only an inspirational vision and concept, but also operational principles. It also requires project management skills of local stakeholders.
Bottom-link supports mean that local innovation are integrated and legitimised by networks, processes and resources from other scales. In two cases studied, Parler Bambins and the Ilot Stephenson urban renewal project, the intervention of a scientific team or well-known architect from outside accelerated local innovation processes and overcame some resistance at the local level. A more traditional method of networking is the inclusion of local initiatives within a regional, national or European network able to offer symbolic, technical and financial opportunities. The creation of a national network of 10 children’s cafés is one example. Becoming members of Les compagnons bâtisseurs (Companion Builders) network is also an option considered by some local non-profit organisations in charge of implementing self-renovation housing projects in Lille.