Local background of the social innovations
An unequal distribution of responsibilities between national and local governments in the WILCO policy fields:
Taking into consideration the three WILCO policy fields, multi-governance is the predominant situation with more or less shared responsibilities between national and local governments. However, we can clearly distinguish labour market policy where local authorities’ room for action is quite limited. They can facilitate coordination between local employment public services with local enterprises and institutions or take a proactive role in the local implementation of national employment schemes. Although employment and professional integration do not fall directly under the authority of Lille municipality, the increasing unemployment rate and worsening living conditions of young people concern local policymakers and explain local political initiatives in this field. Conversely, housing is an explicit responsibility and one of Lille Metropolis’ ambitious policy fields. Similarly, local child-care policy would not exist without municipal regulation, investment and provision of facilities. These unbalanced situations explain why we have decided to select and analyse innovative practices in the housing and child-care fields.
Predominance of quantitative issues over qualitative and innovative actions:
Taking into account municipal initiatives for reducing the growing youth unemployment rate, “building more” with the construction plan for 5,000 new dwellings per year in Lille Metropolis, creating new child care places and optimising existing places, political discourse and administrative recommendations focus above all on quantitative objectives and indicators. Qualitative and innovative actions are positioned as secondary issues but are not absent from the political agenda. The housing policy field is a good example. Beyond general objectives1, Lille Metropolis Local Housing Plan includes an innovative component named “experiments” in each of the main priorities. According to the municipal administration, the initiatives that could be assessed as innovative are: a focus on citizen participation with a call for projects on “participative habitat”2; a consensus conference3 on housing launched in 2011; a renovation programme for private dwellings based on technical assistance for self-help renovation and mutual aid within groups of 8-10 owners; etc. However, the local political arena for social innovation promotion and debate remains permanently weakened by attention paid primarily to a limited number of quantitative priorities, especially in times of economic crisis when budget cuts have entered into the public debate.
Social innovations in the age of public spending restrictions:
The child-care field illustrates existing tensions between local providers, local authorities and representatives of family policy in the ways innovative practices are promoted. In Lille, a multi-governance issue has emerged with the decrease of funding coming from the Family Allowance Office (CAF) during the negotiation of the next “contrat enfance-jeunesse” (early child care contract). Supporting qualitative actions such as early childhood centres or emergency home child-care services for low-income parents with atypical working hours is no longer a national priority in contrast to classical quantitative objectives of increasing and optimising the number of places. Although considered as useful, initiatives supported a few years ago as innovative are now subject to reduced funding. Financial support from the municipality can be partial and temporary in a context marked by budget restrictions. Budget constraints lead to a selection process relating to innovations. Parler Bambins, one of the experiments analysed in the next chapter, is strongly supported by the municipality whereas the future of former initiatives is much more uncertain despite the recognition of the usefulness by elected representatives and technicians.
The public spending restriction period is going to reconfigure the funding method of social innovation. As qualitative actions are marginalised within the early child-care contract negotiated with Lille municipality, the local family office has launched a temporary call for innovative actions in child-care services. However, the number of selected projects is quite limited (only one in Lille), with the funding presented as one-shot support within a co-funding perspective. A few years ago, the local family office had its own funding budget for providing long-term support for bottom-up initiatives negotiated on a face-to-face basis and in cooperation with the local authorities.
The end of the of civil society monopoly over social innovation discourse and actions?
Another interesting aspect is that social innovation is no longer the monopoly of organised civil society discourse and practice. Whereas in the 1990s not-for-profit organisations were considered key agents in innovative practices, they are now in competition with local authorities. In a similar way to participatory democracy, social innovation is progressively integrated into a new framework of local public action. Several initiatives presented in the report, such as Parler Bambins and support for housing self-renovation, have been launched by Lille Municipality or Lille Metropolis.
Local policies dedicated to social and solidarity-based economy (SSE) – a window of opportunity for social innovation:
The main innovation policy frameworks remain related to economic development, research and technological investment, information technology, support to entrepreneurship, etc. Stimulation of innovation is, for instance, included in Lille Metropolis’ economic development agenda with specific programmes such as Pôles de compétitivité (competitiveness clusters), industries and sectors of excellence, etc.
However, social innovation is not absent from local political discourse. It is, in particular, a key concept used in the description of the social and solidarity-based plan developed by Lille Metropolis. Social innovation is presented as an intrinsic characteristic of socio-economic initiatives and enterprises with participative governance and social goals (cooperatives, self-help initiatives, not-for-profit organisations and social enterprises, etc.) It is also associated with Lille Metropolis’ economic development initiatives and programmes.
At a time when rhetoric and budgets of innovation are monopolised by competiveness and reindustrialisation development objectives and strategies, new fields of public action such as SSE local policies constitute a window of opportunity for testing different innovative strategies and services in response to meeting local needs.