The innovations studied in Nantes are quite recent and still developing. Nevertheless, they have reached a certain level of stabilisation and are already overcoming difficulties. Therefore, we can already underline several key elements of sustainability.
One important aspect is the integration in broad coalitions. Initial support from the local political sphere is often a crucial factor in the process by which local social policy innovations emerge, as they depend mainly on public funding. Local allies, especially among elected officials, open windows of opportunity. 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 the LCP network for strengthening the seven local initiatives. Similarly, the strong partnership between the City of Nantes, the General Council and the CAF is a condition of sustainability of the initiative. Conversely, although it received support from elected district representatives at the beginning, which contributed to open the doors to public funding, Time for Roof did not succeed over time in building broader local coalitions of stakeholders. This is one of the factors impeding the association from being fully legitimate and securing its sustainability.
Building broad institutional coalitions requires federating all stakeholders: elected representatives and civil servants; high and intermediary levels (directors of administrative services and professionals, such as social workers, etc.). If one of them is missing, it can jeopardise the success of the innovation.
Integration into non-governmental networks and coalitions are a way to enhance public recognition of the social innovation. For social innovations that emerged from grassroots non-governmental organisations, a main challenge of sustainability is to integrate broader local and national networks as a way to legitimate their actions and benefit from resources already developed by other structures. This is the case of the LCP network, which has contributed to increasing the power of negotiation of each particular social initiative and lobbied public institutions on common issues and challenges. The main factor is the support of two local well-recognised non-governmental organisations (Ecossolies and Animation Rurale 44), which use their own resources, such as direct contacts with political elected officials and civil servants, to promote the grassroots initiatives. On the contrary, we could say that the absence of fruitful cooperation between Time for Roof and other national or regional umbrellas involved in intergenerational cohabitation hinders public recognition of the social innovation.
Are public-private partnerships a risk for social innovation’s independence? Broad coalitions of public institutions and non-governmental associations may lead to the constitution of close partnerships, enabling them to secure public funding for social innovations. It is the case in the LCP project, in which a new governance body comprises public institutions, two local NGOs and the LCP leaders (professionals). However, it could jeopardise social innovations’ independence in relation to public institutions, in as far as representatives of grassroots initiatives are in a minority and LCP initiatives’ Boards of Administration are not invited to be members.
Co-construction of new working cultures, quality of work and associative governance
New innovative practices challenge their surroundings and the social innovation’s protagonists themselves. Although the change promoters may be convinced of the relevancy of the new working culture brought by the innovation, the stakeholders involved in its co-production and implementation (professional staff, volunteers, users, etc.) may be sceptical or reluctant to integrate new professional cultures and practices. The participation of stakeholders in the co-construction of the project and the existence of a capacity-building process are crucial for the sustainability of the social innovation. For instance, in the project initiated by the City of Nantes, a preparatory phase organised for child care and employment services enabled professionals to overcome their fears and resistance. In the LCP project, external consultants provided LCP leaders with training and capacity building. It enabled them to co-construct a common identity, culture and practices with the grassroots initiatives.
In its first phase of development, social innovation does not have a stable organisational structure and generally requires polyvalence and the capacity to mix different skills (social, administrative, financial, political, technical, etc.), to adapt and react rapidly to new situations. In this context, professionals often face precarious working conditions, overload of work, low salaries, non-recognition of their skills and burn-out. Therefore, a key factor of sustainability is the capacity of the social innovation to stabilise its working conditions and find longstanding solutions to the professionals’ precariousness.
Social innovations often emerge thanks to the strong personal commitment of the founders, giving time on a voluntary basis and being available for developing the project and contacts. Thus, it raises the question of sustainability beyond the investment of a few individuals. The capacity for developing and maintaining a collective dimension, implying the participation of users and volunteers in the co-production of services and in the governance body, is also a main challenge of sustainability.
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. The role of specific funding mechanisms is important for the emergence of social innovation. The existence of public calls for proposals dedicated to the emergence of new projects is an important factor of development for social innovations. It is interesting to note that public funds do not often come from sectorial social policies (housing, elderly people, child care, etc.) but from cross-cutting policies, such as Social and Solidarity-based Economy policies or the Social European Fund. For instance, the Social and Solidarity-based Economy Call for Proposals, created in 2006 by Nantes Metropolis, plays a major role in support for grassroots initiatives: between 2006 and 2010, 129 grants were allocated to 73 organisations for a total amount of 673,000 euros.
Nevertheless, in as far as this first support is limited in its duration, the main challenge is long-term funding for social innovations. 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. As a consequence, fundraising often becomes a permanent activity for social innovations and takes an enormous amount of time, without the assurance that the result will be positive and often to the detriment of time spent with users. In addition, time-limited funding constitutes a real limitation since it requires social innovations to keep on running after new opportunities (calls for proposals, etc.). It also requires adapting project proposals to the selection criteria defined by public institutions or private foundations. This may lead to paradoxical situations for social innovations. For instance, in order to get financial support, Time for Roof is required to keep on proposing new innovating projects. As a consequence, it faces the following contradiction: it is not given the means to sustain its innovation and constantly faces risks of destabilisation of its structure by being forced to innovate all the time.
Furthermore, the sustainability of social innovations raises the question of the continuity and the quality of the support given by public institutions. In Nantes, once social innovations are no longer funded by the SSE Call for Proposals, there are no other specific budget lines and we note a vacuum between the first grants given to the new innovative projects and the support given to more consolidated projects by sectorial administrative departments (employment, housing, child care, etc.) but not adapted to social innovations still under construction.
There is a need for the development of cross-cutting funding between different policy fields. Social innovation often concerns several policy fields (housing, child care, employment, youth, care for elderly people and social and solidarity-based economy policies) and demonstrates that cross-cutting approaches are suitable to address complex social problems. However, it faces many obstacles and resistance, as the sectorial division of policy fields is deeply rooted in the welfare system and its modification requires long-term cultural changes, loss of power and budgets, etc. Nevertheless, we observe that the LCP project and the initiative led by the City of Nantes succeeded in obtaining cross-cutting and inter-institutional funding (City of Nantes, Nantes Metropolis, General Council, CAF). Future evaluation would enable analysis of the sustainability of such new funding mechanisms.
Mixed funding also implies mobilising private resources from private foundations, user contributions or the sale of services. In comparison with other intergenerational home sharing projects, Time for Roof has developed an original economic model in which financial participation of the users is a key element of sustainability. Users’ contributions finance 60-70 per cent of the intermediary role played by the association (support to the users, mediation, etc.).
Finally, non-monetary contributions from user participation or volunteer contributions could also be a component in a hybridised balance of resources. In some cases, it is at the heart of the projects, as in the LCP initiatives, where parents, women and inhabitants are co-producers of the activities provided. In this context, renewal of volunteers, user participation and social mix are both key internal human resources for the sustainability of the service and an important external factor of legitimation as well as of independence in the relation with partners and funders.
Diffusion is defined as the possibility of “mainstreaming” the respective organised projects, not only their operations, but also their central instruments, patterns, values and “messages”, thereby influencing the institutional architecture as well as mind-sets in societies, their local welfare systems and governance.
New projects, identified as innovative in a particular context, may be based on other experimentations conceptualised and implemented elsewhere. However, in order to be successful, dissemination of good practices cannot be disconnected from local context specificities. The same innovative concept may lead to very diverse initiatives on the ground, and implies adaptation in response to local issues. Among various factors, the understanding, position and support from various stakeholders (public bodies, professionals, users, etc.) who structure the local “professional milieu” is a key element of diffusion. For instance, Time for Roof encountered strong political support in the city of Angers that enabled it to rapidly develop intergenerational homes sharing based on the model conceived in Nantes. Conversely, the City of Nantes faced child-minders’ resistance to cooperate. This can be explained by a lack of analysis of the Nantes context: the City of Nantes had taken for granted the conclusions of a similar project in the city of Grigny, where most child-minders were unemployed and looking for job. By contrast, child-minders in Nantes face a strong demand from parents and are able to choose those who propose secure funding.
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 by the Nantes case studies: training sessions for LCP leaders, creation of a collective LCP charter; working sessions for child care and employment services’ professionals, elaboration of common working tools (information documents, procedures).
Communication plays a main role in dissemination. Innovative projects tend to diversify as much as possible their communication tools: websites, local press articles, publication in academic press, participation in diverse conferences and public events, etc. Besides, the support given by public institutions is another key factor of diffusion. For instance, the LCP has benefited from broad coverage by Ecossolies and Nantes Metropolis, which funded the production of a documentary film presenting the network. It is presented systematically during official conferences, in the press and in website articles, and has become a kind of emblematic local successful project.
Dissemination of an innovative concept generally faces resistance at local and national levels. In order to defend social, economic and/or cultural changes they promote, innovations may rely on the expertise of researchers and specialists. For instance, the Time for Roof cofounders regularly organise public events to which they invite experts (sociologists, economists, doctors, etc.), in order to make intergenerational cohabitation recognised as a sustainable alternative in the care of dependent elderly people.
Expertise can be external, as for Time for Roof, or developed as an internal tool. For instance, the City of Nantes has a Policies Evaluation Service (Mission Evaluation Publiques), playing a role of expertise body. It gives resources and capacities, in terms of policies’ analysis and reforms’ implementation that many French cities do not have. It played an important role in the emergence of the experimentation and in its diffusion (conducting evaluations, spreading results via publications and public conferences).
Dissemination strategies aiming to influence the institutional architecture of local welfare systems and governance may consist of integrating social innovations into local mainstream policies. In a context of funding scarcity, this is the strategy chosen by the City of Nantes in order to disseminate the initiative in all Nantes districts. Nevertheless, it raises the question as to what extent it may have a “mainstreaming” effect and influence modifications in the welfare system or, on the contrary, lead to the social innovation being emptied of its contents by stronger routine professional practices.