Local background of the social innovations
Emergence of local proactive welfare policies:
As far as housing and child care policies are concerned, multi-level governance is the predominant situation with more or less shared responsibilities between national and local governments. It introduces complex institutional relations and potential tensions on issues such as priorities on the agenda and funding. Indeed, child care and housing issues are partly determined by national policies. Nevertheless, cities and metropolises have taken more responsibilities throughout the years for different reasons: continuation of the decentralisation process; the economic crisis implying state withdrawal from welfare policies; development of technical resources and expertise at the level of cities and metropolises, enabling them to develop their own policies. This is the case for the City of Nantes and Nantes Metropolis, which have been leading proactive welfare policies and playing a major role in promoting development of social innovation. It is worth noting that controversies, existing between national and Nantes local governments, mainly concern allocation of funds in a context of funding scarcity and constant drive for efficiency in public spending.
A tendency to focus on the most vulnerable groups within a social cohesion strategy:
One of the main Nantes City and Metropolis’ welfare policy orientations is to address the most vulnerable social groups. For instance, the Local Housing Programme (2010-2016), focuses on rehabilitation and construction of social housing; rehabilitation of old unsanitary housing, improvement of energy efficiency; enhancing affordable housing for low- and intermediary-income households. Similarly, child care policies, national as well as local, address new challenges of social cohesion, such as the increase of women’s work and degradation of working conditions (precariousness, increase of part-time jobs and atypical hours). The priority is put on reconciling family life and professional commitments as a means to combat poverty.
Although there is a multiplicity of stakeholders, providers and institutions in the field of child care, reconciliation between family and work is subject to a relative consensus among them (political majority and opposition, public structures and associations). Important reforms have been implemented since 2004 (large increase of new places in collective care, a more integrated local child care governance, new services dedicated to low-income families, etc.) and led to the building of new bridges between child care and employment policies and the respective administrative services, which were completely separate until then. Indeed, we notice the dissemination of new employment policy patterns to child care policies.
In 2007-2009, a new “social experimentation” in the employment field was launched in order to improve the mechanisms of social allowances (Activity Solidarity Income), aiming to combat poverty of employees and facilitating poor families’ return to work. The innovation initiated by the City of Nantes (presented below) uses the same terminology of “social experimentation” and similar patterns, encouraging low-income mothers to return to work thanks to the improvement of child care facilities. To a certain extent, the priority is to improve access of vulnerable groups, less by creating specific and dedicated services and programmes than by facilitating their access to traditional social services through adaptation and better coordination of existing providers and professionals or through local experiments with new intermediations between different policy fields.
Local policies dedicated to the social and solidarity-based economy (SSE): a window of opportunity for social innovation:
At the same time, multi-level governance creates windows of opportunity for social innovation in terms of recognition and funding. For instance, the emergence of metropolises in the 2000s led to the implementation of new local policies. This is the case of Nantes Metropolis, created in 2001, that has initiated SSE policies since 2002. Until the election of François Hollande in 2012, there was no national SSE policy. Local SSE policies gave opportunities and space for social innovation and initiatives in a cross-cutting perspective. As an example, Nantes Metropolis SSE policies promote the development of cross-cutting approaches between sectorial policies, reinforcing partnerships between public and non-governmental organisations.
Nantes Metropolis has created a specific SSE Call for Proposals, in order to finance new and socially innovative projects in various fields such as home care services, home-sharing, child care, social entrepreneurship, intercultural exchanges, international solidarity, organic agriculture, waste recycling, territorial and neighbourhood revitalisation, etc. The specificity of such a Call for Proposals is to support projects that address different sectorial policies at the same time (housing, education, employment, culture, child care, etc.). This framework of action is new in comparison with traditional public action frameworks of local institutions and civil servants that classify policies according to their areas of competence and not to the reality of newly emerged action.
Plurality of discourses on social innovation:
The main frameworks for innovation policy remain related to economic development, research and technology investment, information technology, support for entrepreneurship, etc. Technological and economic innovations are promoted in the Pays de la Loire regional territory through the “Atlanpole technopole” (high-tech industrial research and development facilities), fostering the emergence and development of innovative companies and facilitating networks of actors. However, social innovation is not absent from local political discourse. Whereas in the 1990s NGOs were considered as key agents in innovative practices, they no longer have the monopoly over discourse on this issue. Local authorities also tend to present the action or policies they experiment and implement as innovative social strategies. In the Nantes municipal child care project, presented below, public institutions present themselves as social innovators, while not-for-profit organisations are not associated with the project or considered as partners of child care policies.
In addition, it is worth underlining how social innovation is progressively integrated into a new framework of local public action. In 2012, Nantes Metropolis and City initiated a joint project on innovation in public action, presented in the official discourse as the main source of change in policies. Working groups (administrative services and policymakers) aim at drafting a first set of good practices and defining favourable conditions for innovation; creating a more operational framework for supporting innovation in the territory; and deciding strategic orientations for public policy.
However, we observe at the same time the emergence of new discourses and positions on social innovation in the third sector. One is the emergence of a social entrepreneur discourse that, in line with a European approach, is more and more often associated with social innovation. Within the initiatives selected, we can find both new social entrepreneur profiles (Time for Roof) that promote a move towards social entrepreneurship in comparison with traditional social services, but also new projects supported by civil society organisations and social and solidarity-based economic programmes that present themselves as “social entrepreneurs” because it tends to appear to local policymakers as a “modern” and “innovative” approach in order to tackle social issues.
Grassroots initiatives, on the other hand, could speak of social innovation without promoting the social entrepreneurship perspective. This notion is not stabilised, which explains why networks in the third sector “milieu” and policymakers have developed different notions of “social entrepreneurship” and “social innovation”.
Family-minded and friendly projects as a way to facilitate social cohesion:
In a context of rationalisation of social policies, increasing budget constraints, and the standardisation and specialisation of social work tasks, it is interesting to note that two initiatives presented in the case studies intend to build new spaces for exchanges, not only in a functional perspective (rendering services to target groups) but also aiming at creating social ties between inhabitants developing convivial activities, mixing different groups, such as young and elderly people, mothers from social disadvantaged areas and mothers from middle-classes, etc.
This report presents three social innovations that have recently emerged in the territory of Nantes Metropolis. One of them is a grassroots initiative developed by the not-for-profit organisation Time for Roof. The second is a top-down driven initiative, supported jointly by three local child care institutions: the City of Nantes, the local Family Allowance Fund and the General Council. The third initiative combines two approaches: seven grassroots initiatives opened neighbourhood community centres and a network, made up of the seven initiatives, was created based on the idea and the support of local public institutions and well-established NGOs.