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Nijmegen – Conclusions


Although all innovations were, at least at the start, dependent on public funding, an explicit wish exists among members of all three projects to continue even if financial resources dry up. However, this urge to be self-sufficient was driven by different logic. Work corporations would prefer to earn revenues of their own because the municipality lacks financial resources to provide extensive re-employment instruments. To be self-sufficient as a work corporation is a necessity rather than a choice. In the case of A Future for Everybody, it was not only the uncertainty of receiving continuous funding that inspired the project management to develop a self-sufficient “neighbourhood factory”, but also reluctance to be dependent on a single funder. Hence, the independence of subsidies will safeguard the sustainability of innovations on the one hand, while it may give more control for the initiators of innovations on the other. Nevertheless, these kinds of projects may always require some professional guidance at the front end, for instance, when it comes to knowledge about certain rules and regulations. The money needed for this kind of project management now comes partly from a housing corporation. Since housing corporations are suffering big losses due to a housing market deadlock, lowered house prices and increased rental income levies (and sometimes risky investment strategies), it remains to be seen whether they still find it valuable to invest in “social sub-goals”.

One legacy of these projects seems to have been a shift towards the acceptance of a more active role of citizens. The idea is that co-production between citizens and local agents will increase the effectiveness of services and simultaneously improve social cohesion in neighbourhoods (see Fledderus et al. forthcoming). This movement requires a cultural adjustment within professional organisations, which makes it even more evident that it is innovative indeed. For housing corporation Portaal, the shift to more resident involvement was made very consciously. They agreed that their traditional approach no longer fitted current times. However, Sirocco would not have existed if residents themselves did not express their wish for such a project. The alderman responsible was not in favour of citizen participation in neighbourhood safety at that time, but political support was given since the initiative came from residents. It might be for this reason too – i.e. the fact that it was not the choice of the police and municipality – that the project encountered problems. Upgrading the community component in mixed welfare systems often ends up in failure because organisations “do not speak people’s language … or they put people under pressure by demanding too much co-production and compliance” (Evers and Ewert 2012: 18). In particular, the propensity of professionals and municipal workers to pull welfare issues towards themselves seems to be tenacious. This may especially be the case when it concerns areas where it is believed that citizens do not have sufficient skills or authority, such as safety:

Yes because then people have to come up with things and then eventually it turns into a administrative idea, or a municipal idea and then there is of course an outburst when something happens and then it is left to the institutions. And safety, especially when you look at it isolated, that is a terribly difficult thing to make it something that belongs to the neighbourhood, because there are so many catches involved.

(Project leader, Tandem Welzijn)

A Future for Everybody might perform better in this respect because it shows characteristics such as “learning, collective rethinking or behavioural changes” (Evers and Ewert 2012: 18). While this project actually failed to reach some important targets concerning the development of real estate, it provided soil for new initiatives. Hence, at the end of the day, sustainability of the projects itself does not seem the ultimate goal. Rather, it is about the wish that fundamental ideas for solutions for societal problems survive.

I think, the fact that the municipality has given a follow-up project to the process manager, and Portaal probably will start with that social innovation of that trust… That indicates that at least the cooperating partners in this have turned their vision completely. Their vision is a lot different, at least by the people who are involved in this project, than before. Because we really have seen the importance of that participation. And we always say that but here we are really doing it.

(Project leader, Portaal)

In the case of Sirocco, it was about the idea of having residents take care of problems in their neighbourhood themselves, rather than having organisations and institutions come over and solve issues:

You can approach it like hey, you are the resident in the neighbourhood. Well of course that does not matter that you identify with that neighbourhood and that you can do all sorts of things there, but that for example people can live in the neighbourhood and there are people who play a role in the neighbourhood to give form to that community. But then you approach it from a whole, then you also see it more like if you want something, what would you then like? Also because of the idea the one has to do with the other. The same if it is a mess on street and litter and rubbish, what … do you say yes that will clean the Dar [waste company] or do you want to do something with that, do you want something to do with schools, do you want to something with neighbourhood rangers.

(Former project leader, Tandem)

The Alderman of Work and Income explicitly says that work corporations are used as an instrument to introduce a new way of thinking – and that that should be considered as the most innovative feature of the new policy:

The innovative part is that you give all stakeholders in the field a role. Not like somebody has an active role and somebody else a passive one. In my eyes everybody has an active role. […] We kind of break the taboo… everybody can think something of it and say something, but also take his responsibility. But that is how it should go. Otherwise you get a situation where society says: “jobseekers at social services, that is the responsibility of the municipality”. Jobseekers who say: “yeah I get a job from you”. (…) Well that is what I try to break through this way of working, and such a work corporation is a means (to do so).

(Alderman of Work and Income)

Furthermore, the analysis suggests that innovative ideas at a higher level provide an inspiring environment for new ideas on a lower level. It was found that more complex – or “governance” – innovations (work corporations and A Future for Everybody) go hand in hand with innovations in approaches and instruments. The several work corporations all have distinct features and some of them may be treated as innovations themselves. This includes new forms of education, innovative ways of connecting the labour market to disadvantaged job seekers, and unorthodox ways of making revenues in a social context. Within A Future for Everybody the unconventional instrument of a “neighbourhood safari” was used, while the Kuul contact week could be regarded as innovative too.

Finally, the selection of innovations does not represent “best practices”. In fact, Sirocco shows how the course of development of innovations can be fairly unpredictable: it is both a prize-winning and a failed project. In the other cases, it is still unknown whether the projects can effectively be regarded as a “success”. Because work corporations have been promoted as a promising instrument by the Alderman, it is politically sensitive if success (in terms of getting people back to work) cannot be proven. This could threaten the sustainability of the policy:

Politics is of course, yes they want to score fast, because within 4 years it has to be a success. Yes that is sometimes contradicting with yes, the development of an instrument, the learning during practice before you get results. And moreover, in this present situation, it is regardless of which instrument difficult to reach an outflow rate of more than 30 per cent, or well, 40 per cent. So it is especially the art to keep persisting, every time again. But that is very complicated for politics. Because especially now, in March there are elections again, you feel that in everything. There have to be results now.

(Programme manager, Work and Income)

They are innovations because “they present themselves as promising, rise aspirations and attract hopes for better coping strategies and solutions”, not just because they work “better” than old arrangements (Evers and Ewert 2012: 3).


The examples of work corporations and Sirocco can be seen as “prototypes”; models that have been found in different countries and cities and have already proven to work (Evers and Ewert 2012: 6). Work integration enterprises, to which work corporations belong, are described in the literature as “real” enterprises because they deliver goods and services for (social) markets, yet they are “social” enterprises because they also create opportunities for work and social inclusion (Nyssens 2006). A project like Sirocco has been preceded by many other neighbourhood father projects. The first project with Moroccan fathers patrolling through the neighbourhood started in 1999 in Amsterdam. Since then, same types of projects have been spread all over Europe. They have also been documented relatively well (for example, de Gruyter and Pels 2005). In the case of Sirocco, it was indeed a project in another city that got the attention of some residents in Nijmegen. The former project leader of Sirocco explains this “idea phase”:

First of all, you see those things appear elsewhere in the country. Amsterdam is of course on example of that, of neighbourhood fathers. With other projects we were also already busy to involve people in their own environment, the liveability, well actually we have always done that as welfare work. In this case, the question was raised, in other parts of the city by the way, about can we not do something with neighbourhood fathers. From the assumption that Moroccan fathers, if you let them carry it out in a relationship with the youngsters, that there is the acceptance of their authority, a presumption. That has not been proven according to me, not at all. But that is an argument right? That it is used throughout the country.

The available funds and goals of the wijkaanpak then spurred the project. Also within A Future for Everybody, ideas have been picked up from elsewhere, but this does not mean these ideas are accepted just like that.

And that such an innovation or idea happen to come from Portaal in Nijmegen, that that is widely accepted in Portaal while a colleague of mine went to England 2 years ago to see what is up with that trust, back then it was said here “should we do that, are we ready for that, do we want that and should we do that?”. Slowly the recognition starts to grow, in the whole organisation of Portaal, that these innovations are very important to us and that they have a clear value, for our client and for us too in that sense.

(Project leader, Portaal)

What is striking, however, is that innovations do not use any blueprint to mimic what is already out there. This implies that innovations, although they can build on prototypes, are rarely copied just like that. The factor of societal support might play a role here. For example, to be able to assure the development of work corporations, the municipality had to involve some local front-runners and specialised organisations. The absence of a worked-out plan gave room for these organisations to steer the decision making.

Interestingly, all three innovations differ in origin. The concept of work corporations was coined by the municipality of Nijmegen. Sirocco is a clear example of a bottom-up initiative of residents. A Future for Everybody, a complex neighbourhood revitalisation project, was initiated by Portaal, a housing corporation in Nijmegen. Yet, regardless of which actor initiated the project, in the end they are dependent on the support of stakeholders. In particular, the support of citizens will increasingly be important if the trend towards individual responsibilities and self-reliance continues. In the case of work corporations, a municipal policy advisor noted that it is already becoming more difficult to find clients who want to work at a work corporation. The concept of a “neighbourhood factory”, a kind of trust managed by residents for residents, is obviously completely dependent on active residents. When people tried to give Sirocco a second chance, the initiators were no longer motivated to continue. The biggest challenge for local welfare policies may be to provide opportunities for citizens to co-produce solutions for social problems and to facilitate this active citizenship without taking over.

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Nijmegen – Conclusions

Categories: Conclusions