Local background of the social innovations
Innovation is defined in many ways by social scientists, people connected with business or technology. Shortly speaking, it is a way to improve the systems that already exist, making them better, faster and cheaper (Iuri and Kuhn 1998). What means “better, faster, cheaper” depends on the area of interest. In our case it is social policy in local communities, including discussed and implemented innovations, which are expected to meet the needs of different segments of local communities. The innovations have different meanings depending on specific social, economic, cultural and political context.
Putnam (1993) stresses two fundamental points that have to be taken into consideration in studying how institutions and members of communities can collaborate to meet their goals:
- Institutions shape politics. The rules and standard operating procedures that make up institutions leave their imprint on political outcomes by structuring political behaviour…. Institutions influence outcomes because they shape actor’s identities, power and strategies.
- Institutions are shaped by history. Whatever other factors may affect their form, institutions have inertia and “robustness”
(Putnam 1993: 8-9)
He also points out the role of features of social capital in the process of collaborations of governments, other stakeholders (e.g. third sector organizations (TSOs)) and individual members of local communities. Social capital is defined as trust, norms and networks shaped over time (Putnam 1993: 170; Sherraden et al. 2002). Social capital can influence the types of innovations proposed by different stakeholders and their chances of being accepted and implemented.
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is situated in central Poland, in Mazowieckie province on the bank of the Vistula river. It has a population of approximately 1.7 million (2010), and the Warsaw metropolitan area has approximately 2.6 million inhabitants. The area of the city covers 517 km2, while the city’s agglomeration covers 6,100 km2. Warsaw is the ninth largest city in the European Union (EU) by population. The population density is 3,300 people per km2. Warsaw is one of the largest sub-regions of Poland with regard to potential and economic development.
The social problems of modern Warsaw are strongly associated with its past. Seventy-five per cent of the city’s infrastructure was destroyed at the end of World War II. The number of inhabitants dropped dramatically as a result of the war. Reconstruction of the city took place in the new, communist system. The new authorities decided to rebuild the city quickly. The act on expropriation, liquidation of private property of urban areas and the buildings that survived the war (on the basis of the so-called “Bierut’s Decree”) meant, in fact, that they were taken over by the state and managed in accordance with the new political, social and economic plans. New urban solutions often lacked any associations with the previous urban design. New residential buildings were constructed by the state and settled according to various schemes: the users often paid nothing or little.
After the political transformation in 1989, an attempt was made to restitute real estate property to the pre-war owners or their heirs, as well as at the privatisation of new buildings. This resulted in numerous problems, which are now influencing the situation of the city inhabitants and the perspectives for future development of public and private infrastructure. These factors led to the emergence of a particularly vulnerable group of inhabitants of Warsaw – those living in tenement houses belonging to the municipal housing resources, which are currently being returned to the pre-war owners of these buildings. In fact, the inhabitants are in conflict with the tenement house owners, as the city, which illegally took over private property during communist times, is not a party to any disputes or conflicts that arise.
The differences that exist in public discourse, as well as discrepancies between perceived needs and significance of problems encountered by different vulnerable groups, between their members and the municipal authorities, result in a certain degree of chaos in implementation of the social policy in the city and a situation, in which the inhabitants become animators of innovation. For instance, problems with the institutional infrastructure (e.g. related to child care) in Warsaw, particularly in the new parts of the city, constructed in the recent years, encourage the inhabitants to develop civic initiatives in order to engage the authorities in new investments and make sure that they will be available to those who need them. A similar situation can be observed in the case of people living in houses being returned to their previous owners, when the tenants organise themselves to exert impact on the municipal authorities in order to cause amendment of legal regulations and make sure their interests are protected. Therefore, new solutions are often initiated by the inhabitants, who express their needs and point to ways that could satisfy them. Later on, these serve as a basis for the establishment of partnerships between citizens, TSOs and the municipal or district authorities. Sometimes, the scenario of innovation is different. The city shows initiative and searches for partners among the entities and organisations, mentioned above.