There is already a wealth of information on how to encourage social cohesion. It would be fair to say that there is a whole industry of urban projects with this goal, many of which push the boundaries of our knowledge and experience. Academic research can only make a modest contribution to the hundreds of thousands of initiatives that are currently undertaken in European cities.
Given this background, a European project like WILCO must focus on the type of work that will have a ‘multiplier effect’. Specifically, it should help to understand how the creativity and energy in European cities can be tapped into and used to its full potential.
The problems of inequality and exclusion in urban areas particularly affect people with a specific profile. Past research has shown that age (the young unemployed), gender (women) and ethnicity (migrants) are especially affected. People who combine two or three of these characteristics (e.g. elderly migrants) are statistically a high-risk category.
The lack of social cohesion manifests itself in many walks of life, but particularly in three areas: the care for young children, the labour market and housing conditions. Accordingly, three policy fields are particularly important if we wish to encourage social cohesion: child care, employment and housing.
In this context, the focus of WILCO was on how inequality and exclusion can be effectively challenged. Ultimately, the question that we aimed to address if why are some cities more innovative than others?
We argued that this requires new approaches and instruments and that some cities appear to be remarkably better at developing innovations then others. In order to help the emergence of new approaches and instruments, we put our finger on how innovations in local welfare are initiated, implemented and disseminated.
However, this is not simply a matter of ‘linking up’ existing resources because it makes sense. Some local welfare systems are quite successful at making people work together, but others are not. Some cities are known as hotspots for new ideas in local welfare, whereas others are considered conventional or even backward. Yet, presumably, there are creative and entrepreneurial citizens, professionals and politicians in all of these places.
Understandings of the “local” in local welfare are very much tied to traditions of governance, whereas the ”welfare” relates to the historical evolution of the welfare state. Accordingly, we explored contextualisation along three levels, which we will for the sake of convenience describe as macro, meso and micro.
- The macro level is the institutional framework through which local welfare systems integrate the territorial approaches of urban policies with sectoral policies and with the overarching structure of the welfare regime.
- The meso level concerns the organisational networks that plan and deliver welfare. These are increasingly mixed systems that include associations from the civil society, market services as well as community initiatives.
- The micro level concerns the way the services and benefits in the three policy fields address individual users and citizens.