Deregulation within the field of social welfare, a political interest in alternative providers, and a high degree of self-governance in the Swedish welfare system would open opportunities for social innovation. The case study of the local policy context in Malmö indicates a favourable local context in relation to social innovation. It was stated in the WILCO WP4-report on Malmö (Segnestam Larsson 2013) that there seems to be a political consensus in the promotion of innovation. An agreement is described in the report, among various coalitions and political stakeholders, on the need for new solutions in local welfare. There is also a shared view of what social problems need to be addressed in local welfare as well as across the three sectors of child care, housing and employment. A conclusion is that the discourse on local welfare seems to include dimensions that promote social innovation. In this way there seems to be an “innovative soil” in Malmö (ibid).
At the same time, this report points at local elements that, arguably, prevent innovation. For example, there seems to be some disagreement among the different stakeholders and coalitions regarding the methods and instruments to be implemented. Some stakeholders are not positive about including alternative service providers within the field of welfare. The final conclusion of this report states: “social innovation should perhaps be regarded as an ideological proxy or a Trojan horse for a liberalisation of the welfare in Malmö” (ibid).
The innovations that we have studied in Malmö occur in different ways, and on different scales, addressing social problems that are high on the political agenda: youth unemployment, segregation and lack of integration. The different projects address these local problems and try to find local solutions. In this way, they represent new ideas and ways of working in the local context. At the same time, these activities have developed in line with broader political trends and are embedded within the legal and administrative frames of the welfare system. This embeddedness serves as both an enabling and an obstructive feature.
The Malmö Incubator and Yalla Trappan contain elements that are in line with the activity policy and “work line” in labour market policy, where social enterprises are highlighted as a possible way to go from welfare dependency to receiving a salary from work. Social enterprises are described by the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket) as aiming to integrate persons with a marginal position in relation to the labour market. Social enterprises are further defined with positive qualities such as involvement of employees, social cohesion and empowerment. They are also closely linked to possibilities for receiving EU funding through the structural funds, e.g. Equal. Both these projects are closely connected to the public administration of unemployment services as regards the target groups for the projects and the possibility for individual users to receive benefits while participating. The foundation of Områdesprogrammet can in turn be traced to ideas of neighbourhood revitalisation of run-down “segregated” areas suffering from socio-economic stagnation, which is implemented in different European cities.
Common features among the studied innovations are that they all take a kind of holistic approach, and they contain different elements such as employment, training, membership in social cooperatives or becoming entrepreneurs. Another common trait is the projects’ aims in investing in their users’ personal capabilities. A further commonality is that innovations are based on collaboration and partnerships. On the one hand, these are inter-sectorial partnerships between the city administration, Malmö University and stakeholders within the civil society; on the other hand, they are intra-sectorial collaborations – between different units within the public sector.
Both top-down and bottom-up
The studied innovations contain both top-down and bottom-up elements. They are initiated top-down by political or professional initiatives, and the city administration of Malmö is a key stakeholder in the initiation processes. The possibility of EU funding is an important enabling factor. At the same time, all three projects aim to initiate and support local initiatives, i.e. promoting bottom-up activities.
Områdesprogrammet in Holma-Kroksbäck reaches out to and supports local initiatives. In some cases, it can act as a support structure for new ideas, providing start-up education, material and contacts as in the ongoing process with the Info Centre in Kroksbäck. In other cases, it co-produces these ideas. The Malmö Incubator is all about supporting and promoting the participants’ entrepreneurial ideas. Yalla Trappan focuses on women’s entrepreneurship, and workers in the project can become members. Through operating the project as a co-operative, it enables the users to have a degree of influence on the concrete activities.
Sustainability and the mismatch between public systems and innovations
Incorporating a project within the public administrative system can facilitate sustainability and counteract the risks of “project economy” – that good initiatives and projects end when the funding period of a project is over. Possible knowledge and competence gained in a project risk being lost when former staff members move to other tasks or projects. On the other hand, the public administrative system can counteract and put obstacles in the way of innovation and entrepreneurship. The rules and regulations for different types of employment benefits are not adjusted to self-employment and social enterprises. This is described as an obstacle in the Malmö Incubator.
As mentioned above, the studied projects/innovations are investing in their users’ personal capabilities, with the goal of helping them become employable and improving their living situation. In the case of Områdesprogrammet, the aim is to improve the living conditions of people living in the neighbourhood. At the same time, the innovations consist of small-scale projects, and it is therefore hard to draw conclusions on their impact on local government and local development.