WILCO Final Conference

05.02.2014 Blog

On Friday I attended the WILCO final conference which took place in Brussels. The project has generated some real insights and for me personally, identified a number of issues which are worth further exploration.

Even though the project only lasted two years, the WILCO team covered huge ground looking at 77 case studies from 20 European cities. The cross national, comparative research project had two main aims: to uncover the models, features and trends in local social innovations that contributed to social cohesion, despite local and national differences, and to examine the conditions that enabled the uptake and diffusion of social innovations.
WILCO identified a number of patterns and trends within the five main areas they examined: service innovations; innovations in regulations and rights; innovations in governance; innovations in modes of working and financing; and innovations regarding welfare mixes. For example, services investing in capabilities rather than deficits, new kinds of conditional welfare payments or ‘social contracts’, building issue-based coalitions and new forms of flexicurity.

What is particularly interesting is that their work raised broader issues around social innovations - are social innovations always ‘good’? And for whom are they good? Since social innovations almost always entail some kind of reallocation of resource (away from the old to the new) – there will always be winners as well as losers. The WILCO team also raised issues around the politics of social innovation – an issue which has remained largely unexplored to date.

WILCO have produced an e-book which includes more information about the project and includes all 77 case studies – see here.  The team have also produced three videos which provide a great summary of the project. The first looks at social vulnerability in European cities and describes some of the challenges that are faced in these urban contexts. The second looks at social innovations across Europe and the third (which will be available shortly) looks at the governance of innovation across European cities. The first two videos can be accessed here.

Another important contribution made by the WILCO team was to bring together researchers working on a number of European social innovation projects at a workshop in Brussels last year. By doing so, they made the first steps towards truly building a community of researchers. With social innovation high on the European agenda and with so many EU funded social innovation research projects, it is important that we build on these first steps to strengthen and grow the community, to avoid duplication of effort, to make sure that we learn from one another and most importantly, to deepen the knowledge base about social innovation.