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May 4, 2015

Diversity of Social Innovation in Italy

Diversity of Social Innovation in Italy

By Massimo Allulli

Italian cities have many examples of social innovation, including those driven by individual citizens and those driven by local institutions.

Most of the participants in the Italian SEiSMiC National Network are involved in grassroots activities to improve cities, many of them concerned with making public spaces cleaner and more livable. This is the case of the CleaNAP association in Naples (pictured), created by a group of young volunteers who took it upon themselves to tidy up neighbourhoods during Naples’ latest crisis in waste management. Among the many similar initiatives across Italy are Angeli del Bello in Florence and Social Street in Bologna. Renewal of public spaces is the core mission of the Quartiere Intelligente association, also in Naples. This group organised citizens in a bottom-up participatory process whose goal is the regeneration of the Neapolitan neighbourhood of Montesanto.

Several groups concentrate on policy making and international networking to foster social innovation. Among others: Naples and Rome are active in the URBACT network, Turin has launched a municipal programme to foster social innovation, and Bologna is developing an ambitious digital agenda. The organisation Menorifiuti is tackling the waste collection crisis by advocating policies to foster service-on-demand (SOD) solutions. With regard to public spaces, planning and land use, a crucial contribution to SEiSMiC is the Biennial of Public Space. This event gathers people interested in socially innovative solutions to challenges related to public space.

Beyond projects related to specific policy sectors, many social innovators hope to change the way urban policies are adopted and implemented. They seek a more participative approach in which these responsibilities are shared among institutions and citizens. According to Italy’s SEiSMiC participants, representative democracy is in a crisis that calls for a strong response at the local level. The answer is a new governance that fosters (as highlighted by LabGov) “collaborative relationships between citizens, administrations and business to share scarce resources and to take care of the commons, tangible or intangible, of urban and local communities”. No longer just a theory, this new paradigm is already fleshed out in activities underway in Italy.

Massimo Allulli is a researcher for Cittalia-Fondazione ANCI Ricerche