Focus: Innovation in the Public Sector – The WILCO Project


Social innovations and the role of local policy: a summary of the findings of the WILCO project (2010-2014)

During the recent years of economic crisis, European cities have seen a huge growth in distress and inequality. At the urban level, these great challenges become visible and tangible, which in many senses makes cities a microcosm of society. It means that local welfare systems are at the forefront of the struggle to address this challenge – and they are far from winning. While the statistics show some positive signs, the overall picture still shows sharp and sometimes rising inequalities, a loss of social cohesion and failing policies of integration. When we focus on specific groups in society (e.g. migrants) the situation is even direr. It is clear that new ideas and approaches to tackle these very wicked problems are needed.

Such ‘social innovation’ has become a buzzword in policy circles and features prominently on the agenda of the European Union. Yet there is still little solid evidence on how social innovation works. We mostly hear about the success stories, but what is the overall picture? And what is the role of local governments and policies?

Fresh evidence now gives us more insight into the dynamics of this process. The EU-funded WILCO project has just published the findings on extensive research in European cities. It examined social innovation in European cities and how it is related to urban governance. Although the kinds of social problems are broadly similar across cities, local responses differ strongly. Four different types of urban innovation regimes were identified, as were the conditions most crucial to the survival and diffusion of innovations.

Our results can be accessed most easily through the following resources:

  • The innovations are systematically described and comparatively analysed in the e-book Social Innovations for Social Cohesion: Transnational Patterns and Approaches from 20 European cities, available for download at


Prof dr Taco Brandsen

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