Seven learning points from the project ‘Accelerating Change for Social Inclusion’

15 January 2020

After three years of implementation in Athens, Barcelona, Lisbon, Rotterdam and Stockholm, the Accelerating Change for Social Inclusion (ACSI) project has closed a first phase, leaving a set of powerful learnings to improve similar initiatives in the future.

The project started in 2016 from the idea that social innovation processes aimed at improving people’s life can be accelerated by identifying evidence-based innovations and sharing the knowledge in order to inspire social innovation agents towards local adaptation and implementation. In this regard, over 250 responses to 3 challenges related to employment and children at risk of exclusion were identified all over the world, and 22 were selected for further exploration in the participant cities. Of those, 3 have been implemented (The Change Factory, JobAct and Simplon) and seven others are currently negotiating implementation.

But ACSI has left much more than just numbers. The complexity of coordinating three common challenges in five different contexts has provided an excellent opportunity to improve UpSocial’s methodology. Standards around five dimensions of social innovations and a platform for knowledge sharing on ACSI-selected innovations have been developed under its umbrella, as well as a set of valuable learnings on how to better catalyse existing solutions into local implementations.

Adapting existing innovations is more efficient than designing new responses to social challenges

Cities and organisations are constantly experimenting with approaches to solve pressing social needs. Instead of starting from scratch, transference processes require intensive analysis and adaptation efforts but save time and dedication by avoiding ‘reinventing the wheel’.

Cities need to activate their local ecosystems in order to boost innovation capacity

Local stakeholders still face multiple barriers when adapting and adopting existing social innovations: lack of time, funding, political changes and organisational inertia, among others. In order to mitigate these factors, cities can play a strong, proactive leadership and use their convening power to engage a wider spectrum of key, committed local stakeholders in joint efforts that leverage their knowledge and innovation capacity.

Alignment of expectations and a clear role definition within a continuous process

The long-term engagement of a variety of key actors could be articulated in a working group with the initial objective of defining an agenda and a set of shared goals. This would require a clear role identification to avoid confusion as to expectations, but would allow a deeper diagnosis of the local needs, create a stronger sense of ownership and, in turn, increase implementation chances.

From matching to ownership

Matching an innovative solution with a group of capable, interested local players is not enough to reach its implementation: leadership and commitment are essential ingredients for this purpose. Opening up the challenge definition to a variety of stakeholders might lead to the identification of innovations related to the drivers that mobilise them. This requires for highly specific challenges to make sure that key, specialised players are in place from the outset.

Standardised information and transfer model systematisation

Standardised information of an innovation becomes a powerful tool to evaluate its potential impact on a different context, thus facilitating decision-making. It also encourages innovators to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of their models, acting as a driver for clearer, stronger value and service proposals that may encourage local counterparts to implement.

Knowledge systematisation and exchange

Transferring social innovations to accelerate social change cannot be delinked from knowledge generation. The process itself becomes a very valuable and demanded source of learning, inspiration and exchange for all actors involved, including those who are not used to working together – a way of strengthening social innovation ecosystems.

Social innovation takes time

Transformation processes cannot be cooked using a microwave oven. On the demand side, different actors need to have a shared understanding of the challenge and build common agendas, trust, commitment and capacity. In parallel, identifying and consolidating sustainable scaling models is still a challenge for many innovators.

We thank all people and organisations involved in this initiative: Municipalities, UpSocial Stavros Niarchos Foundation, La Caixa Foundation, Stone Soup, jury members, innovators from more than 20 countries, and local stakeholders and experts from participant cities for your supporting.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer