Social Innovation, Knowledge and the Inclusive City
In the basic meaning of the term, social innovation refers to new answers to the needs of a community, by means of new products, services, organizational structures or activities. In a more profound sense, the concept involves new ways of defining and facing situations of social exclusion in connection with integrated approaches of local development.
Yet social innovation is a quasi-concept. This makes it malleable and adaptable to different points of view - even here its success - and at the same time elusive and ambiguous. Moreover, the picture emerging from the empirical investigations on its inclusive effects is far from univocal. In addition, it is unanimously recognized that local innovative experiences are fragile, fragmentary and uncertain unless they cross wider scales, resources and powers. The need for an institutional infrastructure that supports upscaling processes - through regulations, policies, and rights - is consequently one of the main indications given by the research on the theme.
Following these indications, in this paper I discuss how institutions are important for social innovation by focusing on two connected points: the relationship between innovation and knowledge, and the role of the state as an institution for public knowledge. In the first part, I illustrate the general framework in which social innovation develops as a social/urban policy strategy in European cities, highlighting its elements of vagueness and heterogeneity. In the second part, after getting some research data that corroborate the importance of the institutions, I discuss the importance of the cognitive and ideational dimension of social innovation.