Lessons from the EUROCITIES Social Affairs Forum in Nantes


We look at some of the lessons from our social affairs forum in Nantes on 16-17 March, which focused on involving citizens in social innovation.

Over 80 participants from 33 different cities, including over a dozen politicians, attended our latest social affairs forum. The event focused on citizens involvement and participation in social innovation. Johanna Rolland, EUROCITIES president and mayor of Nantes, welcomed participants and reminded them that citizen involvement and social innovation are strongly interlinked processes. 

Thomas Fabian, deputy mayor of Leipzig and chair of the EUROCITIES Social Affairs Forum, said that cities are laboratories of society, where solutions to challenges, such as inequality, can be found. 

Peter Ramsden, an expert in social innovation and urban issues, was our keynote speaker. He highlighted the role of city authorities in supporting social innovation, citing examples from Europe and beyond. 

Deputy mayors from Athens, Barcelona, Nantes and Tilburg, as well as a representative from a citizen-led initiative in Nantes, elaborated on the role cities play in supporting social innovation and engaging with citizens. 

A series of workshops focused on social entrepreneurship, citizen involvement and the role of the public sector in financing social innovation through tools such as social impact bonds. Site visits were organised to four projects around nantes: a social enterprise engaging beneficiaries with mental health issues (GEM); the KAPS project, offering accommodation to students on social grounds; a prevention programme for early language development (Parler Bambin); and IGLOO, a social inclusion project through self-built housing. 

Politicians met for a closed session to discuss how best to communicate with citizens on challenging issues such as refugee integration. They also visited a local centre for refugee integration. 

Our working groups on smart social inclusion, urban ageing and creative citizenship met alongside the forum.

During the debates and work sessions we learned that:


Social innovations are new solutions that meet a social need more effectively than existing solutions...

...while at the same time leading to new or improved capabilities and relationships and a better use of assets and resources (definition taken from the TEPSIE project).


The majority of examples of social innovation we hear about today fall short of the systemic change needed to complete the cycle of innovation.

In order for social innovation to complete its cycle, infrastructure and working cultures need to adapt as a result of learning from the implementation process.


A useful tool for city authorities is...

Sherry Arnstein’s ladder of participation, which can be used as a basis for meaningful involvement and engagement of citizens.


The city of Amersfoort’s 2014 Year of Change...

....is an example of how a city authority can apply a collaborative and integrated approach to rethink its administrative structure and practices (see case study here).


An example from Nantes

Nantes GEM, a social enterprise engaging beneficiaries with mental health issues, provides an example of how crucial it is to empower target groups to lead in identifying and addressing gaps in social service delivery in an efficient way.


New ways of attracting investment

Social impact bonds (SIBs) can be an effective tool to apply outcomes-based interventions and attract new types of investment in the social delivery system. However, the limitations of such tools must be acknowledged: for example the scope of SIBs is limited to those challenges in which cashable savings can be demonstrated. The OECD Local Economic and Employment Development (LEED) programme has undertaken some work on SIBs and had drafted a report exploring this policy tool, available here.

Taking bold political decisions


Sometimes city politicians have to take decisions that are necessary but unpopular with some of the population, such as setting up a homeless or refugee shelter in a neighbourhood. City politicians have a range of strategies in place to communicate on such difficult decisions to populations which vary depending on the issue and context. Addressing the concerns of citizens in such instances can have a lasting impact on the success of such measures and on social cohesion.


Our next social affairs forum will be in Athens on 17-19 October and focus on the situation of refugees in cities.