Establishing an Ecosystem for Social Innovation in Western Balkan Countries

نوآوری اجتماعی در کشورهای بالکان غربی

نوآوری اجتماعی در کشورهای بالکان غربی

In Western Balkan countries, governments are recognized as the main stakeholders in solving social issues such as health, education, unemployment and fighting poverty. However, the level of participation of different sectors in the country, including public administrations, private institutions and civil society organizations, varies. While public administrations are engaged in providing public services, non-financial institutions are looking for innovative approaches to provide better and more convenient services and collaborate with other sectors in this way. The private sector has also gradually become active in the area of social impact investing through start-up programs, including support for entrepreneurs.

For example, in Croatia public sector innovations are still in their infancy. Although efforts have been made by non-profit organizations such as the Social Innovation Laboratory (SIL), in order to increase the knowledge and capacity of public managers in the field of the importance of social innovation. Also, other groups such as Creative Development NGO, SLAP, and Cluster for Social Innovation and Development (CEDRA) have also been active in this direction. The Cities Association has also emphasized raising public awareness through the creation of the Social Innovation Award, which eventually became the Smart Cities Innovation Award.

In order to develop a supportive ecosystem for social innovation in the public sector, a significant effort is being made to involve citizens in the design and delivery of public services. This challenges the traditional model of public service delivery and changes the role of citizens, communities, and the government as a whole.

Collaborative development or co-creation is a creative approach that facilitates the democratic participation of people in solving social challenges. Collaborative development, which is also clearly visible in the case of the city of Zagreb, has arisen from the pressures of citizens’ desire to participate in public affairs and the realization that new models of public service delivery are necessary due to increased expectations, emerging social challenges, and budget constraints. Is. One of the ways to respond to the ever-increasing demand for public services is to consider citizens as active partners and collaborators instead of neutral recipients. Therefore, collaborative development represents a model for reforming public services.

The purpose of this process is to transform the community from a neutral receiver to an active and supportive space that promotes social innovation and urban development. This vision addresses the organic growth of social innovation in Zagreb with the active participation of citizens.

Plans and perspectives of social innovation in Zagreb
In January 2017, a group called “Laboratory of Social Innovation” started a project in cooperation with the city of Zagreb to develop creative and innovative solutions for the city. Focusing on specific areas within the city, the group used “design thinking” to develop innovative ideas. The goal of this one-year project was to inform city officials and employees in the field of social innovation and teach them how to create new and useful services for the community. They used an interaction-based method where different people work together to find solutions to their local problems.

The ultimate goal of this project was to make Zagreb one of the most important actors of social innovation and provide the city with the ability to support the joint development of new ideas. One of the key results of this effort was the use of ideas not only as the final output but also the process of their creation and development. The group wanted not only to benefit from their ideas, but also to use the way they had chosen to create them as a basis for formulating new urban policies. These policies may include new financing methods, awareness-raising among city officials on social innovation, training programs for all those involved with the city, and support for private property owners in the city center who want to contribute to these innovations.

Challenges and needs of social innovation in Zagreb
Zagreb is striving to be recognized as a center for social innovation, but it is not yet there. Despite limited efforts, strong and integrated communities of social innovation have not yet fully formed. The Social Innovation Lab is working with the city to improve this. They intend to engage the authorities and show them the benefits of supporting social innovation.

Following are the challenges of the path and how to solve them:

Political support: We need honest leaders who are willing to involve citizens in the decision-making process of the city.
Broader participation of people: For social innovation to be successful, greater collaboration of different groups and individuals is essential.
Active participation: Key players such as organizers and networks should play a greater role in leading the participation of others and creating collaboration.
Entrepreneurial thinking: social innovation should be seen with an attitude similar to a business and have the ability to be creative and accept risk.
Collaborating with unexpected parties: Researchers need to be willing to collaborate with people who are not normally willing to do so in order to bring new ideas and perspectives.
Specific programs: Special projects should be created that focus specifically on testing new ideas, informing people, providing guidance and funding.

To achieve these changes, it is necessary for city officials to actively support social innovation instead of being passive. This change could sooner than expected make Zagreb a place where social innovation grows naturally, as small groups collaborate to create a bigger impact on society.

What we learned from the process of social innovation in Western Balkan countries:
When city officials were invited to participate in social innovation, activist groups faced challenges, including red tape and slow and complicated administrative processes that have always hindered collaboration between different city departments and stakeholders at different levels. . To answer this, workshops and hands-on activities were held where city authorities collaborated in real scenarios with citizens, civil society, experts and businesses to create new services.

The use of social innovation methods enable us to establish the power of trust and mutual understanding among all stakeholders. Remember that dealing with urban challenges requires a multidisciplinary approach. The first important step was to change people’s view of these challenges and acknowledge the problems that cities and officials are facing. This change in attitude paved the way for introducing a more structured approach to social innovation and making it a vital part of people’s lives in society.

Practical experiences in the public domain have shown that experimenting with social innovation is an effective way to learn. This approach can naturally lead to systemic change and redesign of public services and make them transparent, efficient and responsive to the needs of citizens.

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