social innovation

Social Innovation: It’s not only a question of resources

“It’s not only a question of resources; it’s also about how we spend them.”

As a social innovation expert and co-author of the Guide to social innovation (2013), Peter Ramsden from Freiss Ltd. was invited to be the keynote speaker for the event EUROCITIES Social Affairs Forum which focussed on ‘Involving citizens in social innovation’.

The event was held last month (16-17 March 2016) in Nantes and gathered 80+ participants from 33 different cities.

In an interview which he gave ahead of the Social Affairs forum, Peter answered some of the following questions:

  •  What is social innovation and why is it important?
  • What are some of the benefits of social innovation to society and the wider economy?
  • What are the challenges of or barriers to social innovation?
  • What social innovations have you seen in European cities that you have found particularly striking?
  • What role could national and EU funded programmes play in supporting local social innovation?

Click here if you would like to read the whole interview.

If you are interested in finding out more about the lessons learnt from the Social Affairs Forum, please visit EUROCITIES’ website



Urban development in the EU in 50 PROJECTS

This report, co-authored by Peter Ramsden (Freiss Ltd.) and Laura Colini for AEIDL in 2013 was commissioned by DG REGIO. It aims at presenting cases studies of projects supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) in order to achieve better living conditions in urban areas throughout Europe.

50 case studies were selected for their capacity to highlight good practice in responding to urban challenges within the cohesion policy between 2007 and 2013. The goal of this report is to inspire and inform the implementation of subsequent ERDF funded project accross the EU.

The selected initiatives covered areas such as smart growth; sustainable growth; inclusive growth; integrated area-based approaches; housing for marginalised groups; financial engineering; public participation and empowerment; and cooperation, networking and learning.

The table below sums up which cities were used as case studies in the document.

50 case studies erdf regio

One of the main conclusions of the publication is that municipalities are capable of producing one-off good practices.

To build on this, the authors namely recommend that:

  • Cities ensure that smart growth projects are aligned with strategic planning policies for their region;
  • Multi-level governance relations be considered in sustainable growth projects;
  • Inclusive growth strategy be supported by “lively partnerships, which bring in civil society organisations representing people at risk of exclusion, and which embrace the various tiers of government”;
  • when it comes to housing for marginalised groups,”consent and if possible the active participation of the people” impacted by the project
  • Public participation be addressed from at project level as well as from a broader governance perspective.
  • “closer links between the small but innovative learning programmes and the relatively conventional mainstream” be created for integrated learning

find out more, you can access the full AEIDL report: “Urban Development In The Eu: 50 Projects Supported By The European Regional Development Fund During The 2007-13 Period”.

Decentralising investment

Philip Blond, the so-called ‘Red Tory’ is on to something with his idea of decentralising investment.  To do this you have to break up the monopolies and start with the banks.   We need many smaller banks.

The equivalent of the break up of the Bell telephone monopoly into the baby Bells.  Imagine RBS Natwest, Barclays, Lloyds, Tesco all trustbusted into fragments –  maybe re-regionalised.  Go Blond go! The question is whether the rest of the Conservative party is on board with such radical ideas or whether they are simply using him as a sort of communitywash designed to build their credibility until after the election. Holding my breath… The same goes for the idea of employing 5000 Alinsky style organisers.

At first sight my reaction was ‘Bravo’ as we need what the french would call a ‘Contre pouvoir’ at the local level.  Only by challenging public services (and demanding more and better) will we get social justice in poor places.  But remember this has been tried before.  The Community Development Programme in the early 70s came out of the Home Office. It was closed down after a few years because it used radical agitprop methods, and moved the argument from one about individual cycles and pathologies of deprivation to a bigger debate about how structural change had created unemployment in these communities. Obama’s first major success in Chicago as a Community Organiser came in a radical campaign to bring employment services to the South Side by creating an angry movement in the neighbourhood out of the frustrations and betrayals and confronting the bureaucrats with a mobilised and organised group.

Saul Alinsky was a grassroots organiser who believed in provocation and achieving social change by all means necessary.  His book set of rules[6] for radicals provided a toolbox for a whole generation of activists.  These same tools are being used by London Citizens to press for a living wage for the low paid.  Alinsky would have been proud but it remains to be seen whether the Tory Squirearchy will really go for a solution whose logical outcome would be a minimum wage of more than £7per hour. What would be the reaction of the private sector  to paying 15% more on their wage bills when their main hope of the Tories is to pay less national insurance?

I cannot resist ending this post with a quote:

“There’s another reason for working inside the system. Dostoevski said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and change the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution. To bring on this reformation requires that the organizer work inside the system, among not only the middle class but the 40 per cent of American families – more than seventy million people – whose income range from $5,000 to $10,000 a year [in 1971]. They cannot be dismissed by labeling them blue collar or hard hat. They will not continue to be relatively passive and slightly challenging. If we fail to communicate with them, if we don’t encourage them to form alliances with us, they will move to the right. Maybe they will anyway, but let’s not let it happen by default.” – Saul Alinsky


BEPA social innovation meeting

EU president Jose Manuel Barroso hosted a meeting on January 27th to which Freiss were invited to speak about Social Innovation.

At the meeting Barroso promised to ‘find a home’ for social innovation in Brussels. He took away a proposal from Ana Vale of Portugal to encourage Member States to reprofile their ESF programmes to focus 3% of the vast €72 billion programmes on social innovation.

Vladimir Spidla and Danuta Hubner also supported the meeting which was convened by BEPA the Bureau of European Policy advisers. Geoff Mulgan gave a useful outline of how social innovation could serve the European project. Diogo Vasconcelos, former minister under Barroso gave the summing up.

Let us hope things move on from here to find new ways of innovating in public policy.

Click here to access the meeting’s press release.


Main Page – Wikipreneurship

Wikipreneurship is Europe’s leading site for interesting examples of practice and policy on widening entrepreneurship and supporting enterprise development in disadvantaged areas.  It includes many case studies, policy briefs and articles from the EQUAL and URBAN programmes.   You can add your own case studies or comment pieces.  

Interview with Etienne Wenger

Interview with Etienne Wenger.

Etienne Wenger is the founder of the concept of communities of practice, working as a coach with the EQUAL and ESF communities such as COPIE.

In this video, he speaks about participation in social innovation as something which should be the result of engagement rather than led by motivation.

Are we connected with people closely enough for conversation to happen?



Why is the company called Freiss?

Freiss is short for Freissinieres, a tiny community of about 160 residents based in the Hautes alpes at 1200m. The company is named after this  tiny community in the alps where the Vaudois had settled  in the 13th century after leaving Lyon.

This community were dedicated to living a humble life and were accused of heresy by the catholic church.  Their reforms had included eschewing the wealth of the church and living frugally, and translating the bible into the local language. Women were empowered and the community was highly literate because their bible was accessible. They were persecuted and murdered by the armies of the church especially in the neighbouring valley of Vallouise. In freissinieres many escaped south after wintering in Dormillouse – a high village with no road access, and found a new future in the Luberon. The valley’s people continued to be non conformist, a little rebellious and today many are protestant or atheist.

Today Freissinieres is still rebellious in a small way. Its 160 citizens elect their local municipality. The valley is an oasis of calm in which social capital is freely and readily available.  Unusually the village has been welcoming of outsiders, although this can bring its own difficulties with too many houses lying empty.

For many people whether residents or visitors Freissinieres offers some clues about what a more relationship based and sustainable society might look like. But there is still much to do. The community is now heavily dependant on the economy outside the valley, not enough has been done to increase economic resilience and support  local jobs. Too many cars drive through without spending any money and the environmental capital is not sufficiently valorised though the air is pure and the environment relatively unspoilt. You can see more at



Freiss has continued its longstanding support of the development of European Microfinance by carrying out the evaluation of the EU funded aspects of the network’s activities for the second year running.   Using a similar methodology to that deployed in 2008 with a strong focus on identifying the added value for members of the annual conference, learning exchanges and magic consultancy.   The evaluation concludes that EMN is providing a strong service for members run with a lean and efficient secretariat and guided by an energetic board.  It is hoped that the growing awareness within the European commission of the role of microfinance in the crisis will lead to faster growth among members and the emergence of stronger models that are more sustainable over time and continue to reach clients in precarious social situations.