This is a plea for Amsterdam to expand the concept of innovation, to include the generative, ‘problem-solving’ capacity of the urban society (also known as ‘social innovation’). Amsterdam has a chance to become leading in this field: it has the perfect ecosystem for bottom-up innovation and grassroots initiatives. Its size, its population and its liberal roots form the perfect breeding ground for social innovation. In order to fully utilize this potential, the soil needs some fertilisation – Amsterdam needs to promote and stimulate social innovation. Not by a heavy top-down structure, but by carefully nudging the creative and activist power within society into a fruitful direction. Here is where the local government has its role to play – not by determining the direction, but by facilitating this bottom-up process. This requires a) that the innovative potential within society will be recognised as an important asset in the innovation field and will be integrated in the current innovation policies and strategies; b) the creation of a well-developed infrastructure for social innovators; and c) physical, intellectual and budgetary space for new experiments.
Although the potential is there, the current state of innovation is rather humbling, compared to our national and European umfeld1. Amsterdam’s current ranking on the international innovation benchmarks is not what you would expect, taking the city’s conditions and history into account. In hardly any of the generally accepted innovation parameters does Amsterdam reach a top 10 or even a top 20 position. The city is not keeping pace with its neighbours in terms of numbers of patents and R&D expenditure, to name a few. This document does not pretend to give the answer to this observation – but what it does seek to do, is provide guidance in harnessing the city’s wealth of ideas and generative power, to create room for new patterns of innovation.
This document contains three parts. The first, Amsterdam’s promising potential, zeroes in on the innovative capacity of the city and its historical roots. Next, The growing field of social innovation, further investigates the concept of social innovation, and its presence in Europe and in the Netherlands. The third and concluding chapter sets out guidelines and possible measures for the future. These three chapters are not the result of an elaborate process of research and debate – instead they are meant to be a starting point for discussion within the municipality and outside. This will hopefully lead to a renewed dialogue on Amsterdam’s innovation agenda, to the development of new policies which support social innovation, to creating the necessary infrastructure and, perhaps most importantly, room for new, promising experiments.