Projects for smarter cities!

5. Feb 2013

Austrian prize SozialMarie awards successfully implemented social innovations

The aim of SozialMarie is to make innovative social ideas and their realisation known to a broad public. By means of annual awards and other activities, SozialMarie also encourages networking amongst social projects. Award winning projects are to inspire imitation and to incite further development of their ideas. By the way: In 2013 SozialMarie is going to honour social innovations from Austria and neighbouring countries for the ninth time!

Since the award was implemented, many of the awarded projects focused on solutions for problems in cities. The Jury of SozialMarie – supported by ZSI – developed four criteria to evaluate the submitted projects: Novelty, involvement of target groups, effectiveness and capability to serve as example for replication. Applications to SozialMarie are eligible from all societal sectors (comprising public institutions, civil society organisations, and corporate business) in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and parts of Croatia, Slovenia, little of Italy and Germany as well.

An interesting aspect of social innovations lies in the utilisation of high and low tech features. For sure low tech does not mean to be a ‘second choice’: The term comprises simple function, the ease of manufacturing, the ease of use, the robustness and the ease of maintenance. 'Low tech' does not devalue the intelligence behind the technology. It only refers to the practical implementation. It involves the recycling of materials and components and the use of traditional construction, insulation, and natural means of heating and ventilation. Often latest scientific findings are used to develop low tech devices. Low tech is sometimes mentioned in the context of the Do It Yourself pardigms. DIY as a subculture emerged in the 1970s, but became later part of mainstream discussions in the context of architecture and city development or revitalisation. 

The following examples show basic approaches to cope with the shortage of resources and other daily problems in cities.

Social innovation in the context of energy effciency measures: MachMit – Energiesparen bringt’s (Join in - save energy!), Vienna
Residents of the urban area Am Schöpfwerk in Vienna are trained by experienced energy consultants who share tipps and tricks. The key objective of this project is to develop new strategies and to offer a free energy check. In a two-day workshop, conveying basic knowledge, participants learn about possibilities to save energy. The participants inherit divisere migration backgrounds and cultures, so the trainings are made available in their own mother tongue like in Arabic, Turkish, Serbian, and - of course - also in German.

Social innovation in the context of high-priced design products developed by involving talents of handicapped: LebensDesign, Salzburg
Two worlds with completely different focuses are working together. The aim of this working relationship is to contradict the image that society, i.e. all of us, have of people with disabilities and their capabilities. People with disabilities are producing luxury goods. The budding designers of the University of Applied Sciences consider the production conditions of workshops for people with disabilities. The Porsche Design Studio can show its creativity in a completely different way. I do not buy LebensDESIGN products out of pity, but because of the brand. It is already planned to expand the project.

Social innovation in the context of greening the city: Junior City Farmer Schönbrunn, Vienna
Land lying fallow is transformed into the collective experience of a garden setting for children and pre-teens from the city; in this way, untapped potential is used to accomplish social, integrative learning. It is achieved not as the obvious goal, but in a ‘by-the-way’ fashion. Emphasis is placed on understanding nature’s cycles. Social engagement is also fostered as a result. The possibility of design and layout becomes a lived experience and the opportunity to open up to oneself and to others. A great diversity of things grow both in nature and in the social sphere...There is rest and movement, freedom and quiet. This is a simple, but varied project.

Social innovation in the context of urban communication tools: Das Radioplakat (radio poster) for blind and visually impaired people, Vienna
It sounds simple but nobody has ever done it before: a normal radio enhances the orientation of blind and visually impaired people. They are able to hear any words they were previously entirely or partially unable to see on posters, price boards, information screens, traffic and direction signs and display cases. Developed for commercial reasons, this device can help make public spaces easier for blind and visually impaired people to navigate.

Social innovation contributing to smart city government: Participatory Budget, Bratislava

The distribution of public resources is a key economic policy instrument whereby the distribution of resources and thus power relations are determined. The involvement of the population in shaping the budget increases transparency in public administration and aims for the socially just and demand-oriented construction of the public budget. Negotiating distribution on a consensual basis strengthens democratic political understanding and civic engagement. For these reasons, we wish the Slovak initiative every success and would like to underscore this by awarding the SozialMarie prize.

Social innovation contributing to sustainability and social inclusion: Social Housing Reconstruction Camp (Nagykanizsa, HU)

The shortage of housing is a widespread symptom of poverty in Hungary. These students have noted the problem and are developing a project here with multiple impacts: houses are being renovated, energy costs slashed and rent arrears compensated by labour of deserving poor; collaboration with (inter)national volunteers has injected new life into the settlement with the community exchanging rent arrears for an improvement in the value of the housing stock.

Social innovation in education, teaching children to understand poverty in a wealthy metropolitan city: Armutsgrenze (poverty line), Vienna

Simple to apply with impressive consequences. A complex issue is disseminated through play to make it comprehensible to children: what does being poor mean to me? Where do I place the boundary between rich and poor? Children should have opinions and be able to express an argument as well as being sensitive to social issues. They need to find solutions to the poverty of the children featured in the 10 stories. The game clearly and carefully motivates children to develop thoughts on this issue and even the organisers are not immune! Let’s hope that ‘Poverty line?!’ is applied in various different ways to help define narrower boundaries for poverty!

If you want to learn more about these smart concepts developed for needs of cities and beyond, please check the website of SozialMarie, which provides information about more than 1800 projects submitted, of which until now about 120 winners were selected to receive one of the various SozialMarie Awards.

Tags: smart city, social change, social design, social innovation

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