This project aimed to contrast to the following two propositions through four case studies at neighbourhood level:

  • First: those neighbourhoods with a greater level of civic capacity produce socially innovative initiatives that are more effective and have a greater chance of being scalable.
  • Second: democratic forms of collective leadership practices produce socially innovative initiatives that are more effective and have a greater chance of being scalable.

Our four case studies come from two different cities in two different countries in which the Great Recession has had very different effects and been met with very different institutional responses. We selected two neighbourhoods in each city taking into account both their vulnerability and the effects produced in them by the Great Recession. Our first proposition was the one that guided our case study selection. Thus, in each city we selected one neighbourhood rich in civic capacity (Sants and South Bronx) and another with lesser civic capacity (Nou Barris Nord and Bushwick).

The principal unit of analysis of this research is the neighbourhood. In each neighbourhood (that is to say, case) we focused on:

  • Neighbourhood dynamics regarding salient policy issues related to the post-recession context;
  • Socially innovative initiatives addressing effects of the Great Recession; and
  • Leadership practices in these socially innovative initiatives.

We tested our second theoretical proposition through an analysis of different socially innovative initiatives, identifying the leadership practices in evidence in each case study. Thus, in each case study we analysed two socially innovative initiatives addressing effects of the Great Recession. Since leadership practices were necessarily identified during the research phase of the project, we could not select our socially innovative initiatives on the basis of this variable. We selected them, therefore, according to their origins and significance, creating a varied and illustrative sample. Thus, in each case study we selected one post-recession initiative and one initiative deriving from an older organization or an older neighbourhood struggle.

For each case study the following sources of evidence were used.

  • Documentation: reports, websites, policy documents, news clippings, etc.
  • Archival records: census and other statistical data, organizational records, etc.
  • Semi-structured interviews: conducted with key informants from the neighbourhood (community leaders, social activists, policy makers, elected representatives) and members of the socially innovative initiatives analysed (promoters, staff, volunteers, users…)
  • Direct observation: neighbourhood visits, observation of socially innovative initiatives (organizations, services) and observations of events (meetings, direct action, etc.) during the period of fieldwork.