MARGE, a tri-national project for and with professionals - in working-class neighbourhoods
Union nationale des acteurs du développement local (UNADEL)
The « MARGE » project, which concerns 9 target districts on the Upper Rhine, aims to enable all professionals working in these marginalised districts to benefit from cross-border access and the knowledge acquired through this project. This cross-border cooperation is supported by three schools of social work (Strasbourg, Freiburg and Basle). The project will run for three years (2017-2019) and ORIV, the city’s political resource centre for the Greater East, has been involved from the outset. The project involved professionals and inhabitants: neighbourhood associations, specialised prevention, city policy project managers, delegates of the Prefect, etc. A certain number of lessons were learned concerning the conditions for social innovation, the contributions for the professionals involved, and the added value of the cross-border dimension.
To download : marge_fr_small.pdf (5.5 MiB)
Backgrounds and objectives
Despite the similarity of the challenges faced by these districts and the public actions aimed at them, the administrations responsible for urban social development are largely unaware of what is being done in the other two Upper Rhine countries. Sometimes only a few hundred metres apart (Kreuzmatt in Kehl, Port du Rhin in Strasbourg, for example), these different public players do not know each other and cannot take advantage of their neighbours’ potential for innovation.
For border districts, the problem is all the more important as people move from one country to another.
Among the common challenges identified in this first project, coordination between the public administrations responsible for urban social development programmes and civil society is unanimously considered fundamental and often problematic.
At the level of research and science, the same observation can be made, although each training institution partner of the project has an expertise on the subject, no synergy has ever been found - nor sought - to develop a real cross-border pole of competence on urban social development.
The MARGE project had 3 objectives:
A practical objective for the actors of the neighbourhoods involved in MARGE: « Promote cross-border exchange to allow the transfer of innovative projects in the neighbourhoods »,
a pedagogical objective for all actors in urban social development in the three countries: « To develop the cross-border skills of urban social development professionals by disseminating the knowledge and experience gained from the project through a toolkit and a continuing training programme ».
a scientific objective to advance research on cross-border exchange and social innovation « Understanding how cross-border exchange influences social innovation in neighbourhoods ».
The project took place over a period of three years and included different phases: getting to know each other (identifying projects to be promoted), getting immersed (going on site and hosting), transferring projects (action research approach).
An action-research was conducted in parallel, questioning the dimension of social innovation in cross-border exchange.
Reference texts were produced during the research, shedding light on the practices of the three countries in the following areas: participation of inhabitants in urban social development processes, cooperation between administrations, associations and the population, possibilities and limits of social mixing, prevention of radicalisation.
A tri-national training programme has been set up with one session per year.
A summary document (the Toolkit) containing thematic notes, projects by neighbourhood and action research has been produced.
Funding and resources
The total budget for this project was €1.4M, of which €600,000 was Interreg funding.
Results and impacts
The levers of cross-border cooperation :
Beyond the need for translation, the project has highlighted the need for « border crossers », i.e. people who have a good knowledge of the different countries, work habits, acting… The aim is to enable us to understand what is at stake in our neighbours, beyond the translation of words.
Moreover, it appeared necessary to break away from a form of methodological nationalism, i.e. by generalizing approaches and methods to the « supposed habits » of the country.
The duration of the project over 3 years was obviously confronted with the regular changes of people, linked to the life of the organizations. But this temporality also created a habit of meeting twice a year. The regularity of the project groups made it possible to create the collective and give birth to a cross-border community.
The immersion phase, in the form of a « learning journey », brought a reflective dimension and a hindsight on one’s own practices. The actors were able, each at their own pace, to question « what goes without saying ».
Obstacles and Challenges
The project may have encountered limitations, particularly in terms of organisation (e.g. the administrative burden of Interreg, which does not allow new stakeholders to be integrated), language and the social innovation dimension, which could not be systematically identified.
Most of the lessons learnt are « experiential », i.e. the experience of the participants, which is difficult to pass on ("hypersubjective" dimension). In addition, there was limited time to measure transfers on the transformation of practices, knowing that innovation also implies changes in institutions.
Among the conditions favouring innovation, the leadership position or membership in a network of territorial partners and the « capacity to act » are determining factors.
For actors, social innovation requires creativity (moving out of one’s comfort zone), boldness (daring to change one’s practices) and experimentation (taking action).
Lessons learned and transferability (perspectives?)
Among the lessons learned, the need to take the time to innovate and the importance of relationships of trust between actors: « Professionals and residents have little awareness of how relationships of trust are built in their own neighbourhood. We think it is important to include this dimension in future cross-border training courses so that everyone can take a step back from their own situation and be inspired by other forms of trusting relationships. »
What cross-border exchange brings to social innovation :
Recognition and visibility of the action in working-class neighbourhoods, particularly in Germany and Switzerland, where public systems do not exist in the same way as in France.
A confrontation in the eyes of the other, which has sometimes allowed the actors to be reassured (who have been able in part to be comforted in their practices), a reflexive dimension of the practice,
Analysing the « Participation of the inhabitants » from the perspective of relationships of trust: « The social organisation of the interdependence between individuals and institutions, and the management of risks, vulnerabilities and resources resulting therefrom »: In France, republican equality and delegation; in Germany, the principle of subsidiarity; in Switzerland, the permanent search for consensus.
Journées des territoires 2019 « Agir sans subir : les territoires relèvent le défi écologique et social » les 25 et 26 novembre à Paris – Atelier « Évolution du développement social local ? »
To go further
See the Practice Note(pdf) which contains additional elements and descriptions.