R.U.S.Z. – Forms of Empowerment in a Social Innovation Initiative
Social innovations differ from commercial service innovations attempt to assign new roles and relationships (e.g. between the citizens and the state) to individuals or groups in need, they develop assets and capabilities and/or the more efficient and environmentally sustainable use of existing assets and resources (cf. Chiappero & Von Jacobi, 2015; Science Communication Unit, 2014; Windrum, Schartinger, Rubalcaba, Gallouj, & Toivonen, 2016). The notion of empowerment has gained interest in several disciplines. As a general concept, it is characterized by following a strength-oriented perception in contrast to a deficit-oriented perception. In social work, empowerment presumes active, collaborative roles for client–partners, instead of viewing clients as weak, passive and ineffectual (DuBois & Krogsrud Miley, 2005).
R.U.S.Z. (acronym for Repair and Service Centre) is a social enterprise first and foremost aiming at saving of resources and preventing waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) (ecological goals). R.U.S.Z. provides independent and reliable repair services for electronic household products of all sizes, ranging from radios to washing machines. R.U.S.Z. also conforms to social goals in that it creates jobs for disadvantaged persons. Furthermore, R.U.S.Z. operates on the market and wants to ensure financial stability (not for profit), create places of work and contribute to regional added economic goals (R.U.S.Z. GmbH, 2016). R.U.S.Z. was incentivised by a win-win situation of re-integrating people into the regular job market who have difficult employment histories and at the same time pro-moting the social practice of having devices repaired instead of thrown away and added to the amount of waste.
In the R.U.S.Z. case, empowerment takes several forms:
Empower citizens (demand): One crucial insight was that people/households are actually unwilling to dispose of goods because of minor damages. Culture and values of preserving nature, avoiding waste and prolonging the use of goods exist, but shrivel without the necessary supply of services. So there is actually latent demand for repair services in case of just a broken switch or similar problems, but without the existence of repair services and moreover, without the information of the existence of repair services, appliances are passively stored in people’s homes because they do not have the skills to repair themselves and not the knowledge about easy options of repair. In the case of R.U.S.Z., media contributions about repair services immediately rose awareness and demand, before this latent, became apparent.
Empower citizens (competences): Repair cafes have diffused from the Netherlands through Belgium, France and Germany to Austria. The repair and service center R.U.S.Z. offers repair cafes every Thursday, in order to give the opportunity to repair devices for which it would not be economical to offer repair services. Guests can fix toasters, blenders, irons, hairdryers, coffee filter machines, lamps and other electrical devices that can be carried in one hand. R.U.S.Z. offers a complementary infrastructure, like tools, and – coffee and pastries. Technically experienced personnel with different expertise is always present (Vienna Municipality, 2016).
The most important feature of the repair cafe is to empower citizens for self repair (Interview E).
Empower small repair firms (supply): A further insight was that craftsmen exist to carry out repair services, however they are often small businesses in backyards, not visible to the public. “These craftsmen are often ingenious technicians, but quite bad at two things: self-marketing and account staff.” (Wien Energie-Magazin für Unternehmen, 2014). Repair networks and a repair hotline helped to solve at least the self-marketing problem and, again, helped to engage otherwise passive resources – this time on the supply side, in making skills and competences available for the public.
Reduce asymmetric information: Furthermore R.U.S.Z. is engaged in the discourse on planned obsolescence. This is based on competences of R.U.S.Z.: Repair service technicians are also the most likely to be able to detect (purposefully) in-built technical weaknesses.
“Purposeful obsolescence exists whenever manufacturers produce goods with a shorter physical life than the industry is capable of producing under existing technological and cost conditions; or whenever manufacturers or sellers induce the public to replace goods which still retain substantial physical usefulness.” (Gregory 1947, cited in Hübner (2013). For Slade (2006) planned obsolescence is defined an “assortment of techniques used to artificially limit the durability of a manufactured good in order to stimulate repetitive consumption” (Anderson, 2007).
Conceptually, a basic ingredient to planned obsolescence is asymmetric information (Akerlof, 1970). At first, only manufacturers know about differences in quality of features unobservable to the buyers of goods. In informing a wider public about quality differences that are not easily observed by lay people, this is a crucial function of empowerment and enables consumers to make more informed decisions. A basic ingredient for more information and hence making consumers take the responsibility on the basis of informed decisions are labels. The eco-design label for durable and easy to repair new electrical appliances (ON Rule ONR 192102) shall distinguish appliances in making otherwise hidden differences in quality (durability) apparent.
Interview E, Interview with Sepp Eisenriegler, May 25th, 2016, at R.U.S.Z., Lützowgasse 12-14, 1140 Vienna
Akerlof, G. A. 1970. The Market for Lemons: Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 84(3): 488–500.
Anderson, B. 2007. Review: Made To Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America by Giles Slade, Electronic Green Journal, Vol. 1. http://escholarship.org/uc/item/3617c54k.
Chiappero, E., & Von Jacobi, N. 2015. How can Sen’s ‘Capabilities Approach’ contribute to understanding the role of social innovations for the marginalised? http://www.sbs.ox.ac.uk/ideas-impact/cressi/cressi-publications.
DuBois, B. L., & Krogsrud Miley, K. 2005. Social work: An empowering profession. Boston, MA, http://www.ablongman.com: Allyn & Bacon.
Hübner, R. 2013. Was ist geplante Obsoleszenz? Historische Entwicklung und Typologisierungen von Vance Packard bis zur Gegenwart. In Arbeiterkammer Wien (Ed.), Fachtagung. Wien.
R.U.S.Z. GmbH. 2016. R.U.S.Z. Kompetenzzentrum. http://rusz.at/kompetenz-zentrum/, lasst accessed July 6th, 2016.
Science Communication Unit. 2014. Science for Environment Policy In-depth Report: Social Innovation and the Environment. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/IR10_en.pdf , last accessed 1.11.15.
Slade, G. 2006. Made To Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Vienna Municipality. 2016. Reparaturcafe. https://www.wien.gv.at/umwelt-klimaschutz/reparaturcafe.html, last accessed July 13th, 2016.
Wien Energie-Magazin für Unternehmen. 2014. Der Reparier-Pionier. Wien Energie-Magazin für Unternehmen 10.
Windrum, P., Schartinger, D., Rubalcaba, L., Gallouj, F., & Toivonen, M. 2016. The Co-Creation of Multi-Agent Social Innovations: A Bridge Between Service and Social Innovation Research. European Journal of Innovation Management, accepted to be published.
Trends in Mobility and Transport – Share and Ride
Considering the developments and growth in urban areas around the world for the past decades, a change in mobility demands and patters is noticeable. For instance, lifestyles become more distinct and flexible, metropolitan areas merge in a way often lacking a dominant city-centre, cities predominantly stay active day and night, work and life patterns are more desynchronized (Finn, 2012). Consequently, the general quest for flexible transport options is growing and alongside the usage of the private vehicle (Wright & Curtis, 2005). In addition, the occupancy rates of private vehicles are declining, which means, that there are more cars with predominantly only a driver inside (Agatz et al., 2012). All these effects cause high CO2 emissions, congestions, air and noise pollution, which again result in lower life-quality in the urban areas around the globe (Butzin et al., 2015).
To tackle those challenges, strategies for sustainable urban mobility are being developed by governments around the world (UN, 2013). However, potential for reduction of the negative effects of transport is also seen in implementing new ways of mobility behaviour, which opens space for social innovation (Butzin et al., 2015).
‘Shared mobility’ is a possible direct answer to the present socio-economic developments by presenting a shift from owning means of transport to accessing means of transport. The term ‘shared mobility’ stands for “the shared use of a vehicle, bicycle, or other low-speed mode that enables users to have short-term access to transportation modes on an “as-needed” basis” (Shaheen et al., 2015: 4).
Throughout the SI-Drive project’s mapping phase five globally spread shared mobility fields were identified, where social innovation projects are fast emerging:
Car-sharing: Car-sharing means sharing the usage and the costs for a vehicle. Car-sharing initiatives are usually organised as business-to-consumer (B2C) models. In such a way, a certain company owns a vehicle fleet offering it the customers for usage. The service can be organised in manifold ways: as a round-trip, including the same pick-up and return location; station-based service, offering multiple pre-established locations for picking-up and returning the vehicles; and flexible service, offering the customer the possibility to leave the car anywhere. In addition to the above-named, there are peer-to-peer (P2P) car-sharing schemes, used by private owners, who offer their own vehicle for share. Usually these are community based schemes e.g. appointed between neighbours, however personal involvement of the users is not pre-required.
Ride sharing: Ride sharing (also known as carpooling) stands for sharing a trip and the related costs. This type of shared mobility relies on peer-to-peer interaction for common traveling. In addition to the unformal practices of this type as, for example, ‘hitchhiking’, today, ride sharing arranged with the help of a platform (agency) gains popularity. Prearranged trips between strangers on long or short distance can be found in almost every European country and North America. Through the technological development, real time ride matching is also becoming increasingly popular, operating by platforms able to connect people in a very short notice.
Bicycle sharing: In a very similar way, bicycle sharing is a service for sharing or renting a bicycle for a short time (from some minutes to several hours). The success of bicycle sharing depends on the location of the bicycle stations, where users can pick-up and/or return the bike. Usually, bike sharing is funded/implemented by public authorities or private investors or a combination of both. It is a complementary service to public transport by allowing people to get faster from one point to another, solving the problem of the often unconnected “last mile” transportation.
Parking spot sharing: Parking spot sharing aims at offering solutions for efficient motor vehicle parking, in terms of time and effort spend in searching the nearest parking spaces. Owners of the parking spaces to share can be citizens (P2P) or organizations such as companies or further authorities, which by utilizing technological solutions (applications, sensors etc.) are making the free spaces available to others.
Mobility applications: In the past years, applications for mobile devices occur in a bright scale, allowing users to organise, coordinate and manage their short and long distance travel. These services allow private users by internet connection to manage their travel, providing information for all available means of transport and the current traffic situation. This kind of applications are either directly connected to the public transport providers or rely on live feedback from travellers, or combine both types of features.
In addition to those five shared mobility practices identified by SI-Drive, others, specific to a certain area, can be found in the literature (shuttles, shared taxi, on-demand transport options etc.) (cf. Shaheen et al., 2015). All these services are characterised by flexibility, reliability, affordability and the possibility to connect users in near real-time. They are highly dependent on new technologies as smartphones, GPS and Internet, which allows them to be dynamic. Their spread and growth in the past years underlines the strong technological dimension of social innovation in the policy field of mobility and transport.
Agatz, N., Erera, A., Savelsbergh, M. and Wang, X. (2012): Optimization for Dynamic Ride-sharing: A Review. European Journal of Operational Research, Vol. 223, pp. 295-303.
Butzin, A., Rabadjieva, M. and Lindt, M. (2015): Social Innovation in Transport and Mobility. State of the Art Summary. https://www.si-drive.eu/?p=1899.
Finn, B. (2012): Towards Large-scale Flexible Transport Services: A Practical Perspective From the Domain of Paratransit. Research in Transportation Business & Management, Vol. 3, pp. 39-49.
Shaheen, S., Chan, N., Bansal, A. and Cohen, A. (2015): Shared Mobility: Definitions, Industry Developments, and Early Understanding. TSRC, UC Berkeley.
United Nations (2013): Planning and Designing for Sustainable Urban Mobility. Global Report on Human Settlements. http://unhabitat.org/planning-and-design-for-sustainable-urban-mobility-global-report-on-human-settlements-2013/ (last accessed 25.06.2014).
Wright, C. and Curtis, B. (2005): Reshaping the Motor Car. Transport Policy, Vol. 12, pp. 11-22.
Inclusive Mobility – a Global Challenge with Many Local Answers
A major challenge in the field of mobility and transport is ensuring mobility of all in order to give access to places, goods and services. The objective is achieving inclusive mobility and transport systems that do not exclude certain social groups. Nevertheless, exclusion has multiple sides and there is hardly a “one size fits all” solution to overcome it. Church and Frost (1999, cited from Gaffron et al. 2001, p. 8f.) concretise transport related social exclusion in several, often intertwined categories. These are “physical exclusion” meaning different barriers preventing people from accessing services. “Geographical, space or distance” exclusion applying to peripheral territories with poor transport connections or long walking and driving pathways, leading to exclusion from facilities for shopping, healthcare, leisure activities or education. “Economic exclusion” occurring due to high transport costs; and “fear-based exclusion” referring to feeling unsafe by using public transport options (especially from women, elderly and children).
One approach for achieving inclusive mobility systems is applying the 4A-categories included also in the UN overview of global mobility challenges: mobility and transport have to be Available, Accessible, Affordable, and Acceptable for all (see UN 2013). These overarching categories, however, are not jet fully established neither in the developed nor in the developing countries around the world. Depending on the social context exclusion is faced everywhere in one form or another and is being also conquered differently. Ensuring safe, affordable transportation of people with reduced mobility, gender sensitive transport options or safe roads to school for children are just a few of the examples found during the SI-Drive mapping phase. In the following sections four exemplifying cases for ensuring inclusive mobility, depending on the contextual needs, are presented as an example for the diversity of solutions:
Heimwegtelefon, Germany – a phone line for people walking home at night. “Heimwegtelefon” is a phone service developed from two women in Berlin. The idea was born from the experience of being in a vulnerable position by walking home alone at night. Through a phone call people from all over Germany can connect to a volunteer, share their position and route and in this way feel safer and not alone. The service empowers callers to be more independent by walking even in the late hours of the night.
She-Taxi, India – a taxi service for women exclusively. She-Taxi is reserved only for women both as drivers and as passengers. In a strong patriarchal society as India, where women are often being discriminated as workers, threatened, assaulted and even hurt by using the public transport system She-Taxi offers on a one hand a safe transportation option and on the other a possibility for women to become entrepreneurs. The project aims at empowering women to be more independent and at ensuring gender equality.
Moosdorf Macht Mobil, Austria – community transport service. In the rural area of Moosdorf, Upper Austria, there is a serious lack of public transport connections to the bigger cities, to hospitals and schools, which makes the inhabitants dependant on their private cars. For children or elderly there is no possibility to travel on their own. As a response to this strong demand the mayor, together with group of inhabitants, developed a plan for community transport service with an electrical vehicle. The service is entirely operated and led by volunteers, members of the community and is organised as a non-for-profit associations of community members. With joint efforts, the community found a way and public funding to establish their own transport option.
Child in a Chair in a Day, UK – improving the process of getting a wheelchair for children. The process of getting the right wheelchair in the United Kingdom is long and heavy and requires multiple visits to the facilities until the right piece of equipment is finally given to the patient. The charitable organisation Wizz-Kidz has set the goal of improving that process. They developed a project aiming at providing the required equipment for children in only one visit to the medical facility. They managed to achieve that in 90% of the cases in the past year. The projects’ success is based on improved delivery-chain, where physicians, patients and equipment companies are working close together even before meeting in person. Now the organisation is working on implementing the same system for adults.
The four cases show solutions possible, in order to achieve the goal of inclusive mobility for all. Even though the provided solutions are still complementary and don’t change the system altogether, they empower vulnerable groups to participate more broadly (e.g. also at night) in the mobility system. One of the main challenges and future options of these kind of initiatives is to cooperate with established mobility and transport actors in order to achieve scaling and new/increased target groups, to strengthen the link to new technologies that are helpful in both implementing and scaling the solution and to develop sustainable business models.
Gaffron, P., Hine, J. and Mitchell, F. (2001): The role of transport on social exclusion in urban Scotland. Literature Review. Transport Research Unit. Napier University.
United Nations (2013): Planning and Designing for Sustainable Urban Mobility. Global Report on Human Settlements. Retrieved from http://unhabitat.org/planning-and-design-for-sustainable-urban-mobility-global-report-on-human-settlements-2013/ (last accessed 25.06.2014).
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