synAthina is the common space which brings together, supports and facilitates citizens’ groups engaged in improving the quality of life in the city.
synAthina's aim is to support the activities of the citizens the City and create a new perception about the relationship between civic society and local governance and cultivates their dynamic, bidirectional bond.
synAthina platform has brought a new era of social innovation in Athens, bringing new perspectives and approaches to bear on challenges.
Greece is perceived to be at the frontline of the European social and political crises.
Athens is its lab.
In areas where social welfare and urban challenges were badly hit, Athens had to find fast and effective solutions. Athens had to re-invent itself.
Despite the political risk, Athens did not hesitate to invest in long-term resilient strategies. With budget cuts and a shrinking staff, it managed to reach out to the untapped capacity of the entire city. Even before the terminology had entered its communication vocabulary, Athens was innovating out of necessity. Social innovation sprung naturally by turning to its citizens with new models of engagement and participation, unintentionally similar to models of Greece’s ancient city-states.
After systematic design for accountable and transparent processes that brought international attention and awards, the fruit of its efforts have started to become apparent.
Extreme poverty and the refugee crisis were not only met with relief initiatives, but now Athens has become the test-bed for innovative ways to re-activate and integrate inactive populations. The previously "un-digitalised" administration is now crowdsourcing creative input from the rising community of developers. Neighborhoods are co-designed with local inhabitants. Previously abandoned buildings are now met with groundbreaking management models and new use. A wide range of small-scale experiments have managed to pull Athens out of a dark place to the forefront of Europe’s 21st century. It is the proof that with innovation, cities can do more with less.
Athens sees itself as a role model not necessarily for well-resourced and powerful cities, but for having achieved to embrace its compassionate and committed communities. This cultural leap forward makes Athens a pioneer for the type of innovation that prepares societies to better address the challenges of the future.
SynAthina is an initiative of the City of Athens. It was created in July 2013 and today comes under the Vice Mayoral Office for Civil Society and Innovation.
Austerity measures and Greece’s economic crisis have significantly reduced the operational capacity of Athens’ city government. At the same time, a vibrant civil society emerged, with large numbers of citizens working together to improve their neighborhoods and communities. Within this context, City of Athens created synAthina, an online platform to engage members of the community in problem-solving and reform. Individual citizens and community groups can submit volunteer activities, as well as innovative ideas on how to improve their city. Citizens who submit ideas are then connected to the relevant government representatives, non-governmental organizations, and private businesses that can support their efforts. If outdated regulations are needlessly prohibiting the advancement of good ideas or if innovative solutions are to be found out of the activities of the civil society, the synAthina project team harness innovation within the City Hall to update regulations, policies and procedures and has brought the public and private sector to experiment in new ways of working and cooperating.
synAthina platform has brought a new era of social innovation in Athens, bringing new perspectives and approaches to bear on the social challenge of community cohesion and creative citizenship post-crisis. Building on this distinctive approach to tackling urban challenges through a culture of collaborative innovation synAthina has created a space to share, collaborate and learn.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The synAthina platform is the social innovation platform of the City of Athens for engaging citizens in problem solving and reform. Austerity measures and Greece’s economic crisis have significantly reduced the operational capacity of Athens’ city government. At the same time, a vibrant civil society has emerged, with an increasing number of community groups that take initiatives to improve their neighbourhoods and solve pressing issues on the ground. The synAthina platform hosts both formal and informal groups in an inclusive way by developing a systematic mechanism to collect and facilitate the available capacity of public spirited citizens to lead to simpler, faster and more sustainable solutions for the city of Athens.
What is the current status of your innovation?
To this day synAthina platform has gained further political support by the local authority as well as further acceptance and participation by the citizens.
synAthina won the Mayor’s Challenge Award by Bloomberg Philanthropies in 2014.
- synAthina won the award in the category for Innovation of the Eurocities Innovation Awards, Nov. 2016
- The City of Athens received the UIA funding (Urban Innovative Actions) in the section “Migrants and Refugee Integration” with synAthina in the lead. The successful proposal entitled “Curing the Limbo” and coordinated by the synAthina team, capitalises on the vibrant civil society of Athens to help refugees, migrant and local unemployed overcome their stage of inertia and apathy.
- SynAthina is part of European networks, such as: A) Refill Project: regarding the temporary use of empty spaces. B) ROCK project: regarding regeneration of historic city centres through cultural heritage C) Eurocities Working Group: Chair of Creative Citizenship, etc.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The success of the platform synAthina lies in bringing together diverse key players in the City and allowing the opportunity for those unexpected partnerships to flourish. We have created a so-called Social Innovation Constellation model across our work where the Municipality in the middle and is surrounded by the private sector, the civil society, the public sector administration and the University sector.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Citizens and other partners such as NGO’s, private institutions and City Services departments are involved in all aspects of the platform: uploading volunteer activities on our website, registering as potential givers who can support and empower civil society initiatives, using the physical space to organise participatory events and public workshops, visiting our offices in the City Hall every Monday to communicate their ideas and projects receiving consultation and capacity building.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
synAthina platform is built around the following objectives:
To map the activities of the engaged citizens, otherwise unseen, and make them visible to public eye.
To facilitate and empower these activities in order to scale-up and have a real impact in the city.
To highlight the best practices of the civil society as the new innovative solutions for the city that meet the contemporary challenges of the time.
To lead through these solutions to the upgrade of public administration itself and the way which the municipality of Athens can efficiently tackle the current requirements that emerge in a city of crisis.
Challenges and Failures
Up to now, synAthina has facilitated 1’918 activities of civil society, which have been uploaded in our digital platform and performed in our physical space by 222 community groups, which are registered as active members. Moreover, 15 bottom-up activities have been highlighted as best practices of the civil society that bring a new intelligence as innovative models for problem-solving and we have managed 5 of them to be incorporated to the municipality updating regulations, policies and procedures.
We are constantly evaluating the program facing challenges that emerge as we move forward to the implementation such as: build a relationship of trust among the municipality and active citizens, keep synAthina relevant to the Mayor’s Office as an important tool for the policymaking process, produce pragmatic and implementable proposals for structural changes and reforms, tackle problems of bureaucracy, stay focused in the project, ensure that the project becomes sustainable.
Conditions for Success
The journey from a citizen’s idea to its actual reality in the public sphere had to cover the distance from a critically disengaged population to arriving at a stage today where citizens and municipality are co-designing neighborhoods and a resilient strategy together for the future.
It took several steps to set the base of this transformative process, such as structuring methods of mapping, consulting, moderating, supporting and training, and the city had to reach out to various funding opportunities to create the tools and experience before being able to help citizens implement their new ideas in the city.
Instead of spending preaching time to engage the disengaged, Athens concentrated in identifying what community groups’ initiatives contained the seeds for further upscaling.
Athens has successfully implemented their idea, synAthina. It is a program and online platform that puts citizens at the center of innovation, problem-solving and reform. Individual citizens and groups submit volunteer activities, to be recognised and connected with other activities across the city, as well as ideas on how to improve the city. In 2018, Athens won an EU grant of €5 million to continue their work with a focus on the refugee crisis, helping Athenians to open a civic dialogue and rebuild trust with the "Curing the Limbo" programme. Recently, their efforts were further recognized, with Athens named European Capital of Innovation 2018. To date Athens has received over 80 expressions of interest from other cities. The innovation of “Curing the Limbo” aims to connect with active citizen groups via synAthina, a City of Athens initiative and gain access to affordable housing, while they themselves provide for the neighbourhoods of Athens.
Τhere are some very practical tools and tactics that have worked in Athens to breathe new life into the relationship between city and civil society. Since synAthina launched, the team has received several expressions of interest from other Greek and European cities wanting to learn more about the project, and to replicate some aspects of it in their local contexts.
This booklet provides a resource for other cities who are interested in supporting citizen initiatives that improve quality of life in their city. Drawing on Athens’ experience, it aims to share key lessons learned by the city, and to provide guidance to local governments seeking to work more collaboratively with citizens.
Since its launch, SynAthina has had 2,700 activities uploaded, ranging from people who are working to protect Athens’ street art to community groups debating new uses for a refurbished market hall. By recording specific activities rather than the good intentions of people who might like to be involved in community work but aren’t, the platform also provided the municipality with an invaluable degree of access to what exactly was going on at grassroots level in the city, enabling public officials to be better informed and more flexible in responding to the requests of ordinary citizens.
Such is the platform’s success that SynAthina is now being used an a model for similar projects internationally.
Posted by συνΑθηνά on Monday, 5 November 2018