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Building a Shared Interest


Olinda is both a voluntary association and a social co-operative that was created with the aim of transforming a large, enclosed psychiatric hospital (PH) in the northern suburbs of Milan into a more open and therapeutic environment for patients as well as for ordinary citizens of the whole metropolitan area.1 The history of Olinda can be divided into three stages. In the first, a group of trainers was able to develop practices of vocational training focusing not on patients' weaknesses but on their capabilities, in an effort to 'co-produce' mental health. In 1995 the group created the Olinda Association in order to mobilise more human resources for the vocational training of inpatients. In the second stage, starting in 1996, Olinda organised a big summer festival (with music, sports, theatre, etc.) which included many third sector groups and involved several different local authorities. During the first festival, thousands of ordinary citizens entered the hospital for the first time; the hospital space became a stimulus for collective action and part of the wall around the hospital grounds was symbolically removed.The festival legitimised Olinda's therapeutical innovations and enabled the first large debate about the continued existence of the psychiatric hospital, otherwise bound to be closed under a national law. In the third stage, Olinda started a social enterprise, in an effort to combine services for the city with services for mental health: multifarious activities were set up in the buildings of the former hospital - a restaurant, a carpenters' work - shop, a bar and a hostel - which are still functioning, together with the annual summer festival. Olinda used conflicts from both within and outside the organisation in order to advance public discourse and to raise visibility with regard to their decisions and actions. This case demonstrates (1) the role of outsiders in intro - ducing new ideas, skills and social capital and, especially, how the bringing together of different types of people can generate new insights, developments, possibilities; (2) how much sociability and cultural productions/events really are a turning point in building a shared interest in innovative action; (3) the relevance of the effort to give legitimacy and dignity to those who were previously outcasts; and (4) the importance of involving the public administration and creating innovative institutional arrangements. Olinda is the story of a reflexive organisation which does not run away from contradictions. It tries to transform its experimental practices in the mental health field into a broader social innovation, while at the same time fighting against social exclusion (...).
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hal-01041603 , version 1 (23-07-2014)



Tommaso Vitale. Building a Shared Interest: Olinda, Milan: Social Innovation between Strategy and Organizational Learning. Can Neighbourhoods Save the City? Community Development and Social Innovation, Routledge, pp.81-92, 2010, 9780415485883. ⟨hal-01041603⟩
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