Award-winning project SynAthina: a social innovation platform

Athens, Greece

Citizens, policy-makers and private sector representatives come together to build a collaborative, grassroots vision for change in Athens.

synAthina is an online platform to engage members of the community in problem-solving and reform. Citizens and groups can submit ideas such as volunteer activities and improvements for their city and are connected with relevant government representatives, non-governmental organizations, and private businesses to support their efforts. If outdated regulations are impeding the advancement of good ideas, the synAthina project team will work with partners at City Hall to update those regulations, policies, or procedures.

In 2014, the City was awarded US$1.2million through the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge for the development of synAthina. synAthina seeks to demonstrate a way of government working more effectively with the community, supporting community activity as part of an agenda for change and connecting government to what is important to citizens.

Originally published by EUROCITIES, the network of 130 European cities - PDF: http://nws.eurocities.eu/MediaShell/media/2016%20Awards_Cities%20in%20action_Athens.pdf 

Award-winning project

This project was awarded the 'EUROCITIES Awards' in 2016 in the following category: Innovation. Learn more about the award.


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City information
City
Athens

Size and population development
Athens is experiencing some population decline which is common across Greece, due to an aging population and a poor economy. Census figures indicate the city's population dropped from 745,000 in 2001 to 664,000 in 2011. The city has a population density of 17,040 per square kilometer. The Athens Metropolitan Area has 58 municipalities with a population estimated at 3.75 million.

Population composition
Like most of Greece, Athens has a fairly homogeneous population. The main recognized minority are Muslims. There are also populations of Jews, Armenians, Romani, Pomaks, and Turks.

Main functions
Athens is the capital and largest city of Greece and one of the oldest cities in the world with a recorded history that goes back 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a center for philosophy, art and learning and considered the cradle of Western civilization and democracy. Today, Athens is a cosmopolitan metropolis that is the financial, political, cultural and economic centre of Greece.

Main industries / business
Shipping, finance, international trade, education, tourism, media, arts and culture. Service industry is dominating; 50% all greek enterprises have their seat within the Great Athens.

Sources for city budget
National Government and taxation revenue

Political structure
a Mayor and seven City district Councils

Administrative structure
The City of Athens comprises seven City District Councils. Each City District is responsible for the management of all local matters and has its own Council. Each City District Council consists of a chairman, deputy chairman and fifteen elected councilors.

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Background and objectives

Greece’s economic crisis and subsequent austerity measures have significantly reduced the operational capacity of Athens’ city government. To further compound the problem, outdated regulations have stifled necessary reforms to make government work in challenging times, with trust between citizens and government eroding. At the same time, a vibrant civil society has emerged, with large numbers of citizens working together to improve their neighborhoods and communities. 

Key objectives of the synAthina project are:

  • Increased momentum and energy, supporting enhanced activity amongst community groups.
  • More supportive and collaborative ways of working between the municipality and the community.
  • Reduced regulation, creating space for a greater contribution to city life from community groups.
  • Increased understanding from the municipality of the contribution that community groups can make to improving the city.
Implementation

In 2013 the City of Athens funded the synAthina pilot project to create a web based platform for community groups to promote their activities and communicate their concerns to local government. In 2014, the City was awarded US$1.2million through the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge for the development of synAthina. Subsequently, a project team was established to oversee a 3 year implementation plan that commenced in 2015.

Key drivers of the implementation plan are:

  • Build authentic and personal relationships

Build a support network and a shared commitment to improving the city through face to face engagement with citizens, policy makers and businesses.

  • Demonstrate new ways of interacting

Model new ways of working between the municipality and community groups by facilitating various events that bring these groups together, gradually building a sense of ambition for change amongst municipal officials.

  • Focus on high impact activity

Work with community groups on initiatives that are likely to have the greatest impact on the city and explore potential for use in local governance.

  • Hold onto a living vision

Through trust and communication, develop a culture of activism, debate and reflection that can lead to change in the city's political system by improving regulations and simplifying procedures.

Financing and resources

The City of Athens is the lead agency for the project and provides recurrent funding.

The City was awarded US$1.2million through the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge for the development of synAthina. 

 
Results and impacts

With committed supporters and volunteers and an increasingly high profile, synAthina has proved highly effective in its endeavours. To date, 2,275 activities, including a small number adopted and funded by local government, have been registered and realised by 278 community groups. The synAthina team is working with the Mayor’s office to develop a declaration or set of principles that will codify how the municipality should work with citizens. 

The project’s vision of public engagement in reform is perfectly exemplified by the Kypseli Market initiative. Empty for 10 years, this important municipal building required both renovation and reinvention. synAthina received over 470 proposals for potential use of the space and it is now set to become a city hub, with cultural and creative workspaces, shops, offices, municipal services and a pavilion for exhibitions.

Other examples of successful community initiatives include: 

  • unsold produce from a farmers’ market distributed to those in need

  • an anti-graffiti project whose large network of volunteers is helping to clean up the streets 

  • A healthcare organization which runs free clinics for people without health insurance. 

Barriers and challenges

There is a vibrant civil society in Athens, with much activity taking place at community level. This activity is often restricted by government regulations or because of a lack of infrastructure and support to enable these activities to flourish.

Lessons learned and transferability
  • Connecting with the community in an authentic way is key to building trust and commitment to become involved in a project.
  • Connecting people to tangible change helps them to see new ways of working in practice.
  • Energy is not an endless resource: prioritising is important for maximizing impact.
  • Intentionally creating the conditions that enables effective team work and supports meaningful collaboration and shared ownership.
References

Cities in action - Athens engages citizens in reform,  Turning grassroots activities into tools - EUROCITIES, November 2016


External links / documents