1 Introduction

The aim of this chapter is to discuss the conditions for the scaling up of the SoHoLab project.Footnote 1 The main aim of this European project was to learn how and in what conditions it could be possible to apply and develop a Living Lab approach in large-scale social housing neighbourhoods characterized by phenomena of social and spatial marginalization. The issue of scaling up means, therefore, to think of the possibility to transfer the same programme/approach or experimental policy realized in a specific territory to other contexts, especially after some elements of success have been observed. This issue is considered central (Hartmann and Linn 2007; European Network of Living Labs 2020; United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], 2013), particularly by those public institutions who promote programmes similar to SoHoLab at different levels (from the European to local level) and that are characterized by an experimental and a place-based approach. The presence of these two features on the one hand represents an opportunity for the institutions to learn and collect important information (in particular knowledge and teachings) about how to design a policy; on the other hand, it presents them with a double challenge that sounds like a dichotomy: to arrive at the modelling of the intervention programme (going beyond a preliminary experimental programme) while ensuring that this programme is, as much as possible, appropriate for the context in which it is proposed.

Regarding the first challenge (modelling), public institutions usually have the task of advancing from an experimental dimension realized at a local level to a policy design that can be extended, in a generalized way, to other contexts. This leads to the issue of the standardization of some experimentation elements which are reaped from specific contexts characterized by some peculiarities and different complexity levels. Even if the programme might generally concern large-scale social housing neighbourhoods characterized by phenomena of social and urban marginalization, it is possible to consider different factors. Thinking specifically about territorial differences, this could include the presence of different needs, resources, competencies, actors and social/political/cultural stories that may uniquely characterize these places. The standardization of public services and programmes is an ever more present problem for institutions that must guarantee equal access to services and at the same quality. Therefore, standardization means avoiding territorial inequalities of access but also, as is common knowledge, defining a problem management strategy. This is particularly important in large-scale contexts (European, national, and regional) to simplify government activity and produce cost savings and restraints. The standardization of services, in fact, enables better control of public expenditure but also expected results, by the definition of some general indicators. Speaking about standardization and modelling means also, in general, considering the simplification process of social complexity that is required to manage social and spatial problems from an administrative point of view (Tosi 1994).

At the same time, for public policies to be effective they must be adequate for the specific territorial contexts in which they operate. This second challenge is central. In the premises of the SoHoLab project, one of the main aims was precisely to understand how it would be possible to adapt top-down regeneration programmes to neighbourhood needs using the Urban Living Lab (ULL) approach. The project, in fact, started from the evidence that part of the failure of many regeneration programmes was due to the top-down approach used by institutions that, in a certain way, compelled the territory to adapt itself to the characteristics of the programme, and not the contrary (Aernouts et al. 2020).

Therefore, in short, the problem seems to lie in how to satisfy the institutions’ needs to promote a generalized policy, while at the same time protecting the necessity to respond to specific local needs. This second challenge, which appears to clash with the first (modelling), is more complex to treat. It deals with how to design services and programmes tailored to territories, with social complexity management and, specifically, the possibility to integrate and extend a place-based approach not only in experimental programmes but in generalized programmes as well. In this chapter, an effort will be made to understand how it is possible to combine the tendency for standardized programmes and the definition of an intervention model with the need to design a project and programme tailored to the neighbourhood characteristics. For this purpose, in the next paragraphs, the results of a comparative studyFootnote 2 are presented. The experiences of applying the ULL approach in public housing contexts, carried out as part of the SoHoLab project, and a similar programme, called Neighbourhoods Social Lab (NeSoLab, Laboratori sociali di quartiere), promoted by the regional government in Lombardy (Italy), were compared.

2 The Interpretative Dimensions of Analysis Examined

The study was carried out through the use of qualitative methodologies (documentation analysis and interviews). It was realized in the last nine months of the project and organized into two phases, which were linked to two different comparison grids. In the first phase, an analysis of the documentation produced during three years of the project was completed. The purpose was to collect and compare the general characteristics of the programmes in terms of the main characteristics of the territories selected for the intervention, typology of involved actors, problems confronted, objectives, main activities and project typologies realized, the different origins of the resources, and project development period. The outcome of this part is presented in the next section.

In the second phase, eighteen semi-structured interviews were conducted that allowed us to collect the perceptions and points of view of the main stakeholders involved in the two programmes (in total twenty-four people including public institutions, NGOs, social housing companies). The grid used was designed to compare and deepen some specific interpretative dimensions with regard to the main characteristics and purposes: the key aspects of the ULL approach but also most urban and social regeneration programmes. Specifically, the dimensions considered were: participation, learning processes, siting, integration among sectoral policies (social, educational, town planning, etc.), integration among different levels of actors (different institutions, local realities, citizens…), the time factor, changes, and legacies. The results of this part are presented in Sect. 6.4.

Taking into consideration the double challenge presented in the introduction (to reproduce from a top-down level a ULL approach in any context without losing the complexity gained from a place-based approach), each dimension was investigated with two aims. Firstly, the aim is to understand the implications of its implementation, from the theory and aims expressed in the initial projects to practice. Secondly, with the aim to flesh out attention points and potential recommendations for those institutions that decide to adopt a programme with a similar approach. Considering the first dimension, participation, the different senses, meanings, and expectations assigned by institutions to the residents’ activation and involvement in the programmes were investigated, also in terms of the role conferred to them in the process. For example, if participation is intended as being an apparatus (dispositif), institutions’ role is pedagogic in order to activate an attitude of responsibility for taking care of the public space in residents; their role is fact-finding in order to involve residents to better know their needs, problems, and competences and design more appropriate responses. This dimension was also investigated with reference to the characteristics of institutions’ and social organizations’ participation in the two programmes, in particular with the aim to study in deep of their role and the importance of their involvement in the process. The second dimension regards the learning process. Given that the two programmes were characterized by a local and place-based approach, efforts were made to investigate if the public institutions pay heed to the local and scientific knowledge acquired produced thanks to these programmes, and if and how they transmit and use this knowledge at the highest level to define or redefine a policy. The third dimension concerns siting and the first aim was to investigate it understanding the different meanings given to the ‘institution’ presence in the neighbourhood. In particular, did the presence of the institution in the neighbourhood mean greater social control of the space and its uses, or the possibility to involve residents in management activities? Did the ‘institution’ assume a different gaze (immersing himself in the reality of the neighbourhood thank to his physical presence), and consequently, receive different knowledge to manage but also to design the policies and build local relationships? This dimension seems strongly linked to the meaning assigned by the institution to the participation concept. Secondly, the aim was to investigate the different strategies used to stay in the field, to understand whether there are methods or physical spaces that are more effective for a specific purpose and the different possibilities to be present in the neighbourhood. Another dimension that is peculiar in the programmes examined concerns the integration between policies. Both SoHoLab and NeSoLab start from the assumption that social and urban problems in large social housing neighbourhoods are strongly interrelated and that a regeneration programme, to be effective, has to conceive any policies in an integrated way. If on the one hand, the regeneration programme experiences of the last twenty years resulted in these lessons, then, on the other hand, putting the integration into practice is a difficult challenge; in fact, it is observed how generally the problems are faced independently of each other (Aernouts et al. 2020). The aim of this part was to understand what are the main difficulties, challenges, and problems related to the realization of an integrated regeneration programme. Strongly linked with the previous dimension is the actors’ collaboration. Here, the aim was to try to investigate the integration among different levels of actors involved, with different perspectives, in the neighbourhood’s life: public institutions (regional, municipal, etc.), local organizations, and residents, in order to understand the presence of specific apparatus used to foster integration among different actors and to try to identify the main critical issues and challenges for integration. With the investigation of the time factor, an attempt was made to understand whether the actors (who promoted the two experiences examined) have considered this dimension with respect to the definition of their aims and the expected impacts from the implementation of the programs. In particular, the goal was to comprehend if the interventions, activities and strategies had been designed in the programmes to be limited in time, inasmuch they had to be strictly useful to achieve some specific objectives. Or, quite the opposite, if they had been designed to continue in time, inasmuch they were conceived to transform, after the experimental phase, in a model of management or in a consolidated and structured activity in the neighbourhood.

Finally, in both projects considered, specific attention was paid to the need to produce changes in large-scale social housing estates through an urban regeneration process based on the ULL approach. This is an objective that institutions from different levels (European, regional, and local) are responsible for, in particular in the premises of the projects, where the expectation is to produce visible and evident changes. This particular attention is also caused by the fact that often, regeneration programmes of public housing neighbourhoods work in contexts considered static and passive, where public intervention does not seem to have the power to produce changes. By investigating this dimension, the aim was to understand the main difficulties and challenges that actors have to deal with to produce some effective changes; the realistic changes that institutions can expect in terms of visions, political frameworks, political practices, and spatial and social aspects; and finally, strongly linked with changes, the possible main legacies of these kinds of programmes.

3 The Experiences Examined

The two programmes examined in the comparative analysis represent an experiment that was developed between 2017 and 2020. The general area that unites them is the urban and social regeneration of public housing neighbourhoods characterized by phenomena of urban and social marginality. Among the common objectives, we find a focus on practices, processes, and tools to promote social cohesion and spatial inclusion, in particular: listening to residents and encouraging their greater involvement in the management of the neighbourhood, rebuilding a relationship of trust between residents and institutions, and reconnecting the neighbourhood, its residents, and the city. Further similarities can also be identified in the ‘model’ of intervention, with reference, for example, to the importance given to certain elements such as the involvement of residents, the construction of collaborative practices between different institutional actors involved in neighbourhood life, the construction of a network of local actors, and fieldwork.

However, the two programmes arise within different institutional frameworks. The NeSoLab is an experimental programme promoted within the housing policies of the Lombardy Region that has the definition of a model of management of public housing as its final objective. This model must be able to, according to the idea of the legislator, integrate property and facility management with social management (currently absent and tested through NeSoLab). The latest edition of the regional programme was funded by European resources from the European Social Fund (ESF) 2014–2020. The ULL experience developed within the SoHoLab project was born, instead, within the framework of European programming from an idea by three universities with the aim of promoting an integrated approach to the regeneration of public and collective spaces of public housing neighbourhoods. This would be done through a retrospective analysis of similar past projects carried out in the Paris metropolitan area, a ULL experience underway in Milan, and a new project of ULL in Brussels.

Although the two experiences were born within different institutional contexts, the numerous common elements were the basis of the idea to develop an in-depth study aimed at identifying teachings and indications for the reproduction and transferability, through an institutional path, of analogous programmes in areas with similar characteristics and problems.

4 Points of Attention for the Adoption by Public Institutions of an Urban Living Lab Approach

This section presents the results of the in-depth analysis that was conducted of each of the interpretative dimensions described in section The interpretative dimensions of analysis examined.

4.1 Participation and Role of Actors

Residents. Both the SoHoLab and the NeSoLab programmes provide some important food for thought with respect to urban and social regeneration processes that aim to involve residents. First, the importance of a preliminary activity aimed at listening to and knowing the needs of the population in terms of housing and social and living conditions was underlined. Second, it emerged that the participation of residents, with this term indicating the tenants who live in a social housing complex, is almost never attainable. It is therefore worth starting from the position of focusing on certain population groups, which can be useful as well as more realistic, especially in contexts with a large number of residents. In order to be able to involve residents, it seems important to identify the problems which they consider to be their priority together with them. Doing so using predefined themes and programmes risks making engagement attempts unsuccessful. Under these first conditions, participatory processes must be conceived as experiences within which residents can contribute to real change; in this sense, it is important that their issues do not remain disregarded. If, therefore, the demand for greater involvement on the part of residents is not associated with an equal effort on the part of the institutions, the objective of greater participation is at risk of disappearing. The experience of the NeSoLab has shown in particular how programmes that aim to involve residents can be interpreted differently at the local level in relation to the sensitivity of the actors present, who may associate participation with a multiplicity of meanings. It is considered useful when writing calls and programmes or sharing them with local stakeholders to explain the purposes of so-called participation. One of the possible distortions that can be triggered is the result indicator represented by the number of residents who have been involved in the initiatives as a measure of their effectiveness. The risk is that mechanisms will be found in which counting the presence is the ultimate aim instead of reaping the real transformative potential of the participatory processes.

Institutions. The institutions involved in the two programmes, from government agencies to social housing companies, have played a crucial role in determining the outcomes of the processes, both positively and negatively. This was due to a number of factors. First, the sensitivity of the people directly involved in the projects on behalf of the administrators and officials. Second, the involvement in the project of the entire organization structure (from the top to the most operational levels) to which these people belong. Third, the possibility of having resources (human, technical as well as economic) and power of action to be made available in the project in order to respond to issues (new and unexpected) that emerged from the dialogue with residents.

Starting from some critical issues that emerged but also from the most successful cases, for all stakeholders we tried to understand what skills and conditions the institutions that are managing, promoting, or experimenting with urban and social regeneration programmes within public housing neighbourhoods should have and to be able to put into practice. These include, in addition to technical and administrative skills:

  • listening skills of local stakeholders, workers operating in the territory, or tenants, taking into account any requests and trying to respond to them;

  • the ability to be in the field, through the opening of a location;

  • the capacity to work in synergy with local networks and other institutions;

  • the ability to build settings in which to experiment with innovative solutions, which are in addition to the ordinary intervention procedures;

  • to create an internal culture within the organization that is favourable to participatory processes;

  • the ability and possibility to work in a coordinated way between different sectors to meet the complex needs of citizens;

  • the ability to inform and communicate with citizens in a transparent, coherent, and coordinated way with other institutions;

  • know of the territory in which it is operating;

  • the ability to employ a broad perspective on the processes and, at the same time, segment the vision into practical tasks and concrete actions.

Universities and third-sector organizations. In this section, it was decided to look at the role of the universities and third-sector organizations together because their work has, in some respects, been similar. It was therefore considered useful, with regard to the possibility of making the two experiences reproducible and transferable, to better understand the peculiarities of their contribution.

Both the university in the SoHoLab project and the organizations of the third-sector in many of the NeSoLab projects were central actors in the various phases that distinguished the programmes: from the design programmes to the ones dedicated to the knowledge of the context and the study of residents, to those of management and coordination, to those of implementation of the actions, to the monitoring and evaluation of experiences and dissemination of results. They played an important role in mediating between the actors involved and in building or strengthening the network of local actors.

However, this was done within different roles, institutional frames, and assignments. As pointed out by the researchers themselves, in the projects the university took on the role of intermediary; a broker with an independent perspective (Maranghi et al. 2020, p. 64). This was possible because the three universities were not directly dependent on any of the actors involved in the project. However, the possibility of playing that role within the contexts existed in part thanks to the authority that distinguishes the institution (facilitating some processes and making it possible to open some communication channels with other institutions) and, in part, thanks to the effective recognition of this role by the other institutional actors that depended both on the availability of them and on the skills and competences of the researchers.

Third-sector organizations, on the other hand, often assumed the role of a social manager within a relationship that saw them being closely dependent on one of the two most important public institutional actors in NeSoLab: the municipality or the social housing company. While in some projects this condition effectively legitimized their work, in other cases this was a weakness, especially where the relationship between institutions and residents had particularly deteriorated (for example in terms of lack of trust in institutions). The effectiveness of the action of these organizations therefore depended both on the skills and history matured in the neighbourhood and on the role and authority attributed to them by the various institutional actors. Their ability to influence contexts was often directly proportional to the attention, care, and investment that institutions put into the process. In cases where the institutions totally delegated to the animators the relationship among the residents (making them, in actual fact, the institutions’ terminal), leaving them without resources and power to act, their role lost its importance and effectiveness.

The position of the third party seems to be important because it allows actors (from residents to institutions) to be approached outside a relationship of dependence and to operate in the process, bringing their own perspective that is not necessarily that of the institutions nor that of residents. This can help foster the construction of more constructive relations where there are tensions or conflicts between different institutions, or between residents and institutions. Second, it can ensure that processes and their analysis are unhindered by the influence of contractors. However, the possibility of taking on this ‘third’ role depends on certain conditions that are difficult to reproduce: the possibility of drawing on funding channels that do not depend on the institutions that are part of the network, and the recognition (as has been pointed out earlier) of the network of actors within which action is taken. If this is not the case, it is important that the organizations entrusted with carrying out the tasks of design, management, coordination, and implementation (and social management) do so within collaborative processes where all institutions feel strongly involved.

In general, in the opinion of some public administrators, the presence of independent intermediaries or brokers should be limited to triggering and consolidating a more direct relationship between residents and institutions. This is a perspective that can be shared by other stakeholders who, however, emphasize that in contexts of public housing characterized by the presence of situations of strong social and urban marginalization the capacity for self-organization and vocal participation of residents takes a very long time to be realized.

One aspect that concerns universities is their ability to provide a reflective analysis that represents an added value to the public housing neighbourhood but is considered difficult to reproduce within the programme.

Apart from the question of independence, from both experiences, it has been possible to identify the profile of those who can play the role played partly by the university and partly by third-sector organizations in similar experiences:

  • local actors, who know the place in which they intervene;

  • subjects with specific skills (such as design skills);

  • subjects able to understand people with different backgrounds with a fine-grained knowledge of human needs and cultural dynamics;

  • subjects with a strong reflexive capacity;

  • subjects able to be mediators and activate the local community.

4.2 Learning Process

The experience of SoHoLab and that of NeSoLab shows that the transmission of locally produced knowledge at the highest levels (in this case the institutions) does not take place automatically and linearly.

The conditions that favour this step seem to concern, first, the ability of the organization that facilitates the process to translate and effectively return results to the highest institutional levels, and, again, strong involvement on the part of institutions. This last aspect implies that institutions have:

  • availability in terms of time, in order to follow up on the lessons learned (following established practices and procedures requires less resources and energy in the short term);

  • an interest in staying and actively participating in the process. This interest should affect the whole organization from the outset, so that the person who participates in the process is entitled to transfer knowledge learned within the organization and in particular to the decision-making levels so that they can choose to use it.

The risk that this rich wealth of knowledge will remain unused by institutions is very high in all the experiences analysed.

4.3 Siting

Presence within the neighbourhood represents a practice considered fundamental for both programmes because it makes it possible to:

  • build meaningful, trusting, and trustworthy relationships between actors, both at the institutional level and with local actors;

  • access different forms of knowledge;

  • understand the neighbourhood from the inside, instead of from the outside;

  • involve residents more in action research and, at the same time, have greater opportunities to be involved by local actors.

The implementation of this presence, as suggested in particular by the experiences that have developed in the SoHoLab project, cannot be predefined but requires the most appropriate mode to be chosen in view of some aspects that concern both the conditions laid down by the project or programme in which it is inserted (the objectives and the duration of the stay that depends on the resources available) and the characteristics of the context (the dynamics that invest it and the role that it intends to play with respect to the network of actors who live there). These assessments seem necessary in order to create the conditions for the construction of a positive path of legitimacy and recognition by the institutions but above all by residents, who find themselves welcoming ‘new tenants’ into their territory.

At the same time, it has been pointed out that, in the event that the opening of a space is chosen, it is important to confront the time and resources factor. The reactivation of a place, although viewed with suspicion at an early stage, often represents a lighthouse that illuminates a dark and abandoned space, a symbol of a phase of abandonment and disinterest on the part of the institutions. The care taken of the space and the investment of resources in reusing it, is the first sign of the desire for change on the part of institutions. At the same time, its closure at the end of the project, from a symbolic point of view, can suddenly break a laborious process of building a relationship of trust with residents and can be a further reason for their departure from institutions, making it more difficult to involve them with another project.

4.4 Policy Integration

In general, both experiences have stressed the importance of actions that are as integrated as possible, due to the need to provide and build interventions capable of responding to complex problems. For integration to take place positively, a number of conditions that concern institutional ability seem necessary. These include the ability of institutions to:

  • analyse interdisciplinary as well as intersectoral problems;

  • know how to reorganize themselves internally to enable the various sectors to communicate as much as possible;

  • work together among actors operating in different sectors;

  • gather the knowledge that is necessary by activating professionals and actors with skills that can help fill information gaps;

  • streamline administrative procedures, so that decisions taken through interaction between the various actors are feasible and effective.

Another important condition regards the availability of resources to invest in the project. As part of the programmes, references to the cross-sectoral nature of the interventions also paid close attention to the weak investment in recent years in the quality of physical space, which contributed to the generating an important reduction in the physical quality of public housing complexes, both with regard to housing and with reference to the common parts. An important point of attention that has been highlighted by the actors interviewed is the integration between the social and spatial dimension of the interventions. In particular, it was stressed that a balance needs to be restored between, on the one hand, the focus on the process, the way in which the network of local and institutional actors operates, and the involvement of residents and, on the other, interventions in the redevelopment of the physical space. Experience has shown that the effectiveness of these projects can be undermined if the only objective is social compensation and the fight against poverty.

4.5 Actors’ Collaboration

The experiences of collaboration between different organizations and institutional levels analysed in both programmes confirm the importance of these processes and the values and advantages associated with them in terms of the effectiveness and appropriateness of the solutions identified. Unity of purpose, the sharing of objectives, and collaboration while working towards their achievement seem fundamental, and the failure to commit by some institutional actors weakens the project and renders it ineffective. The main issues associated with integration between the actors were the following:

  • From the point of view of the relationship between local institutions and organizations and residents, it is important for institutions wishing to create networks of collaboration between actors to include the most appropriate tools for recognizing roles and decision-making power within collaborative processes.

  • From the point of view of the relationship between the different institutional levels, it is necessary to establish increasingly collaborative working practices that overcome competitive or political dynamics.

4.6 Time Factor

The experiences of both SoHoLab and NeSoLab have highlighted the importance of urban and social regeneration processes being included in a long-term planning strategy based on the existence of certain and continuous resources, which exceeds the experimental aspects that often characterize them.

First of all, time is necessary in order to get to know the context, to involve the actors, to trigger processes of empowerment of residents, to learn a different way of relating, and to create those assumptions that make it possible to coproduce and comanage projects but also take care of the network. The end of the project is an element of concern with regard to the energies and resources mobilized, and the greatest fear is linked to the risk of nullifying the efforts made by triggering counterproductive processes, both with regard to the expectations created in the actors involved and to the waste of resources that would result.

The crucial question therefore concerns the possibility of finding resources (human, social, or economic) so that the continuity of the presence is guaranteed as long as it is necessary for the purposes of the project and the objectives set. However, it is strategic that short-, medium-, and long-term objectives are set to avoid fuelling management processes that no longer look to solve problems but instead aim for the survival of the apparatus created.

4.7 Change and Legacies

Producing a change in portions of cities characterized by phenomena of urban and social marginality that have consolidated over time is generally viewed with distrust, both by their residents and by institutions. With regard, therefore, to the theme of stagnation that often seems to characterize the narrative about these neighbourhoods, the experience of the researchers of the SoHoLab project suggests broadening the view to include not only the changes that we expect but also those that really take place in parts of the territory that are not at all stagnant, for example when we consider the social practices that take place in them. In addition, SoHoLab’s experience suggests reflecting on changes considering not only the neighbourhood and the people who live there but also how it is studied, inhabited, and represented, with reference to the tools, sources, or methodologies that are used to do so (and that often do not allow some transformative processes to be read and interpreted) and to the actors of change, which could be individual residents or institutions.

Both the projects in the SoHoLab programme and those of the NeSoLab constituted experimental sites that showed how the impact of the project:

  • is difficult to measure, especially when it concerns a change in perception or vision that can concern both a plurality of actors and individual people;

  • may lead to the establishment of new instruments for coordination or intervention;

  • can lead to the transformation of small portions of territory;

  • may have a predominantly indirect impact on residents.

It has also been pointed out that these changes may depend on the sensitivity of individuals, their interest, and their willingness to question established ways of working, but they also depend on the complexity of the issues to be dealt with. The more complex and intractable the subject, the more is the resistance of the institutions that have to deal with it.

Setting change objectives that are commensurate with the resources and time available is certainly an important stimulus for policymakers and project protagonists. However, the usefulness of reviewing higher objectives of change remains firm. This helps to demonstrate the effectiveness of the programmes already implemented, set up long-term programmes and reflect on the systemic conditions (institutional, economic, political, and social) that contribute to feeding the social and urban marginality that have characterized public housing contexts for many years.

5 Conclusion: Promoting Urban Living Lab Experiences in Large-Scale Social Housing Neighbourhoods by an Institutional Lever

Different dimensions of the ULL approach that can be proposed in urban and social regeneration programmes have been examined in the previous paragraphs. In particular, the implications for institutions that want to adopt this kind of approach and the conditions for its possible success were taken into account. These are not solutions suitable for every situation and territory but points of attention that could be taken into consideration in the design and management of similar programmes. An effort was made to identify possible consequences of the attribution of a particular meaning to a single dimension in order to better guide the decisional process, because it seems necessary to be aware that each dimension may be filled with different meanings for the actors.

Considering the particular role that an institution may play in these programmes, in these conclusions it is important to draw attention to some essential aspects that could allow a positive and conscious experience in the assumption of the ULL approach (and ‘attitude’), but it is also important to capitalize on, as much as possible, all potential advantages given by this approach. It is possible to confirm that the ULL approach allows for an adaptation of the regeneration programme to different contexts thanks to the construction of collaborative processes between different available actors and also the activation of a ‘cumulative’ learning and knowledge process. From the point of view of the institution, these are undoubtedly advantages in terms of both programme success possibilities and programme effectiveness. However, what the SoHoLab project and the NeSoLab experiences demonstrated is that the process of adapting policies, programmes, and services to contexts and the activation of learning and knowledge processes are possible as long as there is a willingness on the part of the promoters (the institutions) to adopt a reflexive and dialogical approach in the territories in which the intervention ‘lands’, and a willingness on the part of local actors (residents and organizations) to collaborate and participate.

The participation of local actors is probable and not predictive. Instead, it is essential that the institutions have the willingness to be in the regeneration process with this openness. Institution refers to everyone who works inside an institution, from the higher and political levels to lower levels. For the institution, this willingness implies a particular attention to and care of the process and, importantly, the awareness that the programme could be modified and adjusted during the process while respecting general principles, particularly in response to events and situations that may be generated by the interaction among actors and by the continued acquisition of usable knowledge and discoveries. Events and situations could be classified by institutions as unexpected and, as such, refused, but they are actually part of the nature of the process and intrinsic to every interaction among actors with different rationalities and to a place-based perspective that deals with the territories. ‘Territory’ refers to a set of social, economic, and environmental aspects. So the willingness to be in the process for the institution also means to pursue a particular sensitivity to manage events with curiosity (even unexpected events) instead of a defensive approach, considering them a possible output of the programme (Hirschman 1967).

It is evident how this approach contrasts with the tension of standardizing and modelling processes, services, and programmes. If, on the one hand, the objective of defining a standardized management model seems reasonable, both from the point of view of the institutions and from the point of view of citizens, experience shows that a certain amount of flexibility, openness, and listening skills on the part of the institutions promoting these services seem necessary. The risks associated with the simple and uncritical standardization of services relate to the difficulty of adapting services to the needs of residents that, sometimes, it was seen, left the latter with no option but to adapt themselves to the services. The involvement of residents and different institutional actors should make it possible to define and redefine at a local level the practices related to the management model, in a process of dialogue and continuous listening in which the ultimate objective is not so much the definition or application of a model, but a response to some shared needs.