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Liisa Häikiö, Laurent Fraisse, Sofia Adam, Outi Jolanki and Marcus Knutagård

Social innovation in the context of social services is generally portrayed as a way of doing things better by directly involving individuals and communities in the design and co-production of such services. In this chapter, we argue that social innovation has an ambivalent character. We identify mainstream and radical policy discourses on social innovation that share the view that social innovation is a positive social phenomenon but differently outline the meaning of social innovation. Four case studies on local welfare initiatives for the provision of social and health services in Finland, France, Greece and Sweden highlight how the values and aims of social innovation that have been mobilized are flexible and vary according to the context in a pragmatic manner. In addition, the four cases show how institutionalization and up-scaling are a major challenge, with sustained societal change remaining partial and somewhat unreachable for local welfare initiatives. We conclude that social innovation can be differentiated on the basis of who the key actors are and what the role (and power) of citizens is in relation to institutional actors and the dominant social order.