How Do You Build a Shared Interest? A Case of Social Innovation between Strategy and Organizational Learning

28 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2006

Date Written: January 2005


Olinda is both a voluntary association and a social cooperative that was created with the aim to transform a large, closed psychiatric hospital 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. This paper divides Olinda's history into three stages: in the first one we find a group of vocational trainers able to expand practices of vocational training without focusing on patients' weakness but on their capabilities with and effort to "co-produce" mental health. In 1995 they created Olinda Association to mobilize more human resources for the vocational training of the inpatients. In the second stage, in 1996 Olinda organised a big summer festival (with music, sports, theatre, etc.), to include many groups of the third sector and to involve different local authorities. During this first festival, thousands of ordinary citizens enter for the first time within the hospital, the space of the hospital became a stimulus for collective action and part of the wall around the hospital grounds was symbolically removed: the festival legitimized Olinda's therapeutical innovations and enabled ongoing debate over the continued existence of the psychiatric hospital which had long been slated for closure under a national law. In the third stage, Olinda started up an "Impresa sociale" (social enterprise), with an effort to combine services for the city with services for mental health: multiple activities in the buildings of the former hospital - a restaurant, a carpenters' workshop, a bar, and a hostel - were enacted and are still functioning and developing, as well as the yearly summer festivals. Olinda used conflicts within and outside the organization to advance public discourse and raise visibility regarding their decisions and actions. This case shows (1) the role of outsiders bringing new ideas, skills, and social capital and, especially, how bringing different types of people together can generate new insights, developments, possibilities; (2) how much sociability and cultural productions/events are really 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 always involving the public administration and creating innovative institutional arrangements. This case also shows that not all innovative behaviours are strategic. Olinda not only learned from its strategies because it was quite resilient: people from Olinda built a reflexive organization and created organizational learning tools, but they do it without running away from contradictions.

Keywords: Sociology, Organizational Learning, Health Sector, Innovation

JEL Classification: I19, D83

Suggested Citation

Vitale, Tommaso, How Do You Build a Shared Interest? A Case of Social Innovation between Strategy and Organizational Learning (January 2005). Available at SSRN: or

Tommaso Vitale (Contact Author)

Sciences Po ( email )

27 Rue St. Guilllaume
Paris, 75007
+33.1.4549.8320 (Phone)


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