ALC promotes Social Innovation Labs to test new approaches to drug policies

We have recently initiated this experience in Chile, which will also be developed in Colombia and the Caribbean. These are the results so far.


Agirre Lehendakaria Center has been working for months in the COPOLAD III program. Our work in this project focuses on implementing social innovation laboratories specialized in drug policies.

In Chile we are focusing on consumption and prevention in children and adolescents; in Colombia we are addressing the social inclusion of young people in urban and semi-rural environments; in the case of Peru we will support the creation of an early warning system to detect human rights violations; and in Uruguay we are exploring the possibility of testing policies for alternatives to incarceration with a gender approach (DAIS).

A few months ago we started the laboratory in Chile, which is currently in the phase of identifying areas of opportunity for the Maule region. We are currently immersed in the implementation of the laboratory in Colombia, in the areas of Cali (Sucre neighborhood) and Santander de Quilichao (El Porvenir neighborhood). Peru and Uruguay will start in the coming months. In this article we tell you about this process in more detail and our perceptions at this time.


 Process in Colombia

Last week we started the launch phase of the Social Innovation Lab in Cali, Sucre neighborhood, and Santander de Quilichao, Porvenir neighborhood, in collaboration with Corporación Viviendo and the Ministry of Justice and Law of Colombia. This initiative is part of COPOLAD's support to the Colombian drug policy, one of the central axes of which is the change of narratives.

The objective of the laboratory is to generate a space for experimentation in public policies on drugs, with a focus on young people in vulnerable situations. This is a broad theme that will allow us to go beyond consumption and experiment in areas such as social inclusion and gastronomy. This process recognizes its great cultural and food background that is reflected in its dispensary of ingredients such as viche, amasijos, envueltos and food practices such as community pots. For some years they have been positioned as symbols of resilience and cooperation of the community.

These elements are not only representative of the local gastronomy, they are seen as an opportunity to address the challenges from a holistic perspective. In the framework of the laboratory, we are testing the social innovation approach in two different contexts, which will allow us to connect, compare and learn from the two experiences: on the one hand, in a semi-rural area in Santander de Quilichao, in the Porvenir neighborhood; on the other hand, in the urban area of the historic neighborhood of Sucre in Cali.

After an initial collection of information by the local teams, Corporación Viviendo, the Ministry of Justice and Law and the Ministry of Health in Santander de Quilichao organized two collective interpretation sessions to make an initial comparison of the narratives identified in the two territories. A wide range of actors participated in the sessions, including community leaders, institutions, state security forces, people who use drugs and their families, and community-based associations and organizations, among others.

In addition to these sessions, listening spaces were developed with groups and collectives that have mobilized in a community way to transform complex, painful realities, shaken by factors such as violence and drug micro-trafficking. The participation of these agents in the social innovation laboratories is aimed at finding together solutions to these problems that affect them.


First phase of the project: listening

In the listening we will focus on the transformation narratives that we have identified in the two neighborhoods where we work, and how these narratives are interrelated with the situation of vulnerability in which young people find themselves. In this first iteration of listening, the teams have identified the gap that exists between the narrative of structural change that operates in the territories, and the specific responses that are being given at the community level from the artistic, cultural and micro-enterprises. It is here where we want to influence with the approach, to connect these actions at all levels and amplify their impact, to listen to the whole system including the voices of power and to experiment with new solutions in this gap.

In this sense, the laboratory proposes a systemic approach to operate at 5 levels of impact. In this first visit, we have facilitated listening spaces with local agents at the community level and small and medium scale, such as the Puerto Resistencia collective, Sapiencia, Innpulsa, the community gardens of the Calipso neighborhood, or Casa Arboleda. In the following phases of the process, the teams will deepen the narratives of the aforementioned agents and strengthen the connection with companies and institutions (voices of power). This part is the most sensitive given the distrust towards local and regional institutions, especially after the social outbreak. The listening and mapping process will lay the groundwork for identifying potential areas of opportunity in the territories.

After the working sessions, the local teams have highlighted the value of the approach proposed by Agirre Center to complement the actions they are already carrying out through the basic elements of social innovation (listening, mapping, collective interpretation and co-creation). In addition, they mention that the systematization tools will support more strategic decision-making and the development of a governance system that is more adaptive to changing social dynamics. The main objective of the laboratory is the development of capacities in local teams; to this end, the Agirre Center and COPOLAD team will work to adapt the tools and methodologies to the territory, maintaining a permanent discussion with the teams on what is working and what is not. Likewise, spaces will be systematically provided for the permanent feedback and contrast of the process with the community in order to generate a shared analysis.

As next steps, the local teams will (1) start monitoring existing and new listening channels in each of the territories, (2) reinforce the mapping of agents and strategic initiatives, and (3) systematize the potential areas of opportunity identified - among them, micro-enterprises of gastronomic products such as viche led by women, the development of a potential educational and cultural center in a seized real estate asset (SAE), design of a regulatory sandbox to experiment with employability, redesign of the role of the security forces, or initiatives in the framework of housing first, all connected with the community mechanisms led by Corporación Viviendo, the community tourism route in Santander de Quilichao and other existing initiatives in the territories.

Thus, we will be able to move forward in the coming months with the systematization of the entire process and the identification of the first ethnographic profiles and visualizations. A second visit is planned for February 2024 to carry out a shared analysis with the community of the new information gathered by the teams.

What is the COPOLAD Program?

The COPOLAD III program aims to promote technical and political dialogue between Latin America and the Caribbean and the European Union on drug issues.

Through bi-regional, bilateral, triangular and South-South international cooperation tools, it aims, as in previous phases, to generate a privileged space for the analysis and discussion of the main challenges related to the design and implementation of drug policies, with the possibility of initiating transforming and innovative processes aimed at improving the effectiveness of interventions and, at the same time, improving their results for sustainable development.

The program intervenes in 31 countries and has a duration of 48 months, having started its implementation in February 2021. The International Italo-Latin American Organization (IILA) is co-leading the consortium together with FIIAPP. The Deustche Gesellchaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) are directly involved in certain actions promoted, both entities being beneficiaries of grants. In addition, the program involves the institutions of the member states involved in drug policy.