Social capital and social innovation at the 28th EAEPE conference (Manchester, November 2016)

The 28th annual conference of the European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy (EAEPE) was hosted in Manchester on the theme “Industrialisation, socio-economic transformation and institutions”. EAEPE was founded in 1988 with an aim to promote evolutionary, dynamic and realistic approaches to economic theory and policy by bringing together the ideas of various disciplines and scholarly traditions ( SIMRA partners Elena Pisani and Catie Burlando, University of Padova, participated in the session “What can ruralisation do for industrialisation and vice versa?”, which was organised by Asimina Christoforou, University of Athens Economics and Business.

The objective of the panel was to investigate the role of rural development and its relationship to industrialisation. There has been much debate about the place of rural areas in regional development. Typically, conceptions of the rural are associated with places of tradition rather than modernity, of agriculture rather than industry, of nature rather than culture, of changelessness rather than dynamism, of passivity rather than innovativeness. Thus, academics, administrators and policy-makers suggest that development in these areas can only be promoted via the sterile reproduction of the strategies and goals of urban areas and industrial sectors.

However, with this panel we argued that rural areas are increasingly seen as progressive sources of new economic dynamism, not only of technical but also of social innovation, and of alternative ways of working and living that support sustainable development and the quality of life. Various economic sectors beyond agriculture are emerging, including rural tourism, manufacturing, information and communication technology, cottage industry, environmental and recreational services, sectors which are often connected to the emergence of socially innovative ideas in contests of rural marginalisation. The valorisation of local resources, including physical, financial, natural, cultural and social capital, emanates from investments and bottom-up initiatives, which are not undertaken solely by individual farmers, but also by new networks and partnerships among various stakeholders in both public and private spheres and in new multi-level governance structures. These networks and governance structures take heed of local needs, identities and values and of interrelationships with other rural and urban areas which are the basis of social innovation. Emphasis is given to the creation of new social institutions and governance structures for the mobilisation of local actors and the co-determination of the means and ends to development. Norms and networks of reciprocity, trust and cooperation, often identified as social capital, constitute a crucial building block in the creation of new institutions, especially in areas where individuals find it hard to collaborate due to diverse and conflicting interests and needs.

In the panel, we took the argument further by stressing that this alternative conception of “ruralisation” can potentially offer insight on ways to promote regeneration, recovery and sustainable development in the industrialisation process and overcome the shortcomings of the capitalist system, like consumerism, the over-exploitation of natural resources, unhealthy foods and products, the under-valuation of leisure, socialisation and creativity. For example, by pursuing objectives and means for collective action and a quality of life in rural areas, via alternative organisational structures, like public-private partnerships, social entrepreneurship and multi-level governance, we open industrial actors to considerations of environmental preservation, common resource management, food security and health issues. Thus, ruralisation and industrialisation interact and enable actors to come up with new ways of production, consumption, investment and redistribution that combat the problems of de-industrialisation, restore social welfare and promote social innovation.

SIMRA’s partner Elena Pisani during the conference

In the present panel, we discussed the implications of European Union policies on regional and rural development for the ruralisation-industrialisation nexus, highlighting the role of governance in promoting social innovation, and the LEADER Approach as one of the European policies which could support neo-endogenous development. The presentations combined qualitative and qualitative analyses to suggest ways to assess the social dynamics of the development process and to improve the effectiveness of these projects.  Catie Burlando presented a multi-authored paper on “Identifying Governance Options for Social Innovation: A Preliminary Analytical Framework”,[1] which highlighted how Social innovation (SI) and related new governance mechanisms are acquiring at the European level a role of paramount importance as determinants of sustainable growth and development. While there can be a reciprocal flow of ideas, resources and models between rural/natural and urban/industrialized spaces and networks about governance and SI options, what governance is, how it is structured and what are its mechanisms of functioning are often not clearly explained. Moreover, these analyses are often not detailed enough to isolate and extract the key factor/s of governance that can allow for innovations and, more specifically, for social innovation. A structured analytical framework that allows us to describe, analyse and compare network governance systems in different regions and contexts and potential effects on social innovation (and vice versa) does not exist yet. The paper thus presented a proposal for a preliminary path toward the construction of an analytical framework specifically focused on those governance elements that are likely to support social innovation. The preliminary framework was a first step toward the objective of SIMRA’s to develop approaches and tools for the evaluation of social innovation and its impacts in marginalised rural areas, a task led by the University of Padova team.

The LEADER programme aims at local development of rural areas, is linked to the neo-endogenous approach and relies on social capital. It was showcased in two presentations for its potential to support social capital and build the collective networks, partnerships and governance structures that enhance local development, the quality of life and the emerge of social innovation.

Asimina Christoforou presented “The Endogenous Approach and Social Capital in EU Policies for Rural and Regional Development: The Case of LEADER”, a paper co-authored with Elena Pisani. On the hand, the neo-endogenous approach is inextricably related to social capital which provides the norms and networks of cooperation, reciprocity and trust for bringing together local actors to organise collectively, re-build partnerships, and share common goals and identities. On the other hand, in EU regional and rural development policies, the LEADER programme is a striking example of the implementation of the neo-endogenous approach and the social capital concept. Initiated in the 1990s, LEADER is seen as an alternative “approach” or a “laboratory” whereby local stakeholders and rural communities learn how to exploit their own capabilities by mobilising and organising collectively, by changing behaviours, creating shared identities and beliefs, and establishing new local and multi-level governance structures.

Thus, aspects of social capital should be considered as separate measures and objectives to be pursued alongside conventional socio-economic indicators like income, employment and competitiveness. However,   by analyzing various case studies, policy documents and ex-post evaluation reports, the authors found that funding and decision-making bodies at all levels have not explicitly and formally addressed and assessed the role of social dynamics and specifically of social capital in promoting rural development via LEADER. Policy-makers and evaluators have not taken full account of the contextual and multi-dimensional aspects of social capital in the various stages of the project, from design to implementation and evaluation. Factors like power relations, state-society embeddedness and the institutional environment still receive limited attention. This can impair our understanding of the core processes of development and compromise the evaluation and effectiveness of these projects.

To highlight these factors, alternative concepts and indicators that originally combined the understudied work of Bourdieu with the classic work of Woolcock, Uphoff, Krishna, and Narayan were proposed, inspired by a series of studies conducted in the rural areas of Greece and Italy that suggest alternative ways of understanding and measuring social capital. Since its inception, LEADER has had considerable appeal in Southern Europe due to underdevelopment often associated with low levels of social capital. It is seen as a way to enhance development by reshaping local organisations and networks, creating confidence and trust, and changing social values and governance institutions. As the authors concluded, these studies show that if we are to seize the opportunities offered by these projects, we must further assess the role of contextual and multi-dimensional factors, like centralised governance structures and clientelistic relations, which seem to characterise regions in the South and impede participation and development.

Elena Pisani concluded the session by presenting a paper co-authored with Catherine Laidin on “How Do We Evaluate the Project Networks in the EU-funded LEADER-CLLD across Europe? A Proposed Method Based on Social Network Analysis”. The presentation proposed and applied a method to evaluate the networks of projects implemented by different actors financed by Rural Development Programmes (RDPs) through the Local Action Groups (LAGs) of the EU-LEADER initiative. The method uses indexes and graphs of Social Network Analysis (SNA) and proposes the Decomposed Density Indexes (DDIs), which detail the classical density index in relation to specific types of interactions among members, partners and beneficiaries of projects. The DDIs allow measuring the extent rural development initiatives have effectively supported the local development strategies. The indexes have been applied in a longitudinal study in Italy and in a cross-sectional study in France. For further information on the panel session, please contact the organiser Asimina Christoforou

[1] Laura Secco, Catie Burlando, Nathalia Formenton Cardoso, Riccardo Da Re, Mauro Masiero, Davide Pettenella: Identifying Governance Options for Social Innovation: A Preliminary Analytical Framework.


Asimina Christoforou
Elena Pisani
Laura Secco
Catie Burlando


Old dualities and new hybrids

I have recently been involved in some work with the ENRD Contact Point in a meeting on innovation and LEADER, in preparing an article for their magazine and I am currently preparing for another ENRD meeting about the new business opportunities associated with social innovation in rural Europe.

This preparation and working for SIMRA has made me think long and hard about how we let rather out of date dualities between private and public sector guide our thinking about the nature of “business” in the rural economy and the place of social innovation in delivering beneficial change.

Take an example of the unambiguously defined private sector: a European family farm.  In many years, its income will be less than its total receipt of Pillar 1 payments.  Public money is the lifeblood of the farm sector.  When we consider a group of farmers in say an environmental cooperative, this voluntary association creates something that seems more like a social enterprise.  Yet this too will almost certainly be underpinned by European RDP or sometimes state or regional money.

Take a look at a typical municipality.  It runs education, social care services, waste management and so on.  Or does it?  I took this photo a few weeks ago of a primary school sign in England.

Academies are the product of a national initiative to quasi-privatise what had been a municipal service.  But this example of a privatised school is a co-operative.  So here we find public, private and cooperative entities in one hybrid form.  And we look around a bit further into the countryside  and we find farmers benefitting from snow clearing or grass cutting contracts with local authorities; we find communities taking on the management of social care, which had been public sector, then was privatised and now is transitioning into something else.  We find energy production which had been state owned, then was privatised, but now with many examples of cooperative and community provision.  The mayoral candidate for Birmingham, England’s second largest city, who is expected to win an imminent election, is committed to mutualising many municipal services, morphing them into not for profit organisations.   Hybridity seems to be the new normal.

The last two decades have witnessed a remarkable growth of social enterprises and other voluntary associations and collaborative groups.  This is the third sector which has been around a long time but is becoming more prominent.  Community ownership of land and renewable energy installations and social entrepreneurship have flourished in an era of public sector austerity and economic recession.

What appears to be happening is that the old categories of public, private and third sector have become almost outdated by new practices.  Often the practice seems to be ahead of the theory.  In SIMRA we need to be alert to this emergent hybridity and hopefully explore some of the more interesting examples of these hybrid forms in our case studies.


bill slee

Bill Slee