New economy models and social innovation: an opportunity for a better Europe

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) organised a conference on the theme “New economy models and social innovation: an opportunity for a better Europe” on the 23rd of February 2017, in Brussels. As a partner of the SIMRA project (Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas), Euromontana attended the conference to collect good practices and make links between SIMRA results and the concepts presented during the event.

The conference was divided in four parts: an introduction to the various positions of the EESC on functional economy, collaborative economy and sharing economy; followed by presentations of good practices; to which succeeded a discussion on how to foster collaboration and notably through social innovation; and finally, the response from representatives of the European Commission (DG GROW, DG ENV, DG CONNECT) and the European Parliament Research Services.

What is the sharing economy and the other new economy models?

The new economy models such as functional, collaborative and sharing economy, defined in the table below, have in common their peer coordination and mass participation attributes.  Ideally, these new economies are inclusive movements to bring choice all the way to the citizen level and democratize societies, in what can be qualified of “crowd-based capitalism”. Some applied examples of these models are famous such as Airbnb and Blablacar. Blablacar is a peer-to-peer carpooling website operating in Western Europe. Airbnb is a worldwide platform where individuals can rent out their home (or part of) for tourist accommodation. Other less famous examples included Goteo (commons crowdfunding platform), Wheeliz (same concept as Blablacar but adapted for disabled people with wheelchairs) and RefugeesWelcome (same concept as Airbnb specifically targeting refugees).

What about social innovation in these new economy models?

Social innovation can serve as fuel for the economy, through social investment. The economic case for social economy seems to be clear, according to estimates used by the European Commission, the volume of world trade hidden beneath the banner of the sharing economy amounted to USD 3.5 billion in 2013, with an annual growth rate of 25% – but the social issues mentioned before need to be tackled.

Various definitions of social innovation were heard at the event such as “people having ideas to help other people, with or without technology” or “innovative ideas that meet social needs and create new forms of collaboration”. The SIMRA project also has its own definition of social innovation: “the reconfiguring of social practices in response to challenges associated with society, economy or environment based on novel ideas and values. These practices include the creation of new institutions, networks, and governance agreements, and seek to enhance societal outcomes, especially but not exclusively for disadvantaged groups, and recognizing the likelihood of trade-offs among competing interests and outcomes. While these practices may include diverse institutions, they necessarily include the voluntary engagement of civil society actors.”

Description and comparison of the functional, collaborative and sharing economies (Source: Euromontana)
Description and comparison of the functional, collaborative and sharing economies (Source: Euromontana)

What are the risks inherent to the new economy models?

Indeed, even though these new economy models have rapidly picked up activity and are nowadays widely used, to the extent of being considered new economy models, it is time to think about what kind of risks they entail and how to prevent them. Indeed, not everything labelled as innovation is necessarily progress and automatically entails social welfare. It is important to consider how democracy and governance can be considered in these models and how should tax payment apply to these activities for instance. Also, if all these models rely on online platform, the gap in connectivity between urban and marginalised rural areas must be carefully studied so as to not exclude anyone. Finally, measures must be taken to protect personal data; platform managers must be well versed in consumer protection.

All the new economy models have in common their positioning of the individual’s needs as the priority, and notably his need of having the best tailored service for the lowest price. The fastest growing companies are said to be the user-based ones (“platform-based economy”). However, one set of regulations won’t be enough for all the new business models, entrepreneurs are waiting for legal advice and policy recommendations, as they are aware of the disruptive growth potential they might create. On the side, it is an opportunity for the European institutions and managing authorities to integrate transition to a greener economy in a business model with these practices that boost local transactions and which rationalise household consumptions. Energy efficiency can be broadened to resource efficiency through better waste management, eco-design, use of secondary raw material in industrial symbiosis, etc.

To come back to the individual, social economy might be a hot topic, but social inclusion also is one and both need to be conciliated. A workshop organised by the European Network for Rural Development (ENRD) on February 9th, 2017, in Brussels was entitled “Social Hubs in Rural Europe” and faced the issue of social inclusion in typical areas where these new economy models aren’t yet part of everyday life. The main drivers of social inclusion identified during the event through presentations of examples were rural development measures (implemented by Local Action Groups) and targeted networks (such as the ACORNS project for female entrepreneurs in Ireland). Only then, through formalised structures and targeted investments do the new economy models appear as a collective solution and participate in rural development. The ENRD event targeted specific population categories namely women, migrants and refugees, youth and Roma, and you can find more information and good practices by following this link. Many more examples of social innovation will also soon be available in the SIMRA database of social innovation examples in marginalised rural areas.

EESC recommendations

The EESC calls upon the Commission to better define all these different economic concepts and to be cautious as to their development and the juridical impacts this could have on enterprises, job security, workers’ rights, tax avoidance, etc.

Thus, the EESC calls on the Commission to pay attention to digital platforms, to regulate and harmonise their activity and ensure a level playing field based on transparency, information, full access, non-discrimination and appropriate use of data. New business models need to comply with the applicable national and EU legislation. The rights of all partners operating in the sharing economy, including prosumers, must be protected by adapting these relations across the existing EU acquis on consumer rights. The EU must urgently define a clear and transparent legal framework within which these activities should be developed and implemented in the European area (through a legislative package for instance), as well as a specific methodology for regulating and measuring a new economy with different standards, with the value of trust playing a significant role. The EESC recommends that a permanent horizontal structure be created to analyse these emerging phenomena.

Further recommendations include a label to indicate the environmental, social, economic or other impacts of the product or service acquired through the functional economy approach of access or use rather than ownership. With this in view, it is crucial that the information provided by companies be accurate and trustworthy, and authorities and mechanisms must be designated to guarantee this in the eyes of consumers. Also, the EESC recommends that the Member States and stakeholders promote responsible consumption, starting in schools. More generally, the EESC recommends stepping up the pace of research and achievements in new methods of production and consumption connected to the functional economy. Finally, regionalising the functional economy could make it possible to meet the new challenges of sustainable regional development by experimenting with new economic models.

The recurrent example of the risks induced by these new companies is the transport service company, Uber. For more well-being, rather than more profits, growth should be oriented by values was the take-away conclusion of the speaker, Diego Isabel de la Moneda, Director of the Global Hub for the Common Good.


Lauren Mosdale
Lauren Mosdale

Find out about SIMRA’s progress in our first year

SIMRA has already started one year ago, and a lot has been done since then regarding the definition of Social Innovation (SI) and its variables for diverging paths, building a SI database, the definition of Marginalised Rural Areas (MRAs), the methods to assess Social Innovations, policy review, preparation for future case studies and innovative actions!


wp2SIMRA has for aim to actively engage stakeholders acting in the fields of forestry, agriculture and rural development right from the outset of the project in order to create a transparent and open-ended approach and to produce socially innovative solutions to problems in MRAs. The first SIMRA interactive workshop of the Social Innovation Think Tank (SITT) was successfully organised in October 2016 in Bratislava, Slovakia. To keep the engagement of stakeholders vivid after the first workshop and throughout the entire project, we are building a comprehensive communication platform that enables various forms of communication (intranet, online surveys, documents exchange, discussion forum, video calls) between SIMRA partners and SITT members.

Furthermore, SIMRA’s first Innovative Action (IA) was launched in Spain in April with local stakeholders. One of the main objectives of SIMRA is to create collaborative and learning opportunities where local stakeholders (communities, researchers, businesses) can work together towards the realization of social innovation initiatives, which could leave a lasting legacy in the area where they are promoted.  IAs will be implemented in six pilot testing of SI across various marginalized rural areas in Europe and Southern Mediterranean countries (including Spain, Italy, Lebanon, Norway, UK).


Ricardo Da Re (University of Padova)
Ricardo Da Re (University of Padova) works in Work Package 4: “An integrated set of methods to assess SI in agriculture, forestry and rural development”

Under the overall scientific coordination of the project, we have started conceptualising Social Innovation. Building on the outputs of the SITT stakeholder consultation that took place during the first workshop, SI was given a definition as well as the variables affecting its emergence in forestry, agriculture and rural development which were then associated with various types of MRAs.

In parallel, SIMRA aims to perform a holistic analysis and categorisation of existing examples of SIs in MRAs. As part of this work, we are identifying SI in different MRAs within the fields of agriculture, forestry and rural development and gathering a comprehensive list of examples at different scales that allow us to explore diversity among SIs. Part of this catalogue will be used to develop an interactive online database that will be available this spring on the SIMRA website.

Is it possible to evaluate a concept as broad and elusive as SI? We believe that it is, but it is also an uphill process, one we hope to develop together among project partners and also with members of the SITT and other interested stakeholders. One the one hand, we are developing a preliminary operational evaluation framework based on the definitions of SI and of MRA. The framework we envisage will track the processes that support the development of SI in all its phases, from the initial idea of innovation to the final reconfigured practices. The overall goal of SI should be to increase human well-being addressing social, environmental, economic and institutional needs, and as such, the objective of the framework is to evaluate what are outputs, outcomes and impacts for the collective benefits and whether they are achieved.

On the other hand, we are also working to understand what is already available in the academic literature and in evaluation practice. Is there a specific framework already developed for the evaluation of social innovation? So far, we have found very few examples explicitly related to social innovation. However, the University of Padova team in Italy is working with partners from across Europe to identify other existing frameworks, approaches, methods and tools, which can be adapted and applied for the analysis of SI and its impacts in MRAs. At present, they have identified close to 180 methods and tools. Parallel to this, we are also developing tools for analysing policies at different scales, including across the SIMRA case studies (CS). Details on the approach used to analyse existing frameworks and methods are provided in Deliverable 4.1.


An interactive online database of SI examples will be available this spring on the SIMRA website. During the development of this database, SI dimensions of importance have been identified according to ongoing discussion within the SIMRA project and re-defined according to inputs from stakeholders and relevant literature on the topic. For example, collected information includes the challenges that SIs address, the influence of local conditions on the development of SIs, the changes brought about by the SIs and their institutional forms, etc.

The database has initially been populated with examples from academic. We are in the process of opening our call for examples to the SITT and other interested stakeholders. We would like to make a wider call for SI examples developed in MRAs in Europe and the Mediterranean area. In particular, we are seeking further examples from non-EU countries in the Mediterranean as these areas are currently under-represented in the database. If you are a stakeholder, a practitioner, a person interested in SI, or a rural dweller and are aware of an interesting initiative or project which fits within the scope of SIMRA, let us know about it by completing this questionnaire.


We are working on the Case Study selection strategy. This means that upon the finalisation of the CS selection, the CS teams (i.e. the partners in charge of collecting CS data) will be requested to provide further basic information based on the SI and MRA variables. This will be followed by an adaptation of the specific research question and hypotheses to follow-up on in each CS, the selection of the SI assessment methods suitable for each specific CS and their operationalisation through CS protocols. To ensure the quality of the data collection, we will also collect feedback on training needs and organise a workshop in early autumn with CS teams.


BOKU's team, in charge of Work Package 6: Policy and practice: analysis and recommendations for policy-makers, stakeholders and end-users.
BOKU’s team, in charge of Work Package 6: “Policy and practice: analysis and recommendations for policy-makers, stakeholders and end-users”.

Social innovation has turned out to be a well-established notion amongst policy makers. We are examining the political processes that can influence and support SI. In the last months, we have conducted in-depth desk research, qualitative in-depth expert interviews with national and international policy experts as well as researchers, consulted stakeholder, etc. We are currently working on our first report on “Political framework conditions, policies and instruments for SIs in rural areas”. The analysis takes into account broader governance framework conditions in order to understand how they support SI in rural areas. The report examines both sectoral and cross-cutting social innovation policies.

As one preliminary result, our mapping of policies suggests distinguishing between three key dimensions of policies tackling SI in rural areas: 1.) Policies targeted at social needs and demands (here we include also socially marginalised groups), 2.) Policies targeted at societal (economic, environmental, social) challenges at large, 3.) Policies targeted at institutional change, participation and inclusion of civil society. Moreover, our preliminary results indicate that despite the manifold initiatives at EU level, policies at the national and local levels tend to be rather diversified when it comes to implementation; yet, our results also reveal that innovation needs more than a prevalent logic of division by departments and funding within sectors.

All in all, there will soon be plenty of interesting results to read about on our website and please do not hesitate to get in touch with SIMRA partners for further information!

Building innovation actions: exploring innovative approaches for social resilience in rural communities

One of the main objectives of SIMRA is creating collaborative and learning opportunities where local stakeholders (communities, researchers, businesses) could work together towards the realization of social innovation initiatives, which could leave a lasting legacy in the area where they are promoted. These initiatives in SIMRA are named Innovation Actions and are under the responsibility of WP7 and its partners (EFI, Euromontana, and IAMZ-CIHEAM).

SIMRA defined an “Innovation Action” (IA) as ”a demonstration or set of pilot activities aiming to explore the technical feasibility of the new or improved knowledge on Social Innovations -in terms of processes, related technology, products or services- in a near to operational environment within Marginalized Rural Areas”. IAs will be implemented in six pilot testing of SI across the variety of marginalized rural areas in Europe and Southern Mediterranean countries, namely:

  • Gúdar-Javalambre in Teruel, Spain (coached by EFIMED),
  • Rural Catalonia, Spain (coached by FORECO),
  • Rural Lancashire in United Kingdom (coached by University of Lancashire),
  • Lebanon (coached by SEEDS Int.),
  • Val Belluna in Italy (coached by ETIFOR), and
  • Lillehammer Region in Norway (coached by ENRI).

These pilots will enable the relevant actors to exploit the potential of SI, concretizing its impact in the local economies and social texture. In addition, they will allow to potentially creating future business opportunities and stronger networks with government entities and nearby territories and areas. IAs will be both tailored on the particularities of the territory while keeping a similar implementation protocol. Such attempt of standardization will help testing success approaches and finding options for replicability of the IA process across sites and in the future. Each IA will include:

  1. The organization of periodic networking events to encourage interested actors to present, discuss and initiate innovative activities for rural development;
  2. The creation of market places (physical and virtual) for SI projects (e.g. fairs);
  3. The startup or establishment of new networks amongst local actors.

The IA implementation process will start on April 1st in Teruel, Spain. EFI will develop a first meeting with the interested local actors as to discuss viability and potential implementation of SI case in the rural areas. The other five IAs will follow during summer 2017.

SIMRA was presented at the Internationational CRISES Conference

The SIMRA project, coordinated by The James Hutton Institute, with the consortium that comprises members from 15 countries from across the European Union and the wider Mediterranean area, including North Africa, was presented by Maria Nijnik (the coordinator) at the International CRISES (Centre de recherche sur les innovations sociales) Conference From Emergence to Recognition. Paths of Innovation held in Montreal.

This international forum brought together over 320 participants, speakers, students, community-based practitioners, policy makers, and interested in social innovation members of the civil society. Maria Nijnik highlighted that social innovation responds to demands that are traditionally not addressed by markets or existing institutions. It manifests itself in new social relationships and collaborations. It also seeks to promote the development and uptake of new services and new fields of activity, such as social entrepreneurship and social enterprises that improve the quality of life of individuals and communities.

Maria briefly considered what successful social innovation looks like, in areas as varied as north-west Europe and Scandinavia, the Mediterranean and North Africa region, Alpine, and Central and Eastern Europe. Highlighting the international nature of the problems that rural areas face across the studied region, she stressed that the SIMRA team works closely and from the very start of the project with those initiating and benefiting from social innovations in order to learn about stakeholders and end-users motivations and experiences of support to socially innovative actions and/or of barriers encountered.

You can find the Conference Programme by clicking here,  and the CRISES Conference Proceedings are available here.

Connecting the “guardians” of remote rural territories

We were ‘the crazy ones’… And now the town has recovered the passion for the olive groves”, said Alberto Alfonso (Apadrina un olivo). In just five years of crowdfunding, 4,000old olive trees and an olive mill have been recovered in the small town of Oliete (Aragón, Spain). By creating emotional, gastronomic and technological links between owners of abandoned groves and donors, a sustainable initiative is revitalising the town’s landscape and contributing to labour opportunities with handicapped people.

guardianes2Another initiative to maintain an active rural landscape and its associated economic opportunities is land banking, which facilitates access to the land. “We aim to provide opportunities to interested new farmers, by guaranteeing landowners a solid project and commitment with organic farming”, said Jordi Martí (Terrafranca). In Matarranya, the land bank is promoted by the administration through a wildfire prevention strategy. Vicent Ferri (Victoria Laporta Foundation), instead, described how a private foundation works to upgrade Mediterranean forest biodiversity, making it sustainable through a portfolio of products and services. These initiatives are framed within the concept of land stewardship, incipiently spreading along Aragon’s territory. Through collaborative agreements, agro-forestry landowners and civil society entities engage in the management of the natural heritage.

These testimonies opened the first local workshop of the SIMRA project in Mora de Rubielos (Teruel, Spain), organised by EFIMED jointly with Gúdar-Javalambre county. The event, “Guardians of the Territory. Social Innovation in Rural Areas”, saw invited speakers managing successful Social Innovations from other rural territories transmitting inspiration and enthusiasm to the local audience. Shifting to the Gúdar-Javalambre context, the afternoon session focused on local entities, with group work to determine the interest and feasible opportunities that could be channelled through the SIMRA innovation action. “I don’t want to hear ‘it could be done…’. I want to hear ‘I could do…’”, expressed Aurelio (Asoc. Tres de Copas) inciting participants to be proactive.

Land banking and trail recovery were suggested, aiming to tackle the abandonment of agricultural and forestry parcels, improve access to land, recover the patrimony of irrigation infrastructure, reduce wildfire exposure and support the use of traditional varieties. While the technical aspects were largely shared, the big challenge now is on people. In a rural context of traditional suspicion, defeatism and strong attachment to private land property, these initiatives can only be realised if there are opportunities for landowners and new farmers to build commitment and trust relations. This is actually what the SIMRA Innovation Actions pursue. EFIMED will support the launch and/or consolidation of a social innovation in this field in Gúdar-Javalambre, acting as observer, facilitator and analyst.

Further insights (in Spanish) are available on the project twitter: and presentations on the project website:

elena_gorriz Elena Górriz (EFIMED)

Some pictures:

Representatives from the Comarca Gúdar-Javalambre
Representatives from the Comarca Gúdar-Javalambre
guardianes 1
Elena Górriz (EFIMED and SIMRA project)
Jorge Abril
Jorge Abril from Asociación Desarrollo Maestrazgo and Red Aragonesa de Custodia del Territorio
Sira Plana and Alberto Alfonso from Apadrina un olivo
Sira Plana and Alberto Alfonso from Apadrina un olivo
Jordi Marti from Terrafranca
Jordi Marti from Terrafranca
Olga Ric from Comarca Matarraña
Olga Ric from Comarca Matarraña
Vicent Ferri from Fundación Victoria Laporta
Vicent Ferri from Fundación Victoria Laporta
David Cayuela from Birding Teruel
David Cayuela from Birding Teruel
Javier Marín from Mijares Vivo
Javier Marín from Mijares Vivo
tres de copas
Aurelio Salvador, Asociación Tres de Copas
Montañas de manzanera
Pedro J. Piqueras from  Asociación Montañas de Manzanera
Luis del Romero, Recartografías
Enrique Asín, La Carroncha
Enrique Asín, La Carroncha



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