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!
SIMRA 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).
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.
SIMRA DATABASE OF SOCIAL INNOVATION EXAMPLES
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.
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!