Insights from the 8th International Social Innovation Research Conference by the Centre for Mountain Studies

Last week, the 8th International Social Innovation Research Conference (ISIRC 2016) was held in Glasgow. It was an informative and inspiring conference that gathered together a great number of researchers –mainly European but also from other parts of the world- to discuss their recent research in the field of social innovation. Although our project is in still in its early stages and so it is not ready to disseminate findings yet, it was nonetheless visible at the Conference. Our colleagues from all around the world received a SIMRA leaflet within their Conference packages and a poster describing our project was displayed in the main hall.

Other exciting projects studying social innovation in rural areas were presented during the Conference which gave us a significant opportunity to learn about what our colleagues are already doing in this field. For instance, there is RurInno, which was presented by Ralph Richter from the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS, Germany). This project studies rural enterprises as drivers of social innovation and local development and is focused on four case studies across Europe: NIDA (Poland), Stevia Hells (Greece), Otelo (Austria), and Ballyhoura  (Ireland). Also, Andrew Copus, from Nordregio, presented conclusions of the SIN project which focuses on territorial social innovation in demographically vulnerable municipalities in the Nordic Countries and Scotland.

Apart from examples of studies that have parallels with SIMRA, the ISIRC 2016 was a good opportunity to discover the trending topics in Social Innovation research. Plenary and parallel sessions contained an interesting variety of possible typologies and categories to describe social innovation. For example: generic, tailored, and systemic innovation; micro-innovation, ‘exnovation’, frugal innovation, disruptive innovation… However, all of them seem to share a common goal which constitutes the heart of the social innovation concept: the pursuit of a positive social change.  This idea appears to be the core of the social innovation features far more than the ‘innovative’ aspects.  In this regard, another frequently discussed idea is that all innovations must be considered in context, i.e.  developing a project that is similar to those developed in other places does not mean that it should not be considered as social innovation.

Beyond the big common ideas, each presentation approached the topic from a particular perspective and through a lot of case of studies, all stages of social innovation initiatives –from funding to impacts- were discussed during those three days.

The six stages of social innovation. Source: Murray, Caulier-Grice & Mulgan (2010: 11)
The six stages of social innovation. Source: Murray, Caulier-Grice & Mulgan (2010: 11)

There was also time for critical perspectives on the topic, and the ‘dark side’ of social innovation was discussed through the sessions. Two of the most spread ideas are that: i) innovations are not always good, and ii) social innovations must be carried out by people and not to people. In this sense, Taco Brandsen (Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands) delivered one of the most provocative presentations comparing social innovation to a fashion show. From his point of view, excessive importance is given to the ‘new’ part of the social innovation initiatives while the sense of newness itself can take the focus away from models that work. Excessive focus is sometimes put also on best practices while failures are not taken into account and the role of small and informal initiatives and projects downplayed. These trends altogether boost somehow a particular type of professional social innovation industry following almost the market logic. In fact, the relation between social innovation and capitalism was present in the theme of the Conference (Social Innovation in the 21st Century: Beyond Welfare Capitalism?). So, it is not rare that Ana Maria Peredo (University of Victoria, Canada) spoke directly about how social entrepreneurship would be furthering neoliberalism; although she developed arguments about the resistance components that are deeply rooted in social innovation initiatives such as the prevalence of commons.

Ultimately, the scholarly community seems to agree that more focus should be placed on the study of small-scale initiatives and social innovations run by communities even if they are not formally organised. So, there is an interesting niche to be explored which aligns well with the work we are doing on social innovation developed in rural areas. ISIRC 2016 provided an exciting and inspiring overview of the research fields on social innovation and discussion of concepts and ideas that SIMRA is going to explore.

References:

Murray, R., Caulier-Grice, J., & Mulgan, G. (2010). The open book of social innovation. London: National endowment for science, technology and the art.

Author:

dv

Diana Valero (Centre for Mountain Studies at Perth College, UHI)

Partners’ Lands to restore Spanish abandoned forestry areas

This post is available in Spanish here/ Este artículo está disponible en castellano aquí.

It was between 1855 and 1924 when the Spanish Government expropriated and auctioned the assets that belonged to the Catholic Church and the religious orders and the barren and communal lands of the municipalities. The principal aim of this confiscation was to get extra income to pay off the public debt securities that the state had issued to finance itself. Previously the owners of these assets used to pay very low or no taxes and with the change of their property the state could get more and better taxes.

ramoneo
Goats browsing in a forest area. Photo: LLM

Most of the lands auctioned weren’t a good investment for potential buyers, because their profitability was going to be limited. However, they were essential for the survival of the nearest villages, because the neighbours had always used them for livestock farming, for getting timber and firewood, etc… So, their food (meat, milk and honey), their clothes (wool, furs and leather), their main energy source (firewood and coal) and the access to basic commodities for building (wood and stone) were at stake in an eminently farming rural system.

That is why, the neighbours, afraid of losing their livelihood, decided to get together and find enough money to access the auctions and acquire the land that sustained their way of living. These initiatives were very common in different parts of Spain and could be called Montes de Socios (Partners’ Lands), as a summary of the different local names: Monte de la Sociedad de Vecinos (Neighbours Association Lands), Montes del Común (Common Man’s Lands), Sociedad del Monte (Lands Partnership), Sociedad de Baldíos (Barren Lands Partnership), etc…

Over the years, many Spanish rural areas have been abandoned, including whole villages and their surroundings and even whole valleys. With the aim of recovering and promoting the Partners’ Lands social approach, and also to contribute to economic diversification, modernization and the improvement of the quality of life in rural areas, The Forestry Association of Soria has developed the project Montes de Socios (Partners’ Lands), funded by FEADER and The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

To achieve this goal, they will follow three main actions: Making the Partners’ Lands known, implementing practical examples of renovation of the Partners’ Lands through the constitution of executive committees and putting forward a proposal for basic regulations to establish a specific legal framework for the Partners’ Lands.

Meeting of three Management Boards in Ucero (Soria, Spain). Photo: montesdesocios.es
Meeting of three Management Boards in Ucero (Soria, Spain). Photo: montesdesocios.es

Thanks to the Forestry Association of Soria, the Ley Básica de Montes 43/2003 (Basic Law of Lands 43/2003) was modified to allow the Management Boards (Juntas Gestoras) to take over the land management without the imperative to find and collaborate with all the owners’ heirs. This change has favoured the creation of many Management Boards throughout a growing number of provinces.

According to the researchers, in Spain there are at least 1.500.000 hectares of Partners’ Lands, and most of them are located in areas endangered by depopulation. Sometimes, innovating in marginalised rural areas means looking back to the past in order to move ahead to the future.

More information is available at www.montesdesocios.es

Author:

Lucía López Marco (IAMZ-CIHEAM)
Lucía López Marco (IAMZ-CIHEAM)

 

Integrating social preferences in the management of river basins: the Asopos case study in Greece

Asopos River Basin (RB) is part of the water district of East Sterea Ellada covering a total surface of 450 km2 and extending to Evoikos Gulf. It has an annual runoff of 70 hm3 and a population of approximately 70,575 citizens residing in the broader area. The Asopos River catchment basin is among the highest industrial and most polluted areas of Greece. It is also the only remnant wetland between two larger coastal wetlands that belong to the NATURA 2000 network, those of Sperheios and Shinias; as such, it contributes significantly to the conservation of habitats and to the coherence of the network. Every sector of economic activity in the area (primary, secondary, tertiary and households) has a different water use. In the agricultural-livestock sector water is used for crop irrigation or livestock rearing purposes. In the industrial-artisanship sector, on the other hand, it is used for washing and coloring (textiles), steel production, cement production, oil processing, energy production etc. Finally, regarding the tourism and domestic sector of the economy, water use concerns home supply by the authorized providers. Due to the different uses and needs across sectors, optimal policy design that allocates water optimally through space and time between these activities and ecosystem preservation becomes very challenging. Even more, when the unregulated operation of businesses in the industrial sector as well as the uncontrolled use of water and application of fertilizers/pesticides in the agricultural sector have led to excessive water abstraction, nitrate pollution and contamination by heavy metals, including hexavalent chromium. Until recently, no Management Plan or a Monitoring Program to cope with this situation existed. As a result, residents of the basin area, mostly low-income individuals with a high percentage of employment in the primary sector, ended up facing health issues as well as downgraded quality of life.

Source: Matiatos, Ioannis. 2016. “Nitrate Source Identification in Groundwater of Multiple Land-Use Areas by Combining Isotopes and Multivariate Statistical Analysis: A Case Study of Asopos Basin (Central Greece).” Science of the Total Environment 541: 802–14.
Source: Matiatos, Ioannis. 2016. “Nitrate Source Identification in Groundwater of Multiple Land-Use Areas by Combining Isotopes and Multivariate Statistical Analysis: A Case Study of Asopos Basin (Central Greece).” Science of the Total Environment 541: 802–14.

Social innovations emerge to strengthen actors’ ability to respond to societal changes such as the environmental degradation in the area of Asopos RB. In 2010, the National Bank of Greece, the Hellenic Post Bank and the A. G. Papandreou Foundation funded a 3-year project to tackle health problems associated with arsenic pollution and with the implementation of the WFD in Asopos RB with Assistant Professor Phoebe Koundouri leading the scientific team which consisted of 5 universities (Athens University of Economics & Business, Greece; University of  Toulouse, France; Oregon State University, USA; University of Waikato, New Zealand; University of Ioannina, Greece) and nonprofit organizations. The action was embraced by local authorities, businessmen (farmers, industrialists) and environmentalists who worked together for the common purpose. The initiative resulted in a comprehensive management plan that promoted sustainable development in terms of socio-economic welfare as it characterized, quantified and integrated people’s preferences. What is more, it introduced a new institutional environment where past attitudes towards water pollution are discarded and stakeholders realize how their interactions are critical in achieving the common goal. Finally, it highlighted the importance of the concept of Total Economic Value (the value of environmental good that is derived from its direct consumption but also from its indirect consumption, as well as non-use value) in the holistic management of interactions between humans and nature. Currently, local authorities are developing the social and business network needed for the implementation of the suggested management plan.

More details

Project website:  http://www.aueb.gr/users/koundouri/resees/en/aswposprojen.html

Koundouri, P., and N. Papandreou (editors) (2013)Water Resources Management Sustaining Socio-Economic Welfare: The Implementation of the European Water Framework Directive in Asopos River Basin in Greece. Springer Publishing, Global Issues in Water Policy.

Authors:

AchillVassilopouloseas Vassilopoulos (ICRE8: International Centre for Research on the Environment and the Economy; Dept. of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development, Agricultural University of Athens, Greece)

 

Phoebe KPhoebe_Koundourioundouri (School of Economic Sciences, Athens University of Economics and Business, Greece; Grantham Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK; ICRE8: International Center for Research on the Environment and the Economy)

That chronic disease called rural depopulation

It is still night time, but the cock has already crowed. The man has been hearing it all his life –not the same one, but generation after generation of cocks that have been living in the henhouse since he was born- and now, he cannot bear it any more: each day the cock crows means a day that he is still alive. “One of these days I will wring his neck”, he thinks, but he knows that even if he did, the sun would still rise every day, and to be honest, the village is already too silent to do away with the last remaining sign of life. It is difficult for him to accept that the last few villagers have died, and all that remains of the place where they used to spend the afternoon in silence, but together, is the box, the bench and the broken chair.

The sad thing about this story is that it is true, and even sadder is the fact that this story repeats itself in many villages, infected by the virus of rural exodus, that chronic disease to which no governments pay attention, they just wait for the day when this problem will magically disappear. But our rural world is so fragile that there aren’t any witches left to cast spells to solve the problem, in fact, if Aragón (a region in North Spain) is leader in anything, it is in the number of abandoned villages. There is no official data to number them, but it is known that there are more than 200.

If the authorities don’t remedy this immediately, that number will soon double, and for every village lost, we will lose a part of our culture and a piece of our history, in spite of all the work that has been put into building a future, generation after generation. We do not realise the role played by rural areas in maintaining the landscape and biodiversity. I remember a farmer telling me “Yes, I am a farmer, but moreover I am a landscape gardener, and the landscape belongs to all”. Soon there won’t be any more of these gardeners, and our landscapes will lose the appearance they have today. Shrubs and scrubs will take over, and many plant and animal species will disappear. We will no longer have landscapes to admire. The role played by women and men living in rural areas must be recognized, the heroes and heroines that keep certain values alive, values that have been lost in the cities a long time ago.

Village life offers many opportunities, not always linked to the land. However the Administrations must provide equal opportunities for the inhabitants of the marginalised rural areas and above all, their voice should be heard when developing initiatives to revitalise rural communities. In the cities it is often forgotten that without a rural world, there wouldn’t be an urban world.

Author:

Lucía López Marco (IAMZ-CIHEAM)

Article originally published in Arainfo on 24th October 2015

New forms of local cooperation: The Swiss example of the Bieraria Tschlin and the barley network Gran Alpin

Barley fields in the surroundings of Tschlin. (Photo: Bieraria.ch)
Barley fields in the surroundings of Tschlin. (Photo: Bieraria.ch)

In 2004, some active people of Tschlin, a municipality in the Swiss mountain canton of Grisons, launched the idea of establishing a microbrewery. Why this in a village of 400 inhabitants at 1500 m altitude which had never had a beer tradition nor a large local market to sell? The idea was launched to reanimate another tradition – the cultivation of barley, which was practised for a long time in the dry valleys of the Alps at high altitudes on small earth and stone lynchets. The cereal production in the Alps had to be abandoned in the 20th century because the lynchets were too small for mechanical tillage while, at the same time, market exchange over large distances became easy. Meanwhile mountain agriculture in general is under pressure and enterprises and regions have to look at ways to create new products and new value chains. The idea of the Biereria Tschlin microbrewery was to create a sufficient demand for the renewal of the barley production run by a network of local farmers under the name of Gran Alpin.

Bieraria's beer is distributed regionally in the gastronomy channel and even nationwide.
Bieraria’s beer is distributed regionally in the gastronomy channel and even nationwide. (Photo: Bieraria.ch)

The Social Innovation was neither the brewery nor the renewal of the old value chain. The Social Innovation was the decision of a group of small farmers and inhabitants to leave traditional self-oriented entrepreneurial thinking and to develop a form of regional citizenship to invest together in a risky undertaking. They created a public company with now more than 1000 small shareholders; local and external people who receive an annual dividend which is rather symbolic – an early form of crowd funding but with the idea to strengthen regional embeddedness as well as urban–rural solidarity. The shareholders have invested 1’275’000 Swiss Francs, the beer is distributed regionally in the gastronomy channel and even nationwide. A master brewer could be hired from the lowlands, some part-time jobs could be created for the local people, the cereal-producing organic farmers could stabilize their métier. In 2013 Tschlin merged with Ramosch into the new municipality of Valsot, the population could be stabilized.

Author:

Manfred Perlik_klein

Manfred Perlik (Centre for Development and Environment, Bern University)