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



guardianes6 guardianes5 guardianes3

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

Can the rural environment become an opportunity upon the arrival of refugees in Europe?

Human migration has occurred throughout history and everywhere on the planet. The old continent has constantly witnessed major migratory flows. However, the current plethora of people, routes, motives and countries of origin, poses new challenges and a need to seek strategies to address these displacements.

If we speak of human displacement today, our mind jumps to the current influx of immigrants and refugees in the European Union (EU), originating mainly from social imbalances and armed conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. The so-called ‘refugee crisis’ is referred to as a humanitarian issue exacerbated by the exponential increase in the flow of asylum-seekers, vulnerable migrants, moving to Europe through irregular channels.

This is also a reflection of the economic downturn and a crisis of values affecting Europe; in short, a European crisis. Years ago, when the EU economy was solid and demanded labour for the workforce, there were no impediments to these persons joining the job market; but now we are looking at hundreds of thousands of people crowded in refugee camps in Turkey or Greece, or drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.

While these large flows of people occur, certain regions of the EU are challenged by the problem of depopulation, generated by domestic migration. This is the case of the regions in mainland Spain, suffering from an ageing population, loss of education and health care resources, neglect and overexploitation of natural resources, deterioration of the architectural heritage and loss of cultural and traditional values.

In this context, an increasing number of initiatives and projects are proposed to address the worrying depopulation rates. The reception of refugees and the current migratory movements are seen by some as a good opportunity to repopulate the European rural areas. But is this a real solution?

If we really want to repopulate rural areas by means of these migratory flows, it is essential to work on the culture of welcome, tolerance, openness and harmony in a context of diversity. 


Chequilla, in Molina de Aragón, Spain, has less than ten inhabitants in winter. Photo by María Barba

Let’s use our imagination to address these two challenges; refuge and repopulation of rural areas. We could combine both in an attempt to find an appropriate place for persons in search of new opportunities, of a life in peace to settle and at the same time, to revitalize villages on the verge of extinction.

Regardless of numbers, motives and origin, the arrival and settlement of a new population could mean a solution to the current problems of the rural environment. The towns would come to life again and regain their activity. Agriculture and livestock farming would be strengthened, increasing their socioeconomic importance, while new jobs would be created for the sustainable management of the natural, cultural, gastronomic, artisan and touristic resources.

The population increase of the municipalities would keep the village schools open, and they would be provided with the means and resources; it would improve school transport, and students would be able to learn professional skills without having to travel to the city, and thus expand the range of employment possibilities in rural areas. Social services and health care would guarantee home care, health centres and emergency services.

With these improvements in the employment situation, we would stop talking of an economy of survival. The shops and businesses would have significantly more customers, and would broaden the range of goods and services to meet the needs of the new population; bars, cafeterias and leisure centres would become new places of gathering and integration; there would be more participation in social and communal activities, leading to the recovery of the cultural and architectural heritage. Transport, telecommunications, libraries, accommodation, etc., would no longer be defined as insufficient or inadequate.

The environment would become a strategic sector in the development of new market niches. The rural areas would no longer have an ageing and male-dominated population. The streets would be buzzing again with families and young people.


If we consider what could be beneficial to the rural areas, the solution is not just to fight depopulation with the arrival and settlement of refugees. This is neither a simple process nor a failsafe remedy.

Considering the social reality of the rural mainland, especially in the region of Castile, the perception of the arrival of refugees in our villages may generate some fear and initial reservations that should be overcome. In areas where there are hardly any migrants, awareness has to be worked on previously, so that sharing spaces with the ‘new neighbours’ can be seen as something positive. This is what is known as a ‘culture of welcome’ and it requires all stakeholders of local communities to cooperate and establish ties to offer opportunities for integration in the host territory.

It is also key to consider and address all aspects involving migrants and refugees from the moment when they leave their country of origin, their journey, their means of entry and the initial stages of settling, in addition to their personal characteristics.

As inhabitants of the rural area, we know first-hand that the integration process is hindered by a more closed society on occasions. This, combined with the existence of consolidated communities of the same nationality (something that also happens in the cities), makes immigrants resort more to their support groups, thus limiting cultural exchange.

Considering that the labour market is small and there are few opportunities for self-employment, these new families or townspeople can often find themselves in situations that may be seen as a preferential treatment by local people with difficulties to access support.

Therefore, this process has to be dynamic and bidirectional, involving local communities and adopting a sensitive approach to the challenges and opportunities presented by migration.

On the other hand, we tend to think that there are no funds to promote the socio-economic development of depopulated rural areas, but Spain is one of states that have received most structural funding from the EU. Economic ‘practices’ have endowed the rural areas with impressive visitor centres, industrial estates with state-of-the-art technology, great sports facilities even with indoor swimming pools. However, despite these major investments, they may be abandoned or closed down due to lack of population. The aids to undertake economic activity are scarce and the initiatives that are underway face enormous difficulties for development, dealing with complicated regulations and bureaucracy.

If we really want to repopulate the rural areas, the global context of migratory flows must be taken into account. In this sense, it is essential to adopt and work on the culture of welcome, tolerance, openness and harmony in a context of diversity.

The perception of the arrival of refugees in towns and villages may generate some fear and initial reluctance that should be overcome.


El Regao vegetable gardens. Molina de Aragón, Spain. Photo by Ángela Coronel
El Regao vegetable gardens. Molina de Aragón, Spain. Photo by Ángela Coronel

At Fundación Cepaim our mission is to promote the model of intercultural society that facilitates immigrants’ full access to the rights of citizenship, by creating policies to fight against all forms of social exclusion and collaborating in the development of their countries of origin. Being aware of the difficulty of these processes, we are working to address the urban-rural issue. Through the project of integration of immigrant families in depopulated rural areas “New Paths”, Nuevos Senderos in Spanish, we work on the inclusion of immigrant families and individuals who have decided to move to rural areas. In addition to geographical mobility and the improvement of their quality of life, the aim is to generate and promote community development in the towns and villages.

In the New Paths project, we must overcome the fact that the rural environment is not seen as an opportunity for employment and quality of life. There are disadvantages such as the difficulty to be accepted in some communities, unequal opportunities for women, shortage of resources and services, and the widespread idea that urban environments offer more social, occupational and recreational opportunities, etc.

In addition, the few job offers that arise in the rural environment are very specific, temporary, and follow the gender roles established by a patriarchal society. For instance, the vacancies for male shepherds often consist only of shepherding the flocks and do not include collective tasks related to milking, breeding or health, which in many cases limits the acquisition of technical skills, and hinders the learning of the language, since they spend most of their time on their own.

Another job in demand would be housework or home care for the sick and elderly, for which women are sought. They are mainly seasonal jobs, usually for the summer, when many elderly people return to the hometown. It is a job with little recognition or rights, and employers often do not sign contracts or guarantee a minimum wage and acceptable working conditions.

There are also some temporary job offers in the catering and hotel industry, as rural population increases in the summer. Sometimes they demand self-employed people to manage the local pub, where it is impossible to make a living in winter, serving 3 or 4 coffees a day and paying for cable TV for a few customers to watch the football match.

It is no wonder that in view of such offers, mostly unattractive in principle, not many people are motivated to move to the rural area.


Based on direct experience in our work, we know that if we want the rural environment to have an important role in promoting the acceptance of refugees and become an opportunity to revitalize life in the towns and rural areas:

– The rural environment should be seen as a space for opportunity and quality of life.
– There must be a political commitment at different scales, so that the measures and investments in rural development can support initiatives and projects that come from the area.
– A rural environment is to be enhanced with quality public services and productive activities that foster culture, heritage, agriculture, food and natural resources in a sustainable way.
– Policies should be managed correctly and coordinately to benefit both the immigrants and the local communities.
– It is understood that living in rural areas is neither better nor worse than living in the city, it is just different.

Ultimately, if we want to end depopulation of our rural towns a real social and political commitment is required, leading to an equilibrium that guarantees the continuity of the rural environment and the basic needs of its residents.

Javier González (Fundación Cepaim)
Iván Maldonado (Fundación Cepaim)

Translated by:
Susana Artieda (IAMZ-CIHEAM)
Marie-Louise Tall (IAMZ-CIHEAM)

Article originally published in Revista Soberanía Alimentaria, Biodiversidad y Culturas, nº 26

Social innovation in mountain territories: insights from the conference “Mountain regions, territories of innovation”

“Mountain regions, territories of innovation” was the title of an international conference held on January 11-13, 2017 in Grenoble, France. The conference was organised by Labex Item, the platform for mountain research and territorial action in the French Northern Alps; it regroups academic and public institutions and other local stakeholders in the French departments of Savoie and Isère.

The aim of the conference was to discuss the relationship between mountain regions and innovation in the context of a wide variety of topics ranging from tourist resorts to social innovation and spatial management. SIMRA was well represented at the conference, with the specific goal of fostering discussion on the issue of social innovation. Project partners attended, moderated, or presented the SIMRA project in several sessions.

How to define social innovation in mountain territories?

Catie Burlando (UNIPD) and Manfred Perlink (UNIBE)
Catie Burlando (UNIPD) and Manfred Perlink (UNIBE)

The session “Transformative social innovations in mountain territories” co-organised and run by Manfred Perlik (Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern – a SIMRA partner) tried to answer the following questions:

How are social innovations different compared to other innovations?
– What are the specificities of social innovations in the mountains?
– What is an innovation in the context of a regional transformation process?

Several themes from different disciplines ranging from history to social anthropology, economic geography and political science were examined to address the socio-economic and cultural transformations in mountain areas, the relationship between regional actors and social innovation, as well as the specificities of social initiatives and governance in mountain regions.

Central issues were What is social innovation and how can we define it? To what extent are social innovations transformative? The presentations that took place during this session highlighted different definitions (see examples below), and SIMRA’s working definition was introduced:

Collective initiatives taken by citizens in response to social needs which are not otherwise fully satisfied by the market or political organisations (Klein and Harisson, 2007).
– Social innovations are new solutions that simultaneously meet a social need and lead to new or improved capabilities and relationships and better use of assets and resources (European Commission).
– 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 arrangements, and seek to enhance societal outcomes, especially but not exclusively for disadvantaged groups and recognising 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 [working definition based on the definition seen in the H2020 proposal of SIMRA (Nijnik et al., 2016) further developed by Slee et al. (in preparation)]

Several examples illustrated the richness of concepts associated with social innovation, which included references to new markets, governance, alternative networks, civil society mobilisation, cultural initiatives resources and relationships. For instance, one presentation focused on import-export dynamics in the macro-regional context of the Alps, highlighting the economic aspects of social innovation connected to competitiveness. Another presentation focused on territorial dynamics, asking how the origin and nature of relationships between residents of a region facilitate the emergence of social innovation, exogenously or endogenously.

How did SIMRA contribute?

mountains 2Many SIMRA partners are interested in exploring the issue of social innovation in mountainous regions. Such areas can be regarded as marginalized with regard to their geography (difficult terrain, remoteness of internal areas, limited infrastructure, etc.) but are also highly heterogeneous. These characteristics were introduced by Martin Price (Perth College, University of the Highlands and Islands – a SIMRA partner) in his keynote lecture.   Because mountain regions have specific constraints, looking at social innovations in mountain regions can help identify salient characteristics of these innovations and provide some answers regarding the patterns of emergence and development of social innovation in a physically constrained environment.

The conference included three SIMRA presentations largely based on joint considerations and shared views of team members from partner organizations and contributors: Carla Barlagne from the James Hutton Institute presented the SIMRA project with its conceptualisation of social innovation; Catie Burlando from UNIPD presented preliminary reflections on methods to evaluate social innovation in mountain areas; and Manfred Perlik from CDE (UNIBE) focused on the ambiguous character of innovation in the context of the Alps. In his point of view, a social innovation could be the questioning of the current Alpine specific strategies of regional development, and marketing.

The audience was reminded that social innovation has the potential to be a sustainable answer to economic and social crises. During a crisis, new modes of governance can rebuild trust relations and connections between individuals, thus also promoting economic relations and trade. A key element in the development of SIMRA is its emphasis on the involvement of stakeholders throughout the construction, implementation and evaluation of the project, particularly via the project’s Social Innovation Think Tank. SIMRA stakeholders can provide methodological advice, propose case studies, support network-building and offer feedback and contributions to ensure the project reflects the values it is trying to promote throughout the project and beyond.

Regarding evaluation methods, presentations and discussion during the conference highlighted how the identification of specific critical issues in the evaluation of social innovation can support more effective and inclusive mountain development policies via the adoption of indicators that capture the tangible and intangible elements of social innovation (e.g. network building, trust, quality of participation).

A few concluding remarks

mountains 4Transformative social innovation was presented at the conference in the context of mountainous regions. As mountains are part of global peripheries, experiences from the mountains can be fruitfully applied in other marginalised areas. While it was again recognized that there is no agreed definition of social innovation, and there might be a need for a general, rather universal, common vision of social innovation, it remains a very case- and context-specific phenomenon, so that several definitions can co-exist.

The definitions introduced by the different speakers focussed on two categories of scale. The first highlighted actions that emerge from and are led by individuals of civil society. The second related it to territorial innovation, seen as profoundly entrenched in the characteristics and dynamics of territorial institutions with their norms, values and conventions. Despite the differences, both types of definition stressed the importance of territorial embeddedness but also networks (formal or informal) as drivers of social innovation. Both reiterated the potential transformative power of social innovation and drive to create change within governance systems. For example, the emergence of social innovation was analysed while keeping in mind the long trajectory of a territory’s cultural legacy, highlighting how it can lead to changes in practices and consequently to a rethinking of norms within territories. Finally, strategies to build resilience and to adapt were discussed in terms of how they are linked to social innovation.


LAUREN MOSDALELauren Mosdale (Euromontana)

maria-nijnik_0Maria Nijnik (James Hutton Institute)

Carla_BarlagneCarla Barlagne (James Hutton Institute)

catie burlandoCatie Burlando (UNIPD)

Manfred Perlik_kleinManfred Perlik (UNIBE)


Fly Fishing in the Pyrenees to fix population in the International Year of Sustainable Tourism

Aragon is an autonomous region located in northeastern Spain. It holds reservoirs and rivers of great interest for sports activities. Many of those reservoirs and rivers are in rural areas whose towns have suffered large depopulation processes, as their lands have been flooded to build reservoirs and activities such as agriculture, livestock farming or mining have been abandoned. Some local companies have decided to pursue a model of quality, experiential tourism based on sustainability criteria to reverse the depopulation. This is the case of companies that provide fishing, rafting or canyoning guides, among others.

Fly Fishing Pyrenees 2The Pyrenees mountain range is in the North of Aragon. The Pyrenees Fly Fishing Company ( was started by two young men who chose Biescas as an ideal destination for a fly-fishing holiday on the sunny side of the Pyrenees and a good option to stay and live in the area.

Fly Fishing Pyrenees 3The Pyrenees are considered a unique place worldwide for fly-fishing, since they host the oldest ecotype of Zebra Trout in the European continent, and offer sunny days, warm weather, stunning landscapes and rivers, and a unique gastronomy and culture, in addition to national and natural parks belonging to an impressive ecosystem.

catchandreleaseFor the Pyrenees Fly Fishing guides it is important to promote and encourage this type of touristic model, especially now, since 2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. This activity requires the services of one guide for every one or two fishermen, with the subsequent potential to generate employment. Moreover, being catch-and-release, this activity respects the fishing resources and adds value to the protection and conservation of elements of high ecological value such as rivers. As the guides say, “the rivers will not be conserved until the local economies perceive the benefits.”

Adrián Satué (Pyrenees Fly Fishing)
adrian 2