In June 19 – 22, 2017, Tatiana Kluvankova (CE SPECTRA, IFE SAS) and Susan Baker (Cardiff University) chaired the panel “Polycentric Governance, Multilevel Coordination and Prospects For Sustainability” at the International Symposium on Society and Resource Management (ISSRM) organized by International Association for Society and Natural Resources (IASNR) in Umea, Sweden. In their introductory speech they introduced the focus of upcoming special issue that concerns several aspects, including the social innovation challenges that are the research subject of SIMRA H2020 project. The panel addressed specifically: (i) mechanism of governance co-ordination in polycentric regimes for natural resource management; (ii) how polycentric governance can take account of interests and power; (iii) how to ensure political legitimacy in polycentric governance arrangements and (iv) how and under what circumstances polycentric governance can act as a mechanism to support the promotion of sustainable patterns of natural resource management. After introductory speech, two case studies to demonstrate applicability of polycentric governance in marginalized cross – border and mountain regions were presented by Martin Spacek (CETIP Network, CE SPECTRA) and Stanislava Brnkalakova (CE SPECTRA, IFE SAS).
To get more feedback and valuable remarks for efficient special issue preparation, Martin Spacek and Stanislava Brnkalakova introduced the aim of above-mentioned special issue and particular contributions at next conference in Utrecht, Netherlands. This conference was named ‘Practicing the commons self-governance cooperation and institutional change’ and organized by International Associations for Study of Commons (IASC) in July 10 – 14, 2017.
The Centrales Villageoises (“Village Centers”, in English) are local companies aiming at developing renewable and sustainable energies in rural and mountain territories in France by involving citizens, local communities and businesses.
Context and origin of Centrales Villageoises
The pilot project was first carried out in the Regional Natural Park of the Rhône-Alpes Region (France). The pilot project implemented a model that can easily be reproduced in rural and mountain territories.
How does it work?
Citizens, local businesses and local authorities participate in the creation of a local company, such as a SAS (French Simplified Joint Stock Company) and share the capital shares. Each Centrales Villageoises company invests in renewable energy production equipment, pays taxes and charges and collects revenues from the sale of electricity to EDF, the national electricity provider. Projects are financed by own funds (25% – 30%) and bank loans (around 70-75%).
Revenues from the sale of electricity allow the company to pay expenses (maintenance, rent, rent, etc.) and feed the profits, which can either be set aside or distributed as dividends to shareholders.
The implementation of the project in mountain areas
The territory of Autrans-Méaudre, in Vercors, is located at an average altitude of 1000 meters surrounded by cliffs culminating up to 2350m. It encompasses rural, touristic municipalities, with more than 11.100 inhabitants. Local elected representatives of the Vercors massifs decided to develop and implement local energy projects through the Centrales Villageoises. The “Centrales solaires Villageoises 4 Montagnes” (4 Mountains) were implemented in October 2016. Nearly 600m² of photovoltaic panels installed allowed to produce and consume local electricity. This represents the equivalent of 500 fridges to be supplied with local energy throughout the year.
The advantages for inhabitants of a local energy
The project, co-owned and co-designed by locals, allows to produce a green energy that respects nature, relies on local resources and preserves the quality of the region’s landscapes and heritage, while generating local economic benefits.
The CoR defines social innovation as “new ideas (products, services and models) that simultaneously meet social needs (more effectively than alternatives) and create new social relationships and partnerships (BEPA)”. While the CoR points out the importance of a bottom-up approach with the example of consumer panels notably, SIMRA’s definition of social innovation includes the dimension of civil society engagement and within our project, social innovation refers to “the reconfiguring of social practices, in response to societal challenges, which seeks to enhance outcomes on societal well-being and necessarily includes the engagement of civil society actors”.
Social innovation is considered both by the CoR and SIMRA to be an important instrument for tackling current social challenges (such as unemployment, the ageing of society, the integration of immigrants, climate change, rural decline, etc.) and for improving the Europeans’ quality of life. Social innovation can bring new solutions to problems in rural areas, especially in marginalised rural areas, which are going to have to re-invent their role, and their capacity to innovate. However, much remains to be done to link social innovations with the desired policy outcomes.
Barriers to Social Innovation at the European level
The CoR points out 3 main barriers to the promotion of social innovation in the EU and the implementation of social innovation initiatives: governance, funding, and the generalised emphasis on technological innovation.
Firstly, concerning governance, according to the opinion, “promoting social innovation often requires local authorities to play a leadership and coordinating role, in terms of bringing stakeholders together, promoting good initiatives, creating flexible legal frameworks and ensuring that knowledge is shared”. This barrier is also recognised by SIMRA who identified governance arrangements as one of the major social practices to be reconfigured.
Secondly, regarding funding, no specific calls, programmes nor financial instruments specifically target social innovation on the ground yet. Reasons for this could be that projects are too small in scale; that partners are small and non-traditional; and/or that timing of European calls doesn’t match the development pattern of small projects (some social innovation examples demonstrate that too early funding might paralyse bottom-up collaboration emergence). The opinion also points out the complexity of the regulatory framework which can put off applicants. However, social innovation is gaining in visibility at the European Commission level and in another opinion on the CAP post-2020, the CoR has already called for more research funded by the EU budget and the European Investment Bank on agricultural and rural cooperation, in particular towards social innovation in rural areas (local public services for agricultural production methods, small-scale processing and local distribution of agricultural products).
Finally, about the emphasis on technological innovation, the CoR feels that in the Europe 2020 Strategy, disproportionate emphasis is placed on the technological side of innovation, to the detriment of social innovation – although both are supposed to complement each other.
The CoR asks from the Commission for more recognition of social innovation and everything that it entails (specific funding instruments, knowledge exchange opportunities, new policies, etc.) on one hand, as well as for new monitoring and assessment tools to be developed on the second hand. According to the opinion, those new evaluation methods -and associated indicators- “would allow the results of social innovation to be measured, the impact thereof assessed, and for this information and the success stories to be made known. It would also make it easier to attract funding”. This is exactly the kind of results SIMRA aims to achieve, by contributing to the understanding and evaluation of social innovation in marginalised rural areas with a novel approach that builds on the integration of empirical and transdisciplinary knowledge to increase validity of results. Project partners are working right now on evaluation methods of social innovation and a social innovation database of good practices will also soon be available on the SIMRA project’s website.
The CoR particularly stresses the parallel to be made with the EU Urban Agenda where the Commission, Member States, and towns and cities map out the practicability of EU policy and legislation at local level to also ask of the European Commission, when formulating social innovation policies, to expressly take into account how they could be implemented at local and regional level.
How can SIMRA contribute to the recommendations of the CoR?
SIMRA will develop a framework and methods to identify, understand and evaluate social innovation, as well as ways of supporting and sustaining socially innovative initiatives, in order to bridge the existing gap on that subject between research, policy and practice. SIMRA will support the widest possible community engaging in social innovation, particularly in Mediterranean marginalised rural areas. The aim is to create, thanks to the project, collaborative and learning opportunities where local stakeholders (communities, researchers, businesses) could work together towards the realization of social innovation initiatives (new networks, business opportunities, etc.), which could leave a lasting legacy in the area where they are promoted. The transdisciplinary nature of the project is meant to involve three types of stakeholders: representatives of key organizations and actors in rural development, stakeholders supported by the project’s case studies and innovative actions, and other regionally and locally grounded stakeholders. The research is designed to ensure that project results feed policy formation at all scales and also to support effectively the community engaging in social innovation, with particular reference to Mediterranean marginalised rural areas.
For more information, take a look at SIMRA’s website here!
Prof Maria Nijnik, SIMRA coordinator and a Principal Socio-Economic Scientist of the James Hutton Institute, had been invited to take a leading role in the Netherlands’ Palace Symposium on “Depopulation of rural areas: analyses and perspectives” which was held on June 15, in the Royal Palace of Amsterdam. Maria admits “I was delighted, honoured and uplifted of being given the opportunity to present at the Royal Palace”. Maria gave the talk entitled “Depopulation in rural areas: future perspectives and how social innovation can address current challenges”, and she led the workshop on “Depopulation: future perspectives”, facilitated by Prof Bettina Bock of the University of Groningen. Prof Nijnik also led the subsequent panel session and contributed to extensive discussions on the topic that followed. Along with the perspectives of depopulation, its social and cultural consequences, as well as its economic and physical aspects were put on the agenda. Maria admits “I am happy that the ideas from the Symposium, and my talk, the workshop, the panel sessions and the discussions were met with interest and encouragement by the honourable audience, including HM the King and HM the Queen, and HRH Princess of the Netherlands, as well as by the Amsterdam Royal Palace Foundation, the Burgomaster Office and other highly respected guests”. The participants addressed key challenges and perspectives of depopulation. Prof Nijnik shared ideas on the role of social innovation in the development of rural areas and her experience gained through the coordination of the H2020 project SIMRA, which is on Social innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas. The project started in 2016 and involves 26 partner organizations from 15 countries of the EU, including the Netherlands and the UK, and the Mediterranean region, including of North-Africa. Prof Nijnik expressed her gratitude to all those who contributed to the workshop and provided SIMRA with helpful feedbacks and suggestions, including on the necessity of building capacities and developing new relationships and collaborations to promote social innovations and advance the development of rural areas in the Netherlands and the UK, as well as in other countries of Europe, and beyond.
SIMRA was featured in the latest edition of the Rural Connections magazine, published by the European Network for Rural Development (ENRD).
The Spring 2017 edition of Rural Connections featured a special focus on social inclusion which gave the opportunity to one of the SIMRA partners, EURAC Research represented by Thomas Streifeneder and his team, to present a good example of social innovation in Italian marginalised rural areas. The example picked was social farming, and more precisely the social cooperative “Learning-growing-living with women farmers” in South Tyrol.
You can find the Rural Connection issue here and visit the SIMRA website here.
XVI Milan European Economy Workshop ‘Innovation and services of general interest: from the lab to enterprises and citizens’ is going to take place 22.06.2017 -24.06.2017 at the University of Milan Dept. of Economics, Management and Quantitative Methods (DEMM). This workshop will be organized in collaboration with the Jean Monnet EUsers network and International Centre of Research and Information on the Public, Social and Cooperative Economy (CIRIEC). Key speakers will include representatives of DG REGIO, DG CONNECT, DG ECFIN, OECD, EIB, ESFRI, CERN, as well as speakers from several universities. The workshop will focus on the role played by governments to foster and generate innovation in the Services of General Interest (energy, telecom, health) for enterprises and final users, during six panels:
Panel 1: Governments and support to R&D: public enterprises, development agencies, universities
Panel 2: Innovation in Sectors of General Interest – Part I: Energy & Telecom
Panel 3: Innovation in Sectors of General Interest – Part II: Health systems
Panel 4: Technological innovation from research infrastructures to firms
Panel 5: Frontier Case studies
Panel 6: Policy Roundtable and Final Discussion
I will participate to the event, being selected to attend it as PhD student representative of the University of Padova (Italy). My PhD thesis topic is on governance capacity of public actors to promote social innovation in the forest sector. Thus, my PhD work and my participation into the XVI Milan European Economy Workshop are strictly connected with social innovation issues. Although the Milan workshop does not directly address social innovation, it addresses the channels of innovation diffusion and focuses on infrastructure, energy and health, all of which are questions of key importance in marginalized rural areas. This is going to be unique opportunity to rise a question of social innovation, and disseminate the materials of SIMRA project, as organizers are going to collect and disseminate all materials we want to share. It is also a great opportunity for cross-sectoral cooperation and networking, as most of the audience is going to be from transport, energy, and public administration sector. In addition, there is a possibility to submit an abstract until September 30, for publication in the special issue of per reviewed Journal of Economic Policy Reform. After the meeting, I will provide feedback on main results that might be of interest for the SIMRA community!
Author: Todora Rogelja (PhD candidate at LERH Doctoral School Department TESAF, University of Padova)
At SIMRA’s first General Assembly, celebrated in Barcelona last May at the Mediterranean European Forest Institute (EFIMED), we got the chance to see first-hand how inhabitants of the Comarca of Bages are minimizing the impact of forest fires in their area.
This location was a very fitting place to learn about the efforts as two years previously, in the summer of 2015, a forest fire occurred here in the municipality of Òdena.
But let’s start from the beginning:
In the 20th Century rural exodus and the resulting abandoning of cultivated land, led to former agricultural lands being converted into forests. Because of this increase in forested area and the resulting fires, in the 1960s local residents and land-owners got together to create fire-fighting and immediate response groups. In 1986 these groups became official Forestry Defence Groups (ADF). ADFs are non-for-profit organisations and their aim is to prevent and fight forest fires. They are made up of forestry land-owners, town councils from the regional municipalities and volunteers and they coordinate their work with the Fire and Rescue Service.
The ADF of Castellfollit del Boix covers a total area of 5 942 hectares of which 4 397 are made up of forests, in other words, 79.3% of the total area. The forests are an important asset for the local residents; they provide a space in which to carry out various activities such as walking or mushroom picking. To protect this natural resource the ADF has made contributions to a municipal plan for forest fires, they carry out campaigns with farmers and in schools, they safeguard water points and the mountain access tracks and they receive specialist training from the fire-fighters. When fire breaks out within the municipality, the emergency services alert the ADF and they spring into action. Often they arrive at the fire before the fire-fighters so the first steps they take directly effects the evolution of the fire. When the fire-fighters arrive, the ADF work alongside them to tackle the fire. When a nearby municipality needs their help, the Comarca’s centre coordinates them to help their neighbours, because forest fires won’t be stopped by administrative borders. The ADF of Castellfollit del Boix is a social initiative which has allowed neighbours to come together over decades to prevent and put out fires, thereby protecting a common good: their town, landscape and forestry resources. There are two different types of members, those with a green card (16 years and older) who help out with any general tasks, but not with fire-fighting. Then there are those with a yellow card (18 years and older) who have the specific training and equipment to help, in a coordinated and safe way, with the dangerous task of putting out a fire.
Despite their efforts, the people of Castellfollit del Boix have seen the scale of forest fires increasing each year, while at the same time forestry practices to prevent them (clearings, scrub clearance) are becoming more and more expensive. Nevertheless, over the last decade, the use of forestry biomass to create energy has provided a way to cover the costs of forest interventions. Not only does this improve the economic sustainability of preventing fires, but it also supports the economy of this rural area. For this reason, they decided to innovate, becoming a cooperative that uses trees which are felled to prevent forest fires to make woodchips for biomass boilers. In this way, not only are they preventing forest fires and generating clean energy, but they are also creating employment and encouraging people to stay in the area.
SIMRA partners and its Scientific Advisory Board gathered in Barcelona from 16 to 18th May 2017 for a productive annual project meeting and the first General Assembly, hosted by the EFI Mediterranean Regional Office in the stimulating surroundings of the UNESCO Sant Pau Recinte Modernista Barcelona. One year after the project´s kick-off, the forum was an opportunity to reflect on achievements and progress thus far, and to plan next steps for the coming year.
In-depth discussions culminated in SIMRA’s working definition of social innovation (the definition will be the subject of a future blog). Other topics progressed included the concept of Marginalised Rural Areas, and the format and contents of SIMRA’s social innovation database, which will soon be available on our website. Preliminary findings on methods to assess social innovation were presented, and the timeline and methods agreed for selecting case studies and implementation of innovation actions. Exciting approaches were developed for the creation of impacts for the benefit of project stakeholders.
Amongst numerous highlights was the EFIMED breakfast seminar on social innovation for a bio-based economy, presented by Laura Secco of Univ. Padova. A fascinating field trip to the Catalonian countryside, hosted by local groups responsible for social innovation, gave participants first-hand experience of the opportunities and impacts being created – more to come on this subject in our next blog post!
The Horizon 2020 project SIMRA (Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas) officially started on April 1st, 2016 and will continue for four years. The project wants to categorise and understand social innovation in different settings (thanks to case studies), to develop an integrated set of methods for the evaluation of social innovation and its impact on rural areas, to analyse the success factors for social innovation and to disseminate new knowledge to policy-makers.
One of SIMRA’s aims is to perform a holistic analysis and categorisation of existing examples of Social Innovations in Marginalised Rural Areas. As part of this work, we are identifying examples within the fields of agriculture, forestry and rural development and gathering a comprehensive list at different scales that allow us to explore diversity among social innovations. Part of this catalogue will be used to develop an interactive online database that will be available this spring on the SIMRA website.
Project partners have initially populated the database with examples from academic sources e.g. journal articles, reports and research projects about social innovation. Since the beginning of 2017, we have now collected more than 200 distinct examples from across the project area. We would now like to make a wider call for social innovation examples developed in marginalized rural areas 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 social innovation, 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 the questionnaire you will find here: https://uhi.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/simra_en
The database of social innovation examples will be available on our website shortly.
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.”
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.
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.