Project H2020 SIMRA – Social Innovation in Marginalized Rural Areas was introduced in the invited lecture during the Slovakia’s National Info Day Horizon 2020, particularly considering the societal challenge 2 – “Food Security, Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry, Marine, Maritime and Inland Water Research and the Bioeconomy. The event took place on November 7th, 2017 at the National Agricultural and Food Centre in Lužianky, with the participation of Marc Duponcel, the Head of the Research and Innovation of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development. Professor Tatiana Kluvánková presented the most important outcomes of SIMRA project gained during the first year of the project on behalf of SIMRA scientific team. Institute of Forest Ecology at Slovak Academy of Sciences within Centre of Excellence SPECTRA is participating in the project research as Slovak partner leading Work Package 2 dealing with the transdisciplinary understanding of social innovation in marginalized rural areas.
The project “Adotta un terrazzamento” [“Adopt a terrace” in English] aims at regulating and expanding mountain farming activities by giving any interested person the opportunity to adopt a terrace and provide direct or long-term support to the mountains of the Brenta Valley, in the Alps region in Italy.
Context and origin of the project
Terraces are created to transform a sloping mountain into a series of shelves to obtain surfaces suitable for cultivation. The walls of the terraced floors are known locally as ‘masiére’ (from Latin ‘maceries’) and are made of dry stone (i.e. without the use of lime or cement as a binder).
After the Second World War, the terraced system collapsed, with the collapse of crops that required too much manpower to manage compared to those using mechanization. As a result, the terraces were abandoned for more than 30 years, being covered by pieces of wood and subject to physical degeneration, threatening their stability. Of the 230 km of dry stone walls across the valley, more than 60% were in ruins, which endangered the safety of the slopes.
Within this context, the initiative “Adotta un terrazzamento” was born.
The project ‘Adopt a Terrace’
The ‘Adopt a terrace’ initiative is a strategic project of the Valstagna Municipality, the Terre Alte Group of the Alpino Italiano Club and of the Department of Geography of the University of Padua. The initiative was conceived following a local, ‘spontaneous adoption’, of terraces. The goal now is to regulate and expand the activity, allowing anyone to adopt a terrace, directly or indirectly restoring these features of the mountain of the Brenta Canal.
How does it work?
The adoption of the terrace is done by registering and choosing the operation to be supported on the terraces, the choice being based on the critical conditions of conservation, the aptitude for productive recovery and landscape valorisation.
It is either possible to adopt a terrace directly and cultivate it, or adopt it indirectly by paying a minimum contribution of 15€. The subscription contributes to supporting the work of a volunteer team which is in charge of recovering abandoned terraces. Contributions are used to cover the reimbursement of expenses for equipment and materials needed for the work. Groups such as schools, businesses, or other civic associations can also adopt a terrace. After 5 years of adoption, a Diploma of “Terracotta Benefactor” will be recognized by the Committee, the Municipality of Valstagna and the Italian Alpine Club. Every year, the adopters are able to visit their terrace and view the restoration efforts.
Positive social and environmental impacts
The innovation has revitalised a historical municipality abandoned by residents. The project has achieved positive impacts, both social and environmental.
The initiative is original;
The institutional partnership is between academia, local governments and civic associations;
The project uses wasteland and shows how to overcome limitations of private ownership (partners had to find the owners of the abandoned land, and convince them to loan the land for the project);
The adoption is a means of enhancing a non-profit and multifunctional approach to land use.
The project also demonstrates positive results as, to date, it has allowed the recovery of more than 100 terraces, covering more than 4ha in different parts of the valley, with the involvement of more than 100 people, most of them non-valley residents.
This project is an example of social innovation in marginalised rural areas. You can find it in SIMRA database of examples of social innovation.
The SIMRA Work Package tackling Theoretical and operational approaches to social innovation (WP2) is pleased to share with you the outcomes of Deliverables 2.1 and 2.2.
Social innovation (SI) has rapidly expanded in the debates and agenda of the research and policy communities over the last decade, with considerable expectations of its potential for addressing urgent societal challenges. A key question addressed is why communities in some marginalised rural areas (MRAs)respond to societal problems whereas others collapse?
Thanks to the valuable inputs and fruitful discussions across the WP2 team, and in the SIMRA transdisciplinary laboratory, the definition of social innovation in marginalized rural areas was developed and presented in Polman et al., 2017 (Deliverable 2.1) entitled “Classification of Social Innovations for Marginalized Rural Areas”. This deliverable undertook a critical analysis of theoretical approaches to social innovation, with the first involvement of members of the Social Innovation Think Tank (SITT) through an online survey, and a workshop in Bratislava, Slovakia, in October 2016. SIMRA partners contributed through e-communication (emails, video calls) and a roundtable discussion at the full project partner meeting in Barcelona, Spain in May 2017.
The outcome was a definition of social innovation for use in SIMRA of: “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.”
A transdisciplinary framework for use in understanding the emergence and divergence of social innovation in marginalised rural areas has recently been developed (Deliverable 2.2). The principal concern was to determine the conceptual and emergence factors of social innovation, the types of social innovations which are likely to occur in marginalised rural areas, and what can be done to enhance the innovation potential across different types of such areas. Four hypotheses for the most prevalent trajectories of diverging paths of social innovation have been formulated. A transdisciplinary approach has been used to enhance expert and empirical knowledge exchange to shape development trajectories, and to inform those involved in policy design and implementation.
Empirical knowledge from 166 examples of social innovation, available in the SIMRA database (Bryce et al., 2017; D3.2), has formed the basis for the development of the framework and diverging path hypotheses. Members of the SIMRA Social Innovation Think Tank were closely involved in the process through: i) the development of an initial set of SI variables through an online survey and stakeholder workshop in Bratislava, Slovakia; ii) consulting a checklist for defining SI and ranking a final list of variables used to formulate hypotheses of diverging paths. This resulted in co-production of (theoretical – empirical – expert) understanding of social innovation in marginalised rural areas addressing societally relevant problems.
Kluvánková, T., Gežik, V., Špaček, M., Brnkaláková, S., Valero, D., Bryce, R., Slee, W., Alkhaled, D., Secco, L., Burlando, C., Kozova, M., Miller, D., Nijnik, M., Perlik, M., Pisani, E., Polman, N., Price, M., Sarkii, S. and Weiss, G. 2017. Transdisciplinary understanding of SI in MRAs, Deliverable 2.2, Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas (SIMRA). pp. 58.
Polman, N., Slee, W., Kluvánková, T., Dijkshoorn, M., Nijnik, M., Gezik, V. and Soma, K. 2017. Classification of Social Innovations for Marginalized Rural Areas, Deliverable 2.1, Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas (SIMRA). pp. 32.
Wherever you go, whatever you produce, whatever you believe in, Women of the mountains are determined to lead their societies for survival.
When you reach the edge of the road leading to the Bekaa Plain, you lay over the road looking for a place to grab a coffee. Turning around would lead you to Angèle. Angèle knows everything, Angèle cooks very well. Angele can help you.
With its 60 years of hardship, well drawn on her wrinkled face, Angele welcomes you in her own territory surrounded by mountains of boxes where the smell of the apricot jam takes you to the other rooms. A strong determined and smiling woman thriving to achieve in her community.
Being a woman of Education in a rural society, having decided to invest in her community and teach others how to become productive, Angele has invested in herself and her skills to build a woman based legacy for her community and her friends.
Transforming cooking from a daily burden to a source of economic return is what makes Angele a leader of the community. Having mastered the kebbeh, the Harissa and the tabbouleh, she is the reference in organizing events at the village.
Angele contributed to sharing her experience and know how with other women in the world, teaching them the art of cooking and preserving fresh products. she contributed to creating and redesigning leaders of her own image in every rural village she visited.
There are thousands of Angèle
Our Mountains are flourishing and sustained because of thousands Angèle. Every women serving her family, every women helping her family in the field, every women preparing food for her family, every woman contributing to the welfare of her community is a successful version of Angèle.
In every rural family a new Angèle rises, keeping the family warm, helping everyone get along with life issues and surviving the mountains. overcoming the strong weather, the hard conditions and the traditions and cultures.
Leaders are not made, they are born leaders and every single woman is a genetically designed leader but a rural woman in the mountains is an even greater version of leaders.
A tribute to every Angele, a tribute to every rural woman leading her fellows to creating empowered versions of community members.
It’s 5 o’clock and the alarm goes off. She has breakfast and, with the radio in the background, she gets dressed for work. Milking starts at 6, but before that she needs to take the cows to the milking parlour. They aren’t many, but with the old facilities they find it hard to get in. Once she’s done, she goes back home, wakes up the children, gives them breakfast, gets them dressed, and takes them to school. Then she goes back to the farm… and resumes her work day. She does so until noon, when she cooks lunch, picks up her children, then takes them back to school, does the afternoon milking, and afterwards she brings the children back home and stays with them until they are tired and drop off to sleep. Sometimes she wishes she had a different life, a different job that didn’t enslave her and allowed her to be more in control.
The heroine of this story doesn’t have a name: she has many. Because this is not the routine of a single woman, but rather of many women who work in the fields like their partners, but who, unlike their male companions, do not enjoy the same opportunities. In spite of the relevance of women’s work in farms, the owners of 67.31% of those farms in Spain are men. In contrast, women appear as wives and are classified as “family support” in those documents, which proves the existing inequality.
The Spanish Shared Ownership Act (Ley de Titularidad Compartida) was passed in 2011 in order to tackle this situation. The aim of this law is to give more visibility to women’s labour in the fields and to enhance their participation in different organizations. Furthermore, shared ownership means that the administration, representation and organization of the farm is shared between both owners. It also implies that income is equally distributed, that both owners are regarded as direct beneficiaries of any aid or subsidy the farm receives, and that both are liable to social security contributions. However, according to the figures of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment, by the 25th of June of 2015 only 136 farms were registered under shared ownership.
Women account for 48% of the rural population and they are vital for the sustainable development of rural areas. However, women are forced to leave rural communities and move to the cities to look for better living conditions due to their lack of opportunities and their unequal access to land ownership, jobs or decision-making positions. It is women who fix population in rural areas and who ensure their continuity. But if they leave… who stays?
Therefore, it is not enough to draft laws which favour women’s visibility: new tools need to be developed for those laws to be successfully implemented. It is essential to involve local actors in the development of activities which make rural societies realise that without women there is no life in towns. We need to understand that the inequality suffered by rural women is also a form of gender violence.
On September 12-15, 2017 the IALE 2017 “European Landscape Ecology Congress: From Pattern and Process to People and Action“ was held in Belgium in the beautiful historic city of Gent. The IALE 2017 European Congress was hosted by the Landscape research Unit of the Department of Geography of Ghent University and European Association for Landscape Ecology (IALE-Europe). University of Ghent is one of the top 100 world-class universities. The main objective of the IALE 2017 European Congress was to present new challenges facing landscape ecology, reflecting current societal, political and global challenges.
In the thematic group “Cultural Landscapes as a meeting point” professor Maria Kozova presented a lecture: Social Innovations for Maintaining the Biocultural Heritage in Rural Areas: UNESCO Vlkolinec site in Slovakia (Fig. 1). The lecture was prepared together with the co-authors Dr. Eva Pauditsova (Comenius University in Bratislava), professor Tatiana Kluvankova and Dr. Stanislava Brnkalakova (Institute of Ecology of Forest SAS, SPECTRA Center of Excellence). The lecture is the output of the Horizon 2020 project no. 677622: “Social Innovation in Marginalized Rural Areas (SIMRA)” and VEGA Project no. 2/0038/14 Ecosystem Services to Support Landscape Protection in the Condition of Global Change. During the congress Maria Kozova also presented the goals and achievement of the SIMRA project in informal discussions with colleagues from UK, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Italy and Czech Republic.
The program of the IALE 2017 European Congress has completed by the excursions focusing on three main themes: (a) Landscape interacting with borders and frontiers; (b) Landscape: where heritage and nature meet; and (c) Landscapes reflecting new features and challenges (Fig. 2). During the congress, Maria Kozova participated in a meeting of members of the IALE Working Group “Biocultural Landscape,” in which Professor Gloria Pungetti of the University of Cambridge presented its main tasks, a plan of activities for this group for the near future, and the possibility of publishing the outputs of the members. Maria Kozova also gave to members of the working group a bulletin about the SIMRA project.
Maria Kozova (SITT member, Catholic University in Ruzomberok, Slovakia)
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!