Presentation of the output of SIMRA project at the IALE 2017 European Congress

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.

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Polycentric Governance, Multilevel Coordination and Prospects For Sustainability

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Stanislava Brnkalakova presenting the case studies

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).

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The Committee of the Regions adopts a position on Social Innovation

Committee of the RegionsThe Committee of the Regions (CoR) unanimously adopted an opinion on social innovation during the plenary session of 11 May 2017. The opinion is entitled “Social innovation as a new tool for addressing societal challenges” and was coordinated by rapporteur Marcelle Hendrickx.

Why is Social Innovation important?

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.

Policy Recommendations

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!

Author:

Lauren Mosdale (Euromontana)
Lauren Mosdale (Euromontana)

Prof Maria Nijnik presented SIMRA at the Netherlands’ Palace Symposium

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.

Maria’s presentation is available here.

SIMRA in the latest edition of the ENRD’s Rural Connections!

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’

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)

Meeting

Social Innovations reduce the impact of forest fires in rural Catalonia

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.

Remains of the fire from 2 years ago
Remains of the fire from 2 years ago.

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’s quick response vehicle used to prevent and put out fires.
The ADF of Castellfollit del Boix’s quick response vehicle used to prevent and put out fires.

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.

Turning logs into woodchips for the biomass boiler.
Turning logs into woodchips for the biomass boiler.

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.

If you would like to learn more about the ADF’s work you can visit their website: http://www.federacioadfbages.org

Authors:

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Lucía López Marco (IAMZ-CIHEAM)
Elena Górriz (EFIMED)
Elena Górriz (EFIMED)
Becky Stoakes (IAMZ-CIHEAM)
Becky Stoakes (IAMZ-CIHEAM)

SIMRA’s first General Assembly in Barcelona

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!