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.
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!
SIMRA 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).
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.
SIMRA DATABASE OF SOCIAL INNOVATION EXAMPLES
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.
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!
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:
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:
The organization of periodic networking events to encourage interested actors to present, discuss and initiate innovative activities for rural development;
The creation of market places (physical and virtual) for SI projects (e.g. fairs);
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.
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.