SIMRA’s Second General Assembly, Padova, Italy

PADOVA-EM2SIMRA partners and members of the Scientific Advisory Board gathered in Padova from 12th to 14th June 2018 for a productive annual project meeting and the second General Assembly, hosted by the University of Padova. Halfway through the project, and having already completed the first periodic reporting, the meeting was an opportunity to reflect on achievements and progress thus far, and to plan our next steps.

PADOVA-VALyLUCAfter two years of research, the teams in charge of conceptualising social innovation, designing evaluation indicators, testing these theoretical tools on the ground and looking at policy implications are starting to see their efforts converge. Of particular importance for SIMRA at this meeting was the launch of case studies and innovation actions which will enable the collection of an extensive amount of empirical data and testing of newly elaborated SIMRA models.

Presentations included those from hosts at the Prato della Valle during the project visit to the Po Delta, and stakeholders from Martinšćica, Croatia.

Following the SIMRA General Assembly, a group of SIMRA researchers set off for the seventh AIEAA Conference (the Italian Association for Agricultural Economics) in Conegliano, Italy. A blog post will follow on the session they moderated focusing on social innovation in marginalised rural areas


How can Social Innovation help Villages become Smarter?

The Smart Villages concept aims to “help local communities address issues of inadequate broadband connectivity, employment opportunities and service provision in a clear and comprehensive manner”. It also aims to improve the attractiveness and well-being of inhabitants in rural areas. Social innovation can play a key role in the development of the full potential of rural areas. By working together and through social innovation, some communities have taken leadership of the provision of key rural services such as health, education, energy, mobility and other social services of key importance in rural, mountainous and remote areas where such services were of poor quality and often in decline. How can we capture their success in social innovation in marginalised rural areas and use it as an inspiration for all? How can we best support social innovation and Smart Villages in the future programming period?

On June 27th, 2018, Euromontana with the RUMRA (Rural, Mountainous and Remote areas) parliamentary intergroup, and the Horizon 2020 SIMRA project organised a policy breakfast at the European Parliament, hosted by MEP Bogovič on the topic of social innovation in smart villages. 60 MEPs, officers of the European Commission, researchers and representants of local and regional authorities attended the event. The aim of the event was to clarify the concept of social innovation in rural areas and explore how policy measures could support social innovation through initiatives such as the Smart Villages for instance.

1.     Linking the definition of Social Innovation & Smart Villages

1.1 Social innovation in rural areas

simraThe Horizon 2020 SIMRA project, coordinated by the James Hutton Institute, and running between 2016 and 2020, is explicitly focusing on the concept of social innovation in marginalised rural areas and trying to analyse which are the different paths social innovation can follow (cooperatives, community trusts, etc.) as well as identifying policy gaps to bring forward adequate policy proposals.

Bill Slee, researcher and practitioner in Scotland, clarified the concept of social innovation using four key ideas:

  • Social innovation leads to the reconfiguration of social practices,
  • Social innovation tackles societal challenges and not sectoral, or environmental or purely social issues
  • Social innovation aims at collective well-being
  • Social innovation requires the active engagement of civil society.

The SIMRA definition of social innovation emerged from the evidence that people are at the heart of rural development, rather than agricultural productivity or technology for instance. More and more examples are emerging of third sector organisations closing the gap for public policies in resolving current challenges and the third sector can now often be found at the forefront of service provision for the most in need (the hungry, the sick, the refugees, etc.) as a result of the current crisis-driven economy leading to austerity and privatisations in some areas.

1.2 Smart Villages as an example of social innovation

The European institutions have shown a keen interest in Smart Villages during the last year, by both implementing an ENRD thematic group on Smart Villages and a European Parliament pilot project on smart eco-social villages. Resulting from their work, the Smart Villages concept has been further defined. Most importantly, Smart Villages are about people, and not only about digitisation even though it is an important tool. Smart Villages should not be considered as a state nor an objective in itself but as a type of approach and a model to aspire to. Smart Villages use an integrated approach towards services and economic development, within the appropriate scale (whether it be a village, a federation of villages, or a geographic area), and finds its balance between the formalities of a strategy and the engagement of local actors.

The ENRD has produced an illustrative video which you can watch here and has published a Rural Review dedicated to this thematic which you can find here.

The pilot project on smart eco-social villages is currently working on a common definition to be used by policy-makers, advisors, managing authorities, researchers and practitioners, and an open consultation will be launched in July 2018 for those interested. Following this step, the pilot project will select six case studies to support these communities in their transition into smart villages.

1.3 The example of the Sopotniki Institute

sopotnikiMarko Zevnik, CEO from the Sopotniki Institute, offered an illustration of a smart village through the community service he has recently implemented. Sopotniki means co-travellers in Slovenian, and his enterprise has developed a mobility solution for elderly people to be driven by volunteers to carry out their daily errands in nearby villages. The goal is to provide more services to elderly people and to support local businesses at the same time.

The fleet of cars and gas is provided by the Sopotniki Institute with money raised through a fundraising campaign and thanks to donations by the users. Drivers are volunteers, mostly job seekers or newly retired people. Drivers receive free lunch and coffee in local businesses. According to the users, the added value of this service lies in the interaction between the elderly and the volunteers and enables elderly people to stay at home longer. The initiative uses digital tool insofar as they have developed an app for the drivers to be coordinated and answer the users’ needs; as well as block chain solution to be transparent about how they are using the company’s money.

2.     Challenges faced by rural innovators and policy needs

As social innovators, rural communities face obstacles such as institutional barriers, high start-up costs, lack of local leadership, weak social capital, or even apathy within a small community. They are challenged by administrative burden and the risk of burn out of local leaders. One of the main challenges yet to be tackled remains the perpetuation of advantage in empowered communities and to pass on their knowledge.

According to SIMRA research, policy can make a difference by supporting capacity-building, training and effective community engagement. Policy could directly fund community development plans explicitly and explicitly earmark social innovation in RDPs (Rural Development Programmes). Most importantly, policy needs to create the appropriate enabling policy framework because each village has its specificities and its adapted local solutions, which do not necessarily fit into sectoral categories.

mep bogovicOn the other hand, MEP Bogovic appreciates that Smart Villages are part of the new legislative proposals as they will further support investments in rural areas for education, social and health infrastructures among others as well as contribute to avoid further depopulation. MEP Bogovic said that “Compared to cities where business cases are made, rural areas are about people” and whereas digitisation is not the centre piece of Smart Villages, it is key in rural development to relocate jobs there and develop e-services for health and training for instance. A more efficient organisation of rural public services will also lower public expenditure, so this transition is profitable to all. However, the fact that Smart Villages are part of the legislative proposals is not a final achievement, and it is now time to prepare proposals for CAP national plans and to include operational groups in the Smart Villages process.

The REGI Committee of the European Parliament has adopted a motion, to be discussed in the next plenary in Strasbourg in July 2018, addressing  rural development in the new Multi-Financial Framework (MFF). This motion specifically asks for better targeting  Smart Villages in the new MFF. Indeed, there is not only a digital but also services divide between urban and rural areas so a synergy between funds would be welcome. However, different instruments are needed for rural than for urban areas and RUMRA would welcome a Rural Agenda.

3.     Opportunities for Smart Villages in the next legislative proposals

opportuinitiesChristine Kirketerp, EC Officer from DG AGRI presented the opportunities for Smart Villages in the next legislative proposals, starting by underling the important drive for modernisation and simplification visible through the new CAP transversal objective of enhancing knowledge and innovation and in the contents of national CAP plans (digitisation strategy required). This new drive stems from the political will to focus more on citizens’ concerns and involve them in policy-making.

One of the CAP’s nine specific objectives is rural development, made up of 8 broad categories of investments (replacing the current “Measures”). Smart Villages are not one of these categories, but Cooperation is broad enough to include them and enable 100% public funding. Furthermore, most of the tools which can currently be used to finance Smart Villages can still be used in the next programming period, such as LEADER but also CLLD, Integrated Territorial Instruments, Interreg projects, etc. The ENRD estimated that 24 billion € are available for Smart Villages in RDPs between cooperation, LEADER and basic investment measures. A ring-fencing of 5% is set for LEADER in the legislative proposals.

However, the number of Smart Villages strategies has become a result indicator in the new legislative proposals and DG AGRI will be reviewing national CAP plans to see how they intend to achieve this target. Smart Villages were not defined as such in the legislative proposals but DG AGRI agrees with the philosophy that it is a method and not an objective to bring further well-being to rural areas and improve quality of life.

The question of how EU funds can work together still needs to be clarified by DG AGRI. One of the precisions brought during the event concerned simplification of multiple funding for the beneficiaries where only the rules of the lead fund will be applied from now.


conclusionMEP Szanyi concluded by saying that opportunities are equally given at the European level to all communities to embark upon the Smart Villages approach, but at the other managing levels, communities need smart authorities to understand the concept and to be flexible in their funding mechanisms. This was a weakness identified in the new delivery model with national MS plans: how will opportunities continue to be equally given to all European communities when the implementation of measures is in the hands of local and regional authorities? How can the local and regional managing authorities mobilise instruments to support smart villages and create synergies between funds?


Lauren Mosdale (Euromontana)
Lauren Mosdale (Euromontana)

Social agriculture as multiculturalism and symbol of a generative welfare

Social agriculture is defined by the National Forum for Social Farming (FNAS) as an innovative, inclusive, participatory and generative model of agricultural practices that deliver recreational, educational and assistance services. It aims at the social and labor inclusion of disadvantaged people, which through social agricultural practices are able to contribute to food and agricultural production (Di Iacovo, O’ Connor, 2009). According to the recently published Report on Social Agriculture in Italy (Giarè 2018), social agriculture experiences have the characteristics of being a generative welfare, as they aim at developing practices for a transversal development of the territory, supporting growth, skills and professionalism of those people who are at risk of social exclusion. Social agriculture provides the tools for the creation of cohesive, intelligent and competitive communities able to provide meaningful responses to population’s needs and to the productive industry.

«An agricultural entrepreneur, a farm, has to take into account the fact that production will not work without considering the environment, the rights of people … issues that are not necessarily specific to welfare and/or employment policies, but that are a part of the public discourse. Thus, farming today is a comprehensive sector that consider both the environment and the people who live there. This, however, is not possible in a closed enterprise. The social agricultural enterprise must necessarily be open to the community […], which is also part of the multifunctional agriculture and linked to multiculturalism. This means that there are more cultures contributing to the development of a company» (interview n. 5)

In the last few years, a great interest emerged towards a comprehensive understanding of social agricultural practices in Italy, with respect to their functions, potentials, results and diffusion. However, few studies focus on the history of those who have promoted this model in non-suspicious times and how this practice has become established, institutionally e socially.

Among all various contributors, the National Forum for Social Agriculture (FNAS) is certainly the actor, who has mostly favored and promoted the consolidation and recognition of the role of social agriculture in Italy, first on a social and then on an institutional level. For this reason, within the SIMRA project (Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas; ), the FNAS was chosen as case study to be analyzed. The pieces of interviews reported in the text are used to support our reflection and to facilitate the understanding of the characteristics and values of the Forum.

In Italy, interesting social farming experiences have been developed since the early 70s. However, only in the early 2000s the model of social agriculture spread in the rural and remote areas of our country (cit.). In the same years, actors from various sectors (scientific, social, agricultural, cooperative) began to build a network of informal practices and experiences, which then grew to such extent that they founded, in 2011, the National Forum of Social Agriculture.

The founding document of the FNAS is the Charter of principles, which represents a synthesis of the reflections of recent years in social agriculture.  The Forum, for its part, is the “collector” of the experiences of social agriculture in Italy and includes all those realities and practices that employ agriculture for the social and labor inclusion of the categories at risk of exclusion. Farmers, social cooperatives, host communities, parents’ associations, experts, university professors and actors  from the social, health and the third sectors joined the FNAS. Since its foundation, the Forum has promoted the creation of Regional Forums (today active almost all Italian regions) enhancing the participation of the actors involved in social agriculture and emphasizing the link to the territory. The contribution of FNAS was fundamental, in terms of both training and relations with the institutions, in the field of social agriculture and for the new RDPs (Rural Development Plans), at national and regional levels. Among the institutional acknowledgments of the Forum’s work, there is the approval of the National Law on Social Agriculture 141/15 and the consequent establishment of the Observatory of Social Agriculture, where the Forum is present.

“With the Forum, the idea was to create a place, where we could compare basic activities without taking into consideration the subject of representation… and then it connects those realities that actually work in social agriculture. Therefore, the Forum today is how it is: when you see who participates, you realize that they are all representatives of the main sectors working in the field of social agriculture, so there is no a representative structure…the Forum brings the experience … plus, it does not have to do with politics, it does not have to be institutionalized…. The Forum of social agriculture must promote a new model of local activity, economy, solidarity, issues that are enshrined in the Charter of Principles… it does it in different forms and realities and involving different types of actors… It’s a collector, it’s a forum … » (interview n. 3)

The objective was then, as it is now, to create a group of realities that directly reproduces the different experiences of the territory. It should be separated from the classical representation dynamics, where sometimes the formality and the bureaucracy limit the creativity, to develop and promote the full potential of social agriculture instead. For this reason, it was decided, at the time, to structure the Forum as a community of practice, where members collaborate in the activities of the Forum on a voluntary basis, lending their skills and time free. Obviously, in order to favor the sharing of experiences, the relationships within the group are spontaneous and not bound by any hierarchy.

Despite an alternative organizational model, which is very informal and based on voluntary work and a light structure, in the course of its life the Forum has become a privileged interlocutor at various administrative levels and has achieved important objectives. Among these, we must mention the affirmation of social agriculture as a different model of production, which overcomes the contrast between the agricultural interests and the social interests, currently a source of conflict in social agriculture.

Reached the seventh year of activity and being committed to a sector that in in Italy has to be built from new, theoretically and practically, the Forum now is facing new challenges:

«Who will save social farming in Italy? This is the big doubt. How can this social innovation be preserved from the great interests that emerged from the Law 141/2015 and from existing different positions? This is an open question, to which we are not yet able to answer … […] shall we be able to preserve a fluid and relationship-based model, based on a bottom-up approach, or will it simply become a technique or a practice? This is possible in the evolution of things … I always bring the example of organic production, it comes from a deep ideal drive, but today it has become something different.» (Interview n. 8)

Even though it is not possible to predict developments of social agriculture in Italy, the parallelism with which social agriculture and the Forum have evolved in recent years is clear: an almost symbiotic evolution, guided by the same values of sharing, creativity, spontaneity and valorization. These elements are also reflected in the way the Forum is organized. This aspect could explain not only the reason why an alternative organizational model, such as that of the Forum, has managed to reach certain goals, but also help to understand, how such a model can still evolve, generating further innovation.


Bibliographic references

De Wit A., Mensink W., Einarsson T., Bekkers R. (2017) Beyond Service Production: Volunteering for Social Innovation. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 00, 1–20.

Di Iacovo F. and O’Connor D. (2009) Supporting Policies for Social Farming in Europe. Progressing Multifunctionality in Responsive Rural Areas. Agenzia Regionale per lo Sviluppo e l’Innovazione nel settore Agricolo-forestale (ARSIA), Firenze.

Giaré F., Borsotto P., De Vivo C., Gaito M., Pavoncello D., Innamorati A. (2018)  Rapporto sull´agricoltura sociale in Italia. RETE RURALE NAZIONALE, Autorità di gestione Ministero delle politiche agricole alimentari e forestali, FACILE PRINT Roma.

Hendley K., Sturdy A., Fincham R., Clark T. (2006) Within and Beyond Communities of Practice: Making Sense of Learning Through Participation, Identity and Practice. Journal of Management Studies 43, 641-653.

More information at


Martina Lolini (EURAC)
Martina Lolini (EURAC)
Cristina Dalla Torre (EURAC)
Cristina Dalla Torre (EURAC)
Elisa Ravazzoli (EURAC)
Elisa Ravazzoli (EURAC)

Enhancing Innovation in Rural Areas: The Experience from Scotland

On Thursday 7 June 2018, a workshop on how to enhance innovation in Scottish rural areas was organised and hosted by the Scottish Representation to the European Union in Brussels and in which SIMRA partners Euromontana and James Hutton Institute participated. The focus was on examining the Scottish perspective on Rural Innovation and looking forward with the recent launch of the Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) – a Scottish Rural Network initiative. This workshop offered a follow-up to the 11th OECD Rural Development Conference in Edinburgh in April.

Kicking-off the workshop, Catriona Maclean, Head of Rural Economy and Communities, Scottish Government, and Jose Enrique Garcilazo from the OECD reminded the audience of why innovation is important for the economy, especially in rural areas. According to OECD data, rural economies are very productive in the service areas in particular but lack the benefits of scale and are exposed to the variabilties of global trade. Innovation is seen as the key to remain competitive, and the digital transition is an opportunity for rural areas with decentralised production and work spaces. The OECD representative identified knowledge transfer and absorption as a big challenge for rural areas which is why it is focusing on the promotion of SMEs, entrepreneurship, connecting local and global value chains, as well as rural-urban interlinkages. The urban model cannot be duplicated in rural areas without creating dependencies and the OECD is urging policymakers to change their mindset regarding rural areas. Some of their recommendation can be found in the OECD’s Rural Policy 3.0 framework or in the 2018 Edinburgh Policy Statement.

20180607_110847To support innovation in rural areas, the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity (EIP-AGRI) has implemented an interactive innovation approach through the support of local operational groups co-creating and leading practical innovation. The EIP-AGRI has a brokering function as well as a dissemination role. The legislative proposals for the future CAP put an emphasis on innovation as a new cross-cutting objective. In Scotland, the newly created Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS), part of the Scottish Rural Network, embraces this approach completely and acts as a network between different stakeholder groups to help innovation emerge across the rural economy in Scotland in a meaningful way. They work closely with EIP-AGRI as their aim is also to support the creation of operational groups. Amongst its partners, the RISS is working with the Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes (SEFARI) and the research teams in the 5-year Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme. As stressed by David Miller, from the James Hutton Institute, this provides access to relevant expertise to support the rural innovators and guidance with development of their project plans.

Apart from operational groups, other examples of rural innovation in Scotland were highlighted in in very different contexts. The Rural Leadership Programme is a challenging programme led by Scottish Enterprise, aimed at business managers and employees from rural businesses who have a desire to develop their leadership skills and grow their business. One of the leaders trained by this programme, Anna Black, presented her successful project of diversifying a family farm into a destination of excellence for tourists and horse riders (see Lindores Luxury Holiday Accommodation website here). In contrast, Garth Entwistle who participated in the workshop on social innovation held at the James Hutton Institute on 31 May 2018, and earlier, in the kick-off meeting of the H2020 SIMRA project, presented a community initiative and the history of the Udny Community Trust and wind turbine. They are proud of being the first community-owned, operated and financed wind turbine on mainland UK, and showed a return on investment which is ten times greater for the community than private investments would have been.

20180607_115401The SIMRA project, which focuses on Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas, is coordinated by the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland. Maria Nijnik, from the Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences Group of the Institute, the coordinator, was invited to present the project during the event which nicely echoed with the general message of the day. Indeed, SIMRA seeks to bridge the gap between researchers and practitioners by advancing knowledge of rural innovation while supporting emerging innovation on the ground through its Innovation Actions and database of good practices. The database comprises more than 300 entries, with examples in Scotland including community energy, social farming, and rural services).


Lauren Mosdale (Euromontana)
Lauren Mosdale (Euromontana)
María Nijnik (James Hutton Institute and coordinator of SIMRA project)
María Nijnik (James Hutton Institute)
David Miller (James Hutton Institute)
David Miller (James Hutton Institute)

Social innovation in the Balkans: a new SIMRA brochure of examples now available

brochure_balkansSIMRA has just released its third brochure collecting examples of social innovation in marginalised rural areas in the Balkan peninsula.

The focus of the SIMRA project is on the European Union and the Mediterranean area, including the Balkan Peninsula in South-East Europe which includes both countries which are Member States of the EU along with some of those identified in the EU Western Balkans Strategy.

In the context of the 2018 Enlargement package, this third collection of good examples pays particular attention to the societal challenges faced in the Western Balkans countries and the social innovations emerging in their rural areas. Eight out of the ten initiatives in this brochure are located in marginalised rural areas outside the European Union, showcasing examples ranging from healthcare services to rural networking and including tourism development

You can also access the first SIMRA brochures by clicking here and get inspiration for your own territory.

The examples presented in these brochures are extracted from the SIMRA database, available on our project’s website. If you have an example of social innovation in marginalised rural areas to share, don’t hesitate to click here to submit it.


Register now to the RUMRA breakfast on Smart Villages

With the support of SIMRA, Euromontana is co-organising with MEP Franc Bogovič (EPP) a RUMRA breakfast on “How can social innovation help villages become smarter?”.

The Breakfast, organised within the framework of the European Parliament Intergroup on Rural, Mountainous and Remote Areas (RUMRA), will be held at the European Parliament, in Brussels, on 27 June 2018 and will focus on the new concept of “Smart Villages”.

Smart Villages aim to improve the attractiveness and well-being of inhabitants in rural areas and will be one priority of the next Rural Development policy. Social innovation can play a key role in the development of the full potential of rural areas as shown in our H2020 project SIMRA – Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas. By working together and through social innovation, some communities have taken leadership of the provision of key rural services such as health, education, energy, mobility and other social services of key importance in rural, mountainous and remote areas where such services were of poor quality and often in decline.  Smart villages outperform others. How can we capture their success in social innovation in marginalised rural areas and use it as an inspiration for all? How can we best support social innovation and Smart Villages in the future programming period?

Join the discussion, registrations are now open (only 60 seats available)
For more information:


“SIparte”, here we go! The Innovation Action in northern Italy has been launched

The opening

Do you live around Belluno, Alpago or Feltre (in the Province of Belluno, Northern Italy) and have an idea or desire to start an innovative business/entrepreneurial activity?

This invitation brought about 60 local people from all sectors – politicians, students, farmers, architects, volunteers, cooperatives and associations among others-, to the inaugural meeting held in Belluno on May 8th.

Figure 2. Sign-up sheets and brochures of SIMRA and Etifor. Belluno, 8th May 2018. Photo by Kamini Vicentini.
Figure 2. Sign-up sheets and brochures of SIMRA and Etifor. Belluno, 8th May 2018. Photo by Kamini Vicentini.

During the opening meeting of the Innovation Action, the Local Action Group (LAG) Prealpi e Dolomiti, the University of Padova and Etifor, introduced the program by contextualising it within the geographical area of Prealpi and Dolomiti, providing a brief overview of the present situation, its characteristics and trends. The director of the LAG discussed how the topic of youth entrepreneurship was relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically linking the program to SDG n. 8 (decent work and economic growth).

Figure 3. SIparte contributes to SDG 8. Belluno, 8th May 2018. Photo by Kamini Vicentini
Figure 3. SIparte contributes to SDG 8. Belluno, 8th May 2018. Photo by Kamini Vicentini

Prof. Laura Secco then provided an overview of the SIMRA project, highlighting the concepts of human and social capital, social innovation and describing what an innovation action represents within SIMRA. Inspiring examples of social innovation from different parts of the country were later presented by four speakers. They encompassed a variety of sectors, including technology and sustainable tourism (AdaptEv) organic agriculture (Bio2), network of enterprises (Valbelluna Green Net), community cooperatives (I Briganti di Cerreto), and the restoration of abandoned sites through visual arts (Dolomiti Contemporanee). In the concluding talk of the evening, the director of Etifor presented the program of SIparte, including the approach adopted throughout the program and the support that will be given to the winning team of the Rural Hackathon.

The first network meeting

Figure 4. Speed-dating. Sedico, 15th May 2018. Photo by Catie Burlando
Figure 4. Speed-dating. Sedico, 15th May 2018. Photo by Catie Burlando

The IA titled “SIparte – Un percorso di innovazione sociale e imprenditoria giovanile”, refers to an eight-month series of events that will focus on social innovation and youth entrepreneurship. The first of three network meetings was attended by 30 young people who were asked to become actively involved in the proposed activities… and the response was positive! As they stepped into the meeting room, they found themselves speed-dating their “classmates”. Expressions of surprise and awkwardness soon changed into big smiles, given the satisfaction of making interesting and useful new contacts. The second part of the meeting revolved around roundtable discussions on what future scenarios would take place in the area. This activity, developed around smaller round tables, enabled participants to dwell into the economic, political, environmental, social and technological outlook of Valbelluna in 5 years time. This concrete and foreseeable future provided the ground for a final, individual activity of brainstorming of ideas that could help address emerging needs in Valbelluna. The message for the day was: “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers!” (Seth Godin).

The second network meeting

Figure 5. Some of the activities carried out during the second network meeting in Limana, 15th May, 2018. Photos by Catie Burlando

The second network meeting focused on the more specific components of a business model canvas. The activities focused on the first three components of the model: Customers, Value proposition and Communication channels. From the start, participants were asked to analyse the results of the previous meeting (summarised in 4-5 bullet points), and then write a suggestion for a business idea that would help address the problem. They were then asked to choose three, and after a presentation of the ideas, work in groups to identify their target customer and how they would address their needs and reach them.

After a final presentation, everybody participated in a ‘market place’ activity (including the facilitators), to share what they could offer to other businesses and what they were seeking in turn.

It will be four months before we meet again. The LAG will be available during this time to provide more information on the program and share contacts that can be useful to the single teams that will participate in the Rural Hackathon in the fall.

The program has only just begun, but we promise to keep you updated!


Kamini Vicentini (Università di Padova)
Kamini Vicentini (Università di Padova)
Catie Burlando (ETIFOR)
Catie Burlando (ETIFOR)

Workshop: Social Innovation in rural areas in Scotland

31 May, 9.30am to 4pm
at James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen, AB15 8QH
for anyone interested in Scotland’s rural areas

In fields as diverse as community land ownership, social care, social housing provision, cultural services and environmental projects, social innovation is driving place-based rural development. In the context of the SIMRA research project, the James Hutton Institute is researching how social innovation arises, what drives its success and how it can address challenges in marginal rural areas. Come, discuss and network with a community of practitioners working on social innovation.


9:30 Welcome tea and coffee

10:00 Introduction by Graeme Beale, Scottish Government

10:15 Introduction to the activities of the day

10:30 Action to support community capacity for social innovation in rural Scotland, Rodger Goodyear (Portsoy Community Enterprise) and Bill Slee (Rural Development Company)

10:50 Social Innovation in Forestry: Scottish experiences with communities and small businesses, Tom Cooper (Glengarry Community Woodlands) and Bianca Ambrose-Oji (Forestry Commission)

11:10 Social Innovation and Community Energy in Scotland, Garth Entwistle (Udny Community Trust Co Ltd) and Richard Hewitt (James Hutton Institute)

11:45 Tea and coffee

12:00 Focus groups organised around three activities:

Table 1: Enablers and barriers for community-driven innovations
Table 2: Facilitating community projects: actors, linkages and scales
Table 3: How can we help you? Research priorities for social innovation in rural areas
12:45 Lunch

13:45 Focus groups continue (tea and coffee)

15:45 Concluding remarks and farewell

16:00 End of the day

To attend, please register for this workshop by emailing by the 25th of May.


Social innovation as a driver for rural innovation – highlights from the OECD conference

The 11th OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Rural Development Conference was held in Edinburgh on 9-12 April 2018. Prior to the main conference, a series of interactive sessions, led by the European Network for Rural Development, showcased projects and approaches already launched by rural communities to face 21st century challenges and opportunities.

Although the conference did not focus on social innovation, but rather on technological innovation and entrepreneurship, the concept was central to explaining community-led rural innovation emerged and how deficient rural policies can sometimes be locally supplemented by rural stakeholders. Indeed, it was surprising in how many sessions social innovation was referred to and the conference also showcased EU or national policy initiatives supporting and enhancing social innovation in rural areas such as the Smart Villages initiatives, the Inner Areas Strategy in Italy, or the network of Broadband Competence Offices.

One prominently used example of social innovation was the Isle of Eigg community. Eigg had a population of more than 500 during the early 1800s but, like other island communities, it steadily fell as landowners increasingly turned over crofts for sheep farming. However, this Scottish community is celebrating this year after the population surpassed 100 for the first time in at least half a century. Indeed, in 1997, the islanders took it upon themselves to develop their community and bought out their island for 1.5 million pounds, after creditors put Eigg up for auction, when their last laird[1] fell into bankruptcy. The Isle of Eigg is the first community-owned estate in Scotland’s history. The island since then has developed a renewable energy grid for the island, a microbrewery, a music label and festival, and various other ventures including tourism activities. For instance, Eigg Electric is a community owned, managed and maintained company which provides electricity for all island residents from the renewable sources of water, sun, and wind.  Since Eigg’s purchase by the community, many other Scottish estates have passed into community ownership Since 2003 legislation has supported this trend which has enabled 70% of the land area on the Western Isles Council area to pass into community ownership and many other estates to be transferred to their communities.

  👉Read the long story here: (The Guardian, 26 September 2017)

bill_oecdBill Slee, a SIMRA partner, moderated a session on ‘Social Innovation and Community-Led Initiatives’ which give him the opportunity to introduce the SIMRA definition of social innovation.

  👉Read Bill’s introductory context paper here

Speakers at this session included Hanna Leena Pesonen, a Finnish LAG leader whose LAG covers twice the size of Belgium; Phil Barnes from a Canadian fisheries cooperative off the Eastern Canadian shores staring right at the Iceberg Highway; Alessandra de Renzis from the Tuscany regional government to explain how the Inner Areas Strategy is implemented in her region, and finally Jane Atterton, a researcher from Scotland’s Rural College. Although the backgrounds and professional horizons of all speakers were very different, they all mentioned how community empowerment through an enabling policy framework is crucial to support social innovation and not subvert it administratively even further when the lack of confidence, critical mass or skills match can already make social innovation in the community a major challenge.

While  many discussions during the conference circled back to the need for more flexible policies, a place-based approach and more partnerships among public, private, not-for-profit and education organisations, the Edinburgh policy statement issued at the end of the conference included a call for the promotion of “societal approaches based on social innovation with a proactive role for local communities contributing to climate change adaption and mitigation while ensuring sustainability in rural areas”, in order to build robust policies.

Now that the deluge of information and good practices which tumbled down on the participants of the OECD conference are being processed, some new questions rise up again for SIMRA partners to chew on: are we certain we all have a common definition of what social innovation is, or even broad agreement?  To what extent does the ability of civil society agency to make a positive impact through social innovation depend on the institutional architecture and the regulatory and governance structures? What are the contributory factors to wellbeing as a performance metric? How can we overcome the fact there is not a level playing field geographically of human and social capital skills to initiate social innovation? How can we take into account the complexities and realities of a highly variegated map of socio-economic performance and recognise the extent of market and public-sector retreat from deeply rural and remote areas, when the emphasis of bodies like the OECD is so much on productivity enhancement and export-led growth?


[1] A laird is the owner of a large, long-established Scottish estate. In the Scottish order of precedence, a laird ranks below a baron and above a gentleman.


Bill Slee (The Rural Development Company Limited)
Bill Slee (The Rural Development Company Limited)
Lauren Mosdale (Euromontana)
Lauren Mosdale (Euromontana)