SIMRA’s overarching objective is to fill the significant knowledge gap in understanding and enhancing social innovation in marginalised rural areas by advancing the state-of-the-art in social innovation and connected governance mechanisms in agriculture and forestry sectors and in rural development in general. This objective will be achieved by blending diverse theoretical positions into a coherent explanation of spatial variability of social innovation, encompassing its empirical diversity (complexities and various dimensions), co-constructing a novel evaluative toolkit, and developing improved knowledge of determinants of success in order to answer the question of how to support enhanced governance and social innovations, addressing specificities and priorities of social needs and new social relationships and collaborations, especially in marginalised rural areas across the EU, Associated States and other countries, with a particular focus on the Mediterranean region, including non-EU Mediterranean countries. In this territorial context, the specific objectives of SIMRA include:
1) A systematic theoretical framework and a systematic operational framework developed for categorising, understanding, and operationalising social innovation in different settings and across scales.
These frameworks will be designed in an integrated manner to: i) identify the actual and potential role of social innovation in unfolding the territorial capital; ii) offer a structured method to ensure a multi-level, multi-actor/trans-disciplinary engagement of stakeholders in analysing and operationalising social innovation; iii) explain why regions with similar initial conditions for social innovation display diverging paths; iv) understand barriers, success factors and lessons learned in social innovation, in different contexts and across scales. The frameworks will rely on and combine novel systematic ways, existing data, tools/ approaches with beyond-the-state-of-art science to arrive at operational methods for end-users to address social innovation policy and practical questions.
2) A categorisation/classification (‘catalogue of diversity’) of the social innovations observable in rural areas considering the varying specificities in terms of social needs, priorities and social relationships/collaboration types etc.
This categorisation will structure social innovation case-study selection (objective 4) and shape research serving as an instrument to explore reasons for regions with similar conditions displaying diverging paths and ‘turn diversity into strength’.
3) An integrated set of methods developed for the evaluation of social innovation and its impacts in rural areas across the target region.
Criteria, methods, tools and/or their integration will be innovative, while complementing the existing European frameworks, e.g. the Common Monitoring and Evaluation Framework (CMEF). The set of methods will include consideration of the economic, sociological, environmental/natural capital, governance and institutional components of territorial capital and will be used for collecting empirical evidence in selected case studies (objective 4).
4) A co-constructed evaluation will be carried out (by academic and practice community) of success factors for social innovations across selected case studies (CSs),
Covering spatial variation and heterogeneity of regions (e.g. in terms of natural conditions, socio-economic development, social capital, governance and institutional settings). The evaluation, based on methods (objective 3) will include thorough consideration of the components of territorial capital to foster and mainstream rural development.
5) New/improved knowledge of social innovations and novel governance mechanisms coming from the analysis (primarily CSs),
Synthesised and disseminated to policy makers and end-users to inform about more effective social innovation options in challenged regions, clarifying/promoting the role of social innovation in developing more sustainable agro-food and forestry systems, shaping SD trajectories, improving territorial capital and regional governance and paving the way for a more integrated approach to rural development. In particular, a new knowledge database on social innovation and good practice guidelines (and collaborative learning) and reports, scientific papers, promotional materials will be generated and made accessible.
6) Collaborative learning and networking opportunities created and innovative actions (IAs) launched by integrating,
Consulting and engaging stakeholders (including policy makers and practice communities involved in agriculture/ agro-food and forestry sectors and rural development) at different and multiple scales (from regional to national and local, e.g. CSs) throughout the project, with continuous interactions among researchers, ‘knowledge brokers’ and stakeholders to foster and mainstream social innovation and leaving a durable legacy.