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Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SIMRA (Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas)

Reporting period: 2019-04-01 to 2020-03-31

In marginalised rural areas, common difficulties such as weak regional economies, transport, infrastructure, housing and ageing populations, intersect with global issues, such as climate change, sustainability, and energy and food security. These challenges require urgent solutions. Social innovation is recognised as a response to societal challenges that are traditionally not well addressed by markets or existing public institutions.

When markets are fragile and public sector budgets constrained, civil society agency may be needed to drive social innovation to support the development. Although scholars have developed approaches for defining and measuring characteristics of social innovation processes, there has been a knowledge gap in linking social innovations with desired outcomes and impact, especially in marginalised rural areas. It was essential to consider local conditions and intermediating factors.

SIMRA sought to understand how social innovation contributes to addressing development challenges. Its remit was to identify and test mechanisms to meet societal challenges, particularly in marginalised rural areas across Europe, with a focus on the Mediterranean region (including non-EU), where there had been limited evidence of outcomes and supporting conditions.

The overall objectives were to advance understanding of social innovation and innovative governance in agriculture, forestry and rural development, and how to boost them to enhance societal well-being. The research programme was designed to advance knowledge of social innovation through active collaboration with stakeholders, and to support institutional capacity building of communities and the development of social capital required for delivering successful social innovations.
Work through the 48 months of the project:

• An international stakeholder science, policy and practice Social Innovation Think Tank established, and a structured approach to ensure multi-level, multi-actor/trans-disciplinary engagement of stakeholders in analysing and operationalising social innovation (Kluvankova et al., 2018);
• A definition of social innovation developed: “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” (D2.1;
• Evidence provided of the role of social innovation in opening up territorial capital (Nijnik et al., 2019; Sarkki et al., 2019);
• Characteristics of marginalised rural areas of Europe and the Mediterranean area were categorized and mapped (D3.1) considering physical and socio-economic factors, and a database created of examples of social innovation (;
• A manual produced for the Assessment of Social Innovation in Marginalized Rural Areas (D4.3) with a description of tools for qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis, and fiches of set of indicators;
• An explanation given of why regions with similar initial conditions for social innovation display diverging paths (D2.3);
• Understanding barriers and success factors in social innovations obtained through analysis of 24 Case studies (D5.2 D5.4) and 7 Innovation Actions (D7.4) accessible at , which is improving the operationalisation of social innovations in different contexts and across scales;
• Dissemination through 21 journal papers published to March 2020, and a final congress and training event for policy and practice (Brussels, February 2020);
• A programme of running local workshops for co-learning of lessons regarding social innovation on the ground across Europe and the Mediterranean area;
• Face-to-face training course on social innovation in rural areas (Zaragoza, Spain, November 2019), run for practitioners, policy and researchers, and a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) ( reported in D7.5 (;
• Guides produced on Social Innovation for Policy Target Groups (D6.3); and Practice Target Groups (D6.4) validated with stakeholders and used in the training courses (D7.5).
• Political Framework Conditions, Policies and Instruments for Social Innovations in Rural Areas identified (D6.1) and key Policy Implications for Social Innovation in Marginalized Rural Areas explained (D6.2).
Advances in state-of-the-art knowledge were made in and through operationalising a transdisciplinary, multi-level multi-actor approach of continuous interactions amongst researchers, ‘knowledge brokers’ and stakeholders across Europe and the Mediterranean area. New theoretical and context-specific knowledge of social innovation was created, including conceptualization of social innovation (e.g. D2.1 D2.2;; compilation and categorization of examples of social innovation in marginalised rural areas (D3.1 D3.2 D3.3); the pathways of evolution of social innovation in different contexts (D2.3); an inventory of tools to assess implications of social innovation (D4.2); and insights to the roles of policies in supporting, or supported by social innovation in rural settings (D6.1 D6.2). The knowledge, methods and local experience of social innovation are reported in a set of 21 published journal papers.

Enhanced understanding enabled, for the first time, a systematic collection of empirical evidence of driving factors, processes, outcomes and impacts of social innovations, and production of a unique manual for its evaluation (D4.3) (in 24 case studies) and analysis (D5.4). Findings identify the types of triggers and reconfigurations of governance by civic society or socially motivated responses to failures of markets and State in delivering services that support local societal quality of life and wellbeing. These findings were used in face-to-face (35 participants) and e-learning training (516 active learners) to enhance the capabilities of stakeholders in practice, research and policy.

New capabilities have been developed in partner organisations and amongst local actors in the evaluation of social innovation and assessment of its impacts in rural areas, and shared with policy teams (e.g. EU DG Agri). Examples of social innovation in rural areas has been complied, with a version online, with dissemination supported by 5 booklets of examples of social innovation.

The operationalisation of social innovation through the 7 Innovation Actions has enhanced human capital in rural communities, creating new processes (e.g. in the VALAB, Guadeloupe, in collaboration with the EIP Agri Operational Group) and income streams (e.g. an online portal, ISHOPRURAL, for marketing local produce by women in a community in Lebanon).

The transdisciplinary approach to co-learning has led to guides targeting policy audiences, with 9 key recommendations for EU and national levels policy (D6.3) and practice with a 7 step guide and checklist for self-evaluation of social innovations (D6.4). All outputs are available at:
Forest management and products: fire volunteers and biomass cooperative, ERENBOSC, Catalonia, Spain
Craft classes at Lochcarron Community Development Company, UK
Women based cooperative, Local Authorities, Municipality of Deir Al Ahmar, Lebanon