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Alpine Community Economies Lab: Bringing together multi-level stakeholders to co-produce sustainable alpine futures in the light of economic globalisation and climate change

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ACElab (Alpine Community Economies Lab: Bringing together multi-level stakeholders to co-produce sustainable alpine futures in the light of economic globalisation and climate change)

Reporting period: 2019-04-01 to 2021-03-31

The research project Alpine Community Economies Lab (ACElab) addressed the question of how to inventively support participatory processes of sustainable socio-economic development in the Alps in times of climate and biodiversity crisis. The Alps are Europe’s second largest biodiversity reservoir, home to 14 million people and part of a macroregion comprising 80 million people. Currently, economic globalization, the high vulnerability to climate change and pressure on biodiversity pose significant challenges to the Alps and all its inhabitants. To safeguard the Alps as a space in which humans can thrive in synergy and interdependence with nature, it is crucial that local inhabitants are empowered to act and work in synergy with multiple political and research-based stakeholders in defining sustainable modes of livelihood provisioning.

ACElab has worked on three main objectives:
- the setting up of a site-specific and street-level research lab based in the Vallagarina valley (Italian Alps) that brings together civic and institutional actors;
- the development of a gender-sensitive open-access toolkit that can support communities in generating visionary collective actions for sustainable regional development;
- the evaluation of the effectiveness of the lab and the toolkit in generating policy proposals and instances of co-produced regional development that acknowledge social and environmental interdependencies.

To deal in empowering ways with the environmental and social challenges of our times, inventive and participatory methods can be key to get local communities on board a larger movement that works on the transition to ecologically and socially just modes of sustaining livelihoods. In the socio-economic transitions ahead, it is important that citizens have a strong voice, are able to interact with policy makers and have access to the latest break-throughs in science, when they develop their own sustainability initiatives. Moreover, it is important that power disparities, such as those related to gender inequality, are being addressed in order for local development initiatives to be beneficial for the widest range of actors possible.
Main scientific achievements:
• established the Alpine Community Economies Lab as an internationally recognized and networked community-based research space that continues beyond the Fellowship;
• developed and published in open-access a series of inventive participatory methods to catalyse community economies initiatives;

Main innovation outputs:
• activation of four theory-practice relays that continue beyond the Fellowship, each offering innovative products and services based on community economies’ principles;

Contribution to state of the art:
• strategies and tactics for eco-social design and sustainable regional development extrapolated from theory-practice relays;
• elaboration of rural commons concept in relation to community economies scholarship.

OUTLINE OF MAIN RESEARCH ACTIVITIES

Theory-practice relays
I co-initiated, supported and analysed community economies initiatives in my case study area, namely:

a) La Foresta – community academy, a space for community-led investigations into issues of commons and ecological citizenship located at the train station of Rovereto;
b) Comunità Frizzante [it. Sparkling Community], an award-winning 1:1 scale community economies experiment via the participatory production of fizzy drinks;
c) Forno Vagabondo [Roving Oven], a pizza oven on a cargo bike touring the villages of the Vallagarina valley to engage people in explorations of practical and political issues of food sovereignty;
d) Sottobosco [Underwood], an experiment in post-humanist educational practices on a mountain farm for families.

Futuring workshops
I designed and facilitated 14 participatory futuring workshops in which I invited over 80 local actors to imagine the valley in 2060 as a territory that knew how to engage the environmental crises and which became a model territory for sustainable and solidary modes of life. The workshop participants also included researchers from my host institution (such as climatologists, regional development scholars, experts on renewable energy), local politicians and employees of the local administration.

Street-level research space
I have experimented with running a street-level research space in my case study area.

Secondment
In 2019, I have spent one month at the Habitat Unit of the Technical University of Berlin to define the seed module of the community-based research lab and to outline a first structure for the participatory futuring workshops.

Symposia and festival
In 2019, I organised an international symposium that brought together local actors engaged in eco-social transformation, international eco-social design practitioners and an international cohort of community economies theorists to elaborate preliminary concepts and methods to feed into the toolkit.
In 2021, I organised a one-day international symposium (in hybrid format) as part of the 9 day-long Rural Commons Festival, which I co-organised with other local actors (https://www.ruralcommonsfestival.com/).

Publication and dissemination
Throughout the whole research process, I have disseminated work related to ACElab in multiple academic and non-academic formats, which are documented on the dedicated project website www.alpinecommunityeconomies.org. The workshops resulted in three dedicated publications with the publishing house Agents of Alternatives e.V.. The findings related to the theory-practice relays I intensively engaged in have been published as book chapters in Italian and German. I have published theoretical reflections on how eco-social design practice can support the transition to more ecologically and socially just economies as chapters in edited publications dedicated specifically to a design audience.
ACElab has gone beyond the state of the art in multiple disciplines, foremost eco-social design practice, design research, regional development and community economies scholarship. It has done so by developing participatory futuring methods that are effective in supporting and creating community economies that are innovative and situated. Moreover, ACElab has developed theory-practice relays that have resulted in dynamic and innovative community economies initiatives, which allowed to substantially further community economies scholarship and eco-social design practice, while experimenting with social innovation processes. These initiatives include La Foresta – a community academy, Sottobosco – a forest kindergarten, Forno Vagabondo – a roving bread oven and Comunità Frizzante – a participatory drinks company. Throughout these initiatives ACElab reflected on how the protocols of the Alpine Convention can be brought closer to civic society and connected to transformative civic initiatives. The social relevance of the issues addressed, the concepts mobilized and the methods developed have been widely recognized, for instance by my election as a co-president of CIPRA International, a pan-alpine NGO dedicated since 1952 to the protection and sustainable development of the Alps, but also for instance through the award of the Lush Spring Prize 2021 for the work of Comunità Frizzante.
Alpine Community Economies Lab: illustration of workshop outcomes