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SIMRA Report Summary

Project ID: 677622
Funded under: H2020-EU.3.2.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SIMRA (Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas)

Reporting period: 2016-04-01 to 2017-09-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

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 demand urgent solutions. Social innovation is recognised as a response to societal challenges that are traditionally not well addressed by markets or existing public institutions. Thus, SIMRA addresses the reconfiguration of social practices through the engagement of civil society actors to address social, economic and environmental challenges faced by communities in marginalised rural areas.

Although scholars have developed approaches for defining and measuring characteristics of social innovation processes, there is a knowledge gap in linking social innovations with desired outcomes and impact, especially in marginalised rural areas. When markets are fragile and public sector budgets constrained, civil society agency may be needed to drive social innovation to support the development of these areas. It is essential to consider local conditions and intermediating factors. Exactly how social innovation can contribute to addressing the development challenges of marginal rural areas is unknown, but exploring the scope for smarter policy instruments, better targeted incentives supporting new institutions to act as catalysts for enhanced territorial governance is important for society. SIMRA is advancing knowledge of social innovation through active collaboration with stakeholders and supporting institutional capacity building of communities and development of social capital required for delivering successful social innovations.

The overall objectives of SIMRA are 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. These are being achieved by identifying and testing mechanisms to meet societal challenges, particularly in marginalised rural areas across Europe with a focus on the Mediterranean region (including non-EU), where there is limited evidence of outcomes and supporting conditions.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

Work in the first 18 months of the project:

• An international stakeholder science, policy and practice Social Innovation Think Tank (supported by a newly developed database of stakeholder groups) was established and will be consolidated during the project. A digital platform for on-line consultations is under development, facilitating the co-construction of knowledge and co-learning, including within the consortium science and stakeholder labs;

• A working definition of social innovation was 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, accessible at );

• A trans-disciplinary understanding and categorisation of social innovations which encompasses the specificities of social priorities, relationships and collaborations have been developed (D2.2; ) to explore why regions with similar conditions display diverging paths and to 'turn diversity into strength’.

• A theoretical framework was refined, advancing the knowledge of the complexity of social innovations and its dimensions, and of its impact on unfolding territorial capital (D2.2; );

• Marginalised rural areas of Europe and the entire Mediterranean area were considered, and their specific characteristics identified, categorized/characterized and mapped (D3.1; );

• A database of examples of social innovation created and published online ( ) leading to initial selection of social innovation case studies and processes for in-depth investigation;

• Guidelines for identification and analysis of existing methods to assess social innovations and their impacts on economic, social, environmental, institutional and policy dimensions of territorial capital were elaborated (D4.1; ). A preliminary set of methods was identified for assessing social innovation implications at different levels, to be tested in pioneer case studies and policy processes (D4.2; );

• New or improved knowledge was synthesised and disseminated about social innovation, political/institutional framework conditions, policies and instruments and novel governance mechanisms to promote social capital and institutional capacity building, and to inform effective options or solutions for shaping trajectories of sustainable development.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The primary needs that social innovation strives to deliver concern people’s quality of life and well-being. These issues are at the core of SIMRA through advancing scientific evidence of theory, evaluation and implementation of social innovation in marginalised rural areas (e.g. human and social capital increase in marginalised rural areas; new ideas are channelled through SIMRA and local resources mobilised). This will bridge gaps in research-policy-practice relating to social innovation in agriculture, forestry and rural development and underpin guidance for stakeholders in social innovation, with a particular focus on the Mediterranean area.

To date, progress beyond the state of the art largely relates to the context-specific knowledge of social innovation (see scientific publications on, including conceptualization of social innovation (D2.1 and D2.2; ); marginalised rural areas identified and mapped (D3.1; ); drafting the methods to assess social innovation implications, to be tested in pioneer case studies (D4.2; ). Advances in state-of-the-art knowledge have been on procedures and approaches to analyse and assess social innovations through stakeholder engagement and collaborative learning processes, and a framework for designing policies, governance and implementation of social innovations on the ground.

SIMRA has built its methods, and hereafter its results, by adopting a process of broad stakeholder engagement, thus developing capabilities for the adoption and increased awareness of rural populations and entrepreneurs to the potential of social innovations and their impacts. The innovative methods and beyond the state of the art conceptual frameworks developed in SIMRA will be tested in case studies and through innovation actions. For the first time, in a systematic way, empirical evidence of driving factors, processes, outcomes and impacts of social innovations will be collected and evaluated. A new knowledge database and good practice guidelines are being generated, to be made widely accessible with collaborative learning and networking opportunities created, shared and advanced, especially across case studies and with local resources mobilised through innovation actions, launched at different/multiple scales. Continuous interactions amongst researchers, ‘knowledge brokers’ and stakeholders are integral to all of these outputs and activities to foster and mainstream social innovation and leave a durable project legacy.

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