Exploring the diversity of social innovation in rural areas

FEBRUARY 2019 Highlights

After a few months of intense work on other topics, February brought me an opportunity to reconnect with social innovation and SIMRA. The project SIMRA is a large H2020 project in which I have been working since I started at the CMS. I had a very intense year focused on SIMRA in 2016/2017, and with most of our work done, the last few months had been more relaxed. However, the approach of the new reporting period and a couple of Conferences reactivated it at the top of my to-do list.

SIMRA, which stands for ‘Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas“,  aims to advance the understanding of social innovation in agriculture, forestry and rural development in marginalised rural areas across Europe and around the Mediterranean. It is a massive project -26 institutional partners with probably more than 60 researchers involved – covering from the theoretical understanding of social innovation in rural areas to boosting innovation actions on the ground. The part of work in which I am very much involved looks into getting a sense of the landscape of social innovation in rural areas in Europe and the Mediterranean and analysing its diversity. For this, the team at the CMS has been involved in developing a database of examples of social innovation in marginalised rural areas that serves the purposes of showcasing social innovation through the subset included at the online database and providing empirical data to support analysis developed within the project. Those analyses are part of what got me busy during February.

Almost three years into the project, it is about time to start presenting analytical results. A fantastic way to do it is giving presentations at scientific conferences. This is something I find the most inspiring. I like presenting, which allows me to re-analysis my findings and get valuable feedback from peers. I like organising sessions too, which is something that brings me the opportunity to get a sense of what are the hot topics in the field at the moment, in which direction is people working, etc.

I have two major conferences in line for this year in which there will be discussions about SIMRA and social innovation.

The first of them is the XXVIIIth European Society for Rural Sociology (ESRS) Conference to be held in Trondheim (Norway) in June. On behalf of SIMRA and in collaboration with a colleague from Poland who is working in other projects on social farming, I am convening a WG on social innovation and social farming as drivers of transformations and changes in rural areas. As the call for abstracts ended the 31st of January, there was quite some time invested during February in reading all the proposed abstracts and organise the WG. I must say that the quality of the proposals was very high and we are expecting interesting discussions in Trondheim!

The other event in my calendar is the International Social Innovation Research Conference (ISIRC) 2019, which will be held in Glasgow (Scotland) in September. While the ESRS Conference is focused on rural issues, this one is focused on social innovation, opening the discussion to many different fields and scales. I have already attended the ISIRC twice, in 2016 and 2018, and both times it was a very inspiring experience. You can read my views on those conferences at the posts that in the SIMRA blog on both occasions here and here. During February and for the 2019 Conference, a SIMRA colleague form EURAC, Elisa Ravazzoli, and I have proposed a panel on social innovation in territories with geographical specificities. Focusing the discussion on how geography and territorial specificities shape social innovation, we will have a SIMRA panel with several presentations from the project.

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Apart from organising those sessions, I will be presenting as well part of my work in both conferences, so there was obviously a bit of work put in preparing those abstracts. And of course, for being able to deliver the proposed presentations, that means finishing some analysis and work in the actual papers. So there was a share of delving into social innovation data in February as well.

In concrete, I have been reviewing the whole dataset of analytical examples –examples on which the project has enough information to label them as social innovation according to the criteria established in the definition of social innovation that the project adopted- analysing its diversity from diverse perspectives:

  • The diversity of reconfiguration of social practices, looking into the types of changes produced/sought and the type of social participation targeted in the project. My presentation in ISIRC last year included already preliminary results of this analysis that nowadays we are trying to get more robust. Writing a journal article is the next step. This is a goal for the late spring – summer.
  • The diversity of disciplinary inputs in the social innovations addressing depopulation in which I am currently working on for an article with a Spanish colleague. Hopefully, I will be able to tell more about this in the upcoming months when /if the article is accepted and published…
  • The diverging paths of social innovation in rural areas, looking into the factors of divergence that another team of the project is developing. We collaborate in this part applying the categorisation developed by the Slovakian team to the whole dataset of analytical examples and look for patterns and deviations. A first categorisation was already included in an article published last year in Forest Policy and Economics:

Kluvánková, T., Brnkaľáková, S., Špaček, M., Slee, B., Nijnik, M., Valero, D., Miller, D., Bryce, R., Kozová, M., Polman, N., Szabo, T. y Gežík, V. (2018). “Understanding social innovation for the well-being of forest-dependent communities: A preliminary theoretical framework”. Forest Policy and Economics, 97: 163-174. DOI: 10.1016/j.forpol.2018.09.016

If you are interested in knowing more about SIMRA, have a look at the project website www.simra-h2020.eu  and its very active social media.

I have the feeling that SIMRA will probably star again this monthly highlights very soon…

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