Posted by Carla Barlagne on Wednesday May 19, 2021
By Carla Barlagne and Richard J. Hewitt
Social innovation is a phenomenon that manifests itself in new relationships and social collaborations. It seeks to promote the development and adoption of new services and new fields of activity, such as social entrepreneurship and social enterprises that improve the quality of life of people and communities, especially in rural areas. However, the evidence base for the sustainable development impacts of rural communities remains weak.
These themes are at the heart of Social Innovation in the recently completed Social innovation in marginalized rural areas (SIMRA), a € 5.9 million research initiative supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program, led by a team from the James Hutton Institute.
SIMRA researchers recently coordinated a special issue of the journal Sustainability focused on the impacts of SI in rural communities. The editors of the special issue, Professor Laura Secco, Dr. Elisa Ravazzoli, Dr. Elena Górriz Mifsud and Dr. Elena Pisani, all members of the SIMRA team, observed that:
“Despite [the] positive premises [of social innovation as a means of] responding to specific social needs or broader societal challenges, very little is known about what works best or how social innovations impact and shape the sustainable development of rural areas around the world. “
Rural areas are of particular interest due to the growing recognition of the main challenges these areas face. Rural areas have been increasingly left behind by the market-driven policies of recent decades, resulting in poor public services, depopulation, aging populations, and a decline in the quality of life for residents of rural areas. rural zones. Social Innovation could be expected to provide an answer to these challenges, but if so, what kinds of impacts would be expected and on what scale of governance would they be most clearly felt?
In Scotland, our team of scientists from the James Hutton Institute, the European Forest Institute and the University of Padova set out to find out. We carried out an in-depth analysis of the impacts of one particular social innovation initiative, at Lochcarron, in Wester Ross, the Scottish Highlands. The initiative we studied focused on a new community body, Lochcarron Community Development Company, which was established to manage the acquisition of a local forest (Kirkton Forest) on behalf of the community, with the specific goal of generating positive outcomes and well-being. for community members by increasing the value of forest amenities. As one community member noted:
‘The community agreed that they wanted to buy the forest and that if a private landowner or speculator had bought it, then the community would not have a stake in it and it would not benefit the community. Them [the community] I didn’t want another Sitka Spruce green space in place of the amenities we are developing ‘(LAG005)’.
The results of our case study work were published last month in the special issue, under the title “What are the impacts of social innovation? Perspectives from a case study of community forestry in the Scottish Highlands”.
In the document, we explain the types of impacts that social innovation produces and discuss whether the impacts of community forestry, as a special case of SI, can foster the empowerment of rural communities and increase their well-being.
The study provided valuable information on the type of impacts that would be expected from social innovation initiatives of this type. The key to the initiative’s success was the reconfiguration process that led to the acquisition and subsequent community management of the Kirkton forest. By managing the forest themselves, the community was able to address a wide range of different goals, with benefits for human health and well-being, ecosystem services, such as the provision of new products and services to the community.
Those services include firewood and lumber for local households and a recreational area for children and the community at large. Positive impacts continue with new initiatives, such as the creation of a heritage trail within the forest and a scoping study for affordable housing on some of the forest parcels. Together, these benefits provide evidence of increased local social capital, generating strategic, operational, and instrumental impacts of social innovation.
The initiative also led to the revitalization of a rural area and the empowerment of the local community. Within the governance structures of the SI initiative, community members now discuss project ideas, identify grant opportunities, and apply for funding.
The community at large is involved in decision-making processes regarding the future use of the forest through community consultation processes. Since acquiring the forest, the community has established new connections with a broader network of organizations involved in forest management and community development. They hire experts and specialized knowledge to address technical issues where relevant human capital is lacking within the community.
Beyond the specific case of Lochcarron, the study was able to identify some broader policy recommendations to help legislators support these types of initiatives more broadly. Recommendations include providing financial support for individual community innovators and helping to develop capacities and partnerships to sustain social innovation initiatives in the medium and long term.
Many rural communities around the world face accelerating processes of marginalization as scarce resources are diverted to larger population centers. The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. While only part of the answer to unmet social needs, the Lochcarron example studied by Carla Barlagne and her colleagues sheds useful light on what a community-based COVID-19 recovery strategy might look like in underserved rural areas. and what could be its benefits.
Finally, while the study shows the importance of community empowerment, community resources are limited and social innovation should not be seen as a “magic recipe” that allows those in power to evade their responsibilities to rural communities socially. disadvantaged. While social innovation provides an optimistic outlook on what can be achieved, it also sheds light on past political failures and, in particular, the limitations of market-driven and ‘small government’ approaches to achieving equitable outcomes for rural communities in marginalized areas.
For more information:
See more of Vicky’s creations and order them online.
When we’re allowed again, book your next crafty workshop at Kiki’s Craft Corner.
Enjoy delicious local and traditional food on the community property Ceàrdach coffee.
Finally book the Tree House or get more information about the activities led by Lochcarron Community Development Company.
Acknowledgments: Mariana Melnykovych, David Miller, Laura Secco, Elena Pisani and Maria Nijnik.