4.1. Social Innovation Study Sites
The areas in which the seven SIAs were initiated are located in France (overseas region), Lebanon, Italy, Norway, Spain, and United Kingdom (Figure 3
). These different European and Mediterranean areas were chosen to include social innovation processes in a variety of fields (forestry, agricultural, and rural development sectors) and contextual conditions [42
]. Common variables across cases were: (i) being a rural or intermediate rural area (using the conceptualization of Price et al. [43
]), (ii) presence of one (or more) marginalization indicators, and (iii) whether the initiative could be considered a social innovation according to Polman et al. [15
]. Appendix A
provides more information on the check-list used. The marginality was assessed using a three-fold perspective [43
presence of physical constraints (e.g., islands, mountains);
limited access to infrastructure (poor roads or internet networks, etc.);
social marginality (low incomes, high risk of poverty, high proportion of early leavers from education, high distance from decision-making centers, etc.).
In the following, we present a brief description of the context of each area. Having a clearly defined context was crucial, as it represents the conditions that enable or constrain the social innovation, amplifying and echoing communities’ needs and triggering factors [21
Gúdar-Javalambre County, Spain (ES1): The southernmost county of Aragon is considered one of the hotspots of biodiversity in the Mediterranean [44
] but is simultaneously one of the most depopulated areas in Spain. With 8328 inhabitants and a density of 3.5 inhabitants/km2
, it belongs to the so-called “triangle of desert”. Its landscape covers a mosaic of pine and evergreen oak forests, agroforestry, cereal crops, and pastures. Yet, mountain agriculture in this area is harsh due to climate (irregular precipitations) and accessibility (steep terrains). The farm economy concentrates around black truffle production and trade, given its predominantly calcareous soil, hence leaving other productions as secondary and less interesting for landowners. The area is a typical location for second homes and rural tourism, mainly from the nearby region of Valencia.
Solsonès County, Spain (ES2): The Solsonès county (Lleida, Spain) is located in central Catalonia and has two well differentiated parts—the north, covered by high mountains, and the south, with flatlands devoted to agriculture, mainly dryland crops. The county has a population of 13,392 inhabitants (2018), out of which over 9000 live in Solsona, the capital. The county population density is 2.3 inhabitants/km2. The Solsonès has a Mediterranean–continental climate, with very hot summers and cold winters. Most of the county is covered by oak forests and pine forests.
Gudbrandsdalen, Norway (NO): Gudbrandsdalen makes up half of the county of Oppland and has altogether 71,036 inhabitants, with a population density of 4.6 inhabitants/km2. The county hosts seven national parks and offers a unique mountain farm environment with a rich cultural heritage. The valley region faces challenges in the northernmost municipalities related to depopulation, elderly population, unemployment, and a high proportion of inhabitants depending on welfare services and benefits. This challenges the sustainability of the region. Immigration from refugees and work migrants has been an important vector in sustaining or curbing the population decrease over the past 10 to 15 years. At the same time, this has created integration challenges in some areas of the Gudbrandsdalen.
Lancashire-Cumbria, England (UK): Lancashire is a county in Northwest England. The county has a population of 1,449,300, with a density of 470 inhabitants/km2. Apart from the coastal towns, Lancashire is largely rural, with the land devoted to vegetable crops and a large nature reserve in the northwest corner of the county, straddling the border to the South with Cumbria. Cumbria is a county with a population of half a million in an area of 6678 km², one of the most sparsely populated counties in the United Kingdom, with 73.4 people per km2. Cumbria is the third-largest county in England by area and is predominantly rural. However, the region has struggled with a high rural share of deprivation and dependence on welfare services and social benefits, under the themes of an aging population, unemployment, low income, qualifications/skills, housing, and access to services and transportation.
Valbelluna, Italy (IT): Valbelluna is located in northeastern Italy, in the Veneto Region, along the Piave River, and includes the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park. It has a population of 142,803 inhabitants, with a density of 106.2 inhabitants/km2. The larger towns, supported by manufacturing poles, concentrate two thirds of the population and have witnessed population growth (4.57% over a ten-year period), while the more marginal and rural municipalities located in the foothills have witnessed population loss (−3.51%). Significantly, a large share of employment is taken up by large multinational companies (e.g., eyewear), a smaller share in tourism and services, while the primary sector accounts for less than 1% of productivity. Following the 2008 crisis in manufacturing, unemployment and outmigration rose quite dramatically. More recently, while overall unemployment has started to decrease, youth unemployment has decreased much less sharply and continues to be followed by worrisome trends in youth outmigration, including highly educated professionals.
Deir Ahmar, Lebanon (LB): Deir el Ahmar, North Bekaa, is situated 75 km away from Beirut. The region has 11,000 inhabitants and a population density of 155.7 inhabitants/km2. The area has an important pilgrimage site (Our Lady of Bechouat), which attracts visitors all year long, and a florid agricultural sector. Nonetheless, change in the climate, water scarcity, and limited marketing opportunities can pose serious treats to the agriculture production in the village and its future sustainability. The area under study can be considered marginal due to the population aging, migration to the big cities, youth unemployment, an influx of Syrian refugees, and limited access to main services such as public transport. The need to provide alternative solutions to local producers is a key element as to support local development and decrease migration.
Guadeloupe, France (FWI): Guadeloupe is an outermost island region of Europe, located in the French West Indies. With an area of 1628 km2
, Guadeloupe is one of the 35 Hotspots for Biodiversity in the World [45
]. It has a population of 382,704 inhabitants. The economy is mainly a tertiary economy based on services provided by the private and public sectors (85.6% of the added value), while industries, construction, and agriculture contribute to 8.0%, 4.6%, and 1.7% of the added value, respectively [46
]. Major constraints to the economy are the ultra-peripherality in relation to European markets, narrow local markets, difficulties accessing export markets and weak cash flow of rural enterprises. When it comes to forestry and agroforestry, the Regional Rural Development program highlights the lack of research and development infrastructure of those sectors, remoteness from the European decision centers adding to the marginalization of the territory and those sectors. With a mainly tertiary economy based on services provided by the private and the public sectors, 23.1% of the population is unemployed, this proportion being of 47% amongst the 15–29 age class population [46
]. The local economy is constrained by its ultra-peripherality, which engenders additional costs in relation to food provisioning, very narrow markets due to the size of the territory, difficulties positioning itself on export markets, and weak cash flow of rural enterprises.