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Social capital, learning processes and social innovation in rural areas

Working Group 15: Social capital, learning processes and social innovation in rural areas

Paweł Starosta [1], Katarzyna Zajda [1], Sandra Šūmane [2] Karlheinz Knickel [3], Tālis Tisenkopfs [2]

1: University of Lodz, Poland; 2: Baltic Studies Centre, Latvia; 3: Institute for Rural Development Research at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Germany

When considering new, smart and inclusive sustainable development pathways in rural areas, social innovations come forefront as new solutions that meet societal needs and lead to new or improved capabilities and relationships and a better use of local resources. We find numerous citizen initiatives – LEADER groups, integration of marginalized rural groups, local food initiatives, innovative ways of providing social services, social farming, artisanal networks etc. – which all together challenge our conventional conceptualization of rural and agricultural development, re-discovering a more holistic approach to rural areas, agriculture and food, and asserting alternative values and ethical principles.

In this Working Group we wish to illuminate more in detail the mechanisms and processes underlying social innovations and affecting their initiation, implementation and diffusion. One key factor is social capital understood as the potential of cooperation based on mutual trust and shared norms and values. Another are the ways various knowledge and learning processes are intertwined in social innovation in the form of new learning attitudes and behaviours, new knowledge arrangements and knowledge bases. Social innovations come into being through social interaction and learning processes consisting of identifying social needs, creating new solutions and their implementation.

Many patterns of development involve social capital and learning. The more traditional modes are based on personal contacts between different social actors. In the newer ones, means of communication, especially the internet, play a very important role. Here the ability to initiate the process of innovation with the use of new technologies is more important than face to face contacts. Study visits, for example, can be replaced by on-line meetings. In this Working Group we wish to examine new forms, roles and interlinkages of social capital and knowledge, and their contribution to innovative solutions in rural areas.

The questions to consider within the Working Group are:

  • What are the relations between social capital and social innovation?
  • What examples of traditional and new patterns of social innovation exist in rural areas?
  • Can social capital be brought into the process of developing and then sustaining new solutions to the new challenges rural societies are confronted with?
  • Who are the actors that develop these innovations and how do they organise themselves?
  • What learning modes and knowledge sources do they use; in particular, what is the role of local, tacit, informal knowledge and social learning?
  • How are social innovations, social organisation and knowledge and learning processes interlinked with the dominating agricultural and rural governance and knowledge structures?
  • How can researchers, advisors, educators and policy makers enable social innovations and the related learning and knowledge?

We will organise the Working Group in an interactive manner. Instead of conventional presentations we would like to encourage participants to engage more deeply in the debate.  The first round will consist of very short lightning talks with concise inputs. The second round will be organised as a World Café to deepen discussions on key issues and jointly synthesize insights derived from the papers.