Topic: A new framework for evaluating social innovation and its impacts in marginalised rural areas
Keywords: social innovation, indicators, evaluation framework, rural areas, qualitative-quantitative methods
An agreed and well-consolidated evaluation framework for the assessment of social innovation (SI) and its impacts has not been developed yet, despite initial tentative made by scholars (e.g., Nicholls et al. 2015, Bock 2016). Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas – SIMRA (www.simra-h2020.eu.) is a EU funded H2020 project which aims to conceptualize and propose an evaluation framework, based on qualitative-quantitative methods to evaluate SI in disadvantaged rural areas of Europe and non-EU Mediterranean countries. Within SIMRA, SI is defined as “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” (Polman et al., 2017). The aim of this paper is to illustrate the framework and the related tools for data collection and analysis that we propose for evaluating SI and its impacts in rural contexts.
The evaluation framework has been co-constructed with project partners and a panel of international stakeholders in the fields of agriculture, forestry and rural development (Nijnik et al. 2019). It is structured into dimensions and sub-dimensions. It follows the phases of a SI initiative, from the trigger that generates the idea, to the reconfiguring process to its impacts. The framework envisages several interconnected quantitative and qualitative variables. Eight tools for variables collection have been developed, tested in two pilot cases, and applied in 11 case studies in the target regions. Empirical results allowed to set 166 indicators: 73 indicators describe all the dimensions of SI (e.g., idea, agency, new networks, outputs, outcomes, learning processes); 63 indicators analyse the process, the project and the whole SI initiative by following relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability evaluation criteria (OECD, 1991 and 2010); 30 indicators focus on the key descriptive of the SI SIMRA definition. The approach integrates qualitative-pure methods (e.g., focus group) with quantitative ones (e.g., Social Network Analysis). The empirically tested evaluation framework proposed in this paper would like to contribute to current debates, both within the scientific and practitioners’ communities, on evidence-based policy, future strategies to support communities’ creativity mobilization, and self evaluation by rural development agencies.