Regional Talk on Social Innovation in Rural Regions at IRS

The RurInno project is part of research cluster on social innovation from a spatial perspective at the IRS. In six projects the researchers focus on different aspects, regions and scales to gain comprehensive and in-depth insights into the topic. Based on two of these projects –RurInno being one and the core-budget funded lead project “Innovations in Rural Municipalities. Conditions, Actors and Processes of Creative Community Development” being the other – the IRS held a transfer event on June 7, 2017. During the event, embedded in the IRS series “Brandenburg Regional Talk”, researchers engaged in dialogue with practitioners from the federal state of Brandenburg to discuss recent developments, conditions and experiences in connection with new ideas for rural regions on regional and local levels.

Introducing the topic, Prof Gabriela Christmann, head of the research department “Dynamics of Communication, Knowledge and Spatial Development” and RurInno project leader, presented current research questions and findings from the cluster on social innovation in her department. She addressed observations of multi-faceted downwards spirals in rural regions as well as of various creative and innovative projects in different regions in Germany. The contradiction between conditions that do not work in favour of innovation – just as the out-migration of young, skilled workers and negative discourses and stigmatization – and the existence of novel ideas and approaches facing these very challenges are the main focus of the lead project’s research.

As a second input from a researcher’s perspective Dr Ralph Richter presented the design and preliminary findings from the RurInno project to the audience, that comprised of politicians, staff of local and regional administration, social entrepreneurs, representatives from cultural institutions and civil society as well as journalists. Ralph explained the four different regions, their specific problems and how the respective social enterprises tackle these challenges. He stated that social enterprises in rural regions can offer solutions to structural weaknesses by re-contextualizing knowledge and ideas as well as by enhancing the embeddedness of local municipalities in networks and funding structures. His observation that the entrepreneurial perspective of social enterprises in rural regions helps stimulating new approaches and achieving impact through them, goes well along the findings of the lead project, where different types of actors and their effect and influence on the innovation processes are under detailed investigation.

The lively and intense discussion among the nearly 40 participants of the transfer event touched various topics, among them the afore-mentioned effect of specific actors and institutional structures, the funding and promotion of socially innovative projects in rural regions, and relations between cities and peripheral regions. With regard to funding there was a unanimous call for smaller, more flexible and open funding schemes that allow addressing challenges on a local and regional level with experimental approaches.

Participation in the “Brandenburg Regional Talk” was open to staff members of the four social enterprises in the RurInno consortium who are currently visiting the IRS for their innovation secondments. Wolfgang Mader from Otelo eGen joined the discussion as the event was held in German language completely.