Social Innovation (SI) in local development in the Nordic countries and Scotland

This project investigates the role of Social Innovation (SI) and how it can respond to the challenges facing rural and remote regions in Nordic countries. These regions are facing continuing rural-urban migration, which not only accentuates sparsity but also distorts the age, gender and socio-economic balance by depleting the population of young, well-educated and economically active people. At the same time, there is a growing push towards increased efficiency in the use of constantly shrinking public resources. Considered together, these trends constitute something like a “perfect storm” – demographic shifts are increasing the need for services while at the same time resourcing for services is decreasing. This is making it incredibly difficult to maintain acceptable levels of well-being and economic vitality in rural communities. Social innovation (SI) has been suggested as a potential way to address these challenges.

What is SI? Definitions for this long established phenomenon of local development vary. In this study, we narrowed it down to activities that are social in both their means and their ends. Put simply, when local community members work together to address a social need the community becomes stronger and better able to deal with new challenges in the future – this is social innovation. SI may include collaborations between the public sector and the third sector, commercial providers, and service users themselves to find new ways of working. It also includes initiatives developed and driven by local people. These actions can ease the pressures on public services as well as generating economic and social activity that provides a disincentive to out-migration.

There is considerable confusion about how SI works in different contexts and countries, and indeed what exactly constitutes SI. In fact, SI is not a simple phenomenon which can be tightly defined by a set of fixed characteristics. In this project we aim to clarify the role of SI in addressing demographic challenges in rural areas.

This online resource presents the findings of the project and has four interconnected parts:

  • Understanding social innovation and its role in local development – Analyses the parts of the abundant literature on SI which relate specifically to rural and remote areas which are facing demographic challenges to inform an understanding of the concept.
  • The policy context of the Nordic countries and Scotland – Describes how SI sits within, and is modified by national and local governance arrangements and policy.
  • Case studies as practical examples (archive) – Presents a series of cases of the way in which SI has addressed demographic challenges in rural areas of the Nordic countries and Scotland.
  • Supporting social innovation in rural communities – Provides a brief summary of the lessons learned through the project and how they can be useful in across the Nordic Region.

The project was conducted on behalf of the Nordic working group on demography and welfare, set by the Nordic Council of Ministers, and was completed in 2016.