Bill Slee is a social scientist with 40 years of experience in teaching and researching rural development at the Universities of Plymouth, Aberdeen and Gloucestershire and at the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen where he previously led the Social Economics and Geographical Sciences Research Group. He has an MA in Geography from the University of Cambridge and a PhD from the University of Aberdeen in rural economics. He was active in pre-accession work in new member states and on a number of European Union funded research projects on topics as varied as rural tourism, local food and water quality. As an Emeritus Fellow of the James Hutton Institute and an associate of the Rural Development Company he remains active in research, with interests in social innovation, community energy, economic diversification of rural areas and policy evaluation and works frequently with the ENRD Contact Point and for the European Evaluation Network for Rural Development. He is on the Executive Board of the H2020 project SIMRA, on Social Innovation in Marginal Rural Areas. He is also active in grass roots third sector activity in his home area of rural Aberdeenshire.
The potential for social innovation in the revitalisation of Carpathian mountain communities
Social innovation has been identified as a potentially important means for the revitalisation of remote rural areas where markets are often weak and the public sector at local, regional and national level is confronted by service delivery challenges. It has become the focus for increased research attention, as manifested in the SIMRA project and other major EU projects. But social innovation remains ambiguously defined and perhaps over-used in political rhetoric as an apparent solution to intractable and wicked problems so expectations may have been unreasonably raised. Nonetheless, it is possible to find examples where social innovation is helping to address profound social, economic and environmental challenges in marginal rural areas. Where social innovation is delivering positive outcomes, those outcomes are likely to be contingent on strong social capital at community level. This creates a danger that even greater disparities emerge between communities and that the most disadvantaged communities may slip further behind. Social innovation can be supported by policy means and in some countries, such as Scotland, significant policy infrastructures have been put in place to nurture community empowerment and community asset transfer. Mountain communities have often been places made up of spirited independent people but this may manifest itself in individualism rather than collective activity. Collaborative social innovation may be harder to instigate in places still living in the shadow of state socialism and enforced collectivisation, such as the Carpathians. Nonetheless, the challenged economic situation in many areas, the public good characteristics of the mountain environment, the existence of common pool resources and the limited capacity of the state or markets to deliver sought-after increases in wellbeing for their populations, makes the need for social innovation great and the case for public interventions to help nurture it very strong.