Social innovation and nature-based solutions.

Balian E, Berhault A, Eggermont H, Lemaître F, von Korff Y, Young JC. (2016).
Social innovation and nature-based solutions. EKLIPSE/EPBRS/BiodivERsA Joint
Foresight Workshop: Brussels, 6-7 December 2016. Workshop Report.

EKLIPSE, the European Platform for Biodiversity Research Strategy (EPBRS )and the ERA-NET BiodivERsA jointly organised a foresight workshop in Brussels in December 2016 on “Social innovation and nature based solutions: What research is needed to face future societal challenges and emerging issues?”. The aim of the workshop was to feed the identified emerging issues and research priorities into current and future debates on research & innovation policy and priorities at EU level (e.g. in Horizon 2020 work programmes and in the BiodivERsA Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda, future R&I framework programmes), at Member State level as well as at international level (e.g. Belmont Forum, Future Earth).

The sessions addressed the following questions:

  1. What are important emerging issues/societal challenges to which nature-based solutions could be a response to? These should possibly have a big impact 10 or 20 years from now in their respective area.
  1. What specific social innovation approaches exist and could be used to support the effective implementation (i.e. simultaneously providing environmental, economic & social benefits) of these NBS for tackling these emerging issues (or formulated in another way: what has to happen socially so that these NBS can be put into place in order to respond to the challenges)?
  1. What are the research needs to support the realization of these NBS and social innovations?

Several priority societal challenges common across the themes are related to increased pollution, and over exploitation of natural resources as a consequence of urban intensification, human population increase and a disconnect between people and nature. In addition, some emerging issues identified in some groups are related to the loss of social cohesion and the challenge of immigration.

A strong focus was placed on systemic approaches and the need to have more green and blue spaces developed by communities using participatory approaches to best fit a wide array of needs and uses. For example: urban gardening and farming could represent ways to create more social links (cohesion), promote local production and represent educational and leisure areas. Groups also faced several challenges in clearly framing the concept of NBS (environmental benefits are as important as economic or social benefits; hence, solutions inspired by nature but not providing environmental benefits cannot be considered as NBS), and in going beyond general statements towards concrete proposals.

With regard to social innovation and NBS, one key suggestion was the importance of not separating approaches but to work in an integrated way. This refers to using NBS for social innovation and vice versa. It also relates to integrating new economic, social, educational and nature-based approaches. The ideas were related to some main topics:

  • Education and capacity building (e.g. Society-nature-environment courses in school curricula – bringing nature to the kids in all school activities).
  • Bottom-up, participatory and new governance approaches including government authorities (e.g. Urban labs to encourage co-development and ownership).
  • The need for integrated use of green spaces for both environmental and social purposes.

Two key aspects emerged in terms of main research recommendations:

  • The urgent need for research on assessing effectiveness of NBS especially in terms of co-benefits (environmental, social and economic). This should include research on criteria for measuring effectiveness especially on the long-term (sustainability of NBS), but also trade-offs and synergies between impacts and benefits.
  • Research on holistic/systemic and trans-disciplinary processes to be both used by and catalysed by NBS in land, water, city planning and management.

Detailed research priorities presented in the results show also the importance of exploring further how to transform legal, psychological, social and economic contexts for NBS.

Top 20 research priorities across all themes:

  1. How can NBS provide social co-benefits: what are the conditions/requirements?
  2. More experimental research and evaluation of pilot studies of using NBS and social innovation together
  3. Multiple values (monetary and non-monetary) of green infrastructure development and investments especially in context where you have multi-functionalities
  4. Understanding how to achieve systemic change in urban planning to embody NBS
  5. Effectiveness of NBS on social cohesion / temperature decrease / health increase / co-benefits etc.
  6. Storm water/flood management: research how to develop holistic systematic approaches for watershed management from upstream to downstream with engagement of local actors throughout the process
  7. Research into success factors of local governance of green space
  8. An evidence base of understanding linkages between biodiversity and NBS (in urban areas)
  9. How can transdisciplinary research help overcome institutional barriers within governments (sector-thinking)?
  10. How to design (or re-think) spaces to include different and multiple needs from different communities? (Physical / mental / physiological / environmental)
  11. How can the involvement of people in NBS be fostered to ensure social co-benefits?
  12. Awareness of perception and acceptance/understanding of NBS in populations
  13. How can regulations support the social co-benefits of NBS?
  14. Explore funding models to support active lifestyles and de-acceleration in green spaces (e.g. from health organizations: social securities / insurance companies etc.)
  15. Under what circumstances social entrepreneurship could deliver social co-benefits of NBS?
  16. Innovative governance for integrated water catchment management (and learning from best examples)
  17. The effective use of citizen science to measure change in green infrastructure and effectiveness of NBS
  18. Investigate human barriers to consumptions of more ecological food items (sea weeds / insects etc.)
  19. Identify economic and social case for developing managed aquaculture (to increase food production)
  20. How to ensure that technological development does not run ahead of social innovation?

As a conclusion, participants recognised that social innovation (SI) was particularly difficult to include in the discussions of the workshop because the proposed SI definition was related to modifying relationships, especially in institutions. In addition, several participants highlighted the lack of social scientists in the workshop to properly address social innovation questions. All discussion results should be considered with these limitations in mind.

Workshop participants highlighted a high potential for NBS to address environmental and social challenges such as loss of social cohesion, health, social inequity, loss of connection between people and nature, and inadequate governance models. Proposed NBS for example relating to mixed green and blue spaces in cities were also seen as multi-functional tools to reach many concurring benefits including educational, psychological, social and economic.

However, there are also limitations for NBS and these are not always understood in the same way. Finally, NBS are not very well known as a concept by the wider public (though many NGOs may already be working on similar approaches under different names) and they would need more political and economic backing if they are to be used more widely.


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