Newsletter No. 8 / November 2016

Welcome to the latest TESS Newsletter, which updates on recent research findings and dissemination activities. This newsletter focuses on research findings on the contribution of community-based initiatives to social change and sustainability transition. In addition it reports on the local event about TESS findings in Rome and the just published booklet “Community Climate Action across Europe”. Learn more about TESS results through our video “The diverse impacts of community based initiatives” and try our tools Track-It! on carbon-emission savings and the Resilience Compass, including video tutorials and other information material. Enjoy reading, watching and listening!

Table of contents

Contributing to social change and sustainability transitions: the social, economic, political and technological innovativeness impacts of community-based initiatives

Community-based initiatives (CBIs) are increasingly portrayed as on-the-ground solutions for societal transitions towards low-carbon and more sustainable economies. These initiatives have been championed for their potential to provide a ‘soft’ and bottom-up approach to not only environmental sustainability, but also to community-building, social inclusion, economic revitalization, political mobilization, innovation and for increasing communities’ resilience to social, economic and environmental shocks. At the same time, CBIs have also been challenged in terms of their ability to efficiently deliver tangible benefits, accused of having a too ‘local’ and therefore limited focus, a lack of recognition of the politics of exclusion or privilege, social or environmental justice, etc. In order to better understand the contribution of CBIs to a societal transition towards sustainability, we need assess their functioning and impacts on communities.

In the TESS project, we contribute to this debate and provide evidence of 63 CBIs (across six regions in Europe) that are helping to catalyze social change and sustainability transitions. Over the past three years, we have been building and elaborating a knowledge base of TESS community-based initiatives and identifying the key experiential messages from the different case studies in Finland, Germany, Italy, Romania, Spain and the UK (Scotland). This knowledge base includes CBIs’ characteristics in terms of their histories, composition, experience, internal organization, relationships with external actors, political background, innovative efforts, skills, activities and ambitions, in order to determine who these initiatives are, how they involve, what they do and how.

 

Figure: Typologies of activities and number of CBI in each category/domain, based on survey of 63 TESS CBIs

We estimated the economic, social, political and technological innovativeness impacts of CBIs and we provide evidence of what is happening in these sites of experimentation and social innovation. In terms of economic functioning, we find that CBIs diversify their activities and funding sources. In most cases, they cover their costs and generate economic surpluses but predominantly rely on the sale of goods and services for internal revenue generation and, externally, public grants. On average, CBI activities generate 18,740 Euros every year which is captured at the local level.

Our evidence also shows that CBI members bring highly skilled people with expertise in a variety of professional and technical areas: CBIs provide both formal learning and training occasions (52% of initiatives are active in this regard) and informal venues for collaboration, knowledge diffusion and social interaction that bring the possibility of accessing high-expertise skill sets. We also found that CBIs provide fertile grounds for nurturing not only ‘social’ innovation and more sustainable lifestyles, but also more ‘traditional and market-based forms of innovation: two-thirds of these initiatives were experimenting with some sort of innovative product or process nor producing some sort of innovation themselves and most CBIs tend to be aware of and admire achievements in building innovation capabilities and good education or awareness-raising practices.

The TESS CBIs are well-mixed in terms of the types of interaction, intensity and frequency of collaborations that influence CBIs performance within their own political, economic and institutional settings: approximately 60% of our samples of initiatives, in particular, have established relevant collaborations with at least one public body, in most cases a local public authority; and 50% with an intermediary network organization. Most CBIs show a substantial capacity for eliciting various forms of social investment from their members and seek out the development or strengthening of interpersonal relationships within their communities. The ability of initiatives to involve and reach a diversity of beneficiaries in terms of personal characteristics, economic status and geographical provenience varies greatly: the proportion of low-income beneficiaries is, for example, 14% on average; but while there are only six initiatives for which the prevalent targets are low-income, 90% or more of the beneficiaries for 42 initiatives are medium- or high-income.

Analyzing impacts and performance of community-based initiatives in Europe: evidence from the TESS project

Community-based initiatives (CBIs) contribute to the transition towards low-carbon economies in a number of ways: CBIs catalyze impacts for carbon reduction, carbon efficiency, social capital, social inclusion, financial sustainability, local economic impact, political mobilization, external networking, human capital externalities and innovativeness. Whereas the state of the art research on transitions has focused on individual case studies, one of the aims of the TESS project is to provide a systematic and quantitative assessment of CBIs across four different activity domains, in six different regions in Europe and using a wide variety of units and measures. In this way, the TESS project contributes to the growing wealth of knowledge needed for policy makers to better understand how to support CBIs and what CBIs’ contributions to the low-carbon societal transition.

We looked at CBIs with a wide range of activities and domains and comparatively analyzed their impacts. Using the data gathered throughout the TESS project, we compared the impact of 63 CBIs according to their capacity to reduce environmental impacts, to improve societal and economic well-being, to be financially sustainable, to promote grassroots innovation, to improve social capital, social inclusion, the capabilities of beneficiaries and to engage in political activities. Using a multi-criteria assessment methodology, we were able to rank the TESS CBIs, despite their heterogeneous characteristics (e.g. activities in a variety of domains, countries, different in size, aims, etc.), according to their various levels of impact and according to preferences expressed by different relevant stakeholders. We worked in close collaboration with a panel of experts, policymakers and stakeholders in order to better understand the views of different typologies of stakeholders and how they see the role and contribution of CBIs to sustainability transitions.

Our results show, firstly, that two Scottish CBIs, active in re/upcycling and in community gardening in addition to sustainable energy, consistently performed better than all other CBIs in terms impact. Moreover, these Scottish CBIs rank in the top 20 in terms of performance in all five dimensions of impact that we measured (social, economic, political, environmental, technological). Secondly, a mixed group of 13 high-performance CBIs placed in the top 15. This group includes five multi-domain CBIs, two re/upcycling initiatives, two sustainable energy initiatives, two community-supported agriculture initiatives, one solidarity purchasing group and a community garden. In terms of geographic distribution of the top five performing CBIs, two are Italian and two are Scottish.

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Figure: The ranking of six typologies of community-based initiatives according to eight assessment criteria

TESS event in Rome

On Thursday, October 27, the TESS team in Rome organized an event to present the results of the TESS project with members of the CBI case studies in Rome, as well as with members of the wider community. The event was focused on engaging a wide variety of stakeholders involved in the activities of community-based initiatives (CBIs) in Rome, and asking how they emerge and what role do they play in meeting the environmental, economic, political and social challenges in major European cities? What are the solutions CBIs propose, what are their effects and what obstacles do they confront? What are the similarities and differences among initiatives in Rome and those active in other European countries?

Representatives from the TESS CBIs in Rome and members of the wider community in Rome were welcomed at the headquarters of the Società Geografica Italiana in Villa Celimontana. The main results and outputs of the project were presented in the first half of the event by the T6 and Sapienza teams. The tools developed throughout the project were presented and the outcomes of the research project were discussed in an open forum.

During the second session of the event, representatives from five of the TESS CBIs in Rome reflected on their experience within the social, economic, political and environmental context of the city during a roundtable discussion. Topics discussed related to the everyday challenges of their work, various obstacles and successes they have faced, as well as what they see as their contributions to building a more sustainable inclusive and equitable socio-economic system. The event celebrated what has been an inspiring and fascinating three years of collaboration with actors from CBIs, public bodies and local community members throughout the city.

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Community Climate Action across Europe – 62 Portraits from six countries; the TESS booklet

The community-based initiatives which were analysed in the TESS research are presented in the TESS booklet “Community Climate Action across Europe – 62 Portraits from six countries”. In this booklet we introduce the range and diversity of community activity taking place in the city of Rome, part of the city region of Berlin, the region of Catalunya and the countries of Finland, Romania and Scotland in Europe through descriptions of the case study community groups who participated in the TESS research. They supported the research by sharing information about their initiative. You can download the booklet here. Enjoy exploring great stories about grassroot activities in Europe!

Recent TESS scientific reports

Case study integration report (Deliverable 4.1)

This report presents the results of the case studies integration, and the knowledge base on TESS community-based initiatives that was developed throughout the project. The aim of this report is to integrate and consolidate the data on CBIs gathered throughout the TESS project and to identify the key experiential messages from the different case studies in these regions.

We elaborate on a knowledge base that includes CBIs’ characteristics in terms of their histories, composition, experience, internal organization, relationships with external actors, political background, innovative efforts, skills, activities and ambitions, in order to determine who these initiatives are, how they involve, what they do and how. Moreover, we provide a preliminary estimation of CBIs in terms of economic, social, political and technological innovativeness impacts and examine the factors that distinguish CBIs in six regions across Europe. This is useful in providing evidence of what is happening in these sites of experimentation and social innovation. In addition, this report presents specific indicators, a base for such indicators to be estimated, regarding the following areas: economic/financial sustainability, economic benefits and local economic impact, social capital, social inclusion, external networking, political mobilization, human capital externalities and innovativeness.

Report on multi-criteria analysis for carbon efficient projects (Deliverable 4.2)

This report provides the results of the multi-criteria analysis for the prioritisation and effective support of carbon efficient projects. We chose utilized a multi-criteria analysis (MCA) framework, that allows for CBIs with a wide range of activities and domains to be comparatively analyzed, regardless of differences in the types of impacts and metrics measured; moreover, this methodology allowed us to compare CBIs according to the preferences of different typologies of stakeholders, according to what they think should be prioritized in terms of CBIs’ contributions to a sustainability transition, as well as to what the perceived strengths of CBIs are in this respect.

We analyze the multiple dimensions of impact of CBIs in Europe in terms of their capacity to reduce environmental impacts, to improve societal and economic well-being, to be financially sustainable, to promote grassroots innovation, to improve social capital, social inclusion, the capabilities of beneficiaries and to engage in political activities. We use this data and apply an MCA to 44 CBIs, selected according to the quality and availability of consistent data, as well as the feasibility of calculating indicators for a maximum number of CBIs.

We present the methodology and results of the MCA and the 10 criteria used, covering GHG emissions, social inclusion, local economic impact, networking, etc., and alternative scenarios using values, or weights, determined by the CBIs, stakeholders as well as TESS researchers in order to conduct the MCA. We ranked the TESS CBIs, despite their heterogeneous characteristics (e.g. activities in a variety of domains, countries, different in size, aims, etc.), according to different – and possibly divergent – impacts which are difficult to measure using a common metric or units. In other words, we compared the impacts of TESS CBIs based on multiple criteria, and rank their performance according to a set of values expressed by different relevant stakeholders.

TESS video on project results

The 2nd TESS video shows the main results of its research. The video is titled “The diverse impacts of community based initiatives” and it explains the social and environmental potential of community-based transitions to societal sustainability. Enjoy watching!