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Enhancing innovation in rural areas: Scotland’s experience

Rural innovation workshop in Brussels (c) James Hutton Institute
"Innovation is seen as key for rural areas to become competitive and the digital transition is an opportunity for rural areas with decentralised production and workspaces"

What is the Scottish perspective on rural innovation, looking forward with the recent launch of the Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS)? That was the focus of a workshop organised by the Scottish Representation to the European Union in Brussels, which also served as a follow-up on the 11th OECD Rural Development Conference held in Edinburgh last April.

Catriona Maclean, Head of Rural Economy and Communities of the Scottish Government, and Jose Enrique Garcilazo of OECD kicked off the workshop by discussing the economic relevance of innovation, especially in rural areas. Innovation is seen as key for rural areas to become competitive and the digital transition is an opportunity for rural areas with decentralised production and workspaces. The OECD representative identified knowledge transfer and absorption as a big challenge for rural areas, which is why the OECD is focusing on the promotion of SMEs, entrepreneurship, connecting local and global value chain, as well as rural-urban interlinkages.

The newly-launched RISS, part of the Scottish Rural Network, embraces this approach and acts as a network between different stakeholder groups to help innovation emerge across the rural economy in Scotland in a meaningful way. They closely work with EIP-AGRI as their aim is also to support the creation of operational groups. As stressed by Professor David Miller (James Hutton Institute), rural innovation is also supported by the SEFARI strategic research programme of the Scottish Government.

Some examples of rural innovation in Scotland were given, within radically different contexts. Rural Leadership Programme is a challenging programme led by Scottish Enterprise, aimed at business managers and employees from rural businesses who have a desire to develop their leadership skills and grow their business.

One of the leaders trained by this programme, Anna Black, presented her successful project of diversifying an average family farm into a destination of excellence for tourists and horse riders. Garth Entwistle, who participated in a recent Hutton workshop on social innovation and in the kick-off meeting of the H2020 SIMRA project, presented the history of the Udny Community Trust and wind turbine. They are proud of being the first community-owned, operated and financed wind turbine on mainland UK, with a return on investment which is ten times more important for the community than private investments would have been according to their data.

The SIMRA project, which examines social innovation in marginalised rural areas of Europe and beyond, is led by the James Hutton Institute. Professor Maria Nijnik, of the Institute’s Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences group, was invited to present the project during the event, as SIMRA seeks to bridge the gap between researchers and practitioners by advancing knowledge of rural innovation while supporting emerging innovation on the ground through its Innovation Actions and database of good practices. More than 300 examples are now part of this database, with no less than 10% of these very diverse examples located in Scotland, including community energy, social farming, rural services and others.

For more details about SIMRA, visit their website or contact project coordinator Professor Maria Nijnik at

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.