Managing the Network
Networking activities for advisors and innovation support services
Fostering innovation is a new objective for rural networking for 2014-2020 and a new task for NRNs (see Info Box below). Innovation in rural development is a broad subject, but in general terms can be defined as “the introduction of something new (a novel change) to economic or social life in rural areas, which adds new economic or social value to rural life” (see NESTA, 2007 [PDF ]).
NRNs can be active in many different ways to foster innovation – whether this is technological, social or some other form of innovation. For example, NRNs can bring “something new” to rural communities and business by:
- working directly with rural people and businesses to stimulate new ideas and approache [PDF ],
- promoting the exchange of information and ideas across regional or national borders [PDF ],
- setting-up thematic working groups to bring together farmers, advisers and scientists [PDF ],
- capitalising upon good practices by linking rural development practitioners with relevant experts [PDF ],
- working directly with LAGs to “incubate” innovative new ideas and approaches [PDF ].
And now in the 2014-2020 programme period, NRNs can provide various forms of ‘innovation support services’ [PDF ] to help promote and set-up EIP-AGRI Operational Groups [PDF ] that link farmers, researchers and advisers to implement projects for the development and testing of new products and process in agriculture, food and forestry.
There is no obligation for Member States to create an additional or specialised innovation network or support unit for the EIP-AGRI. The role of supporting implementation of the EIP-AGRI can be taken on by the NRN and its existing structures - this will help to create synergies and avoid duplication. However:
- it will be necessary to involve new stakeholders (scientists and others actively involved in innovation) in the EIP-AGRI related activities and so NRNs may decide to create a sub-thematic group engaging in network activities on innovation. Such a sub-group would clearly remain within the existing NRN governance;
- it is recommended to set-up at least some form of co-ordinating body for steering the direction of NRN support for the EIP-AGRI;
- since networking is an on-going process, ensuring flexibility in structures and planned activities for supporting the EIP-AGRI will help to respond to the changing needs of stakeholders at different stages of the policy cycle.
Support for innovation has been a key priority for EU rural development for many years. Innovation objectives were clearly stated in the Community Strategic Guidelines for rural development for 2007-2013 [PDF ] and were reinforced by the 2010 CAP Health Check. This trend towards increasing support for innovation has continued within the CAP 2014-2020.
- Introducing innovation as a cross-cutting objective that must be integrated into all priorities adopted by Member States in their RDPs;
- Enshrining innovation within the “horizontal” Priority 1: Fostering knowledge transfer and innovation in agriculture, forestry, and rural areas;
- Including rural development policy as a key tool for supporting the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI), and;
- Introducing a new aim for networking by national rural networks (NRNs), namely to “foster innovation in agriculture, food production, forestry and rural areas”, including the specific obligation to implement activities “regarding the provision of networking for advisors and innovation support services”.