Social and economic impacts of community-led initiatives

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"Tangible impacts" "include direct environmental or economic impacts such as greenhouse gas emission reductions as well as socio-economic aspects such as the generation of sustainable jobs, awareness-raising, educational activities." [1] "Intangible impacts" [1] "include creation of long term social capital, improvements in health and well-being, strengthening networks, skill development and empowerment in local communities." [1] "they are not a result of simple cause and effect mechanism but rather relational and dynamic and can be slower to manifest." [1]

Economic Impacts of Community-led Initiatives

These economic impact represent the degree to which the CBI contributes (positively or not), and how, to the economic situation of their participants and on the local economy. For example, CBIs make goods and services available and/or accessible and more affordable for their participants, they might create new jobs and enterprises, help revitalize commercial districts, regenerate local economies, help businesses thrive, keep money circulating in the local economy, create new local investment opportunities, improve nearby land and housing values, generate additional tax revenues, provide new training and skills learning opportunities, change local wealth distribution, etc. (Bremer et al. 2003, Brown and Carter 2003, Flachs 2010, Hagan and Rubin 2013, Sherer 2006, Voicu and Been 2008). It is possible that they may also have, or be perceived to have, negative local economic impacts such as displacement of existing business. [2]

Some of the CBIs studied are actively seeking to drive economic regeneration, create local job opportunities, and create more resilient local economies.

Type of economic benefits Economic benefits may inlude: increases in individual or family income; decreases in individual or household expenditure; increases (or decreases) in disposable income and/or resources for other necessities or for savings, etc. Thus, CBIs create direct economic benefits for users in that they might make goods and services available and/or accessible and more affordable, e.g., providing products for free that individuals would otherwise need to pay for, giving participants access to affordable transport, energy, food, etc. As regards monetary benefits: 20.6% of CBIs analysed are able to create monetary benefits per year of up to 50 Euros, 7.9% create between 50 and 100 Euros, 15.9% between 100 and 500 Euros, and only a few CBIs (3.2%) provide an annual benefit of 500 Euros or more. Finally, 12.7% do not deliver any economic benefit. The average CBI in TESS is able to deliver some direct monetary benefits to its users/utilizers. We measured this by asking CBIs how much direct savings they provide to their beneficiaries. The mean average is approximately 132 Euros per year and per person. [3]

Perception of "Local economic impacts of community-based initiatives" As shown in Chapter 3.6 of this report, 65% of CBIs consider the objective “to revitalize the local/community economy” relevant and, among those, the objective for local economic impact has been considered extremely important (vital) by half of CBIs. In terms of the degree of achievement, 15,0% of CBIs perceive they have already fully achieved this objective, nearly half of them (47.5%) felt they have mostly achieved this aim, 25.0% think that the objective has been ‘somewhat achieved (moderately)’, and 12.5% declare a low achievement of this objective. Whatever their motivation, all case studies are engaged in activities that they feel had some impact on their local economy and in many cases this has been very significant. [4]

"An example of tangible benefits from initiatives is the creation of new jobs either directly or indirectly or the creation of economic benefits for participants and market-oriented innovation. Specifically, from the TESS research we found that the majority of initiatives created at least some part-time employment and the average direct benefits per participant of an initiative amounts to 130 euros per year." [1]

"In terms of economic functioning, we find that CBIs have no prevalent sources of revenues but diversify their activities and funding sources. In most cases, they cover their costs and generate surpluses. CBIs predominantly rely on the sale of goods and services for internal revenue generation and, externally, public grants. Their overall financial sustainability is also due, in many cases, to an extensive reliance on - mostly in-kind - contributions from members and/or beneficiaries, including a large amount of volunteer labour. Nevertheless, they have the capacity to deliver a discrete amount of tangible economic benefits to participants, create new paid jobs both directly and indirectly as well as generate wealth and sustain local economic revitalization. Although generating economic impacts is not generally one of their primary aims, we estimated a median of 0.7 FTE jobs created per CBI, 18,740 Euros of annual local wealth generation and 16,734 Euros of reduced economic leakage per year. ... or 27 Euros per year, per local beneficiary. Given the lack of data, this is likely to be a considerable underestimate" [4]

  • The public sector, volunteers, donors as well as charities, foundations, banks and private funders are the main potential contributors to the development and financial resources for CLI. Although having financial sustainability through a single source of funding is not likely, so these initiatives need to diversify their funding sources. 2. benefits to participants and communities, including increases in individual or family income; decreases in individual or household expenditure; increases (or decreases) in disposable income and/or resources for other necessities or for savings, etc... [2]

Social Impacts of Community-led Initiatives

TESS Project aimed at study the up-scaling possibilities of community-based initiatives with a high innovation potential towards sustainability, and to develop a framework for assessing the wider impact of community-based initiatives; their success factors and constraints for transition trajectories. After a long screening and selection procedure the project surveyed 63 initiatives in Finland, Romania, Germany, Italy, Scotland and Spain and realised that the number of beneficiaries of each CLI varied from 204 (smaller initiatives to 3.493 (larger initiatives, covering more territory). The number of active participants ranged from 1 to 30,000: median number was 30, and 75% of initiatives had less than 52 participants.

The reported volunteer time (only 55 answered this component) varied from 19,500 hours per week to 2.5 hours per week. More than half of all CBIs (56%) relied on volunteers for 80-100% of all human effort inputs to the CBI. Less than a quarter of CBIs (12) rely mostly on paid labour, accounting for 80% of human effort, with the rest of the CBI work being carried out by volunteers. On average, each CBI member voluntarily contributes 16 hours of in-kind labour monthly. The majority of CBIs average less than 10 hours per member of monthly in-kind labour.

Thirty one initiatives had no paid employees. The remaining 32 had a median number of employees of 8 and 75% had less than 16 staff. The initiative with the most staff employed 316 people.

"to a wide variety of cases: 13 CBIs, for example, were estimated to create 10 FTE jobs or year." [4]

CBIs have successfully created a significant number of jobs. 58.7% of CBIs directly or indirectly created jobs.Three CBIs have created over 50 jobs (maximum 320); 10 CBIs created 10 or more jobs. Whilst many CBIs created no jobs, the majority created at least some part-time employment. In terms of direct jobs, the 63 CBIs created 482 jobs. Regarding indirect jobs, 223 of the total 705 jobs created were ‘indirect’, i.e. meaning not employed directly by the CBI, but arising as a direct consequence of their activities. Regarding the entire sample of 63 CBIs, 45 initiatives (71.4%) reported not having created any indirect jobs. Whereas 70% of the top 10 CBIs (in terms of indirect job creation) operate in the food domain, or are multi domain types. Across the whole sample, CBIs created an average of four indirect jobs per CBI (min 0, max 70, median 0, n=63). [2]

Some are motivated by a desire to explore alternative ways of working and of financing and organising enterprise; others may reject the use of money all together, preferring to focus on voluntary work or alternative means of exchange such as the ‘gift economy’. Others are motivated to enhance ‘well-being’ and other less tangible measures of social capital, community capacity, and empowerment or maybe focused purely on environmental goals. [2]

"For example, the results in terms of how important each economic aim is, whether relevant at all and the degree of achievement of said aim are reported in the Figures 3-8. Regarding the single dimensions of CBIs aims, 71% of those initiatives which consider 'economic' objectives as relevant, stated that the most important economic objective is "economic benefits to participants" (76%), followed by financial sustainability and organizational effectiveness (73%) while "local economic impact" ranks third (65%)" [4]

Effects on Social Capital

2. Social Capital "To measure Social Capital (understood as the concept to indicate the set (or ‘capital’) of interpersonal relationships available to each individual.) This aspect was expressed in terms of the frequency of opportunities for inter-personal and face-to-face interaction CBIs provide, i.e. in terms of opportunities for networking. TESS measured opportunities for face-to-face meetings: CBIs offer between seven and eight opportunities for face-to-face interaction per year and per participant: 21 CBIs (34.0%) offer one to five events per participant; 10 CBIs (16.0%) average more than 15 events or opportunities per participant; and 12 CBIs (19.0%) less than one event per participant on average.; and opportunities for social interaction: the majority of CBIs fall between one and 100. Nine CBIs score above 10,000 which shows a strong impact in terms of the effectiveness of CBIs in providing events and opportunities for their members and beneficiaries to build or strengthen social relationships. Within 47 initiatives answering the question about their collaboration with other initiatives, the mean value of collaborations with other CBIs was 3,5. It is relevant to notice, though, that only 7 initiatives have between 7 and 10 collaborations with similar organisations, while 30 initiatives have between 0 and 3 collaboration." [3]

"We found, not surprisingly, that social innovation is usually associated with the 'non-profit sector', and much less with 'the state' or 'the market'. Formally, many of the social innovation networks that we study are indeed part of the 'non-profit sector', in the sense that most of them are legally formalized as non-profit associations and foundations. However, when we consider how these networks operate in local practices, we observe a rich tapestry of hybrid organizational forms, including both formal and informal, public and private, for-profit and non-profit elements. We observe that many social innovation initiatives lack an 'institutional home' that 'fits' perfectly. They creatively combine and adopt different organizational forms, bridging between different institutional logics and legal formalities. We conclude that transformative social innovation inherently belongs to a 'hybrid sphere', which refuses to fit and conform to existing institutional boundaries." "So the 'hybrid sphere' is promising for transformative social innovation as a space in which neither market nor state logics - and the associated evaluation schemes - dominate. In the absence of such dominance, both market and state logics can be combined more easily with civil society considerations. Moreover, "truthseeking" scientists can serve as relatively neutral mediators or catalysts between these market, state and civil society logics. Still, also here we see that co-production is not simply another word for collaborating." [5]

for example, in terms of targeting human capital externalities or social capital. ity by supporting the design and implementation of activities that are explicitly aimed at the diffusion of skills; this may help beneficiaries to realize their ideas and to increase the accessibility to, or effectiveness of, CBIs in delivering collaborative services that could be applied in other arenas." [4] "ctiveness of, CBIs in delivering collaborative services that could be applied in other arenas. n a variety of professional and technical areas, and 75% of initiatives have managed to train nearly three-quarters of their members in the most-common skills necessary to run the CBI." [4]

"The local economic impact of community-based initiatives is the degree to which they contribute (positively or not) to the local economy, and how. The literature has stressed, for example, that CBIs might create new jobs, help revitalize commercial districts, help businesses thrive and keep money circulating in the local economy, improve nearby land and housing values (Voicu and Been 2008), generate additional tax revenues (Bremer et al. 2003: 20; Sherer 2006), work as business incubators," [4]

  • Skills and Competences (and Training)

Figure 40 shows all the reported professional and technical skills: each skill type is calculated as a percent of the total reported professional and technical skills by all CBIs. Excluding three CBIs who reported that no skills are needed to run their activities and removing one outlier from the analysis, we calculated the aggregate skills held by the other 59 CBIs: 154 total professional or technical skills were reported. Among these, the most widely held skill type is public relations and communications (29), followed by management (24) and environmental services (22). [4]

CLI - Professional and technical skills (TESS D4.1, 2016).png [4]

In Figure 41, we break down the number of CBIs with each skill: more than half of CBIs list PR and communications skills within their ‘top three12’ skills (in terms of professional or technical expertise needed). Approximately one-third of CBIs list management and administrative or consultancy skills. Few CBIs consider manual labour (8) and commercial skills (10) among the skills requiring the highest expertise. [4]

"Ecovillages show how governance transformations can start with socializing young individuals into alternative ways of living together, including specific approaches to decision-making such as nonviolent communication, consensus and joint values seeking." [5]

"The research also explored the CBIs’ ability to promote social capital, by eliciting various forms of social investment from their members and seek out the development or strengthening of interpersonal relationships within their communities." [6]

"In fact, PATHWAYS's findings imply that initiatives that include a social cause may actually strengthen or introduce other, especially environmental, goals. In such initiatives participants support the social cause, generating beneficial environmental impact as an emergent side-effect." [1]

Effects on social inclusion

3. Social Inclusion CBIs can be more or less socially inclusive to the extent that they involve a diversity of participants, explicitly address social, racial, gender or other kinds of inequities, or in terms of outcomes: the degree to which they improve food access, clean energy, etc., to a wide and heterogeneous range of beneficiaries. As regards, geographical origin: the majority of CBIs (73.0%) have a composition of beneficiaries with less than 25.0% foreigners; 17 CBIs (27.0%) manage to reach a diverse population of beneficiaries where more than 25.0% are non-national beneficiaries. On average, 16.0% of CBIs’ beneficiaries are non-nationals with 84.0% nationals. This means that most beneficiaries of CBIs tend to be nationals of the country where the CBI was formed. Other factors taken into account were gender balance (i.e. 50% women/50% men); age and inclusion of poor or disabled people. As regards the inclusion of people at risk of social exclusion, such as persons with low income or with disabilities: in two third of the 25 initiatives low income people are absent or represent up to 10% of the users. Similar figures illustrate the presence of people with disabilities. It is important to highlight that there are few initiatives (2) in which low-income people and people with disability represent the majority of the users. CBIs engaged in waste activities seem to favour inclusiveness while beneficiaries of CBIs engaged in food and transport activities seem more homogeneous. Initiatives in Scotland and Romania, for example, have an almost equal gender balance, while in other countries (and especially in Germany and Spain) the situation is much more unbalanced. However, Romanian initiatives engage few disadvantaged persons such as poor or disabled people or foreigners and therefore they rank the lowest in terms of the synthetic social inclusion index. On the other hand, German CBIs seem very oriented towards disadvantaged people, especially the poor (only Finnish CBIs appear to be more oriented towards low-income persons) and foreigners. Spanish CBIs are the most inclusive in terms of beneficiaries’ geographical provenance but nearly fail to reach disadvantaged people. The averages in terms of age diversity seem more balanced across countries and domains. [3]

  • "Serving a wide range of social or ethnic groups makes sustainability transitions more inclusive. Yet when resources are restricted, institutional and logistical support is lacking, or discourses remain within established cultural barriers, the "less-privileged" individuals' access to local initiatives is hindered." [7]

The ability of initiatives to involve and 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 mediumor high-income" [8]

Permaculture Results showed the participation of women at or above parity (53%), while participation by race showed a white supermajority (96%). Multivariate regression demonstrated that race, gender, and socioeconomic status are shaping participation in distinct ways and that each interact with structural factors. The effects of gender on social roles varied with ecosystem vitality, with women scoring higher than men in countries with high levels of ecosystem vitality, and the reverse where ecosystem vitality was low. The observed effect of race on practice varied with national inequality, such that the scores of respondents of color were equivalent to white respondents in countries with the least inequality, but descended as inequality increased, while whites were unaffected. [9]

    • "Overall, less than half of the transition initiatives represent the diversity in their community fairly or very well. The transition initiative members predominantly belong to the age range 30-65 years old," [10]

"On a related note, our results also confirm that the level of diversity representation and inclusivity is lowest among urban transition initiatives." [10] Note: "The post-political critique correctly identifies that Transition in practice still tends to be found in well-off locations, comprising well-resourced individuals assiduously disavowing conflict or disagreement, with consensus seen as a great virtue. Their spread from Totnes has been geographically uneven. This emphasises and repeats already existing patterns of privilege, or ‘hot spots’ (Feola and Him, 2016: 2114) of ‘alternative milleus’ (Longhurst, 2013) rather than challenge or reconfigure these, as has been claimed for the diversity of the movement (Grossmann and Creamer, 2016). However, this analysis can overlook the wide variety of activities (above, and table) Transition engage in. This range of activities then attracts a wide array of participants." (Aiken 2017:308528)

Potential Negative Impacts of CLIs

(bad copy) "Negative visual Those impacts may also, in the medium term, generate negative spillovers. cts on local retailers, etc. may be among the negative indirect impacts of CBIs on the local economy. Some authors have documented that some kinds of initiatives can promote new forms of enclosure and (ecological) gentrification (Dooling 2009; Tornaghi 2014), by increasing the value and attractiveness of undeveloped inner-city areas which, as the extensive literature about gentrification shows, may negatively affect low-income residents mostly because of increasing housing values or cost of services. There may be additional negative, although not strictly economic, indirect effects: bike sharing, for example, may increase insecurity due to an increase in road accidents (Sælensminde 2004); other initiatives may expose participants to environmental risks such as exposure to pollutants (Koc 1999: 99), but those cases are very rare." [4]


(Other possibilities listed in first draft: Innovation (including technological, economic and financial innovation), capacity of initiatives to emerge and to persist, if or how initiatives scale up or replicate (including number of spinoff and/or follow-up initiatives, new audiences captured, new spaces created))

4. Innovation The analysed CBIs demonstrate to be innovative by offering to their users new goods and services and see them as responding to local communities’ needs. Among others, new goods and services mentioned are: new and sustainable materials to generate heat, new solutions for purchasing sustainable energy, innovative ways to ensure the access to local, organic and sustainable food, to manage its distribution, alternative ways to money for exchanging goods as well as new sustainable transport solutions and local infrastructures.The share of initiatives whose activities aimed at creating or diffusing innovation is consistently high in the UK (Scotland), Finland and Germany (between 80 and 90%). On the opposite side is Italy, where only 27% of initiatives consider the issue relevant, followed by Romania (42.0%) and Spain (64%). When it comes to ‘social innovation’ the situation changes: we asked about the importance of “promoting new/different/more sustainable behaviours, life styles and social practices”, only five initiatives (8.0%) answered negatively. Only 1 of 51 initiatives that answered to questions related to their innovativeness registered a patent (in Italy, for a textile fabric made of plastic). In contrast to this perspective, 4 initiatives underlined that they consider patents unsuitable for a community-based approach and they refrain from this practice, while 2 initiatives answered that they might consider the possibility in the future. [3]

"In line with what was stated in the previous section, 68.0% of initiatives declared a feeling of “pressure to change” their functioning and/or products. When asked if they actually created any new goods, services, or market segments, 76.0% of initiatives answered affirmatively. However, once asked to qualify, many of those new products turned out to not be really new, sometimes consisting of merely a new ‘vision’ or attitude towards traditional services, sometimes of innovations borrowed from somewhere else whereby the initiative was simply the first to introduce it in the ‘local area’ without any adaptation. This is not surprising given the difficulty in understanding what is effectively ‘innovative’ or not. After such a verification, we can state that approximately 21.0% of CBIs actually introduced more or less radically new goods or services (“Market formation”), 25.0% introduced innovations created by someone else (“Experimentation”), and 17.0% achieved both at the same time: they were able to create some sort of new market as well as experiment or test innovations produced by others. These results are summarized in Figure 83 together with the distribution of CBIs with respect to their other innovation sub-functions. The categories are described in Table 48." [4]

CLI - Innovation sub-systems (TESS D4.1, 2016).png [4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 TESS, ARTS & PATHWAYS, 2016. Common Policy Brief.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 TESS. TESS D4.1 Case-study integration. (2016).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named multiple TESS
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 TESS, 2016. TESS D4.1 Case-study integration.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Pel, B., Weaver, P., Strasser, T., Kemp, R., Avelino, F., Becerra, L., 2015. Governance - Co-Production challenges in Transformative Social Innovation - Transformative Social Innovation Theory (EU research Project) Policy Brief 2.
  6. TESS, 2017. TESS Final publishable summary report
  7. A. Hof, A. Holsten, H. Berg et al, 2016. Sustainability Transitions to Low Carbon Societies. TESS, ARTS & PATHWAYS Common Policy Brief.
  8. Celata, F., Hendrickson, C., 2016. Case study integration report (TESS Project Deliverable No. 4.1).
  9. Ferguson, R.S., Lovell, S.T., 2015. Grassroots engagement with transition to sustainability: diversity and modes of participation in the international permaculture movement. Ecol. Soc. 20.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Feola, G., Nunes, R., 2014. Success and failure of grassroots innovations for addressing climate change: The case of the Transition Movement. Global Environmental Change 24, 232–250.