TESS is an FP-7 European research project which aims to analyze the role of community based initiatives in creating a sustainable, low-carbon Europe across four domains: food, energy, mobility, and waste. TESS is also helping initiatives to monitor and report on their environmental impacts, including carbon reduction. These initiatives work in a wide range of sectors: producing and distributing organic food, recuperating food waste, recycling and reusing materials, promoting sustainable transportation, generating and distributing renewable energy and establishing adequate administrative frameworks or infrastructure in their surroundings.
Some of our work as members of BCNUEJ has included the analysis of the success factors and constraints behind the emergence, institutionalization, scaling-up and diffusion of community based initiatives. Of particular relevance in the context of our lab vision has been our examination of the extent to which neoliberalism influences the collective imaginaries of initiatives’ members about the possible societal change they can achieve, the strategies to use to achieve change, and the broader question of environmental privileges associated with some of low-carbon economy movement.
UAB-ICTA Research Responsibility in TESS
UAB-ICTA researchers have led an in-depth analysis of the critical factors behind the success of community-based initiatives (CBIs), understood as their emergence, persistence, growth, replication, dissemination of new technologies and business models; and contribution to social and environmental justice. This qualitative work is based on data collection and analysis on the processes and conditions favouring the success of CBIs, while they also paid particular attention to institutional arrangements at various scales, internal governance, power dynamics, and participants’ aspirations and rationalities. The research was conducted in collaboration with researchers from our eight partner institutions in 6 countries (Spain, Italy, UK, Germany, Finland, and Romania).
The main outcome of this collaborative work has been the write-up of TESS Case Study Reports. These reports represent the in-depth analysis of the trajectory of 14 CBIs and include our methodologies of data collection, background information on case studies, and summaries of analytically relevant qualitative data.
Our final product as part of the UAB team responsibilities has been the coordination of a report on the overall factors behind the success of community- based initiatives (CBIs). TESS members analysed the processes and conditions favouring the success of community- based initiatives, defined as their emergence, persistence, growth, replication, contribution to social and environmental justice and promotion of new technologies and business models.
Our intention here is not to cover the success factors already identified by the literature, such as strong leadership and agency, existence of steady financial resources, or institutional support, but rather to spot the new and nuanced features of the internal and external context that enhance or constrain CBIs’ formation and evolution and positive social and environmental impact.
Starting with the most original success factors that contribute to CBIs’ emergence, we have generally clustered them into the following categories: a vacuum in the socio-political field, aspirations for economic and political autonomy, a shared history of social organization on community level, and supportive, or non-constraining, institutional environment. Next, the multitude of success factors driving CBIs’ persistence and survival has been organized in the following sub-categories: a diversity of aspirations, adaptive organizational structure, and a diversity of political and income generation strategies, as well as strategic and targeted collaborations with public institutions.
Our results reveal that some community-based initiatives opt for maintaining a (small) size that allows for more participative forms of operation and higher degree of flexibility, expanding their impact and ideas through replication. Others choose to grow in membership, activity and income. For this reason initiatives’ success is also defined here as growth and replication. If initiatives decide to grow, the factors contributing to their successful up-scaling have to do with CBIs’ capacity to undertake structural changes, to deal with conflicts and value clashes, to renovate members and leaders, maintain a ‘healthy’ level of dependence from governmental institutions.
CBIs’ success is also defined here as dissemination of new technologies and business models. The latter most often takes place in the form of innovative models for organising work and enterprises, raising funds, and delivering services. Overall, technological advancement is mostly occurring in the domain of energy, with solutions for decentralized, local and renewable heat and electricity provision put in place.
Last, but not least, success in TESS is also understood as achieving social and environmental justice. Overall, our research indicates that CBIs’ location in multicultural neighbourhoods, ability to create working places and their willingness to contribute to the struggles of marginalized groups, enhance their inclusion of socially vulnerable groups. On the other hand when CBIs are confronted with restricted resources and institutional or logistical support, having an exclusive, paternalistic and colorblind discourse and communication style they are less successful at achieving socio-environmental justice.
The social and environmental impact of Catalonian CBIs
- La Ortiga: biological agriculture in Barcelona’s mountainous hinterland
- La Kosturica: agroecological farming in Catalonia
- Pixapins: collective food consumption in Barcelona
- The Can Masdeu Phenomenon
- Trèvol: an emblematic courier service cooperative… and much more
- A post-capitalist industrial colony: The Calafou Collective in Catalonia
- Participatory Energy Plan of Sant Martí de Provençals, La Verneda and La Pau: a neighborhood full of energy
- La Col – Social Architects with an Environmental Conscience
- A fertile soil is needed for community initiatives to emerge and sustain themselves
- Som Energia: The first Spanish renewable energy consumers’ cooperative
TESS Policy Briefs
During the last stage of TESS’s development, the UAB team was responsible for the coordination and development of policy briefs. The briefs cover four main areas: The potential of community-based initiatives (CBIs) to mitigate climate change; the social and grassroot innovation undertaken by community-based initiatives and the ways innovation is being enacted in each particular context; the multiple definitions of CBIs’ success and the critical factors and drivers behind this success; and the key impacts of CBIs together with the public policies and instruments required to further support their development.
Policy briefs illustrate and bring together the main results of the research conducted in TESS during three years. They also make these results and the main lessons learned in the project accessible to a wider audience, including policy-makers, regulators, or elected officials within the European Union. In particular, they contribute to a better understanding of how initiatives can become more successful and of the type of policy support they need to become more institutionalized and replicate themselves over time and space.