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Barbanza Ecosocial Lab

Award category
Reconnecting with nature
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NEW EUROPEAN BAUHAUS AWARDS: existing completed examples
Project title
Barbanza Ecosocial Lab
Full project title
Barbanza Ecosocial Lab. A Living Lab to shape our future from our roots

Barbanza Ecosocial Lab is an action research project to support and amplify sustainable land management initiatives that are promoted by local communities so they can become inspiring examples to others. The collaboration between non-profit organisations, the university and locals, especially in communal managed areas, aimed to recover the links between the local knowledge of older generations and the younger ones, that the last decades of unsentitive development has broken.

What was the geographical scope of your project?
Ribeira, A Pobra do Caramiñal, Boiro, Rianxo, Porto do Son, Dodro, Noia, Lousame
Does your project address mainly urban or rural issues?
Mainly rural
Does your project refer to a physical transformation of the built environment or other types of transformations?
It refers to other types of transformations ('soft investment')
Has your project benefited from EU programmes or funds?
Has your project won an EU prize?
Your project is fully completed?
When was your project implemented?
How did you hear about the New European Bauhaus Prizes ?
On whose behalf are you submitting the application?
As a representative of an organisation, in partnership with other organisations
Please provide a summary of your project

Barbanza Ecosocial Lab is an action research project to support and amplify sustainable land management initiatives that are promoted by local communities so they can become inspiring examples to others. This project is the result of a collaboration between Fundación RIA, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Fundación Banco Santander and the support to research of Fundación Juana de Vega . The collaboration between non-profit organisations, the university and locals, especially in communal managed areas, aimed to recover the links between the local knowledge of older generations and the younger ones, that the last decades of unsentitive development has broken.

The project, which focuses on the Barbanza peninsula in Galicia (Spain), has been developed in two phases: research and action.

In addition to documentary sources, the research was based on 30 interviews were conducted with more than 50 people from 3 communities in the region. This allowed us to learn about the forms of land management that have been carried out historically, the transformations that these territories have undergone over the last 70 years and the main challenges that the rural population currently faces in carrying out their activities.

The second phase started with the implementation of the lessons learned during the research through the announcement of an open call for the promotion of sustainable and innovative initiatives -called seed projects-. At the deadline for the submission of proposals, the Lab received 15 projects, which quality highlighted the existence of a great potential to boost the development of the rural areas of the county by the local community. The 3 selected projects received an endowment of €5.000 to recognise their work and promote their development and amplification.

The whole process and its results have been widely disseminated through the creation of a dedicated website, social networks, the book “When we were sustainable" and press.

Please indicate the main themes of your project with 5 key words
Living Lab
Sustainable local development
Environmental governance
Land stewardship
Action research
Please give information about the key objectives of your project in terms of sustainability (including circularity) and how these have been met.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context

The European territory has been extensively transformed over the centuries, adapting geographical and natural conditions to the needs of society. Landscape cannot be understood only in a contemplative way, as a consequence of natural evolution, but as a result of the symbiosis between humankind and nature: a productive landscape.

Especially in Galicia, every square metre of territory has been transformed for agricultural, livestock, forestry, shellfish production, etc., generating mixed productive systems in which human action has adapted the sources of resources in a sustainable way. Circularity can be found through silvopastoralism and the gathering of scrub, to be combined with livestock waste, which allowed the fertilisation of agricultural land; or also in intertidal areas, with the gathering of seaweed 'sargassum', which will allow the oxygenation of clam or cockle crops, and its use as a fertiliser for agricultural land.

The transmission of local knowledge optimised over centuries was interrupted by Franco's dictatorship and the forced forestation of the land, which broke the cycles and systems built up over centuries, favouring monocultures of pine or eucalyptus without active management.

The abandonment of human action does not produce a return to nature, it is not rewilding, but a chaotic disorder of species that drastically reduces biodiversity and ultimately leads to forest fires that seriously affect the agroforestry ecosystem, but also the marine ecosystem, although it does not harm people.

Recovering local knowledge, reconnecting young people with the territory, and recomposing cycles and agricultural ecosystems are the objectives that the Barbanza Ecosocial Lab seeks through the promotion and recognition of inspiring and exemplary local initiatives.

Please give information about the key objectives of your project in terms of aesthetics and quality of experience beyond functionality and how these have been met.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context

Barbanza Ecosocial Lab is an action research project. Aesthetical concerns have been presents at several stages of the process:

  • The process of collecting local knowledge through the elders, the living memory of the place, its filming and archiving.
  • Making the research accessible to all audiences is a premise that has characterised all the project’s actions. Public presentations, the use of social networks, or the visualisation of concepts through maps, diagrams and illustrations, have allowed this accessibility, as exemplified in the publication “When we were sustainable”. The graphic edition of its contents in order to elaborate and edit visual information accessible to all audiences: between scientific literature and the clarity of educational and informative texts.
  • A series of seed projects, with the aim of establishing examples in the territory to inspire a more sustainable model and demonstrate that theory can be put into practice. 
  • The environmental quality and scenic beauty of the mosaics of crops and agroforestry activities, in combination with natural areas, wetlands or riparian forests. High biodiversity of associated fauna and flora.


Please give information about the key objectives of your project in terms of inclusion (equal opportunities, public participation, citizen engagement, co-design, universal design, accessibility, affordability, etc.) and how these have been met.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context

The Ecosocial Lab has been conceived as a hybrid space that combines research and action, placing the local community at the centre of all activities. In this cooperative process, the identification of conflicts and the design of possible solutions has been carried out first-hand with the inhabitants themselves, adding value to their experience and innovative solutions to global challenges, both economic and social, as well as environmental.

Barbanza Ecosocial Lab is a transgenerational project. Importance is given to the voice of an elder as it can transmit the knowledge of a past productive model. On the other hand, value is given to the voice of a child, as it constitutes the relay of those who will manage, use and protect the resources of local ecosystems in the future. Agro-ecosystems span the life cycles of several generations.

At a time when raw materials, energy, food, etc. are becoming an increasingly important burden on household economies, the concept of resilience makes more and more sense. Preventing forest fires through forestry while providing fuelwood for heating homes. Promote mixed systems by favouring home-based agriculture, reducing livestock waste through the generation of organic manures. Promote local markets and traditional delivery networks adapted to current technologies. These are activities in which the role of local communities is crucial.

Please explain how these three dimensions have been combined in your project.
Please highlight how this approach can be exemplary

Barbanza Ecosocial Lab has successfully completed the first chapter of its journey. In just 2 years the project, which combines research and action, has managed to achieve its objectives. Learning has been extensive and the starting hypothesis has been confirmed: in order to guarantee the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the territories, the active participation of the communities is essential, giving value to local knowledge. This hypothesis has not only been confirmed, but, through the wide variety of communication actions, has generated a multitude of positive reactions from the local community, the scientific community and the administrations, which push us to consolidate the Laboratory as a proactive reference for the territory.

The process has demonstrated the relevance of working in a different way, why? Because policies and decision-making are made from a distance. Field work is not part of the administrative structures and when dealing with environmental issues one needs to be well informed, not only with data in an office, but in contact with reality. This is what we do at the Laboratorio Ecosocial do Barbanza, literally being with our feet on the ground and with the people who live, work and protect the territory.

We have been able to support 3 seed projects selected from among 15 highly valuable applications that address global issues. Our support is not only financial, but we have accompanied all of them in their progression, contributing to their growth, improvement and replication. These actions could be considered too small or too granular, but there is no other way to establish links and provide answers. They are highly integrated actions and are relevant to communities, stimulate their imagination and show an example beyond their geographical boundaries. Together we have set up a mechanism that listens to the territory and offers answers to global challenges through practical examples.

Please give information on the results/impacts achieved by your project in relation to the category you apply for

In just two years, and despite the extraordinary situation of COVID-19 pandemic, Barbanza Ecosocial Lab project has:

  1. Learned from the past of local communities to identify the keys to a more sustainable future, which has resulted in a printed and digital publication that is generating great interest both from the scientific community and the general public.
  2. Set a reference platform for local agents interested in rural entrepreneurship, environmental protection and community involvement in land stewardship, which has been attended by a diversity of individuals and associations with projects of great interest.
  3. Created a digital communication tool to share the knowledge generated, but with the potential to expand its impact with consultation and dissemination tools, such as the interactive map available to landowners and local entities.
  4. Supported a series of seed projects driven by local communities, which are transcending their own environments and creating links and potential collaborations with others.
  5. Reinforced local initiatives to promote active land conservation through sustainable management of natural resources.
  6. Highlighted the importance of providing younger generations with a better understanding of their surrounding environment and actively involve them in improving it.
  7. Valued local knowledge with regards to land management
  8. Generated interest in public administrations, both local and regional, to collaborate in projects of environmental regeneration, rural entrepreneurship, sustainable land management, pilot experiences, etc. through co-financing and the provision of technical resources.
Please explain how citizens and civil society were involved in the in the design and/or implementation of the project.
Please also explain the benefits that derived from their involvement.

This project could not have been possible if it had been developed without counting on the local communities which became the core of all activities.

The interviews conducted with members of the local communities were central to research in order to delve deeper into former farming practices, community values or labour and market relations. Most of the people interviewed were between 60 and 90 years old and therefore witnessed the processes of deagrarianisation of the rural areas they inhabited. They are therefore people who constitute the living memory of these places. All the interviews were recorded on video, which meant that they could be consulted later during the course of the research. This also made it possible for fragments and images of the interviews to be used in public communication actions of the project, on, on social networks or attached to press releases.

A total of 30 interviews were conducted with 56 people from the communities of Baroña, Froxán and Laíño, from which 40 hours of video footage were extracted. Audio segments of these interviews will be made public also through University of Santiago oral history archive Terra e Memoria.

On the other hand, one of the requirements set for the applicants for the call for seed projects was that they or their initiatives had to be rooted in the territory.

In this cooperative process, the identification of conflicts and the design of possible solutions has been carried out first-hand with the inhabitants themselves, adding value to their experience and innovative solutions to global challenges, both economic and social, as well as environmental.


Please explain what kind of global challenges the project addressed by providing local solutions

Like other European regions, Galicia’s rural areas are undergoing a process of transformation that began more than 50 years ago: half of Galicia’s municipalities have lost more than half of their population since 1950. During the same period, we have witnessed the deagrarianisation of these spaces, largely due to the forestry industrialisation policies promoted during Franco’s dictatorship, as the three case studies selected for Barbanza Ecosocial Lab research have shown.

Between 1950 and 2015, the number of people employed in the agricultural sector has decreased by 95%. In other words, for every twenty farmers there were in 1950, today there is only one.

The ageing rural population and low birth rate make Galicia’s demographic prospects a cause for concern as they make it difficult for the next generation to take over agricultural and livestock farms, favouring their management by companies not linked to the territory, their conversion into forestry plantations or, in the worst-case scenario, their abandonment.

The extremely opposite case is the over-intensive exploitation of natural resources practised since the Green Revolution, which makes the population of rural areas more vulnerable by exposing them to the vagaries of global markets, given that this type of production is only viable at the expense of importing supplies from other regions. It has become clear that these techniques are unsustainable, especially from an environmental point of view. Where they have been implemented, greenhouse gas emissions have increased and biodiversity and soil structure have been severely affected.

Barbanza Ecosocial Lab is aligned with the message conveyed in recent years by international initiatives such as the European Green Deal: the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems and the sustainable use of resources must be given greater value. Communal management of natural resources can addres both social and environmental challenges that rural areas are facing.

Please highlight the innovative character of the project as compared to mainstream practices in the field of the project.

In recent years, in Europe, the concept of the Living Lab has been defined as a test bed and experimentation environment where users can co-create innovations adapted to the needs of society and the territory. Living Labs offer spaces where prototypes are developed and tested with the aim of improving citizen well-being, involving both public and private collectives.

The experience accumulated since the beginning of the Barbanza Ecosocial Lab places us very close to this model, which the European Commission characterises as Public-Private-People Partnerships (PPPP) for user-driven open innovation and which are based on four main activities: co-creation, exploration, experimentation, and evaluation. This model has been implemented through the collaboration between non-profit organisations, the university and local communities, especially in communal managed areas, who have played a central role bothe in the research and the action phases of the project.

Please explain to the potential of transferring the projects’ results or learnings to other interested parties and contexts.
Please provide clear documentation, communication of methodology and principles in this context.

Two central pillars of the Barbanza Ecosocial Lab are to guarantee accessibility to the knowledge generated in the research phase and to amplify the public communication of the seed projects so that they can serve as inspiration for other people and entities.

The website, which is available in Galician, Spanish and English, is the digital window of the Laboratorio Ecosocial do Barbanza and is addressed to a wide range of visitors and readers:

  1. First of all, people close to the study areas, who will recognise many of the practices mentioned and which were carried out in their environment. The seed projects selected through a public call for proposals can become examples for other individuals to replicate.
  2. The content is also aimed at the scientific community, which we hope will find in the Barbanza Ecosocial Lab a repository of information under which to develop future research and projects.
  3. Finally, to public administrations and private entities related to territorial planning, to provide them with keys that will enable them to promote strategies and actions in which sustainability is a premise.

This website is complemented with other communication activities:

  • The book "When we were sustainable. Learning from Barbanza: shaping our future from our roots", downloadable free of charge. A first print run of 270 copies has been distributed to local and regional administrations, the scientific community, associations and foundations related to environmental conservation, local agents and members of collaborating forest communities.
  • Barbanza Ecosocial Lab has channels on social networks, facebook and instagram to disseminate the contents of, news related to the project, announcements of public events, etc.
  • Participation in scientific symposiums
  • Give-back sessions with the local community
  • Submission of press releases of the project to local media
Is an evaluation report or any relevant documentation available?
If you would like to upload additional documentation, please upload it or write it below

"When we were sustainable. Learning from Barbanza: the keys to the future." is one of the results of the first phase of the Barbanza Ecosocial Lab. In the publication you will find a summary of the recent history of three rural communities in the Barbanza peninsula, the abandonment of traditional agro-ecosystems caused by the forestry policy promoted during the Spanish Dictatorship and the way in which two of these communities have managed to successfully reinvent themselves by diversifying their activities based on collective management. You will also find seven principles for sustainability drawn from the communities studied - aligned with the main current development agendas - and five examples of good business and land management practices.

The second phase of the Lab was launched through the publication of a Call for Seed Projects, a call for action with which we promoted 3 local initiatives in Barbanza based on the principles for sustainability contained in the publication.

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