Driving Sustainable Transitions: The Living Lab of Sant Miquel de Balenyà

Nestled in Seva municipality, Sant Miquel de Balenyà, with its modest population of 1,353, plays a pivotal role in Osona County‘s socio-economic and environmental shifts. This vibrant community, strategically located between Montseny and Plana de Vic, boasts a robust agri-industrial sector and participates actively in the RUSTIK project to tackle local challenges. 

Focus on Socio-Economic and Environmental Shifts 

Sant Miquel de Balenyà is witnessing dynamic demographic changes due to its strategic location and connectivity to major cities like Barcelona, Vic, and Granollers. Factories attract a workforce often exceeding the number of residents, and many secondary residences have become primary homes post-COVID-19. The town is also committed to green energy, with public buildings using wood chips from Montseny forests for boilers and the private sector investing in solar panels. However, water availability remains a critical issue requiring proactive management. 

Living Lab Challenge: Enhancing Quality of Life 

The Living Lab in Sant Miquel de Balenyà aims to improve the quality of life through social cohesion, equity, climate resilience, and balanced socio-economic competitiveness. The challenge is to refine territorial and urban planning to better address demographic shifts, the urban-industrial interface, and future infrastructural changes, with active citizen participation. 

Rationale and Challenges 

Despite its small size, Sant Miquel de Balenyà has a complex territorial pattern. An industrial area with over 30 industries lies close to residential zones. The construction of a bypass road to redirect heavy traffic away from the main street presents opportunities and risks, potentially impacting local businesses. 

Knowledge to Date and Policy Relevance 

The Living Lab’s foundation lies in existing planning documents like the Seva Urban Master Plan (POUM) and the Partial Territorial Plan of the Central Counties. Efforts are underway to advocate for policy changes granting EMDs the capability to approve modifications to Urban Master Plans, benefiting Sant Miquel de Balenyà and similar entities. 

Research Questions and Emerging Data Needs 

  • How can improvements in territorial and urban planning enhance social cohesion, equity, and quality of life? 
  • What measures can bolster community resilience to climate-related challenges? 
  • How can socio-economic competitiveness be balanced with social equity and inclusivity? 
  • What strategies can effectively engage the community in decision-making processes? 

To address these questions, detailed demographic, socio-economic, environmental, and mobility data are needed. Current data scarcity at the EMD scale poses a significant challenge, necessitating extensive fieldwork and community involvement in data collection. 

Capacities and Limitations 

While data scarcity is a primary limitation, the small geographic scale facilitates detailed fieldwork and community engagement. Existing data on land use, urban master plans, and energy efficiency certificates provide a foundational understanding. Innovative approaches, such as exploring big data sources and unconventional data collection methods, demonstrate adaptability in overcoming data gaps. 

Sant Miquel de Balenyà, with its vibrant industrial sector and dynamic population growth, is at the forefront of socio-economic and environmental transitions in Osona. Through the RUSTIK project, the town aims to address these challenges holistically, leveraging community involvement and innovative data collection methods. The ultimate goal is to enhance the quality of life for its residents, ensuring a sustainable and resilient future. 


The Sant Miquel de Balenyà EMD launches a survey to assess citizens’ perception of quality of life in the town

On May 15th, as part of the European Commission‘s RUSTIK project, the EMD of Sant Miquel de Balenyà launched a survey on the town’s quality of life and created various participation channels for citizens.

Understanding the perception of public spaces, the use of local commerce, citizen participation, and the use of facilities, among other elements, is crucial to measuring social well-being.

Data collection is being carried out using the Maptionnaire tool, which facilitates the collection of georeferenced data on cartography and its subsequent analysis with geographic tools.

To reach the maximum population of Sant Miquel de Balenyà, a set of actions was already conducted in June at the school and with the town’s senior citizen groups, to include their voices in the participatory process.

The survey is expected to conclude at the end of July 2024 with a street event during the town’s Festa Major.

Based on a series of indicators divided into three major blocks, the aim is to arrive at a quality-of-life index to evaluate the impact of public services and investment projects in the town. The survey design and analysis are carried out jointly with the ERSILIA Foundation, a member of the RUSTIK project.

The first results of the quality of life survey will be published in September 2024 in Gallaret, the town’s magazine published by the EMD, where the results of the RUSTIK project are also being published.


The 14 RUSTIK Living Labs actors meet in Barcelona to foster knowledge exchange


The Pilot Region Kick-off was held in February 2023, and it was RUSTIK’s first in-person knowledge exchange, training, and networking event for partners from the 14 Pilot Regions. The event took place over two days in Barcelona and Osona in Catalonia.

During the Pilot Region Kick-off event, attendees had the opportunity to increase their understanding of the RUSTIK project and interact with the project coordinators. They also delved into how the Pilot Regions could add value to the initiative and gained indispensable knowledge for implementing RUSTIK’s approaches. It was also the first opportunity for exchanging ideas and insights with partners from 14 distinct rural regions across ten states.

During the first day of the meeting, the RUSTIK project was introduced, and the attendees learned about the key concepts that will play a key role throughout the project’s duration and began exploring how these concepts could be put into practice in their respective pilot regions. On the second day, the focus shifted from ideas to action. The attendees comprehended what to anticipate and accomplish as they started to put into action a RUSTIK Living Lab in their pilot regions.

The interactive workshops enabled the attendees to have a direct conversation with the leads in charge of each of the upcoming tasks in the Living Lab. They had the chance to ask questions and provide feedback about the topics covered, which included doing background research on their respective pilot regions led by Franco Mantino (CREA), identifying existing data and data needs led by Andreu Ulied (MCRIT), setting up and assessing their Living Lab led by Janet Dwyer (CCRI), and creating a policy panorama for their pilot region led by Petri Kahila and Juha Halme (UEF).

Our hosts in Catalonia

The hosts for the event were MCRIT and the Ersilia Foundation. On the first day, we visited Sant Miquel de Balenyà, one of RUSTIK’s 14 pilot regions. The town had been established after a train station was built in the area in 1875, and it now has 1,353 residents. The nearby Parc Natural de Montseny is a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The wider region, Osona (with a population of 165,229), is renowned for its sausages and has a ratio of over six pigs per person.

RUSTIK will run 14 Living Labs to foster sustainability transitions in rural communities

RUSTIK (Rural Sustainability Transitions through Integration of Knowledge for improved policy processes) is a four-year transdisciplinary research project. The project aims to enable rural communities’ actors and policymakers to design better strategies, initiatives and policies fostering sustainability transitions of rural areas.

The project, funded by the Horizon Europe programme, envisages an analysis of current adaption requirements and the support of effective rural policy-making processes for a better understanding of the different rural functionalities and characteristics as well as the potentials and challenges of rural areas. Environment, climate-energy, socio-economic and digital will be the key transition pathways studied in the project.

Living Labs in 14 European Pilot Regions in 10 European countries will be the central element to generate new insights into rural diversity and societal transformations. RUSTIK’s Living Labs will work on the identification of new data, methods of data collection, combined with current data sources to set up relevant indicators. The project will also focus on data integration and dissemination, to make information and analysis accessible and valuable for actors and policymakers; and to improve rural impact assessment. The final goal is to enhance policy strategies and governance structures. To do so, 3 sequential phases: situational review, data experimentation, and policy learning are envisaged.

This week the academic partners of the project got together for the kick-off meeting organised in Frankfurt by the project coordinator, the Institute for Rural Development Research (IfLS).

A multidisciplinary consortium
The consortium involves 30 partner organisations. Eight universities and four research institutes are providing scientific expertise within the fields of rural development, spatial planning and reporting, policy process, climate change and sustainability; two knowledge-based SMEs contribute to this with ready-to-apply technologies and approaches; and two NGOs act as intermediaries between university resp. SMEs.

Local and regional embedded partners ensure a practice-oriented implementation of the project. This comprises partners from five local or regional public administration, two local action groups (LAGs), three business associations and three regional development agencies.

Two European umbrella organisation representing rural mountainous stakeholders and regions, Euromontana,, and the European LEADER association for rural development, ELARD, are key multipliers towards other European regions and particularly support the dissemination towards the European Union.

The consortium efforts will contribute to enhancing existing European policy tools and approaches, most of all to support the European Green Deal, the European Digital Strategy, the European Pillar of Social Rights and the EU Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas of the European Union, the EU Cohesion policy, the common agricultural policy, and, in particular, the European agricultural guarantee fund (EAGF).

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