Fostering Social Inclusion and Tackling Food Waste in Slovenia’s Osrednjeslovenska Region

The Osrednjeslovenska region in Slovenia, with 25 municipalities and nine urban settlements, faces diverse challenges despite being densely populated. While some areas have well-developed central functions, others lack essential services, impacting living standards and increasing traffic congestion.

The Rustik Living Lab (LL) in Slovenia targets food loss and waste (FLW) and its connection to social inclusion and entrepreneurship. These issues were chosen for their societal relevance and to leverage partners’ strengths. The LL aims to address data gaps regarding rural poverty, access to food, and subjective quality of life.

Living Lab Challenge

The LL aims to link partners’ expertise in FLW and social inclusion to address the real-time acquisition of excess food and its redistribution to underprivileged rural segments. By assessing the impact on subjective well-being, the LL seeks to explore how social innovation in FLW management can improve the quality of life in vulnerable rural communities.


The chosen challenge reflects societal importance and partner expertise, focusing on dignity and social inclusion. Poverty, social exclusion, and limited access to quality food are more pronounced in rural areas. Urban areas may contribute significantly to FLW, presenting an opportunity for mutually beneficial relationships.

Data on FLW are often outdated, while information on social exclusion in rural areas is limited. Current estimates suggest around 10% of people are at risk of poverty in the region. Examining subjective well-being and social inclusion requires new approaches and social innovation.

Policy Relevance

Policy measures to mitigate poverty and FLW can benefit from concrete data on FLW prevention and subjective well-being improvement. Improved well-being could address other policy issues like rural out-migration and limited access to services. The LL aims to develop replicable good practices for policy implementation.

Research Questions

  • How can excess food be provided to those in need while preserving dignity and promoting social inclusion?
  • What is the relationship between food, access to food, and subjective well-being, and how can it be measured?

Data gaps exist in real-time information on excess food availability and the needs of rural communities. Acquiring sensitive data ethically and ensuring confidentiality pose challenges.

Emerging software solutions offer insights into food waste mitigation. Consultations with institutions working with marginalized groups will explore ways to reach individuals in need while protecting confidentiality and dignity.

The Rustik Living Lab in Slovenia addresses pressing societal issues by tackling FLW and promoting social inclusion. By leveraging data and social innovation, the LL aims to create replicable good practices that inform policy and improve the well-being of rural communities.

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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