URBACT Local Support Groups Summer University: Participants first!
12 September 2011
Specifically designed for people participating in the URBACT Local Support Groups (ULSG), the first URBACT Summer University which took place in the Jagiellonian University of Krakow, Poland from Monday 29 August to Wednesday 31 August 2011, was a unique learning opportunity for urban practitioners from all over Europe. With a good 'mix of fun and hard work' the University allowed participants to learn new theories, methods and tools for coproducing integrated local urban policy with key stakeholders.

  • 3 days of work, 300 attendees, 27 countries represented, 5 main themes, 19 virtual ULSG working in parallel, 4 movies, 20 Polish students as linguistic mediators.
  • A unique mix of urban practitioners: civil servants, elective representatives, private sector professionals, experts and academics, NGO representatives
  • A learning experience: methods and tools for stakeholders' involvement in local urban policy making
  • Capacity building in integrated urban development
  • Rich transnational exchanges
  • The URBACT Cafe: a moment to reflect on improvement to the URBACT Local Support Groups

A unique learning experience

An interactive learning process based on group work

Learning new theories and practices has a clear added value, but the possibility to apply them straight away and to appropriate them makes a real difference.

That is why the URBACT Summer University agenda was set up around short talks in plenary and working sessions in large (Labs) or smaller (ULSG at work) thematic groups. Talks set up the general background, Labs gave the opportunity to appropriate new methods and tools, ULSG at work gave a chance to apply them to a specific city case. By the end of the Summer University, each group had to design a real Local Action Plan to solve the problem of the case study.

Issues tackled by urban professionals vary depending of their area of work. Therefore the Labs and groups were divided by thematic area, defined according to participants' preferences: regeneration of disadvantaged neighbourhoods, city centres, inclusion of young people, development of low carbon transports, creative services.

But beyond the thematic approach, the process aimed at building participants' capacity to involve stakeholders in policy making and to deliver integrated urban development plans. The structure for learning remained the same such as the insistence on group work, and that is what made the success of it! 'The structured LABS provided a good preparation for the group work... The tools that were proposed were simple to apply but very effective for the practical work' explains one participant.

Very motivated participants led the game

More than experts, participants played the essential role. Fortunately all participants were well prepared and remained very active all along. And they had to because they kept on being in the centre of activity.

For instance in the Low Carbon Transport Lab, to make sure everyone had in mind the main characteristics of the imaginary city of Mittleburg, the coordinator Sally Kneeshaw started with a quiz. Good surprise: unlike in a real University classroom, all participants had read the case in advance and could answer!

Switching from one Lab room to another, one could see highly concentrated people, discovering a new method, applying it or critically discussing its advantages and shortfalls.

A mix of fun and hard work

No matter if the agenda of the URBACT Summer University was tight and tough, some groups worked long hours: in warm rooms or outside under the sun, everyone played the game and gave ones opinion and knowledge.

Sitting down quietly in a corner was not an option. Various methods and tools had to be tested: stakeholders' analysis, the problem solving tree and action planning table had to be filled up and used.

Participants played role games, took place on charts, moved around rooms, filled up trees and stuck up post-its. And this in order to achieve the expected result: a convincing Local Action Plan.

This resulted in very dynamic presentations during the last Lab sessions (the Dragon's Den!), with the objective to convince other members of the Lab that one Local Action Plan was the best for the city!

Active involvement of all participants resulted in rich transnational exchanges, but more importantly the University provided participants with useful tools for the future.

Outcomes: more focussed and efficient methods for integrated urban policy

'For participants it is a chance to take a step back on what they do, reflect on what they had been doing, share. It's about people doing their jobs more effectively, people getting better results' says Eddy Adams, URBACT Expert and Lab coordinator for 'Young people' at the ULSG Summer University.

Theoretical and practical input on co-creation of integrated urban policy

Methods and tools proposed during the University were all geared towards involvement of residents and stakeholders in urban policy, focussing on four main stages: identification and involvement of stakeholders:
  • Stakeholders analysis
  • Methods to identify and reach an agreement on main problems: From Problems to Strategy
  • Tools to turn strategy into action: Action planning
  • Methods to build a convincing and efficient Local Action Plan. 
The other main focus was set on the cooperation between various organisations and administrative levels to go beyond sectoral urban policies and produce integrated urban development.



Talks remembered theories of residents' involvement and multi-layered urban policy making.

  • Elena SARACENO, Policy advisor of the European Network for Rural Development and FARNET, encouraged participants to re-think the way they conceive the city and act she raised questions such as: What is left from the old vision of the city? How can we adapt and renew it?

  • Ivan Tosics, managing director of the Metropolitan Research Institute of Budapest, used a role game to represent the variety of obstacle multilayered involvement of stakeholders represents,. He played the roles of the mayor, the head of environment, business development and social policy, such as the ministry representatives who had to agree on an ambitious regeneration project for a city. 

  • Robert ARNKIL, Lead Expert of My Generation, reminded that to create the right conditions for urban planning to move away from target group working towards co-creation, one had to transform the ways stakeholders are engaged. He underlined that to allow everyone to give an input, one should help people to articulate their needs by all sort of means such as 'dance, music, theatre' etc…and the Summer University participants tested it!  

  Highly valued transnational exchanges

Participants to the ULSG University were urban practitioners who do not often have the possibility to attend such meetings. By involving in the Summer University all of them had chosen to dedicate three days to exchanging ideas with people coming from other parts of Europe.

'I think it is very stimulating because they are people from various background so it is good to see how different people would see the same problem' says Pietro de Mattheis from the European Commission, DG Regio.

Indeed, most of them underlined how much they learnt from exchanging with others on their practices.
'To work with others was THE thing, especially to see different experiences. I would like to get more of that!'
'The transnational dynamic was stimulating and provided complex discussions'.
'I can now relate my knowledge to the ones elsewhere in EU.'

Improved practices of stakeholders' involvement

The most important outcome of the University is that participants will be able to apply what they have learnt in their own cities. You can read some of their comments below.

'I do quite a lot of things we train here already but not as focussed, step by step' says Juliana Pantzer from the ULSG of Leipzig 'I do it more by intuition, so now it is good to see where I have some lacks or some missing parts'. 'It made me realise that maybe there are new ways that we can work, maybe we can apply different methods' adds up Marie Wright from Glasgow.
'What I've learned will definitely help me in my ULSG work at home.'      

An inspiring experience for the future developments of urban policy in Europe.

At the end of the Summer University, Jan OLBRYCHT, Member of the European Parliament, President of the URBAN Intergroup, underlined that 'URBACT is about real content of solving problems in cities'. Remembering that 'there is not European projects and local projects but there is only our reality' and that 'complex problems cannot be solved by one-dimensional approaches' he called for the continuation of the programme. 

The URBACT Local Support Groups will also be an inspiration in the design of future European programmes dealing with urban policies! In his closing speech, Wladyslaw PISKORZ, Head of Unit at the DG Regio, European Commission remembered that successful urban policy is not a matter of consultation but of real partnership. He mentioned that the successful experience of the URBACT Local Support Groups will be taken into account during the preparation of the future European programme for urban policy.
Everything leads to think that participants, leaving with their participation certificate in hands and the knowledge that their work's added value has been recognized at European level will feel reinforced and empowered in their daily practice of integrated urban policy. Watch the lively videos of the event!
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