Discover six of our highlights from URBACT’s first-ever, large-scale, live, digital capacity-building event for cities!
“Inspiring” “Useful” “New” “Intense!”… These are the top four words used by city practitioners to describe their experience of URBACT’s first ever e-University as the event drew to a close on 8 October 2020.This followed a month-long journey of interactive learning about integrated action planning for sustainable urban development. URBACT e-University ‘graduates’ now know the tools, techniques – and tactics – to start working with their own local groups to build local urban Integrated Action Plans.
Grand 'Grand finale' of #euniversity2020! Thank you @URBACT! Now the real work starts: making 9 realistic @URBACTROOF Integrated action plans towards #Functionalzero and to #EndHomelessness. Next week @LiatRogel and the cities compare and discuss their draft IAP roadmaps.— ROOF (@URBACTROOF) October 8, 2020
Join us for a quick look back over six highlights of the URBACT e-University 2020…
URBACT e-University participants provide their feedback during the closing session
1. A digital masterclass – with resources available to all
The e-University was a journey through each stage of building a local Integrated Action Plan, from engaging stakeholders, analysing problems, and co-creating ideas, to planning actions, to making results visible and then sharing knowledge. A participatory planning approach that civil servants may know about, but may not have actually used in their daily work.
For each stage of the process, participants heard the theory in plenary sessions. Then they had the opportunity to work in small interactive breakout groups to try to put the theory into practice, each time testing a different specific tool.
“It’s not only a good reminder of what you should do, but it’s saying this is how you should do it, and then we’ll actually even do it together so you can see yourself that you’re able to do it!”
Christophe Gouache, URBACT e-University e-Manager and ActiveCitizens’ Lead Expert
The good news for all urban practitioners, whether or not they are familiar with URBACT, is that the URBACT toolbox - covering all five stages of the public action-planning cycle, from analysing an urban challenge through to measuring impacts - is now all freely accessible online. You can even check out all the e-University sessions via a dedicated URBACT YouTube playlist and find other resources – such as event ‘Learning Memos’ - on the e-University platform.
“If you’re a city that wants to develop a participative, integrated action plan, this will give you a great snapshot of the steps that you will need to go through.”
Eileen Cowley, e-University e-Manager and Resourceful Cities’ Lead Expert
2. A rich programme spread over 4 weeks
The e-University involved eight two-hour sessions - including plenary talks and smaller group workshops - over the course of a month.
With two sessions per week, it was a big commitment. But one advantage for many participants was the chance to assimilate their learning day by day. Some applied it directly in their work as the course progressed.
For example, Irina Rotaru, local coordinator of the URBACT Space4People network for Saint Germain-en-Laye (FR), was able to test out her new knowledge on result and output indicators immediately, discussing Alignment on Strategic City Impact Indicators with her EIT Urban Mobility project "Safely Connected" between sessions.
“The format really made it fruitful and helped to cement the learning from each session.”
Irina Rotaru, Saint Germain-en-Laye (FR)
3. The invaluable engagement of session managers and facilitators
Each session, focusing on a stage in participative planning, was put together by an ‘e-Manager’, one of the Lead Experts from the current round of URBACT networks. Their ‘hard’ technical and public policy knowledge, combined with their ‘soft’ people and moderation skills were key in delivering informative sessions that were open, engaging and participative. This was crucial to the event’s success.
The e-University also benefitted from the support of a number of fantastic volunteer ‘e-Facilitators’ - participating city representatives and other experts who supported group work in break-out sessions on each day of the e-University. They were the glue that held the event together!
4. An agile response to the Covid-19 crisis – and a step towards a more sustainable future?
When the Covid-19 crisis first hit, many feared that the URBACT Summer University - planned to take place in Dubrovnik in summer 2020 - was going to have to be simply cancelled. URBACT Programme Expert Sally Kneeshaw has written about the tremendous effort and energy put into transforming the tried and tested Summer University concept into an online experience.
As she points out, failure really is part of learning! Following a bumpy start, early technical hitches were solved, so that in the end the online approach worked for both the big plenary sessions and more focused teamwork. What is more, it felt to many as if everyone had been through a common challenge – organisers and participants alike – and when it worked out well, they all appreciated it even more!
It also created a renewed determination as well as additional skills and confidence for using digital tools again in the future.
“It was very challenging to be flexible enough to adapt the URBACT University. People might take this for granted, but the effort put in the organisation of a digital event is comparable to during a physical event.”
Stefanie Weber, URBACT Secretariat
5. Showcasing new interactive tools to the city level
The embrace of new technology not only benefitted URBACT as a programme, but gave participants practical experience in using new interactive tools that could serve their needs at home.
Many of the participants, who used zoom and the Miro ‘online visual collaboration platform’ (together producing a total of 304 Miro board exercises!), said the e-University had taught them new digital ways of working that they would use in their own cities.
“It was great to see participants diving into the Miro tool and getting familiar with it over the eight sessions. We knew it would not be love at first sight with this tool for most people so it was a nice to see participants getting more comfortable with it and to see the learning happening live.”
Clémentine Gravier, URBACT Secretariat
6. And – above all – the participants!
While some zoom sessions reached up to 436 participants, the real connections took place in smaller breakout groups of up to 8-10 classmates who got to know each other over the four weeks. As a result, some plan to visit peers in their home cities once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. And we are told that one participant was even offered a job interview by someone from her working group!
“I loved seeing good atmosphere and team spirit develop within groups of people who didn’t know each other before and came from very different countries, cities and with different backgrounds and interests. I'm hopeful they will stay in touch and carry on these new working relationships.”
Clémentine Gravier, URBACT Secretariat
Registered participants at URBACT’s first ever e-University were 486 urban practitioners from the cities involved in URBACT’s latest set of 23 Action Planning Networks. They were also joined by a selection of African partner cities from the French-supported ASToN smart town network. On average, 395 people participated in each plenary session and 280 took part in the participatory breakout sessions – a good result given the challenges of retaining participants’ engagement over four weeks.
Finally graduated! Thanks @URBACT for the amazing work behind the #eUniversity2020.— CITIES4CSR (@Cities4Csr) October 8, 2020
Our #network will make the best out of it both on a national and transnational level. #bettercities #elearning #networkmanagement https://t.co/npYf2zdeIr
These highlights were developed after talking with e-Managers Liat Rogel, Eileen Crowley and Christophe Gouache, e-Facilitators Delphine Gaudart-Brunet, Irina Rotaru and Alisa Aliti Vlasic, as well as URBACT’s own Stefanie Weber and Clémentine Gravier – just a few of the many participants and organisers URBACT is grateful to for helping put the event together and making each session so vibrant!