TechRevolution, an URBACT Transfer Network, provides an opportunity for six cities from across the EU to get under the skin of an URBACT Good Practice developed and delivered in Barnsley UK which centres around two main pillars (below) as well as some spin-off activities.
• Enterprising Barnsley - a successful business support programme;
• The Digital Media Centre (DMC) - a landmark hub for creative and digital business in the town centre.
It enables these cities to come together to study every element of the practice in a safe and honest space, to consider their own local contexts and strategic priorities and then to adapt different aspects of what Barnsley has done within their local setting. See the full Tech-Revolution Transferability Study here.
Working together to maximise the job creation potential of digital
Tropa Verde is a Transfer network to encourage environmentally responsible behaviour that empowers citizens to reuse and recycle. Combining web platform and low cost campaigns, it is considered as a "civic movement fully committed to sustainability and circular economy". Citizens get vouchers and exchange them for rewards from the City Council and local retailers. It connects places where disposing waste (green points, civic and social centres, etc.) with local businesses providing gifts or discounts.
The AS Fabrik Transfer Mechanism pilot seeks to share the experience of Bilbao in the AS FABRIK Urban Innovative Actions project with other European cities, which want to meet the ultimate approaches in the field of the smart specialisation in Industry 4.0 and digital economy. AS FABRIK was conceived to increase the competitiveness of the local KIBS sector and to prepare them to supply the digital transformation demands of the manufacturing sector. An strategic alliance based on knowledge and innovation that aims to improve the local ecosystems of cities, with city businesses, universities, local service providers and entrepreneurs hosted in a tailor-made innovative space.
Smart specialisation towards industrial digital transformation
Medium-sized post-industrial cities in Europe seek ways to grow & diversify their economies to compete with the pull of larger hubs. This is even more important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Barnsley has been committed to growing higher value jobs, particularly within its tech and digital sectors. The Good Practice comprises 2 main pillars: - Enterprising Barnsley, an award-winning business support programme - The Digital Media Centre, a landmark hub for tech business in the town centre which has recently expanded into a second building as Barnsley expands The Seam - Barnsley's Digital Campus.
Working together to maximise the job creation potential of digital
<p>Aveiro is an industrial city with an important seaport on the western coast of Portugal and also known as ‘the Portuguese Venice’. More recently, it has become known as a digital cluster, a territory of innovation with a strong knowledge economy, dynamic university, centre for telecoms R&D, and innovative firms in the digital and traditional sectors. However, the increasing development of new digital solutions had created a complex system of providers, interfaces and information sources for various services around the city, which was increasingly hard for local people to navigate.</p><p>The Municipality has been wanting to simplify citizens’ access to public services and transform Aveiro into a smarter, more open, resilient and inclusive society. In 2018, it launched an Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) project ‘Aveiro STEAM CITY’, supporting the adoption of 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.</p><p>Aveiro has started by introducing a common card for all students across its different schools. All services provided by the municipality and schools can be managed and paid with it. This includes the cafeteria, school supplies, photocopying, even access to the buildings and school-day extensions. Crucial preparatory actions included mapping different systems to ensure compatibility and ease of use.</p><p>Almost simultaneously, the Municipality also activated new online services, with a wide range of options. Different linkages, payments loading, single sign-in and a number of other key elements discussed in Card4All are already in place.</p>
Sustainable and integrated urban approach
<p>The integrated approach supported by the ULG has been particularly valuable in helping the work with CARD4ALL fit into Aveiro’s constellation of ongoing projects, creating synergies and building on existing policies.</p><p>In addition, the services provided via the card clearly relate to environmentally friendly solutions such as a public transport. It can also potential include social benefits directly into the card.</p>
<p>To reach this point, Aveiro and its stakeholders exchanged regularly with fellow partner CARD4ALL cities, and learned directly about Lead Partner Gijon’s Citizen Card system, including technical tools required for its development. This has already informed key elements of Aveiro’s new online public services and the emerging citizen card plans.</p><p>Local developments have been coordinated with an URBACT Local Group (ULG) comprising two different groups of stakeholders. The first engages all existing service providers on a practical, technical level. The second is a municipal cross-departmental group linking with wider economic development activities.</p><p>The network and the wider activities enjoy strong support from local politicians – and a clearly identified demand from citizens.</p>
What difference has it made
<p>Based on the practice of Gijon, the municipal departments are still working together to create a broader citizen card system covering almost all sectors of local life, including: mobility (bikes, buses, ferry, parking…); education and sports; culture (libraries, museums, theatre…); tourism; IT; and ‘the front office’ that deals directly with citizens. Each department acts as an intermediary with their own external service providers and concession holders, encouraging strong cross-sectoral cooperation. The card’s success in the future will require technical capacity, financial and human resources – including a municipal team of ICT developers and technical experts – which is not always easy to maintain in Portuguese municipalities.</p>
Transferring the practice
<p>The transfer journey has been demanding but rich. As a direct outcome, despite all ongoing challenges, the city is now working with more public service providers to add the library, museums, bus and bike sharing system to a new citizen card, further simplifying life for residents.</p>
Based on Barnsley’s good practice, Piraeus launched its own ‘Blue Lab’– the first Blue Economy Innovation Center in Greece. Blue Lab is one of the few centres in Greece that has a dedicated ‘makerspace’ for start-ups to focus on creating functional prototypes to develop their main ideas.
Solutions offered by the good practice
The Municipality of Piraeus, part of the Athens urban area, urgently needed to support recovery after the 2008 global financial crisis. Despite being a major freight and passenger port, the number of businesses and jobs were falling in all sectors, with several large shipping companies relocating elsewhere.
Piraeus developed an integrated ‘Blue Growth Strategy’ (2018-2024) aiming to develop innovation and higher value jobs in sustainable businesses related to the sea, coasts and maritime heritage. Goals included attracting international technology businesses, encouraging existing businesses to adopt modern technologies, and helping young people improve their digital skills.
The municipality joined the Tech Revolution network in particular to enhance the digital aspects of their Blue Growth Strategy.
Based on Barnsley’s good practice, Piraeus launched its own ‘Blue Lab’– the first Blue Economy Innovation Center in Greece. The municipality worked with a private contractor to found Blue Lab in a modern facility near the harbour, that welcomes young people and early-stage businesses who want to develop technological and business skills through a range of services (seminars, co-working space, advanced technology). Blue Lab is one of the few centres in Greece that has a dedicated ‘makerspace’ for start-ups to focus on creating functional prototypes to develop their main ideas. A variety of industrial equipment supports the activities.
Before the end of its first year, Piraeus’ Blue Lab had welcomed hundreds of visitors, and provided 1080 hours of business mentoring, 608 hours of tech and entrepreneurship training, multiple workshops and networking events, sparking more than 28 prototyping projects and 27 entrepreneurship ideas.
University students and professors also linked up with Blue Lab. When COVID-19 struck, they used the facilities to produce prototype technology solutions that could benefit the community – including a ‘Blue Air’ concept to sterilise air using ultraviolet radiation, and Personal Protective Equipment such as surgical masks.
Sustainable and integrated urban approach
Blue Lab and Piraeus’s activities seek to improve the social and economic wellbeing of citizens through the creation of more and better jobs and businesses. The infrastructure also supports the development of skills and opportunities increasingly needed for the development of innovative solutions for addressing the current issues at stake in the blue economy. Blue economy is a strategic priority of Piraeus and it offers an integrative framework for sustainable urban development as it constitutes a socio-economic opportunity due to the city’s unique maritime position.
A crucial step in transferring the good practice was engaging the local community, educational institutions and business representatives and private-sector partners as part of an URBACT Local Group (ULG). Cooperating with local stakeholders, the team decided to provide state-of-the art technologies - such as 3D designing/printing and microelectronic systems – to promote innovation and to develop digital adoption programmes for local businesses.
Crucially, the ULG approach achieved wholehearted engagement – including with enthusiastic senior city decision-makers. This sparked strong new partnerships. Schools in particular have been keen to engage with Blue Lab, for example through field visits.
What difference has it made
Tech Revolution has boosted Piraeus’ strategic vision for the local Blue Economy and, starting this June, the municipality is going to offer business start-up, scale-up and innovation support as core services, as in Barnsley.
Cooperation with businesses has also led to plans for a second, bigger innovation centre as a springboard for entrepreneurial activity. Piraeus’ plans include a larger co-working space, training facilities to upskill the workforce and investment in more advanced technologies.
The hope is that this energy will feed into a broader receptiveness to digital adoption and subsequent development of higher-value jobs in the local economy.
Transferring the practice
Piraeus’ learning journey was supported by exchanges with Tech Revolution city partners – including at a transnational meeting for all network partners in Piraeus - and reinforced by visits from Barnsley and the URBACT Lead Expert. These exchanges helped identify the most important lessons and inspiration for their own city, in particular around the centre’s economic viability, promising digital technologies, new ways to engage local stakeholders, and how to promote collaboration and start-up formation.
Senioral policy in Dzierżoniów and the goals of sustainable development
The Sustainable Development Goals have been defined by the United Nations (UN) in the document Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This document lists 17 Sustainable Development Goals and related activities that are planned to be achieved by UN member states. The goals are achieved not only at the government level - the sectors of science, business, non-governmental organizations and ordinary citizens also have a great influence.
From Vision to Transformative Actions for the SDGs: co-creation of integrated actions in Manresa
Around one hour and a half from Barcelona by train, in a hilly area of the Bages county, is Manresa - a small-sized city with around 78 000 inhabitants - one of several partners of similar size in the Global Goals for Cities network. On 21 April, I had the chance to stop by and attend one of Manresa’s URBACT Local Group (ULG) meetings organised by the local coordination team. Here, I share a few highlights of how the ULG and the participatory process is helping to shape the priorities of the Manresa 2030 Agenda and the integrated action plan that is currently in the making.
A short video of our first physical meeting in Solingen, Germany.
The meeting was dedicated to the next phase of action planning and implementation on governance, partnerships, and policy coherence levels.
Together with the cities of Tallinn and Heraklion the TM#6 was hosted by Solingen and was held from April, 6 to April, 8 in the Theater and Concert Hall in Solingen. After one year of work in the GG4C project participants from 14 different countries took the chance to meet in person.
Just halfway towards our goals following the marked route, the AGRI-URBAN Network (URBACT III Programme) held a transnational meeting in the Swedish city of Södertälje from 21 to 24 May 2017. A turning point in the agenda of this project, the meeting focused on the AGRI-URBAN topics linked to the experience of this city and also put the emphasis on shaping the Integrated Action Plans of all partners of the project with the participation of their respective URBACT Local Groups.
Watching this video, produced after the visit, you can discover how inspirational was this Swedish city in the project design and later, fostering innovative actions in other partner cities involved in the development of local food systems.
Reggio Emilia is renowned in educational circles, with the philosophy known as the “Reggio Emilia Approach”; for pre-school and primary school children developed in the city shortly after World War II. At the same time, contemporary art, ancient monuments, and exhibitions such as Fotografia Europea have made the city rich in culture and social change —supported by the business community, services and the university. The city is connected by high-speed train to Milan, Bologna and Florence, and is within 45 minutes’ reach to all those cities. Reggio is the city of relations with Africa, the city of cycle paths and of Parmigiano Reggiano.
The third newspaper of tomorrow is here and it's from Veliki Presav, Bulgaria.
Very inspirational article of how the city looks like beyond 2030, and as they declare - Veliki Preslav will be the most sustainable small city in their land.
In the visioning phase of our network, partners worked hard to co-create their visions for localizing the SDGs in their cities. The stories tell their vision for how to localise the SDGs in their cities. Here you can get a glimpse of Klaipėda - vibrant, smart, inclusive.
In the Visioning phase of our URBACT Global Goals for Cities network in the second half of 2021, partners worked hard to co-create their visions for localizing the sustainable development goals in their cities. We’re happy to launch our ,campaign showing the diversity and creativity of the 19 stories. First up: Newspaper of future Heraklion -smart, resilient and livable city.
The RFSC a relevant tool for the city partners of the GG4C network
In the course of the life of the Global Goals for Cities (GG4C) network, the 19 city partners used an existing self-assessment tool: the RFSC, or Reference Framework for Sustainable Cities. Based on European principles for sustainable and integrated urban development, the tool available online was used during the diagnosis and visioning phase of the network (as an analytical tool), and partners will use it again in the planning phase (as a planning tool). What is the RFSC? And what did it bring to the network?
The Citizen Committee of the La Rochelle Territory Zero Carbon project: How to build trust?
On January 25, La Rochelle Urban Community presented to the Global Goals for Cities partners its ‘La Rochelle Territory Zero Carbon’ (LRTZC) project towards 2040, highlighting the following main characteristics and innovations : a shared and multilevel governance, an evaluation and financing tool 'the Carbon Cooperative', and a citizen co-construction approach through the establishment of a Citizen Committee.
The future of the city of Schiedam is a recurring topic in the city council and the executive board and, of course, also in the city. These views and discussions have been reflected in the city vision for some time now.
Jihlava's successful collaboration with developers
Every new construction in the city burdens the surrounding area with growing demands on transportation, social and health infrastructure, and other needs for a functioning urban society. Such externalities can be relatively reliably quantified, predicted or simulated. However, cities often must develop and maintain the infrastructure themselves. Is there a method to share costs with private developers and collaborate to build more sustainably with the needs of the citizens in mind?
Manresa 2030 Agenda: localising the SDGs through meaningful participation
Since the end of 2018, Manresa is working on its local 2030 Agenda: an integrated sustainability strategy to respond to the environmental, social, and economic challenges of the current decade. A strategy whose design, implementation and monitoring must be shared with all the local stakeholders and citizens.
Awareness-raising around the SDGs – a practical example from La Rochelle Urban Community
On 25 November, Stina Heikkilä had the opportunity to participate in an exciting event organised by our Global Goals for Cities partner La Rochelle Urban Community: the bi-annual Participatory Forum for Actors for Transition (Forum Participatif des Acteurs de la Transition). For this Forum, the team from La Rochelle Urban Community had planned an “SDG edition” with the aim of raising awareness about the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs among local stakeholders.
The city of Ozalj was the co-host of the 4th Transnational Meeting which was held virtually between 24-26 November 2021 along with Manresa and Glasgow. Our main theme was Meaningful participation and co-creation and each co-host city shared best practices and introduced other cities to local customs.
The courthouse in Trim stands in the centre of the town, with the castle in the background, it is a reminder of the history and heritage of Trim. Both grey stone buildings have been here longer than us and could tell a story or two.
In Swedish: Gävle is developing urban sustainability
Nätverket Global Goals for Cities arbetar med Agenda 2030 och de globala målen. Gävle kommun ska tillsammans med 18 andra städer i nätverket under kommande två år skapa och dela kunskap för att utveckla den urbana hållbarheten.
Klaipeda Case Study: Virtual hackathon “Unlock SDGs”
To achieve Agenda 2030 and make sure that we leave no one behind, everyone needs to get involved in the work towards a more sustainable world. Youth continuously are an important factor in this work. The Klaipeda city has Forum of Youth Ambassadors, which is a new body put in place with the hope of creating lasting and strong youth engagement. The forum is designed to generate ideas for the Youth Affairs Council of Klaipėda, which consists of 7 youth representatives and 7 municipal representatives. This process is in progress according to national law.
On September 28th, the transnational meeting with the co-host cities of Trim, Mouscron and Klaipeda was held by videoconference (thanks to covid…). Nevertheless, it was an opportunity for us to practice our English. Through this activity, we were able to learn more and discover local traditions. We were therefore able to introduce other cities to our customs and to share with them our culture.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call of action to protect our planet, end poverty and ensure peace and prosperity for all by 2030. "Global Goals for Cities” is a pilot network and strategic partnership aimed at accelerating progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in 19 cities of the EU, through peer learning and integrated action planning. The partnership is funded through the European Regional Development Fund's URBACT III European Territorial Cooperation program.
Strategic partnership for peer learning and planning to localise SDGs
As the pandemic has proved to be longer lasting than originally envisaged, URBACT has continued to pioneer tailored digital support to cities. The aim? To continue to maximise the potential of both cross-border exchange between cities and local multi-stakeholder cooperation despite the challenges.
Here we share how our offer has evolved over the past year and what we have learnt about upskilling urban professionals in digital interaction. Don’t forget to also check out the URBACT Toolbox for video guidance on these topics: engaging stakeholders online.
Back in September 2020, we realised that our networks of cities would not be able to ‘get back to the old normal’ for the winter at least, so we introduced a new service called Digital Support Expertise (DSE). The aim was for our city partners to maintain momentum in the action planning process and keep the focus on participation and integration – overcoming the challenges of sustaining local stakeholder engagement through virtual working.
How to run a creative digital workshop with your stakeholders – from the URBACT Toolbox
We called out to our Lead Experts for advanced digital facilitation and coaching skills. The result was the formation of a super-talented core team of URBACT Digital Support Experts made up of Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse, Ian Graham and Liat Rogel, assisted by Kristijan Radojcic from the URBACT Secretariat. This article is based on our collaboration over the past 6 months and shared reflections on the DSE impact.
The DSE offer has had two main elements: tailored support for each network and a series of ‘Digital Fridays Breakfasts’ which were targeted at partners in the current URBACT Action Planning Networks, but open to all.
“This digital support came at the most crucial time when we were dealing with great uncertainty about how to move forward with the extended pandemic.” Kristijan Radojcic, URBACT Secretariat. (photo on the right)
The tailored support for networks has been based on an initial diagnostic exchange and a menu of available support including designing online meetings; signposting to the most appropriate digital tools; coaching in the use of those tools; and acting as online ‘event buddies’. Put together, these strategies enabled a team approach at events.
“Some ULGs stopped meeting in the first months of the pandemic, waiting for this to pass and come back to normal. Our training sessions assisted getting back to meetings and going ahead with the process.” Liat Rogel, URBACT Digital Support Expert. (photo on the left)
The series of nine ‘Digital Friday Breakfasts’ were one-hour sessions providing a mix of introductory overviews and ‘hands-on’ sessions covering a range of digital engagement tools and techniques. Sessions looked at how to run digital local group meetings and workshops, managing digital fatigue, agenda design, icebreakers and specific tools such as Mentimeter and Miro. The aim was ultimately to make digital meetings more interactive and get out of a standard and stiff webinar mindset.
How did it go?
In terms of reach, 14 networks have taken up the customised offer. They found that a good rhythm of support has been to hold one meeting of training, then about two weeks to host URBACT Local Group meetings and finally a feedback meeting. This has allowed for checks on how confident and happy partners are and how they felt their local meetings went.
The process has definitely helped in progressing with Integrated Action Plans. In many cases the ULG met more frequently than before (to keep the meetings short) and collaboration became much stronger.
“We are happy to receive support like this, other EU programmes do not offer such a rich scope of trainings, if they offer any at all.” Network participant.
“The training allowed us to maintain a healthy dynamic online with more vibrant and interactive meetings and ability to share and gather ideas for the Action Plan.” Network participant.
The Friday Digital Breakfasts were also a big success. The three overview sessions attracted a total of 323 participants from 125 cities and 27 countries - 23 EU (MS + Norway), UK, Uganda and Mozambique. In addition, each of the six ‘hands-on’ sessions were attended by 35-60 people looking to experience and develop really practical skills.
“The icebreakers opened my mind and helped me explore creative solutions to engage with people virtually.” Breakfast participant.
“We used the different tips & hints to help with the different stages of the process, also learned which tools to use, for different purposes… So far we used both MIRO and Mentimeter.” Breakfast participant.
More than anything, however, the Digital Fridays Breakfasts kept the URBACT community spirit alive. Being held on six Fridays in a row brought positive feelings and much-needed psychological support. In line with this recent article on Transnational cooperation in a pandemic from Christophe Gouache about the Active Citizens network, the digital support expertise exemplified both empathy and pragmatism. It offered opportunities to connect, care and help in very practical ways.
In addition to the sample quotes provided, the overall feedback has been very positive. Ninety two percent of respondents to the follow-up survey said the sessions had been useful and 100% reported that they are using the new tools. Use of the tools even held up in more complex contexts, including with those who were initially sceptical.
And what did we learn as a Programme?
Our experiences in adjusting our own meetings and in providing support to our networks of cities has led to a number of key messages emerging:
Digital engagement requires new facilitation skills. Good digital facilitation is not just about choosing the right online tools, but also learning how to run better workshops and upskilling of facilitation and workshop design generally. This should be based on a good understanding of both the audience and the specific objectives of the session and needs to take account of fading stakeholder enthusiasm - Zoom fatigue is real!
How to maintain stakeholder's interest & manage digital fatigue – from the URBACT Toolbox
Everyone has the ability to be competent in digital working. Despitethe perceptions of difficulty, digital skills are not intrinsically harder than anything else - just less familiar! It’s often mostly about confidence and getting used to something new.
Build knowledge through experience. We have found that a key success factor for building confidence as digital facilitators has been to provide positive digital experiences that people can then replicate in their own environment. Live training and interaction was more beneficial than written guidance – particularly for those in greatest need.
Digital confidence can come surprisingly quickly. Our experiences also show that people can very quickly overcome the challenges of using new digital tools and start to demonstrate the confidence to apply interactive techniques in online meetings. Often it is largely about a willingness to start and to really take up the invitation to be creative and innovative.
Digital meetings can include and exclude in new ways. It is right to think about people who cannot access online meetings and to explore appropriate provisions for their engagement - digital barriers still exist for many. However, digital meetings can also improve inclusivity for many people who are not able or cannot afford to spend two hours travelling to join a one-hour physical meeting.
What are the challenges for the future?
Remote working will continue to be a critical building block in the URBACT toolbox for transnational cooperation and local stakeholder engagement - one which permits cooperation, collaboration, learning and exchange without sacrificing the environment once the pandemic subsides.
Nevertheless, as well as the challenges of overcoming digital barriers and the real risks of ‘Zoom fatigue’, perhaps the biggest challenge on the horizon is how to organise effective ‘hybrid meetings’ – those mixing physical and online aspects.
A hybrid version of any interaction creates a two-tier system by definition. Benefits can include increased reach and accessibility, the opportunity to be joined by external speakers who wouldn’t travel otherwise, and for more ULG members to be present in certain sessions. But for transnational meetings and city visits, those who attend in person get a very different experience – not least in terms of the incidental contacts, the extra-sensory engagement and the richer social and spatial interactions.
“With three interaction types, rather than just one, the design needs to be carefully thought out. It also needs to be acknowledged that a good hybrid meeting will feel different for those who are there in person - attempting to design a physical meeting and then “dial-in” others will not work well.” URBACT Digital Expert,Ian Graham. (photo on the left)
The URBACT programme will strive to meet this and any other emerging challenges in this new digital environment to make sure the integrated and participatory approach - that forms the foundations of sustainable urban development - is not sacrificed by our inability to meet each other face to face.
“It's exciting, because we are really on the cutting edge of something completely new. I am hopeful that we will be able to use digital and remote means to share and learn together well after the travel and contact restrictions are eased.” URBACT Digital Expert, Mary Dellenbaugh Losse. (photo on the right)
With thanks to the Digital Support Experts for their inputs.
For more information
Check out the tips and tools on engaging stakeholders, visit that section of the URBACT toolbox.
And last, but not least, why not register now to join us for the 2021 URBACT City Festival (15-17 June) - our latest 100% online event! We’ll be exchanging the lessons and experiences from our Transfer Network cities, but there will also be digital booths of our networks and partners, an online social evening, speed networking sessions and a digital wellness tent! Come along to be part of the URBACT community and experience it for yourself!
In my experience as a Programme Expert, URBACT has never knowingly taken the easy route and the e-University is no exception! This is an ambitious project. As a programme, we always discuss what it means to innovate – and how innovating inevitably involves some degree of failing, that many public institutions fear. In this article, I share some of the ups and downs of our own very public innovation journey with the e-University so far and what we’ve learnt along the way.
The Summer University: an URBACT success story
The URBACT Summer University has evolved over the past 10 years into one of the programme’s flagship capacity-building events for cities, aiming to help all partners in URBACT Action Planning Networks (APNs) to build the tools and skills needed to get to work with URBACT Local Groups and create an integrated action plan. Summer Universities traditionally help kick off the Phase 2 action planning phase of the APNs.
I’ve been fortunate to be on the team of all three past URBACT Summer Universities and have witnessed the transformative impact. Bringing together 400 city makers from across the EU for a mix of master classes, workshops and networking focused on urban challenges creates an environment for deep learning and sustained connections.
The URBACT Summer University in Rotterdam in 2016 (left) and the opening session of the URBACT e-University in 2020 (right).
Simulating – albeit at speed – the action planning stages, based on a fictional city case, equips our partners to lead that process successfully back home. It forms the basis for participatory and evidence-based local approaches to delivering robust and realistic action plans. The URBACT programme has seen the improved results in quality - with over 80% of Action Plans from the last round progressing to implementation.
A Covid-enforced change of plans
Last year, we started to prepare the 4th Summer University for the 23 new APNs that kicked off in September 2019. We were looking forward to bringing all our networks together in the beautiful setting of Dubrovnik, Croatia in July 2020.
But 2020 has other ideas for all of us. The Covid pandemic blew our plans out of the water. We soon realised the Summer University would not be viable. But importantly, we also understood that we had to continue with our work to support our cities, citizens, communities and businesses to be resilient and recover. We had to go back to the drawing board.
So we put together a team to transform the Summer University to an e-University – to put into digital form the training and exercises we would have done face to face, to demonstrate what an action cycle looks like when done in a participative and integrated way.
Seven e-Managers co-created a new curriculum based on the logical planning sequence with exercises to try out tools, this time on a ‘Miro’ interactive white board as opposed to around a table.
So far, so good?
Midway through the e-University, we have managed to achieve a lot of our aims, but it would also be fair to say we are still adapting!
We had an upbeat live stream opening, have seen superb presentations in plenary covering stakeholder engagement, analysing problems, creating visions and actions so far, and have been supported by a committed team of e-facilitators.
URBACT Programme Experts spoke to participants during the opening session.
We have around 380 participants on board from around 200 EU cities and several from ASToN, the African city network. After four webinars, we are getting into a rhythm of listening to inspiring presentations, taking a group stretch and coffee, then breaking out into the working groups to practice the relevant tools.
But it has not all been plain sailing. Internally, we had initially shared concerns about whether Miro would be accessible for everyone. But in reality we are happy to report that we already have 38 Miro boards festooned with post-its for the exercises completed so far.
However, we stumbled at other technical hurdles and had to quickly press re-set. We had some difficult moments in the ‘Zoomiverse’ with participants struggling to find links and get into the correct break out rooms – not so easy when there isn’t a real-life door, corridor and signs.
Thankfully, we have corrected the system and learned from the mistakes. What’s clear is that the content is going down a storm, really appreciated by all the participants. During the most recent sessions we learnt to think like a detective to analyse problems, and to create a shared vision for our cities in 2035.
Participants have been using digital sticky notes on the Miro interactive board.
High hopes for the rest of the event
As always in URBACT, the sense of community is strong and there is enthusiasm to engage and learn. Good questions are coming up about how to conduct all these processes in a time when we are severely restricted, when some of our stakeholders are vulnerable, when priorities have changed to focus on recovery, and when poor digital skills exacerbate exclusion and inequality. And about how we can still include those perspectives and pivot our work to the 2020 circumstances. Some methods, such as instawalks or events may have to wait for a better day.
Ultimately, our aim with URBACT capacity building is to empower cities to work with their own stakeholders, to create the best possible action plan. I am confident the e-University will do that. Massive kudos to the talented e-University team, for creative collaboration at design stage and willingness to crowdsource solutions live. We are stretching our training muscles and gaining a better understanding of both the possibilities and limits of digital capacity building. And, of course, the e-University features many of the lessons of 2020 – our desire for connection, our shared challenges, our reserves of perseverance, resilience, and, hopefully, how to find the right button on zoom…
During the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, 23 new networks embarked on their action planning journey. Across the networks, capacity to work online was mixed. And we quickly responded with a series of measures to help all the networks to adapt to the situation at every level, especially for the partners lacking in confidence and experience around digital tools. As hybrid working may continue way beyond the end of the year, we keep learning, reflecting and adapting to the ever changing situation.
Meet URBACT Digital Support Experts
Lead experts Mary Dellenbaugh, Ian Graham and Liat Rogel (left to right) have been appointed to provide on-demand digital support to all APN networks. They have been selected based on their experience in designing and facilitating online meetings, their knowledge of digital tools and their great motivation.
Their support will be tailored to the identified needs, arising from an initial diagnostic exchange. This will for example include:
Help with designing online meetings;
Signposting to digital tools;
Coaching with digital tools;
Acting as online event buddies – enabling a team approach at events.
Where shared support needs are emerging, the support package will combine a mix of one to one coaching sessions with group sessions.
A growing set of tools for online working
This pool of experts is one strand of a wider capacity-building offer linked to digital working provided by the programme. It adds up to URBACT’s guide to online facilitation, published during the summer.
The URBACT toolbox launched during the e-University also displays specific information on how to adapt the tools to online working, with great examples and visuals coming from the networks.
As Programme Expert Eddy Adams already pointed out in a previous article, “in the coming months – maybe years – we will be feeling our way towards whatever the new transnational cooperation model is. (…)URBACT can now optimise these trusted networks to support the transition to the next generation of urban collaboration in Europe”.
More to explore Visit the URBACT toolbox for more tools and resources for integrated and participative working. Follow the #eUniversity2020 on social media and on our dedicated website.