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  • Stay Tuned

    LEAD PARTNER : Ghent - Belgium
    • Ampelokipi - Menemeni - Greece
    • Aveiro - Portugal
    • Barcelona - Spain
    • Berlin - Germany
    • Gothenburg - Sweden
    • Nantes - France
    • Sofia - Bulgaria
    • Tallinn - Estonia

    Operational Implementation Framework

    European cities face higher levels of Early Leaving from Education and Training (ELET) than their national averages, meaning that some urban areas have more ELET rates, than the countryside areas - contrary to the national trends of these cities' countires. This represents a serious challenge, as ELET has significant societal and individual consequences, such as a higher risk of unemployment, poverty, marginalization and social exclusion. Tackling this issue means breaking the cycle of deprivation and the intergenerational transmission of poverty and inequality.

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  • FED


    Fossil Free Energy Districts - a piece of the puzzle for energy transition

    Stina Rydberg
    Johanneberg Science Park Gothenburg
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    Global warming has made the transition to renewable energy sources absolutely necessary and urgent. At the same time the power demand is increasing due to electrification of transport and industry and urbanisation, followed by grid constrains and risk for blackouts. 


    Local energy systems, digitally connected to and interacting with external, existing energy systems, have the potential to solve challenges connected to renewable systems and could thus be an important piece of tomorrows’ energy system puzzle. The Fossil-free Energy Districts project, FED, was an innovative initiative aiming to find modern solutions to global energy challenges and make it work. 
    FED has built up a local energy system, coupling three energy carriers in the same system: electricity, district heating and district cooling. All three are traded every hour, on the hour, at a digital marketplace, shaving power peaks and optimising the total energy consumption, in the local system. The system is able to provide the external grid with services for grid stability e.g. flexibility aggregation, reactive power and frequency control. 


    The results show a 100% fossil-free energy district, where local waste heating and cooling can be utilised and with a potential for energy efficiency of up to 20%. 

    The innovative solution

    FED has proven an innovative, digital solution to meet challenges in the energy transition. It has built up a local energy system, coupling three energy carriers in the same system: electricity, district heating and district cooling. All three are traded every hour at a digital marketplace, shaving power peaks and optimising the total energy consumption, in the local system. The system is able to provide the external grid with services for grid stability e.g. flexibility aggregation, reactive power and frequency control. 
    The results show a 100% fossil-free energy district, where local waste heating and cooling can be utilised and with a potential for energy efficiency up to 20%.  After project end, the actors can offer knowledge and replication strategies to cities, or others, wishing to make use of local energy systems and smart, digital platforms for balancing and optimising local energy systems. 

    A collaborative and participative work

    The well-balanced partnership in FED was made up of actors from public sector, academia and ICT, real estate and energy business. Factors of success were the large elements of learning from each other and the joint development of new knowledge and new technology solutions. The real estate industry could not do this without the energy utility involved, nor vice versa. The research partners provided excellence e.g. regarding market design. Public sector partners added the municipal and governance dimension. The project was jointly developed in an environment, where most partners already were known to each other. Trust was already built among the partners and this, together with the local setting and use of native language, has been pointed out as keys to success. 

    The impact and results

    The FED project has moved the frontline for what is possible on the area of local energy systems. Utilise sector coupling by combining three energy carriers, in the same system and enabling trade of all three of them on a digital platform is unique. FED has done what others just talk about and we have hands-on experience from e.g. connecting more than 50 market participants to one single system, handling large amount of complex data and developing an IoT platform with “smart agents” representing each market participant. A lot of time and effort has been put into identifying opportunities and barriers for local energy systems in real life. Legislation, business models, roles and governance are issues around which a great deal of knowledge has been built. Strategies for replication have been developed. 

    Why this good practices should be transferred to other cities?

    Global warming has made a transition from fossil-based to renewable energy sources urgent, which brings about new challenges, e.g. supply fluctuations due to the weather dependencies and decreased frequency control. Power demand is increasing due to electrification of transport and industry. Strong urbanisation has in some cases lead to severe constrains in power grid, with power shortage and higher risk for blackouts. There is not a single solution to solve all these challenges but local energy systems, connected to and interacting with external, existing energy systems, could play an important role in facing the challenges. A digital solution, e.g. a system like the one developed in FED, is vital for balancing and optimizing the energy systems of tomorrow. The challenges of energy transition are a reality in several areas of Europe and initiatives and projects with smart grid and local energy systems can be found in many cities. We have implemented and demonstrated a system with high technical level and high degree of complexity. The system solution in itself is adaptable and can easily be adjusted to meet local challenges. The experience that the project parties have gained is very valuable for any other city that want to address the challenges of energy transition with the help of a local energy system. 

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  • 9 European cities acting together to end homelessness. Ambitious? Hell, yes!

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    What do we talk about during a 2,5 day summit on transforming planning? Catch a glimpse on our Day 2 Recap.

    Homeless people are increasing in all European countries except one: Finland. The most extreme form of poverty is becoming ever more urgent to tackle. Cities are struggling with understanding the numbers they deal with, define their specific problem and finally find innovative solutions to work with. A time of crisis calls for radical answers and a shift in mind-set. Can the collaboration between 9 European cities lead towards the end of an era? 

    “I see this lady, just outside the centre where they distribute methadone. Every morning she stands there. She is old and not in a good shape. I have been walking past her every day for the last year; -a whole year, every day. Now we wave hello to each other. She reminds me of why I do my job”. Says Steven as we walk away from the MSOC in Ghent, a medical centre where people can get methadone and support. Steven Vanden Broucke has been working for the Belgian city of Ghent since 2018 and is working on a local action plan to end chronic homelessness. 200 people arrive at the MSOC every day suffering from drug dependency and often mental disease. About half of them are homeless. “Not all of them are without a roof,” tells us one of the project medical doctors “but many live in insecure, inappropriate housing or couch surf.” 

    The city of Ghent (BE) has the challenging role of leading the new Action Planning Network ROOF in the URBACT program. ROOF is focusing on ending homelessness through innovative housing solutions. The project is a partnership between 9 cities: Ghent (Lead partner), Braga (PT), Glasgow (UK), Gothenburg (SE), Liège (BE), Naples (IT), Timisoara (RO), Thessaloniki (EL) and Toulouse (FR). The cities will compare best and worst practices, learn from one another and grow together with two main objectives: 1. gather accurate data about homelessness in their own city 2. make the shift from managing to the actual ending of homelessness, with Housing First and Housing Led as guidance model.

    Room in a homeless shelter in Naples (Italy)

    To measure is to know

    Homelessness does not have one single definition, and this lack of definition is also part of the problem. While the common image of a homeless person is a person living in the streets, many homeless people are sleeping with friends or relatives, in their cars or in unsuitable conditions. Homeless people often do not want to be seen. When visiting one of the day shelters for the homeless in Liège, the director explained: “The people coming to our service to get a meal and a bed, may remain anonymous. We only ask them to maintain the same identity for the whole season.” Patricia Vanderbauwhede who works for the Housing Department of the city of Ghent and ROOF project leader, is certain that an accurate data collection on homelessness is a crucial step towards solving the problem. “It is very convenient for a city to think the numbers are smaller than they really are. We have to work together in order to make this problem visible and reveal the real numbers”.

    Even though the numbers are difficult to collect and compare, studies show that more than 4 million people are affected by homelessness each year in Europe. "Only crisis -actual or perceived- produces real change" said Milton Friedman. And for homelessness, the multiple crisis level is evident: the Global Financial Crisis brought higher levels of poverty; the Housing Crisis today makes the housing market become highly inaccessible for most vulnerable people and the European migrant crisis causes difficulty for migrants in finding affordable housing and a homelessness risk, due to their complex situation (such as lack of finances, language barriers, cultural differences, (mental) health issues.


    Street art in Sanità neighbourhood in Naples (Italy)


    The house as a human right, not a reward.

    The ROOF project will not stop at understanding the problem but will explore innovative housing solutions, and especially “Housing First”. The reasons for that come from the observation of, -the only European country showing positive trends on homelessness. It is the only country with a long and successful experience with “Housing First”. The traditional model is a staircase model, where people have to go through several steps before they can get a house, for example by curing their addiction first. In “Housing First”, to be given a home is a first step. Once one has a home, other problems are taken care of, with freedom of choice and flexibility. This puts the house as a human right and not as a reward. Temporary solutions in housing are often unsuccessful for people with complex needs. I met three young adults in Queens Cross housing association in Glasgow during my city visit. “I am very easily influenced,” one of them shared, “going back to an institution or a temporary housing solution, and living with other people that have similar problems would have meant going back to drugs, losing my job… I needed my own space, I needed to put my life together, on my own.” The three young adults now live in small and independent apartments, and have 24/7 support from the housing association if needed.

    Study visit to Glasgow (Scotland)

    The URBACT framework is perfect for this network, it facilitates exchange and learning on transnational and local level, it offers capacity building, it provides cities with guidance to make a local action plan together with their stakeholders and puts focus on communication and dissemination. These four aspects make a great opportunity for the cities to act. “URBACT allows each city to have a spotlight on a desired topic, to bring it to the political agenda and to the citizens’ attention,” says Ariana Tabaku, from the coordination team of the City of Ghent. “All cities should use this opportunity strategically.”

    Professor Eoin O'Sullivan (Trinity College, Dublin) speaks at ROOF kick-off meeting

    The ROOF network is determined to influence the European strategies on the topic. Europe does not have a specific policy for homelessness. During the network Kick-off Meeting in Naples this October, Professor Eoin O’Sullivan spoke about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with one of its aims to reduce homelessness to functional zero (meaning homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurrent) in all member states by 2030. Action plans of 9 cities and small scale solutions in the next two years, may well serve the ambitious aim to end homelessness.







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  • Gothenburg’s new app for education

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    Could a digital tool change the school system and prevent drop out by educating students and teachers?

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    In the Swedish city of Gothenburg (SE), a small group of teachers, students, statisticians and medical specialists pooled their talents to create a mobile app to predict patterns in absenteeism and encourage kids to stay in class. The test version is now working so well in three schools that there are plans to use the new tech tool across the country.


    The ‘Promoting Public Health through Successful Schooling’ project kicked off back in 2017 after Gothenburg decided to improve public health using big data. Social inequality was spiraling – with people living nine years longer in richer neighbourhoods than in worse-off areas.


    The authorities decided one way to improve physical and mental health was to improve education for 6-16 year-olds. Work started with seven schools in the disadvantaged suburb of Angered, a predominantly immigrant district on the city’s northeastern edge.


    To increase school results, the students have to be in school, and to actually attend to their classes – not hanging around in the corridors,” says Lena Bilén, who was then Development Officer for Education in Angered. She went on to become Coordinator for School Administration across the City of Gothenburg when all ten districts were grouped under one city-wide secondary education department in July 2018.


    By law, schools in Gothenburg are required to notify parents the day their child doesn’t turn up. But despite being relatively advanced in collecting attendance data – using a city-wide online platform since 2000 – details on specific lessons attendance is sketchy for most schools. Many students, especially teenagers, turn up for the day but then skip their classes. Up to half the students may be missing from certain classes, but without clear information, staff react to absences as best they can, retrospectively, when it’s already too late. Students can get defensive or withdraw altogether to avoid confrontation.


    Early warnings


    Searching for new, more proactive, ways to tackle absenteeism together with students, Angered’s education department decided to create a digital tool to track and predict absences. Working with the existing platform, the new technology uses data analytics to provide early warnings when certain students are likely to be absent. 


    Through monthly workshops and constant feedback, the authorities worked closely with nine local stakeholders, including university hospitals, participating schools – and IVBAR, the app’s developers. 


    Gothenburg also joined the URBACT StayTuned network (2016-2019), along with eight other EU cities, to share notes on tackling ‘early leaving from education and training’, otherwise known as ELET. As StayTuned’s local coordiator, Lena Bilén said the transnational exchange and learning network boosted support among stakeholders, including VINNOVA – the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems – who are funding the app’s development.


    The willingness to change among teachers and develop a system together with the pupils and stakeholders has been a consistent feature throughout the project. The engagement is great,“ says Bilén.


    This user-led development is taking longer than planned. But by involving main users from the start, the design team can ensure the app is effective and practical – balancing it with Sweden’s strict data privacy legislation for example – and should pave the way for smoother implementation later.


    One game changer is that teachers can access student data quickly and easily on a mobile phone. “Teachers can update the data in real time. This makes it more useful – if you know the data is accurate and current, you are more likely to use it to help with your work,” says Ian Graham, StayTuned Lead Expert.


    Based on the data entered for each student, staff get a review of their attendance the previous week, the current week, and a prediction for the following week. This prompts them to ask students “how can we together help you come to lessons next week?” The app also links in to possible solutions for each pupil, with further information such as individual notes, and records of parent meetings.


    Maths and sport


    Gårdstensskolan is one of three schools testing the app in Gothenburg. All its pupils grew up speaking a language other than Swedish: either they or their parents were born abroad. School principal Sargon El khouri says the app is helping his teachers and mentors to discuss the students’ absences and understand any patterns that appear. For example when staff notice a child is often absent from mathematics, and ask them why, they may hear “the teacher doesn’t give me the help I need”. Or “I’m too tired to keep up with the schedule: that’s why I'm coming late on Tuesday and Friday”. El khouri and his colleagues can also see when students from different classes are consistently absent at the same time.


    Thanks to this clear, up-to-date, attendance information and understanding, El khouri says there is “much better communication between the students and the teacher.”


    Cooperating around the app helped change mindsets


    It’s still too early to see the health benefits, but absenteeism is already falling where the tool has been introduced. With training and support, teachers are switching from a reactive to a more posivite, proactive approach, using the app to work together with pupils to improve attendance instead of simply analysing the reasons why a pupil was absent.


    Unexcused absences among 6-16 yr-olds dropped after the app was introduced in Angered.


    Teachers have a completely new mindset. That's a great, great difference,” says Bilén. In the past, students returning to class after a long absence may have been reprimanded, or gone unnoticed. Now teachers can welcome them back, look to the future, and ask what can be done to help them to stay. If children are missing athletics, it may be that they simply do not have sports clothes. That too can be solved.


    The new system and app is a huge enabler for proactive behaviour. But it is the behaviour of teachers, driven by a new mindset, that will make the difference. The tool is only as good as the way it is used. The data alone achieves nothing,” adds Graham from StayTuned.



    Spreading innovation


    So far the new app and proactive approach have been used to help about 200 children. But now it looks set to grow. Colleges for 16-19 year olds are also getting involved. And the city is now applying for further VINNOVA funding to implement the ‘Promoting Public Health through Successful Schooling’ tech in about twenty more schools across Gothenburg and neighbouring Borås, starting in 2020.


    The aim is to facilitate for teachers in their daily attendance work, increase attendance at school and in the long term achieve better public health throughout Gothenburg and other cities,” says Sara Näsström, Innovation Project Manager for the City of Gothenburg.


    National and international interest helped the local project,” adds Bilén. “Now the whole administration is speaking about this project and this app connected to systemic work on absenteeism. Small things can grow to be bigger and better!


    Bilén says changing mindsets city-wide will be the biggest challenge: “It takes time, but we hope we reach that. And now we can say: we had a problem, now we have a plan!



  • The second chance: recovery and repair


    Recovery of furniture providing recovery for people

    Maria Gonzalez
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    A cooperation - between the Gothenburg City (SE) administration for social welfare allocation and two local IKEA department stores - was launched in 2014 to provide homeless people with a step towards the labour market. The partnership enables people who have lived with isolation and abuse to strengthen their self-esteem, gain meaningful work and furnish their homes.
    IKEA's recovery department has furniture that they can no longer sell because of transport damage to packaging or to the products themselves. Participants use a truck to pick up the discarded pieces of furniture at IKEA, fix them in a workshop, then display the repaired items. Other people in the group can then choose the furniture they need. A win-win situation: the participants, and the furniture, all get their second chance.

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    The solutions are: job training; recycling of discarded furniture; a good social context; cooperation between the municipal and the private sectors. It's good for the target group, good for the furniture company, good for the environment and good for society. It's proven that equality creates a better context for all citizens, not only for the target group of homeless people. These are solutions that are easy to copy elsewhere.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    Homelessness is a global urban problem and in the context of good practice this is an absolutely brilliant idea to give homeless people the possibility of taking the first step to the labour market. The URBACT fund is addressing common problem such as homelessness and drug abuse that are the dark side of the urban environment, but there can be great solutions to these problems. We strongly believe that a second chance is good for everyone. All people have hidden abilities that we can find if we give them a second chance, or a third or a fourth. If you believe in humanity you also have to believe that everyone can grow. This is a context where the individuals can find their own strength grow and also find their own hidden abilities. This is in line with the URBACT positive approach.

    Based on a participatory approach

    From interviews with the participants about the project, we have found out what they believe and think about the content. The majority of them see that they are more ready for work than before and they also can see that their self-esteem has increased. They see that they have got something meaningful to do and that the work they do gives other people something that is useful for them, new furniture. Stakeholders are the allocation for social welfare and the city districts, IKEA and substance abuse treatment institutions.

    What difference has it made?

    This is a part of the ordinary activities in the municipality of Gothenburg addressing the homelessness problem since 2014. It has never been evaluated externally, although this has never been a project with external funding. We don't get any money for the restored furniture as it is donated by IKEA and then given away. This is a very fruitful cooperation between the municipality and IKEA, and both parts are very happy with the cooperation we have. For the target group, this has made a huge difference in the quality of life of the most vulnerable on the outskirts of urban life.

    Why should other European cities use it?

    All the things we have done are transferable to other cities. The target group of homeless people is to be found in every large or medium-sized city. Homeless but not hopeless is something that we work by. In our case we have worked with IKEA and if other cities want to do the same, IKEA department stores are to be found everywhere in EU. We are sure that this small but smart idea can interest any city that is struggling with poverty, homelessness and vulnerability. We will be glad to show how.

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  • The challenges of implementation

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    “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something.” All European cities can certainly endorse this quote by President Obama and testify that taking action – or implementing – presents a whole set of challenges that can sometimes be daunting. How can delays in implementing a strategy be anticipated? How can expectations or potential conflicts be managed around the implementation of a strategy? How to remain within the initial budget planned for the strategy during its implementation? These are some of the issues that the newly launched URBACT Implementation Networks are now set to work on. 


    The seven URBACT Implementation Networks that have been approved will tackle a variety of issues: urban regeneration, social inclusion, boosting the local economy by using the creative sector, interventions in the local labour market, among others. 

    Let’s look in detail at one of them: the network IMPACT on early-school leaving. Nine cities come together to learn from each other and exchange on the challenges they face whilst implementing an action plan or strategy to tackle early-school leaving. Some of the city partners in this project, Nantes, Sofia  and Tallinn, had already taken part in an URBACT network to draft their action plan on this: the network PREVENT. Other cities, for instance Gothenburg, take part in the Implementation Network IMPACT on early-school leaving on the basis of an action plan that they had drafted in another context. Gothenburg's action plan links tackling early-school leaving with other challenges such as tackling unemployment. 
    The lead partner city Ghent wants to reduce the total number of school drop-outs by 25% in 2020. The city of Ghent, schools, the centre of student guidance and other organisations have already implemented a variety of measures and interventions. But ensuring that all partners work together towards this common goal is a challenge. Allowing enough time for the implementation of policies to show some real impact is also important. At the same time, it is also challenging to maintain stakeholders’ involvement whilst measures are being implemented, or even just whilst they are being agreed. 
    What implementation challenges do URBACT Implementation Networks focus on?
    The difficulties cities can face while implementing their strategies have been translated into a series of implementation challenges; common headings to allow cities that are taking part in these networks to exchange on the issues that they all face. 
    Those are:
    1. Ensuring the integrated approach in the delivery of the strategy and their related actions or projects
    2. Maintaining involvement of local stakeholders and organising decision-making for delivery
    3. Setting up efficient indicators & monitoring systems to measure performance
    4. Moving from integrated urban strategy to operational action plans 
    5. Setting up Public Private Partnerships for delivery
    6. Designing smart public procurement frameworks
    7. Enhancing funding of urban policies by exploring financial innovation (urban development funds, crowd-funding, etc.)
    This list of challenges certainly does not cover all the challenges that cities face in the implementation phase of a strategy. Their purpose is to enable exchange and learning between peers. They will be further refined as the URBACT Implementation Networks go along.
    An innovative and experimental approach to exchange and learning among European cities
    Sharing experience whilst implementing is very innovative. It is in many ways a change of culture as implementation often remains within the walls of cities – it is less open to co-production. It is also generally strongly led by one department - not very integrated – sometimes for budgetary reasons.
    Most importantly, it also raises a series of rather wicked questions related to the switch from plan to action. Can one plan for the unknown? Can delays be anticipated? Can conflicts be prevented before they appear?  
    URBACT will support cities to manage this difficult switch from building a strategy to implementing it, from theory to practice, from what is planned to what actually happens. 
    Implementation Networks are a new “product” for the URBACT Programme. They will entail taking an experimental approach to finding the right mix of support measures that will help cities to improve their delivery of sustainable urban strategies.  
    For more information on PREVENT and on Early-School Leaving, you can consult on the URBACT PREVENT website a panorama of all action plans in the Local Action Plans panorama report, as well as the detailed action plans of Nantes and Sofia
    Credit image: Shutterstock/ Sunny studio 
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