Six European partners are collaborating in the framework of the Interreg Europe Program for the implementation of DIALOG. The project has the objective of improving the effectiveness of innovative policies for regional competitiveness through the involvement of local stakeholders and citizens in policy and decision making processes. This involvement will be crucial to address common needs and face mid- and long-term challenges related to sustainable territorial development.
The innovation will provide a framework (though models and guidelines) for public bodies to design, plan, implement and assess complex policy instruments related to sustainable territorial development. These instruments will be appropriately connected with the expectations of the territory's socio-economic actors and citizens. Citizens are the final beneficiaries of the innovation, public actors increase their consensus, businesses enhance their growth opportunities, and social operators achieve their goal of strengthening social inclusion and territorial cohesion. This innovation can be strengthened and enhanced in the future if partners effectively share good practices and learning experiences. For this reason, the partnership will be regularly consolidated and activated.
Models and guidelines have been set up on the basis of partners' experiences in 6 European countries with very different socio-economic and cultural characteristics. These experiences gave rise to unique features that can work as a ‘common denominator’ for shared actions. The project has been implemented with different methods: good practice analyses, peer reviews, SWOT analyses, literature reviews, field surveys, study visits, etc. In this way, partners' experiences within ‘European territorial cooperation’ (INTERREG) work have been valorised according to their different territorial dimensions and contexts. Partners can enhance this innovation (with proper action plans) in the sectors where they value widespread societal participation the most.
The innovation has not come from any precedent action but seeks to enhance typical interregional cooperation tools. It started from the widespread idea among partners that despite the availability of EU Commission handbooks and recommendations, ‘partnership’ processes still refer to the designing phases of policy intervention tools only and are fulfilled almost exclusively through rushed information collection of uncritical opinions.
The following levels have been explored by the partnership: INFORMATION, CONSULTATION, INVOLVEMENT and COLLABORATION. For each one of them, effective methodologies, instruments, and simple formal support actions have been analysed. Subsequently, core elements and strengths have been defined for all methodologies and tools to improve their performances. The result is a framework of ‘suggestions’ and guidelines that can be easily actionable, along with warnings on the most common errors at all stages. Each partner transfers and adapts each tool to its peculiarities in terms of institutional impact, legal constraints, previous experiences and consolidated traditions.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
This is the first time that principles of dialogue and discussion have been applied for management guidance and for ex-post evaluation in the process of regional development and collaboration.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The innovation will be applied differently depending on the specific planning context of each partner. However, the full action plan (i.e. the systematic framework of the innovations proposed in the context of the various policy instruments of intervention) can only be activated in the second project phase. The first two steps were carried out (discovering opportunities and finding/filtering ideas) and the positive experiences from the different contexts were discussed within the partnership. The most relevant elements compared to the objectives pursued were identified and benchmarking guidelines have been outlined. At present, feedback among stakeholders is being collected so as to make all methods and tools relevant and useful.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The partnership (public decision-makers and stakeholders) was heavily involved at all stages of the innovations' development. This primarily involved: identifying and analysing the best practices and identifying quality and innovation elements, identifying the best-in-class profiles and sharing them to define transferable and exploitable solutions for the benefit of the entire network of public decision-makers involved and for all the intervention areas selected.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The recipients of the innovation are the same actors involved in the benchmarking: decision-makers, public administration staff, stakeholders. Responses were provided by all, strengthening and rationalizing the processes and products to be used for an effective partnership. On the basis of existing models and guidelines, the coordinated responses will have different applications according to the specific targets.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The innovation has already produced results in terms of effectiveness and impact on the intervention systems and policy tools involved, including the increased awareness among stakeholders that: the partnership must have an effective role; the partnership must participate in all phases of establishment, implementation and evaluation of the intervention; and that stakeholder and civil society involvement does not imply a loss of influence for the public decision-maker. These first results enhanced local actor’s participation leading to a speeding up of the implementation of shared decisions.
Challenges and Failures
The main challenge is dealing with the public authorities that make programmatic decisions taking advantage of their mandate only. This challenge occurs periodically in all phases and is especially present among those public bodies that impose decisions because of their technical-scientific competences. Resistances are strong but they can be overcome by informing all decision-makers about the opportunities offered by the project - with a spirit of loyal collaboration, consulting them on the various options, and collaborating with them on taking and implementing decisions. To face this challenge, actors involved were made aware of their power within information and participatory designing processes. The base was a spirit of mutual sharing and an "ethics of responsibility" at all levels.
Conditions for Success
The innovation can be successful especially if it is accompanied by strong learning processes of the players involved. This means having diversified roles, enabling everyone to express themselves, and being aware of the broader potential of one's work. This also implies knowing the actions and methodologies used in other contexts, with their strengths and weaknesses, and being able to discuss them with partners.
Opinions, usually collected by consultative bodies, should become "conscious”, i.e. informed, responsible, and shared. Conversely, partnership guidance must be managed by the public body that should dialogue, guide, formulate options and maintain this spirit throughout the whole implementation process of the policy intervention instrument.
Actors outside the public administration should be strongly motivated to be an active part of the process especially using institutional learning processes.
The innovation can be used by all those interested in the production of shared public interventions: it can help define, review and evaluate all the programmes that address widespread interests and civil society, and implement actions affecting directly or indirectly mid- and long-term decisions. This includes the design, sharing and verification of all complex political programmes that aim to ensure life quality, ecosystem sustainability, economic and social development and inclusion. Particular attention must be given to the definition and guidance of multi-annual intervention programmes (i.e. those supported by EU resources) and all that intend to have a gradual but stable impact on the systems and territorial contexts concerned. The innovation's replicability is possible if interested stakeholders can move beyond the classic view of regional decision making (i.e. that where public administrations decide and civil society expresses opinions or tries to monitor results).
Suggestions, recommendations and agreed guidelines should be shared as much as possible. The sharing could be accompanied by value judgments on the processes and on the quality of the achieved goals provided by the actors involved in the innovation itself.
- Developing Proposals - turning ideas into business cases that can be assessed and acted on
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
21 September 2021