Workshop on Evaluation-Foresight of PoliRural pilot Gevgelija-Strumica

On the 16th of March, a workshop was held in the context of PoliRural Macedonian pilot Gevgelija-Strumica. The workshop was held online and it included the discussion of recent results of the pilot. The meeting also included a presentation of the policy evaluation results, as well as the next steps in Foresight exercise.

More info about the pilot can be found here.

PoliRural participates in the Rural Vision Week – Imagining the future of Europe’s rural areas

PoliRural participated in virtual event Rural Vision Week – Imagining the future of Europe’s rural areas, an event promoted by the European Network for Rural Development (ENRD), in close cooperation with the European Commission, that happened between 22 and 26 March 2021.

This interactive event included high level presentations and discussions, a marketplace, workshops and ‘fringe’ activities. These involved European stakeholder participants in working together to contribute to the preparation of a long-term Vision for the future of EU rural areas in relation to which the Commission is scheduled to adopt a Communication later this summer.

PoliRural contributed to the event with a virtual stall, that included promotional info about the project, relevant documents and more. You can visit PoliRural stall here.

More info about the event Rural Vision Week – Imagining the future of Europe’s rural areas is available here.

Coverage of the Polirural project by Ypaithros newspaper

On the 19th of February, 2021, the Ypaithros newspaper had a press coverage of the PoliRural project. The article describes the evaluation’s results of Measure 4.1 of the local Leader program 2007-2013 implementation, which was carried out through the use of appropriate questionnaires and telephone interviews.  

It also describes the results in terms of investigating the social, technological, economic, environmental, political and other factors that affect the development of rural areas, which were extracted through webinars, organized from the Greek pilot of the project, with local bodies of the region of Central Greece.

The article is available in Greek here.

Workshop on building the „Vision from more Attractive Rural Areas“

On 9 February took place 4. online workshop organized jointly by the Slovak POLIRURAL project team in which participated 25 stakeholders. It was dedicated to the gradual and participative foresight exercise leading to the preparation of „Vision for more attractive rural areas in Slovakia “. Experts from different fields and people from the ground dived deeper into three clusters of connected drivers that will affect the change in the Slovak countryside in the next 20 years.

The first two clusters dedicated to “Sustainable and resilient food system” and “Diversification of rural economy” were presented in the form of deep dives papers available also online for further comments and inputs. The third cluster focused on “Civil engagement” was discussed in the interactive form to gain input for the deep dive paper.

Education and training were highlighted as an area that requires additional attention. Response to the impacts of the current pandemic on rural areas will be discussed in the next workshop that will take place next week on 18 February. Participants were invited to be active in preparation of the next workshop and to provide ideas on how and around what topics to structure the discussion.

In times when people are not allowed to meet in person the Slovak project team has developed a special feature on national POLIRUAL website (https://atraktivnyvidiek.sk), where people can provide their inputs and comments and broader spectrum of views can be incorporated into the vision development. Inclusivity and participation are the key driving forces of the process and can guaranteed the outcome that is more effective, efficient and better centred around people and their future. Thematic groups were created in the online forum to allow structured discussion.

The representative of the European Network for Rural Development delivered presentation on the current status of preparation of the EU long-term Vision for Rural Areas until 2040, where participatory process and cross sectoral cooperation of different Commission services were highlighted. Slovakia was an active player in the public consultation which was appreciated.

The COVID-19 INSPIRE Hackathon 2020: a final overview

The COVID-19 INSPIRE Hackathon was already the 17th hackathon organised by the Plan4All association in cooperation with the Czech Centre for Science and Society (CCSS) and other H2020 projects including SmartAgriHubs. It was based on the traditional model of the INSPIRE Hackathon, which is not a single event, it’s a process that is designed to efficiently exploit the achieved results of previous hackathons on developing new innovations. Due to the limitations caused by the COVID-19 situation, this event was triggered as a virtual hackathon.

Figure 1. The COVID-19 INSPIRE Hackathon 2020 logo.

The main goal of the COVID19 INSPIRE Hackathon was to support innovation in agriculture through information technology, help agriculture recover from the problems that were caused by the coronavirus crisis as well as search for new business models. Overall, thirteen innovation experiments were identified for the COVID19 INSPIRE Hackathon 2020.

The COVID-19 INSPIRE Hackathon was divided into 5 main stages:

Figure 2. The COVID-19 INSPIRE Hackathon 2020 Schedule.

In the period October 15 – November 30 2020 two main stages of the COVID-19 INSPIRE Hackathon took place – the hacking stage and final stage. During the hacking stage, teams work together to bring new solutions regarding 13 Innovation Experiments defined in the preparation stage of the hackathon. More specifically, the team work is to collect technology and data, explore & ideate & co-create the IEs and develop & test the IE solutions. Another important part of the hacking stage is the capacity building actions and dissemination & communication. The capacity building was developed virtually through the webinars & online training (September 25 – October 26) and communication channels that were established for each IE – e.g. Skype, WhatsApp, Google docs. Another important part of the capacity building was mentoring, counselling, coaching and technical assistance executed by 20 IE mentors. Leveraging local knowledge or experience was, besides webinars and mentoring, done via ongoing H2020 projects, initiatives, DIHs: Plan4all hub, PoliRural hub, SIEUSOIL hub, Agrihub and SmartAfriHub.

The COVID-19 INSPIRE Hackathon was terminated by a final presentation of results & awards ceremony held on 19th November 2020. The final virtual event together with the collection of the final reports fall into the final hackathon stage that aims at presentation and promotion of the results of IEs and selection of top 3 solutions by the jury members based on evaluation criteria that were defined in the preparation stage. The jury members: Jovana Vlaskalin (BioSense Institute), Beata Vörösová (CzechInvest), Maris Albers (University of Latvia) and Josef Hnojil (Geobusiness) announced the following winners for the COVID-19 INSPIRE hackathon:

Figure 3. The COVID-19 INSPIRE Webinar – Challenge #6 PoliRural Cases.

Building a sense of belonging for the Monaghan PoliRural Pilot

In Ireland, emigration has long been an historical fact of life. However, immigration particularly in the 1800’s and 1900’s, was practically invisible and had little impact on population statistics.

In 1994 this situation changed. The number of immigrants exceeded the number of emigrants in a trend that has continued unabated ever since. The arrival of these new immigrants has had a dramatic effect on Ireland’s population diversity and it is most noticeable in its rural towns and villages, particularly in counties with small populations like County Monaghan (61,386 people, census 2016).

In County Monaghan, where the Irish PoliRural pilot is taking place, the migrant population almost doubled between 2005 and 2011, growing from 6% to 11% in the time. The migrants who live here are an eclectic mixture of migrant workers (mainly from Eastern Europe and South America), UNHCR refugees (from the Congo and from Syria), asylum seekers (from all across the world) and others who have chosen Ireland as their home for a variety reasons (e.g. some have married into the country, others have returned to the land of their ancestors, etc). The reality for many rural counties is that without migration, many of our areas may see population decreases over time, often resulting in a prolonged spiral of decline for the area.

The migrant population have brought new skills and talents that they have used to create employment and generate wealth. They have lowered the average age of the population and their children have ensured that many of our rural schools have been able to retain teachers. They have enriched the cultural life of our communities.

Not everyone appreciates this fact and the rapid change in our society has the potential to stoke fear and resentment. That is why good integration policies are needed to give people a sense of belonging in their community. With this in mind, Monaghan Integrated Development led a collaboration with local government, local agencies and migrant representative groups to access LEADER funding for a migrant integration strategy, that now complements and feeds into the region’s PoliRural Foresight plans.

The strategy was launched online in November 2020 and charts a course for belonging and integration actions in Co Monaghan for the next 5 years. It contains 6 Objectives and 38 actions. Each action has a lead agency who will oversee its implementation in the years ahead.

Speaking at the launch, Lalini Veerassamy, Chief of the International Organization of Migration mission in Ireland, emphasised ‘the importance of integration as a two-way process as mutual adaptation between migrants and host societies from all levels, the social, cultural, political but also economic point of view.’ These sentiments were echoed throughout by various speakers including Sunday Abel Adoyeji, representing New Communities on the Monaghan Integrated Development CLG Board, Chairperson of LINC, a social enterprise and Cultural Champion. He mentioned his own positive experience of being a migrant in County Monaghan and said ‘successful integration of migrants is, in fact, about successful interactions. It’s about communities that offer a generous welcome. It’s about the willingness and, sometimes, bravery, to accept that welcome’.

The strategy can be downloaded here.

Lessons learned from PoliRural: High-quality planning documents for rural regions can only be developed in collaboration with local communities

The Vidzeme Region in Latvia has had an active period so far, as within the project, Vidzeme is implementing pilot activities and elaborating The Regional Development Programme for the period of 2021-2027. The process is carried out with strong participation of industry professionals, various level policy stakeholders, rural newcomers, representatives of research sector and local communities. A group of these stakeholders also forms a Regional panel that is set up for oversight and advisory purposes.

Four thematic focus groups with external stakeholders have already taken place between October and December 2020. The broad involvement of stakeholders has shown that the comments and indications they provide in the discussions are invaluable and important information that is not otherwise known. Focus groups were organized remotely and various online collaboration platforms were used to make stakeholder involvement as successful as possible.

“It is quite possible that some of participants in the discussions, especially representatives of the local community will realize for the first time that there is a real opportunity to influence decision-making processes and participate in the development of their territory they belong to. We are also very interested in the opinion of newcomers, who often have an objective view, and their observations are especially important and can encourage new ideas and initiatives,” says Ieva Kalniņa, Head of the Spatial Planning Department of Vidzeme Planning Region.

The main topics of discussions were the following:

  • Spatial development of the territory, incl. accessibility;
  • Sustainable business and innovation environment;
  • Sustainable economy;
  • Social security and health.

When discussing the selected topics that are important for the Vidzeme region, global tendencies and challenges are also taken into account, which both directly and indirectly affect the development of the region on the ground, as well as strengthen its competitiveness potential. For this purpose, PoliRural report with drivers of change for rural areas were discussed and summarized with stakeholders.

Drawing on the knowledge and experience of the PoliRural project, new, promising and yet untested methods for quality planning and development of rural policy will also be used within the next months.

The Development Programme for the next seven years is developed with the aim to promote the sustainable and balanced development of the Vidzeme Region and it focuses as much as possible on the needs of the region’s inhabitants and the development of the territory. It is planned that the development of the Programme will be completed in June 2021.

Open Bioeconomy Week 2021 – Call for Abstracts

The Open Bioeconomy Week aims to highlight the current research innovations, trends and future of bioeconomy through the lens of digitalization and data utilization. The key focus is to highlight the paradigm shift digitalization can bring in the field of bioeconomy. To accomplish this, the event aims to bring different academics, researchers, stakeholders, policymakers, business representatives and the society to discuss and understand the role and the impact digitalization can make in development of bioeconomy and hence towards a sustainable future.

The event is supported by the Regional Council of Häme with the regional enterprises and other organizations working within the bioeconomy sector. Together with HAMK the organizing committee of the event consist of the leading national research and innovation organizations such as Aalto University, Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) and University of Helsinki.

In the year 2021, the themes of the Open Bioeconomy Week will cover Data Collection and Utilization in Bioeconomy. The organizing committee is following the current COVID-19 situation closely. The event will be organized as a hybrid, combining online and face-to-face participation if the pandemic situation allows. Online participation will be possible throughout the scientific programme of the event.

Regarding the call for abstracts, the scientific committee, composed of recognized experts from the global bioeconomy and digitalization community is committed to select the best papers and maintain a high scientific level conference. The call for abstracts is now open and proposals of 500 words maximum should be submitted to bioeconomyweek@hamk.fi by 10th April 2021 at the latest. The approval will be announced before 30th April 2021. The final oral presentations should arrive at bioeconomyweek@hamk.fi on 10th May 2021 at the latest.

The conference accepts posters as well. The proposals (an abstract of max. 300 words) should arrive to bioeconomyweek@hamk.fi on the 10th April 2021 the latest. 

You can find more information about Open Bioeconomy Week 2021 and call for abstracts here.

Rural Planning with the help of System Dynamics Modelling

Could complex simulation be of help to rural planning and development? PoliRural thinks yes, and is testing the use of System Dynamics Modelling (SDM) as one of the building blocks in the project. This will be showcased and the Innovation Hub. The strength of the SDM approach is that it allows the planner or decision maker to consider the rural area as a system, and see the implications of specific actions or policies both on the whole and on for specific indicators. However, the use of SDM presents is not a single-sided blessing, as with all new technology it brings new challenges to tackle. To mention a couple: to be useful and relevant, a model needs a quite complex structure but at the same time it has to be understandable for the users, not giving the impression everything is decided in a black box; and the need of a user-friendly interface.

The solution proposed by PoliRural deals with these challenges by defining: 

  • Several levels of different users, including model authors, model executors, model viewers and system integrators;
  • A general qualitative model, the ‘PoliRural Base Qualitative Model’. This model will allow any rural area to introduce local quantitative and qualitative data and be run, without the need for any other modelling software. The model aims to provide output that will support foresight analysis for the rural area and will also allow testing policy actions and draw scenarios;
  • The possibility to enrich the model locally is present through the ‘Local Customized Model(s)’, to get more accurate results and interpretations of local conditions and perspectives. In this case a revision of the model takes place (to refine calibration, modify variables or relations, or even introduce new modules). This process incorporates experts’ work as well as a public layer for consultation;
  • A public database of local dynamics, fed from the Local Customized Model and expressed either in causal loop diagrams or a more structured way. This will allow comparing regions best practices and identifying general dynamics and trends in rural development;
  • Finally, in order to bring SDM into the reach of planners and decision makers, PoliRural will experiment with integration of SDM functionality in mainstream decision support systems such as geoportals and other systems currently feeding planning and strategy processes in rural areas. A pathway for collaboration between SDM professionals and people who merely wish to tweak or execute existing models is also proposed;

(for further details on the above, interested readers may find more information in the deliverable 3.3. System Dynamics Tool Technical Specifications, available here).

These pieces together with a well-established workflow will allow the development of a learning community combining local and general experts. But it will also stimulate the production of relevant knowledge to be integrated in iterated versions of the model. A good example could be made around the CAP. For a given rural area, examples of relevant questions about CAP could be, is it going to increase agricultural jobs? Is going to make farming more attractive to young people and newcomers? Is going to improve natural capital so that tourism can be improved?

Kick start of the Slovak Vision for more Attractive Rural Areas

In the representative premises of the National Council of the Slovak republic at Bratislava Castle was held on 22nd September 2020 the 17 annual “Rural Day”. This traditional event was organized by the Rural Parliament in Slovakia under the auspices of the Chairperson of the Slovak National Parliament Mr Boris Kollár and in cooperation with the Parliamentary Committee for Agriculture and Environment. The Ministry of Agriculture of the Slovak republic was represented by its state secretary Mr Fecko. All Slovak partners of the PoliRural project participated with the presentation of the project with a special focus on its current foresight activity aimed at developing the common vision for more attractive rural areas in participative and inclusive way. Representatives of different national and local media were present as well. The members of the parliament, as well as the government representative, promised to actively engage themselves and participate in the process of elaboration of a new vision for the rural areas. Following the event, meetings are already scheduled to continue in the discussions.

Participants acknowledged that the problem remains that Slovak countryside is losing its traditional form, its agriculture has declined significantly in recent years, Slovakia has lost its food self-sufficiency, young people refuse to work in primary agricultural production and go to cities or abroad, and ownership relations with land are still unresolved. There are a lot of unresolved issues, and it will really be necessary to tackle them gradually together. Even at this time, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is necessary to discuss rural problems even more than ever before, to point out the negative effects of the pandemic for rural areas and to propose current solutions.

It will really be necessary to take real action to remedy the shortcomings that have arisen. We need our municipalities and the entire agricultural sector to have the same conditions and state aid and support as they have in the developed countries of the European Union. It will be very important to pay more attention to the issues of agriculture, nature protection and securing a sufficient amount of food from our own production. After all, these are vital tasks and would deserve a higher social award, as is common abroad. There are many accumulated problems. One could begin to address this with special support for the youth to make it attractive for them to work in agriculture and with the active promotion of agriculture. Rural areas without agriculture are not rural. The Slovak ancestors lived for many centuries mainly from agricultural production, and it is a shame of losing the food self-sufficiency today. It is only recently that the widespread corona crisis has shown how important it is to be self-sufficient and not be dependent on basic food imports.