PoliRural inspires to engage stakeholders in the regional development planning process in Latvia

By implementing the PoliRural project, the Vidzeme Planning Region had the opportunity to look at regional development planning differently. We dare to say that this is the first time such in-depth stakeholder engagement has been carried out in Latvia during the development planning process. For such an approach, the Vidzeme Planning Region has already received a positive local, regional and national acknowledgment. Open and wide-engaging approach was chosen using the knowledge and methodology accumulated during the implementation of the PoliRural project. Results of ex-durante evaluation that was carried out at the end of the PoliRural project confirm that broad stakeholder involvement has played a key role in the development of quality regional planning documents and securing their implementation. The ex-durante evaluation process was essential to identifying success factors and challenges and things that should be improved to run the strategic planning process even more smoothly.

The Vidzeme ex-durante evaluation report acknowledges that stakeholders` engagement was successful. It is evidenced by the high trust of stakeholders towards the results of the foresight process resulting in apparent spill-over effects of the foresight process and a high level of utility of the Regional Development program by other actors in strategic development processes at a municipal and local level.

At the same time, the stakeholders’ sense of ownership is also strengthened. Stakeholders have more clearly realized their potential role in the program implementation. Still, additional communication efforts are needed to reach such groups of stakeholders as entrepreneurs and public administration representatives.

PoliRural activities have initiated good and strong cooperation at the local level for joint regional development. It is necessary to use the opportunity and strengthen the established relationships in joint implementation of the Regional Development program. Learning and skills are essential for future activities, enhancing stakeholders` capacities and capabilities and getting new insights on building alternative visions and scenarios together.

D6.3. Ex-Durante evaluation report – Vidzeme Pilot

At the end of project activities, an important milestone is to evaluate what has been done. For this purpose, project partners from Latvia jointly prepared an Ex-Durante report (D6.3, available here). This report reflects the results of the ex-durante evaluation process of the Regional Action Plan developed by the Vidzeme pilot team. The primary purpose of the ex-durante evaluation was to document the progress made, review the involvement of main stakeholders, and identify the first indications of intervention effects.

Ex-durante evaluation report is structured in five main sections describing: 1) the context and needs of the evaluation; 2) progress of interventions and estimated contribution to the key EU missions; 3) measurement of policy changes and testing the relevance and measurability of the measurement framework; 4) assessment of performance and engagement of stakeholders involved in the foresight process and development of the Regional Action Plan; and 5) conclusions and recommendations for the future steering decisions.

Discussion panel of PoliRural Latvian partners

On 30th September 2022, a Latvian partner seminar on the results of the PoliRural project was held. 88 participants applied for the seminar, who received basic information about the PoliRural project and the website of the project for obtaining additional information. All registered participants are also sent access information for both the seminar presentations and the video recording (available here). As part of the seminar, basic information about the PoliRural project was provided to 26 territory planning specialists, 22 researchers, 17 regional development specialists, 11 rural development specialists, as well as representatives of education, consulting services, welfare industry, state and local government administration, information technology and business. 39 participants took part in the seminar, getting more information about the digital tools created and used in the PoliRural project and about the experience, benefits and challenges of Latvian partners within the project.

The aim of the seminar was to share international experience with the local Latvian community, as well as to reflect the local and practical application of project results. As the Latvian partners pointed out, this international project was a new and valuable experience, which was carried out in a systematic process, combining the experience gained in the past in order to create a methodology and tools for the development of rural areas that can be used in the future. As the project partners admit, one of the biggest challenges has been the availability of data and the efforts of all participating partner countries to create a common forecasting model/tool, as each member state had its own peculiarities in data availability.

The seminar provided information on the developed tools – Semantic Explorer (Semex), A Text Mining Tool for Smart Research, Digital Innovation Hub (DIH), System dynamic modeling for rural development (SDM), as well as Action Oriented Foresight for Rural Development and Mission oriented regional development.

In the panel discussion of Latvian partners, the significance of the developed methodological materials, practical tools (Semex, SDM, DIH) that can be applied to the regional situation and used in the preparation stages of planning, as well as in creating scientific research projects, was noted.

PoliRural Polish and Italian pilots’ session at ERDN Annual Conference in Mielno (Poland)

On 14th-16th September 2022 the PoliRural partners took part in the conference “Cooperation and experience of science in support of policies for rural development” organised in Mielno (Poland) to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the European Rural Development Network (ERDN). The conference was attended by the ERDN members and sympathisers, rural researchers and practitioners representing Poland, Italy, Austria, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Turkey, the UK, Kosovo, Moldova and Ukraine.

The aim of the conference was to exchange methodological experiences and research results as well as to integrate the different approaches to rural systems in European countries. The conference speakers addressed the most current issues that affect social, economic and environmental development in rural areas in Europe. Special attention was given to visions for rural and agricultural development in the face of the challenges of climate and demographic change, green transformation of the countryside and agriculture, as well as alternative and innovative activities in rural areas.

The conference was an opportunity to summarise and discuss the main achievements of the PoliRural project, and to present the unique tools developed as part of the project, including Semex, System Dynamic Modelling and STEEPV Inventory of Drivers of Change, show best practices we collected, but also the results of PoliRural deep dives’ exercises related to the most current global challenges.

The members of both pilots introduced the specifics of Mazowieckie (Poland) and Apulia (Italy) regions, related lessons learned during the project and presented technical and foresight tools intended to use after the project. The examples from Poland and Italy were of great interest as possibilities to support the planning of future development at regional and local level in other EU countries, but also found very useful as a general support to rural planning in the Candidate and non-EU countries.

The meeting was a good summary of the project, but also a fine example of the increasing cooperation between the actors forming the pilot regions under the PoliRural project.

PoliRural Polish Pilot Final Meeting

On 2 September 2022, European Rural Development Network organised the closing meeting with local actors and stakeholders of the Polish pilot in Mazowieckie region. The aim was to summarize the research and activities undertaken in the PoliRural project, discuss the sustainability of the pilot and gather experience from the implementation of the project. Also in terms of collecting useful lessons learned, we could share with other project members at the consortium meeting in Athens a few days later (see here) and as an introduction to the presentation of the project results to the broad international ERDN community, during a conference organised on 14-16 September 2022 (more in the PoliRural Newsletter #14).

The meeting was attended by representatives of local NGOs, community activists, residents (including new entrants), representatives of local authorities, local action groups and entrepreneurs involved in the creation and implementation of the Action Plan for the region.

The discussion focused on how the results obtained could be used in the planning of local activities in the coming years, including ideas for using the project results in the activities of the local action group, as well as how the results of the pilot correspond to the “Development Strategy of the Mazowieckie Voivodeship 2030+”, especially in terms of improving rural attractiveness through the promotion of job creation with adequate pay and with a view to supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, eco-firms and sustainable business.

Sharing their general impressions, the meeting participants pointed out the need to preserve the links and networks created, through which many development ideas can be put together, but also, by building on the strength of the community, to influence local development plans so that they better reflect the needs of local communities, take into account the specificities of the area and the rapidly changing external conditions for development, such as climate change, demographic trends, covid-19 and the current war in Ukraine contributing to the current refugee crisis.

This has been an important project helping to stimulate social inclusion in the local planning process, but also creating sustainable networks of local actors, without whom long-term rural and local development cannot be imagined.

Findings on the Application of SDM to the Exploration of Policy Options for Regional Foresight

A key objective of the PoliRural project is to explore the use of innovative tools applied to Regional Foresight. The expectation is that the use of tools based on Text Mining should lead to productivity gains for the local teams that lead and facilitate Foresight initiatives, whereas tools based on the use of System Dynamic Modelling can help stakeholders understand and select optimal policy mixes for implementation.

This article summarizes the work done to test the Policy Options Explorer or POE and provide a foundation for the work needed to make it into a generally accessible tool for use by non-experts. It can be read in conjunction with an article published in Newsletter No. 10, which introduced the subject of System Dynamic Modelling and described “Progress so Far in the Application of SDM to Regional Foresight.” It can also be read in conjunction with an article published in Newsletter No. 12 entitled “A Second Set of Experiments for Exploring the Application of SDM to Regional Foresight” in which we developed and tested a special case of the POE, where the only indicator of performance was a composite index of rural attractiveness, with a view to exploring different visualisation techniques enabling non -expert users to more easily explore highly complex issues such as different connects of “rural attractiveness.”

The POE tool is based on a comprehensive model of rural regions, comprising 8 modules, containing almost 300 parameters. The POE tool consist of three layers. The bottom layer is based on a small set of ‘input’ parameters, whose different values represent different policy choices. The top layer is based on a limited set of ‘output’ parameters whose values represent the performance of the region. The middle -layer contains all of the other parameters of the model and is essentially treated as a black box. In this way the user is shielded from most of the complexity of the model and can focus on the specific issue it intends to explore. To explore the impact of different policy scenarios on their region, each user selects sets of input parameters which correspond to the different policy scenarios and runs the model to see how these choices are reflected in changes to the output parameters.

With assistance from 22SISTEMA, the regions taking part in the project developed their own regionally adapted POE, based on regional specific data, and reflecting the policy issues they wanted to explore. After the design phase of work, each region elaborated a ‘Statement of Expectations’ which laid out what they hoped to achieve from using the model, along with a “Design of Experiment” document in which they explained how they intended to test their POE. They were then asked to test the use of their POE, following the experimental methodology they had designed, providing detailed feedback on their efforts, and commentary on how closely the tool fulfilled the initial expectations. The feedback from all regions was analysed by CKA. This analysis includes feedback on the models themselves, the user experience and tools provide to use the models, the challenge of obtaining data with which to populate the models, the extent which they appear to represent reality, and the value they provided in the context of the local Foresight exercise, as an aid to understanding complex regional dynamics, and as a tool to support the selection of appropriate policy mixes intended to realise the future vision for each region. These results are very encouraging and our fundings are described in detail in a document entitled “Results of the POE Trials,” available here. This should be read in conjunction with D5.5, available here, for clear ideas of what now needs to be done to achieve a significant breakthrough in the large-scale application of SDM to the exploration of policy options in the context of regional Foresight.

Experience of the Monaghan Irish PoliRural foresight pilot

The Monaghan Irish PoliRural pilot’s Foresight activities have directly involved 0.3% of the county’s total population of 61,386 so far, driven by its PoliRural Stakeholders Panel with broad representation reflecting the dynamic and complex rural county.

The PoliRural Foresight Process has concluded that Monaghan is at a pivotal “Moment of Change” due to drivers such as the climate change, EU Green agenda, Brexit, Covid-19, Ukraine war, etc, which present big challenges, but also opportunities, particularly in the context of the EU Long-Term Vision and policies for Rural Areas.

The Monaghan Foresight Action Plan, which has been iteratively developed in the Foresight process, aims that by 2030, Monaghan will be a strong, connected, resilient and prosperous rural region, with a vibrant and inclusive community, involving the highest proportion of non-traditional new entrants and young farmers in Ireland.

To achieve this transformation, Monaghan’s local community will take control of its own rural region’s future, to counter-balance Ireland’s current over centralised governance and policy making, by using the LEADER methodology of locally-orchestrated “bottom-up to meet top-down policies and funding” to proactively improve the rural attractiveness of the region.

The pilot is now progressing endorsement and adoption of the Action Plan by formally integrating it into the Monaghan LEADER Programme and long-term strategic planning of Monaghan Integrated Development (MID), the county’s community development company. It is planned to establish permanent monitoring/governance and progress tracking by continuing and enhancing the Stakeholders Panel beyond the end of the PoliRural project, and data collection and analysis of annual KPI’s, relating to specific actions/targets listed in the Action Plan and an end-of-LEADER programme evaluation in 2028.

The results of the ex-durante report show benefit both for the planning process and pilots’ teams

The main task of the ex-durante evaluation was to document the progress made, review the involvement of primary stakeholders, and identify the first indications of intervention effects.

The report “Ex-durante Intervention Case Study” (D6.3.) done by PoliRural partnership is based on an analysis of 12 ex-durante evaluation reports of Action Plan implementation prepared by each pilot region. The ex-durante evaluations were carried out during the final stage of developing Foresight packages of the twelve pilot regions when pilot teams finalized Regional Action Plans and Roadmaps, worked on their adoption by decision-makers, and started the implementation of first actions.

The report studies the results of these evaluations and the effects of the ex-durante evaluation exercise on the mission-oriented transformation processes in pilot regions. The report assesses implementation progress made during the reporting period, evaluates contributions to the key EU missions, and the quality of measurement framework of the planned interventions. It summarises the results of the pilots’ work with stakeholders and looks for the changes in stakeholders’ engagement, ownership, and capacity.

Conducting an ex-durante evaluation provides an opportunity to ask important questions, reconsider the choices made and provide helpful information for decision making. Thus, it is helping to improve policies and programs, as well as their implementation, assess the performance of involved actors, and the relevance and efficacy of measurement framework and management practices.

What is worth mentioning, the ex-durante evaluation results demonstrate an increase in stakeholders’ learning and capacity gains mainly due to the unique possibility of highly relevant discussions and dialogue between various stakeholders that have stimulated critical reflection and learning.

Ex-durante evaluation has provided each pilot with a closer, more critical in-depth look at their Action Plans. It has significantly benefited them, contributing to the quality of their proposed Action Plans and the PoliRural project in general.

Outstanding conclusions:

  • The involvement of key decision-makers in the monitoring mechanisms of the Action Plan is seen as an essential precondition for securing the adoption and successful implementation of Action Plans by several pilot regions;
  • Russian war in Ukraine and its consequences on energy, economy, environmental and social processes has been a new and very influential external factor that pilot regions faced during the reporting period. It has served as a valuable lesson demonstrating how quickly situations may change and that every plan shall be able to adapt and adjust its measures;
  • The results of ex-durante evaluations confirm the positive effects of the evaluation process for the pilot teams. The most considerable effect is related to the analysis of stakeholder engagement, ownership, and capacity gains. Pilots have continued active communication with regional stakeholders involving them in discussions and experiments using tools developed by the PoliRural project. This has resulted in further improved Action Plans, new insights, the increased status of pilot organizations, and capacity gains among the pilot teams.

You can find the full text version of the report here.

PoliRural results and sustainability

As PoliRural draws to a close, it must grapple with one of the most difficult questions in EU projects: how to ensure long-term sustainability? There are different ways to define sustainability. We see it as post-project existence of PoliRural ideas, deliverables and know-how that immediate beneficiaries and the wider public use to achieve their goals. Some of them can be commercial, some policy related. Some may be technical, some scientific or societal. The nature of the exploitation is not so important. What matters is that results are continuously exploited by stakeholders for their own benefit, to help others, or both.

PoliRural’s main results are

  • A network of 500 stakeholders that have provided strong participatory foundation to the innovative foresight framework piloted in 12 regions;
  • A foresight package outlining, for each region 1) a vision, 2) a set of measures that need to be implemented to make rural areas stronger, resilient, better connected, and prosperous, and 3) a roadmap for implementing these measures;
  • A suit of technical tools designed to support regional pilots with different foresight tasks e.g. exploring the impact of proposed measures on regional performance (Policy Options Explorer) and rural attractiveness (Rural Attractiveness Explorer), creating summaries of reading lists and extracting insightful information from them e.g. context, emotions (Semantic Explorer);
  • A collection of reports, guidance documents and methodological notes that capture results of our work, as well as recommendations for others looking to implement regional foresight in a new geographic/thematic context.

In keeping with the principle of open science, we have made all our written outputs available on the project website. These include both official reports and internal deliverables like deep-dive guides on Covid-19, CAP reform, and Green Deal, that users are free to adapt to explore these and other challenges facing their region e.g., energy crisis, cost-of-living crisis, geopolitical crisis. Our approach to regional foresight and the role of different tools in the process is elaborated in a webinar series that are available on our YouTube channel, as well as the PoliRural Digital Innovation which includes links to POE, RAE and Semex.

After several iterations, the foresight package (summarized in D6.2 Regional Action Plans) is now undergoing a process of adoption, facilitated by high-level meetings with policy actors e.g. the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Slovakia, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy in North Macedonia. To ensure that proposed measures get implemented, PoliRural pilots have set up monitoring committees. These are composed of members of the regional stakeholder panel, who will oversee implementation of the plan, thus ensuring continuation of PoliRural results post-project. 

Effective Mechanisms to Address New Governance Challenges in European Rural Areas

This online event entitled “Effective mechanisms to address new governance challenges in European rural areas,” describes new governance challenges that the rural regions of Europe must address in this time of almost continuous disruption.

The opening address by Samuel Vican, Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development of the Slovak Republic, will introduce the issue and explain the scale of the challenges that rural regions now face.  This will be followed by a series of case studies on how these challenges can be addressed based on achievements of the EU funded POLIRURAL and SHERPA projects.

Marieta Okenková, former member of the accession negotiations team of the Slovak Republic and Gabriel O’Connell, CEO of Monaghan Integrated Development in Ireland, illustrate what can be achieved by the application of an approach to Regional Foresight that was developed and piloted in the POLIRURAL project. Karen Refsgaard, research director at Nordregio in Denmark, and Samuel Féret, mayor of the village of Arzal in France, illustrate the role that Multi-Actor Platforms developed in the SHERPA project can play, in support of planning and programming for rural regions.

The event will be moderated by Anita Seļicka, Director of the Latvian Rural Forum, council member of the European LEADER Association for Rural development, member of the steering group of the European Rural Parliament, expert member of the LTVRA working group on Rural Proofing and Rural Revitalization, and coordinator of the POLIRURAL Foresight initiative in Latvia.

This event is organized as a side event of the EU Week of Cities and Regions 2022. It will take place on November 8, 15.00 to 16.30 CEST. Participants will have a chance to ask questions of the speakers. So, please let your colleagues know. Even if they cannot attend on the day, they can access the recording and presentations which will be available afterwards on the SHERPA and POLIRURAL project websites.

You can register here to participate in the event.

PoliRural Final Project Consortium Meeting

PoliRural consortium has gathered in 7 and 8 September to conduct the project final meeting. The meeting took place in Agriculture University of Athens, in Greece.

The meeting focused on the presentation and discussion of project final results and overall impact, including a WP status update. The meeting also included the presentation of PoliRural pilot’s results: