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:

Participation in the discussion “The house is looking for the owner”

Latvian Rural Forum initiated discussion as one of events during 8th Conversation Festival LAMPA, which brought together around 19 000 people in Cēsis city in Vidzeme. Discussion was also streamed online.

The rural areas becoming less and less populated – that was the narrative that has dominated Latvia for at least a couple of decades. Finding and buying property in the countryside at the same time has become a real challenge. According to the analyses conducted by Latvian Rural Forum within PoliRural, the unavailability of housing is one of the biggest obstacles faced by those people, who consider moving to the countryside.

Different perspectives and aspects were brought up by panelists – Mr. Mārtiņš Auders, director of the Housing Policy Department of the Ministry of Economy, Mr. Ainārs Balcers, co-chairman of the Crediting Committee of the Financial Industry Association, Mr. Kārlis Menģelis, LVKV Real Estate, head of the Cēsis office, Mr. Pēteris Pētersons, head of the Kārķu parish administration of Valka region and Mrs. Zane Zaičeva, newcomer in Rauna parish, Vidzeme.

The most important obstacle which was defined during discussion is lack of finances for those who are willing to move to countryside. Even though there is a support system available for some groups, like new families, new specialists, it is still a problem for others. The positive aspects were highlighted, as there are new support systems created from the State support instruments. The second obstacle most of panelists mentioned is lack of the available properties.

Some suggestions that have emerged are the following: there is need for further discussion between involved parties to make the financial support more available for those who would like to buy property in country side; develop a specific housing policy for rural areas; municipalities should be more actively involved in informing citizens about available properties, auctions.

At the end, participants agreed that this is just a beginning for further discussions on this topic to ensure that rural attractiveness is fulfilled also in the practice, when deciding to move to rural areas.

In addition to the discussion, Latvian Rural Forum created a photo exhibition of 10 newcomers from the PoliRural New Entrant Atlas, whose stories inspired the participants of the discussion and were available to all participants of the Conversation Festival.

The Experience of New Entrants moving to PoliRural pilot Monaghan

The Monaghan PoliRural pilot Foresight Action Plan aims to achieve Ireland’s highest county-proportion of non-traditional new entrants and young farmers in rural Monaghan by 2030, through locally orchestrated and implemented rural development policies and supports that actively encourage young people, women, and families to move to, or remain in the region.

But what is the rural attractiveness of Monaghan for newcomers now?

A survey of 41 new entrants to Monaghan carried out by Monaghan Integrated Development (MID) in February 2022, found that work attracted 24% of them to live and work in the county, but over 70% were attracted by its people (family and relationships). While most readily adapted to life in Monaghan (83% plan to stay), they found accommodation/housing to be expensive, but enjoyed the beautiful rural countryside, friendly community and people who are kind, innovative and industrious.

There is a great sense of pride in the county and those living in it mostly benefit from its peaceful, historic, and natural beauty. However, “it rains a lot”, “can be dull”, “quiet”, “remote”, and “lonely”. Many appreciated Monaghan’s central location between Dublin and Belfast north of the border, but feel that the region is underdeveloped, has limited public transport and infrastructure, and most rural areas are distant from amenities, services, and beaches. While there are a variety of work opportunities in Monaghan, they are not well paid, and offer “little opportunity for growth”. However, the growth in remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic now provides major opportunities for diversification of the rural economy and the provision of well-paid jobs for educated and qualified people, but broadband access is limited.

To improve the attractiveness of life in rural Monaghan, they suggested improved leisure facilities, enhanced greenways, better public transport, more broadband in rural areas for remote/hybrid workers and more high-income jobs, as well as more community involvement in local governance. These have been incorporated into Monaghan’s Action Plan.

PoliRural Slovak pilot closing national conference

On 8th June 2022 took place the closing national conference of the Slovak pilot in the heart of the country, in Low Tatras mountainous region, under the title “Let’s unite ourselves for the rural areas – Vision for a more attractive rural areas”. Conclusions in Slovak are available here.

The Vision document for increasing the attractiveness of rural areas in Slovakia until 2040 was shaped over three years in a very complex and participatory foresight process within which the definition of rural attractiveness is gradually being developed. The Zero Draft was endorsed by stakeholders and actors at the national Conference in Nitra in December 2021. Since then, four rounds of physical consultations with stakeholders took place. All the comments gathered will now be included in the new Frist Draft version of the Vision document.

The whole process of Vision development kickstarted in September 2020 in the Slovak National Parliament and the outcome of it will be presented again to the parliamentarians in October this year. Right from the beginning, the intention was to enshrine the Vision into the Rural Doctrine in the form of the constitutional law in order to ensure long-term stability, continuity, clarity and a clear strategic direction of the Slovak rural areas, agriculture and the rural economy, and to prepare the fertile ground for a sustainable future for all.

Besides constitutional reform, governance reform also needs to be undertaken hand in hand, in parallel. This is part of the Action plan developed for the implementation of the Vision.

The Monitoring Committee was officially established and the first members were nominated at the June Conference, including one of the former ministers of agriculture. It will start its proceedings in September this year. This could substantially support policymakers and contribute to avoiding constant changes of priorities by each new government and thus maintain the overall strategic direction of agriculture and rural areas in the long term.

Several case studies from different regions were featured. Rural regions have a major impact on addressing current challenges and can contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the European Green Deal by responding to climate change, biodiversity loss and decline; providing measures related to mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, habitats and economic opportunities through sustainable production of food and energy from renewable sources.

In addition to these unique challenges, this period also represents a unique opportunity to reassess current systems and re-orient them towards sustainability and resilience to future possible shocks and shocks.

PoliRural Webinars as a learning support for rural stakeholders

In June and July 2022, PoliRural organised a series of webinars with the intention of promoting key concepts and results to external stakeholders. These webinars serve as a capacity building resource that can be freely consulted by anyone anytime to learn about the PoliRural approach and how it was implemented in practice.

The series covered the main concepts and tools used by the twelve pilot testbeds to advance rural policy objectives at national, regional and sub-regional levels. As well as explaining concepts like foresight, Text Mining (TM), System Dynamics Modeling (SDM), and a mission-oriented approach (MOA), the webinars included case studies of their implementation in different parts of Europe and beyond. By inviting representatives of PoliRural pilots to share their experience, we tried to make theoretical knowledge more relevant and easier to understand, while at the same time illustrating the transferability potential of our framework to new contexts.

Each webinar is a standalone learning resource that provides in-depth insights on a specific topic.

The first webinar introduces basic principles of foresight for rural development and provides a comprehensive overview of the main tasks underpinning the process. The framework’s real-life application is illustrated with case studies from Monaghan, Ireland, and Gevgelija-Strumica, North Macedonia.

The second webinar focuses on a TM tool called Semantic Explorer, or Semex for short. The webinar explains how Semex was built, how it works, as well as its current and future potential based on the experience of the Finnish pilot.

The concept of SDM is outlined in the third webinar, which starts by covering basic assumptions and SDM terms (e.g. positive feedback loop, negative feedback loop) before presenting a model of a generic rural area in Europe built by PoliRural. The generic model served as a template for creating customised, regionally-adapted SDM models for PoliRural pilots, two of which were presented at the event (the region of Central Greece and Apulia in Italy).

In the final webinar, MOA is presented in the context of impending global challenges (e.g. Covid, recession, climate change, biodiversity collapse) that countries are facing. The webinar shows how MOA is reflected in various high-level policies and innovation programmes and how to draft a mission-oriented roadmap that is aligned with EU priorities, such as those reflected in CAP reform and Green Deal. Foresight pilots that illustrate MOA’s application in PoliRural are Slovakia and the region of Galilee in Israel.

If you want to learn more about these topics and case studies, click on the links below to watch webinar recordings at your convenience:

Segóbriga PoliRural pilot: a bridge between rural regions and European regulation

Within the framework of the PoliRural Project, the twelve pilot regions have drawn up a Regional Action Plan as an important output of the Foresight process. The aim of these plans are proposing solutions to the needs identified in its territory, through a participatory co-creation exercise with the stakeholders of the area.

To guarantee that the proposals in the Action Plan make sense, are logical and explained, and that the proposed policy challenges, measures and actions are suitable to meeting the needs identified in the analysis of the diagnosis and situation of the context of the territory, the regional pilots undertake two evaluations in the PoliRural project: ex-ante and ex-durante evaluations.

The pilot teams together with regional stakeholders and citizens develop a parallel process of mission-oriented transformation. Some remarkable issues arise from these practices, a better definition of the resources and sources of financing, with which the actions foreseen in the Action Plan will be promoted and the contribution from the local level, to achieve the EU missions for rural areas.

In the context of Segóbriga pilot, the dynamics of collaborative and joint work has given the stakeholders the skills they needed to propose ideas and strategies, to promote local development inspired by the principles of sustainability and digitization, according to the European territorial development policy (Green Deal, Long Term Vision for Rural Areas).

PoliRural has also helped Segobriga regions to seek funding sources to carry out their strategies. The “Inventory of policy options” and “Sources of finance” exercises, promoted by CKA, has shown pilots a wide variety of possible sources of financing, many of which the territories have never explored. This has provided an opening of new perspectives and possibilities.

Segobriga has put its Action plan into action. For this, other funds have been used, beyond LEADER, such as regional funds, ERDF funds, Next Generation funds, etc. In relation to Measure Improve the image and promotion of the territory as a sustainable tourist destination, two activities are running now with Next Generation funds: a new website for Segóbriga and the design of a new logo and Merchandising. Regarding Measure Promote entrepreneurship, the territory is already working on the creation of a website of resources and services (available here) at the municipal level, for new companies and entrepreneurs and financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The interactive app for tourism innovation (article included in PoliRural Newsletter #7) and a virtual map with information about touristic assets and hospitality services (bars, restaurants…) in the villages of the territory are actions for the Measure Improving the territory’s tourist offer, from the perspective of environmental sustainability and digitization already running, financed by Horizon2020.

PoliRural has also inspired Segóbriga as a candidate for a call for aid from the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plans financed by the Next generation funds for Tourist Destinations in Sustainability strategies. Although PoliRural has greatly helped to boost the involvement of stakeholders in the Foresight process, it is necessary to consolidate a local strategy based on the rural attractiveness of the territory and to ensure our rural areas are being STRONGER, CONNECTED RESILIENT and PROSPEROUS.

Feedback and immediate follow-up on the Rural Pact Conference

The Rural Pact Conference took place in Brussels on 15 to 16 June 2022. 475 people took part in-person, joined by over 300 participants online. Participants included politicians, including EU MEPs, along with local authorities and social and economic stakeholders from EU, national, regional, and local levels of governance, of which 46% actually live in rural areas. The presentations and session recordings are all available here. The purpose of the conference was to engage stakeholders in the design of the Rural Pact, a commitment to achieve of the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas (LTVRA) in ways that suitable ambitious and based on a bottom-up approach. In addition to the meetings and working groups that the EC has organized, and which have served to provide the basis for the LTVRA, the Commission has asked stakeholders to sign a “commitment canvas” indicating their commitment to the LTVRA, describing what they are doing to make it happen, and indicating the milestones they must achieve to making it happen.

This conference is of great relevance for the PoliRural project. A basic goal of the project is to demonstrate the possibility of successfully implementing participative policy processes for rural areas, namely Regional Foresight, leading to action and not just reports. The action plans of the twelve participating regions have been aligned with the language and ambition of the LTVRA. Many of those action plans have already started to take shape. And many of them consists of actions and milestones which could be submitted as part of that region’s commitment to the LTVRA. In others as an important element of the overall Rural Pact. This is an ongoing process and I invite each of the regions taking part in the project to do this immediately by filling out the relevant form on the website of the Rural Pact, and indicating the overall nature of their commitment to:

  • Amplify rural voices,
  • Networking and collaboration,
  • Acting for Rural Areas.

In my view our biggest contribution of the Foresight package that the partner regions have developed is to “amplify rural voices” based on the vision, action plan and road map. The proof of delivery lies in being able to show that the action plans have been adopted by local administration and that their implementation is being followed by the monitoring committees you have set up. This is primarily a contribution to realising the first pillar of the LTVRA, that total regions become “strong.”

Many of the representatives of government administration spoke of the challenge of policy coordination experienced at the level of local government. So, the challenge is not just one of citizens of rural areas talking to local government (the horizontal governance issue). It is also about local government talking to and being heard by central government (the vertical governance issue.) Many of the speakers referred to the low level of consultation between central, regional, and sub-regional governments, on issues such as CAP reform and the Green Deal. We have spoken about this since the start of the PoliRural project and the issue was raised many times, in many session and my many speakers during the Rural Pact conference in June.

The topics we have chosen to address are important and timely and are beginning to get the attention they deserve. Furthermore, the PoliRural project brings effective solutions to the table. So, all twelve regions of the project should sign the commitment canvas, describe what their Action Plan is doing to “amplify voices.”

PoliRural pilot Galilee: Meeting with the Minister of Communications

Following the Eastern-Galilee Action Plan of PoliRural, on Wednesday, 11/5/2022, PoliRural pilot Galilee representatives met with PM Yoaz Hendel, the Minister of Communications, at the Minister’s Office in Jerusalem (and with the Minister’s Adviser – Yoram Halperin) to discuss the upgrading of the Galilee’s digitalization infrastructure. The delegation included Prof Uri Marchaim (MIGAL), Mr Aharon Valensi (consultant for the PoliRural European project and former head of the Upper Galilee Regional Council), Mr Shai Kronenblum (Upper Galilee Regional Council) and Mr Moshe Karko (Eastern-Galilee Cluster of the municipalities).

The meeting revolved around the activities as part of the PoliRural project which deals with the issue of peripheral development. We came with the aim of asking the Minister of Communications to lead a move at the government to turn the Eastern Galilee into a pilot project to upgrade the digitalization infrastructure in order to upgrade the economy in the Galilee, establish start-up companies and bring young families to the Galilee.

We gave a presentation, and presented to the Minister the main points (we sent in advance a list of topics for discussion and the ppt presentation) and the Minister clarified that things are known and clear to him and the purpose is important. Minister of Communications Yoaz Hendel: “We are entering a new digital age. In the last year and a half, we have cleared up the regulatory traffic jams in the deployment of advanced infrastructure, and established in the Knesset Parliament regulatory moves. We are moving the Israeli economy forward, and in a short time Israel will lead the Western countries in terms of communications infrastructure”.

The Israeli government approved the outline plan for deployment of fibre-optic cable networks in Israel, which is critical for the communications market, particularly at a time of crisis. The outline plan deals with setting up of an investment fund financed by the telecommunications carriers to finance deployment in the periphery. The network will substantially improve Internet speeds in Israel and enable many new applications to be introduced, chiefly to accelerate the provision of digital services to both the domestic and enterprise markets.

We submitted to the Minister the work done by the Deloitte company to analyse the needs and solutions that exist today and are required in the future to upgrade the infrastructure. The Minister clarified that there is currently a rapid development of laying of fibre infrastructure in Israel, and we are currently leading the world in the pace of installing digital infrastructure. There are currently about 40 small companies, in addition to the communication’s main companies, competing for tenders for the installation of fibre infrastructure and there is almost no area where the appropriate infrastructure cannot be obtained. Both the Minister and the Adviser (with whom we continued the discussion) stressed that there is currently no limit in installing fibre with “infinite” bandwidth that can allow all activities of companies, or research institutions, and if there are delays with companies, we can contact the Minister and Advisor directly to speed up processes. On the issue of the use of “precision agriculture,” the minister said that it is possible to install a fibre that will reach every plant in the field.

On the issue of 5G, the Minister emphasized that it is an issue that the uses around the world are still unclear, and the ministry gives incentives to all companies that are interested in developing the issue of 5G uses. Development can be important in the field of “remote medicine”. This may be an issue that needs to be promoted with Margalit’s centre in Kiryat Shmona.

The discussion that took place builds an infrastructure for thinking about the next steps required in the Upper Galilee for the implementation of infrastructure development to lead the economic development of the Eastern Galilee. We invited the Minister to visit MIGAL to show him our activities.

Mr. Yoaz Hendel said that Israel is now entering a new digital age. The time has come for us to close the gap and deploy advanced communications infrastructures throughout the country – in the centre, in the periphery, and along the borders. Communications infrastructures are a mighty growth engine for the labour market and for GDP. They facilitate remote work and study and improved living conditions in the periphery of the country.

Co-creation in multi-actor approach in PoliRural Häme pilot

How to improve stakeholders’ cooperation in the regional food sector to enhance the success of entrepreneurs? This was the main target when PoliRural with two other regional projects worked together on 10th of May 2022 in the “Meet together” event. Organizations of the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners of Häme, HAMK University of Applied Sciences and Smart&Lean Hub Oy invited 20 people from 14 different organizations to meet face-to-face.

The meeting place, Villa Elina, is a rural tourism company that offers restaurant and catering services in an old farmyard in Kärkölä municipality of Päijät-Häme province. Villa Elina appeared to be a new to everyone because the company is new and was founded the year as corona pandemic started. It proved to be an excellent place to re-start stakeholder meetings and meet new and old people for a long time.

The co-creation action started with brief presentations of regional strategies and work done earlier in the food sector. PoliRural brought into the discussion the international point of view and tools for the collaborative and future oriented process. Event participants worked in three groups. Each group embraced people from funding authorities/decision-makers, RDI actors, and rural/agriculture advisors. PoliRural Häme team facilitated the discussions and workflow in groups. Each group had a different task to consider and ideate enhancement of regional cooperation; how to improve entrepreneurs’ awareness and knowledge of different funding instruments, how to improve co-operation of advisors and RDI-actors, and how to achieve effective and scalable RDI results?

Based on discussions, each group named the main target group for activities. Typically, small food companies are SMEs and need help and support the most. Because there are already many good activities carried out at the regional and national level, discussions were very active. Both in Kanta-Häme and Päijät-Häme regions the food sector is recognized as one of the Smart Specialization themes, in their regional strategic plans 2022-2025. The regional food strategy and its theme Growth in Häme work has been implemented since 2007. Coordinator of the project has been the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners of Häme.

The three co-creation workshops came up with three new solutions to help food sector entrepreneurs and regional stakeholders: 1) service e.g., a digital game or platform that helps entrepreneurs to identify and get the best funding instruments for their needs, 2) companies’ service pathway to get tailored help and easily support from different actors in public/private sectors, 3) and thirdly the dynamic continuing project model.

The most important outcomes of the event were participants’ acquaintance with each other and knowledge exchange. The feedback was positive, and the next meeting was decided to continue for co-operation in the same format. A communication platform at Microsoft Teams for the stakeholders and regional companies has been established. The event generated new contacts and bilateral meetings to initiate and strengthen regional actors’ cooperation.

 

New press coverage of PoliRural at Ypaithros Newspaper

The Region of Central Greece is trying to find how rural areas will become more attractive, through the implementation of the PoliRural project. For this reason, its Greek partners (Region of Central Greece, Agricultural University of Athens, NEUROPUBLIC, GAIA EPICHEIREIN) continue to hold online meetings with local business and academia, local government as well as representatives of social, economic, technological, environmental, political and other factors affecting rural development.

On 12th of April, 2022, the thematic newspaper with national circulation, Ypaithros Chora, published an article concerning Polirural project activities organised by the Greek pilot. The article describes the proposed rural development measures on critical regional issues related to the digitization and modernization of agriculture both in terms of improving productive activity and issues related to their environmental impact included in the PoliRural action plan. Particular emphasis was placed on alternative forms of tourism which should be in line with the requirements of the Green Deal on the adoption of climate-neutral practices and the reduction of greenhouse gases, as well as on the need for continuing education of farmers through university/training programs.

The article (in Greek) can be viewed here