The first Innovation Camp organised by the Dialogue4Innovation project, in collaboration with the EUSAIR Presidency and the Interreg IPA ADRION 2021-2027 Programme, took place on 23-24 May in Sarajevo during the 8th Forum of the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR) hosted by the Directorate for European Integration of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As described in this article, the Innovation Camp opened with a conference covering the following topics: Interreg support to face common challenges; the framework of the Innovative Sustainable Economy Mission; opportunities for collaboration for innovation across the Mediterranean.
The Innovation Camp continued with two workshops that analysed the systemic and transformative innovation approach and looked at the challenge of depopulation from a comparative perspective, using innovative methods and tools. This article highlights the salient points that emerged from the two working sessions.
Working Session 1 – Exploring the potential of transformative innovation policy labs to support smart specialisation for sustainability in the Adriatic and Ionian Macroregion
The first workshop was held on the 23rd of May, after the conference. It aimed to explore the nature of complex challenges and to introduce the basic elements of systems thinking for the second workshop taking place the following day. To this end, the session started with a systems game and continued with a world café on how to address the challenge. Participants were divided into several groups and discussed common policies to address depopulation in their regions, trying to identify the needs to address this specific challenge more effectively.
The main result was a shared board of identified factors and needs including:
- Better access to funding resources to implement place-based actions in rural areas;
- Increased dialogue between administrations and capacity-building measures;
- Adopting a holistic approach to policy development;
- Promoting ecosystem-based solutions;
- A bottom-up approach to improving communication with rural communities to understand their needs;
- Innovative solutions tailored to rural areas;
- Reverse market incentives to valorise the skills and competences of local people;
- Increasing the attractiveness of rural areas and promoting the value of more sustainable lifestyles.
Working Session 2 – Addressing the challenge of depopulation in rural areas
The second workshop was held on the 24th of May. It was a practical and hands-on session to exemplify how the systemic and transformative innovation approach could be used to address a specific challenge, namely, depopulation in rural areas. It started with a detailed analysis of the challenge and concluded with the application of the Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) tool.
Fernando Mérida Martín – European Commission Joint Research Centre Seville – was in charge of summarizing several experts’ presentations on European lagging regions to frame the challenge. As explained in his presentation, depopulation is a global trend that needs a systemic approach. It is an effect of rural decline, causing, among others, lack of services and braindrain. The solution is to revitalize rural areas by fostering regional innovation ecosystems. He stressed the importance of understanding the real needs of territories in order to assess them. The implementation of innovation strategies should be a process based on a comprehensive analysis of rural areas. He also explained the approach followed within the Joint Research Centre, mentioning various intervention lines and instruments:
- Rural observatory: it provides information and data to rural policymakers and researchers for the definition of policies;
- Rural toolkit: it helps territories to identify funding sources to implement actions;
- Forum: it supports the exchange of knowledge and cooperation among stakeholders to revitalize rural territories.
As a linkage with the practical exedrcise, Elivira Gonzalez – Research4Consulting – recalled the approaches to systemic and transformative innovation and the methodologies and tools tested in the strategic projects PANORAMED, BLUE BIO MED and B-BLUE, financed by the Interreg MED 2014-2020 Programme: Multi-Level Perspective for Systemic Innovation; 2-Loops Model; Transformative Innovation Policy Labs (TIPLs); Systems Mapping. The presentation put special attention to the rationale behind the MLP and its usefulness to understand how landscape trends and innovations induce changes to socio-technical systems.
After the introduction, participants were asked to apply the MLP tool to the challenge of depopulation in rural areas. They were divided in two groups and provided with a set of cards describing key factors of the challenge and a big mural with an MLP template. The exercise consisted in identifying which cards were describing the current socio-technical system, landscape trends, a desired future vision of the system or some emergent alternative practices. As the discussion went by, cards were being distributed along the mural to conform a shared and systemic understanding of the challenge.
The exercise allowed participants to analyse the three levels of the problem (landscape, dominant system and emergent alternative practices). For example, they addressed global trends such as growth-driven development paradigms or the industrialisation of livestock farming, but also the opportunities offered by EU funding programmes to support climate change mitigation and adaptation and digitisation. They also explored how the dynamics of an ageing rural population, the lack of transport infrastructure, and a precarious governance, among others, define the rules of the current socio-technical system and may limit the possibilities for transformation and innovation.
Finally, the participants identified emerging initiatives that could be the starting point for transforming the system. In particular, they discussed the potential of the bio-economy and new industries based on ICT-driven social innovation, new policies for entrepreneurship, and innovative ecosystems for lagging regions. Other enabling factors could be public-private and cross-sectoral cooperation, multi-level governance structures between municipalities and regions, and strengthened institutions as key drivers for these transitions and the institutionalisation of new practices.
The two workshops promoted a coherent and shared understanding of the transformative innovation approach applied to challenge of depopulation, and enabled participants to identify potential strategies for their specific context.