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2nd ISE Innovation Camp: moving into action

Can you imagine a space where people with different professional backgrounds from across the Mediterranean dialogue together to develop a common understanding of complex challenges related to sustainablity in the Mediterranean? We do, it is called Innovation Camp!   
The second Innovation Camp of the Dialogue4Innovation project Smart specialisation strategies supporting Mediterranean green and just transition with the support of the Joint Research Centre, brought together more than 150 participants from the Smart specialization strategy (S3) MED and Interreg communities in Barcelona on the 28th and 29th of May.  

Innovation Camps are meeting spaces where the MED community gathers to address common challenges and puts forward transformative action. The objective is to promote shared understandings to enhance an effective alignment between cooperation projects and local actions in the MED region and among the Quadruple Helix stakeholders. 

Before getting to the core of the proposed collective exercises, an opening session provided the context of the Camp. Isabelle Nobio, Interreg Euro-MED Joint Secretariat, shortly introduced the new Programme architecture, welcoming community building spaces such as Innovation Camp as an opportunity to strengthen even more complementarities among Governance and Thematic projects. After this opening, Tatiana Fernandez, Government of Catalonia, took the floor to present the Dialogue4Innovation approach to transformative innovation. In particular, she pointed out that Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) need to be embedded in Smart specialisation strategies (S3), guided by a transformative and systemic approach, focusing on real structural challenges that allow the Mediterranean territories to engage on sustainable transition pathways. To achieve this goal, it will be necessary to develop a culture of experimentation and risk taking, as well as the right institutional capacities to design clear place-based strategies. It will also be necessary to put into practice tools and methodologies to achieve this ambition. 

After the opening session, participants distributed in groups for the working sessions focused on the case study of depopulation in rural and remote areas in the Mediterranean. Participants engaged in hands-on exercises to collectively frame the challenge of depopulation considering their implications from a multilevel and systemic perspective Multilevel Perspective Approach (MLP).  

First, they identified the main obstacles and resistances to move towards the shared vision of the future in which these areas are stronger, more prosperous and resilient. Many concrete ideas emerged, such as the need to find the means to implement place-based actions and the importance to align projects and public policies from different levels. The need of supporting the exchange of knowledge and cooperation between stakeholders to revitalise rural areas was also highlighted. Then, participants were invited to reflect how the Mediterranean regions have shared complex challenges that need to be addressed jointly, since they are global challenges but also affect each territory locally. Stakeholders cannot address them from their own fragmented and lineal perspective. For this reason, the MED community worked in systemic approaches to identify the factors and dynamics of depopulation in rural and remote areas need to be analysed from several dimensions (from the field of policies and governance, markets, infrastructures, the industrial sector, the cultural and social… etc). 

Finally, participants worked on the transition pathways towards the shared vision of the future, which is not a linear process. Some elements of the current system need to be let go, while other elements need to emerge to configure the new “business as usual”. Supporting alternatives aligned with the future common vision is key to accelerate and facilitate the transformation of the current system while leaving no one behind.

During the final plenary session of the day one of the most important results was to see participants with different backgrounds and perspectives engaging together and sharing examples coming from their professional and territorial experiences. The Camp was also an opportunity to meet some of the new thematic projects approved under the mission through the Interreg Euro-MED 2^ call.

On the second day, Innovation Camp continued with a focus on the real core of the Dialogue4Innovation project: Transformative Innovation Policy Labs (TIPLs). Before the practical session began, the second day of the Innovation Camp opened with a roundtable discussion between Alessandro Daraio (Dialogue4Innovation Lead Partner) Elisabetta Marinelli (S3 CoP), Fernando Mérida (Spanish Government) Alasdair Reid (EFIS Centre), and Cynthia Echave (Government of Catalonia) as moderator. 

At the heart of the debate was the importance of connecting MED projects and S3 strategies, conceiving cooperation projects as opportunities for embedding their results into policies at a structural level and into regional strategies. The speakers aknowledged this is the real challenge of governance projects, especially in an area as heterogeneous as the Mediterranean. The ISE Mission needs to work in this approach over the next five years. To be able to do this, it will be even more important to build strong partnership representing interests from different scales as well as keep involving regional stakeholders, who are the main implementers of Interreg projects. It will also be important to consider at all levels that innovation needs to be challenge-centered to have a transformative impact and shape stronger ecosystems. Identifying relevant challenges for commited stakeholders of the MED territories is crucial when designing interregional cooperation projects and that local, regional and national needs and dynamics are considered. That way the process of designing and implementing relevant transformative innovation policies will become more effective. 

After this inspiring start, Tatiana Fernandez prepared the ground for the working sessions scheduled by introducing the participants to a transformative innovation tool that the Dialogue4Innovation project will implement during its life cycle: Transformative Innovation Policy Labs (TIPLs), virtual spaces oriented towards the needs and challenges of territories, suggesting the possible characteristics these should have. The TIPLs, envisaged within the framework of WP2 TRANSFER will find their first concrete implementation between 2025 and 2026 with 9 pilots developed and implemented by the project partners. Each of them, starting from a shared methodology, will address different challenges and processes related to the needs of the represented territories. 

People from different countries and backgrounds participated in the hands-on sessions to move into action. Policy makers, S3 practioners, MED projects and other engaged stakeholders, reflected around the main obstacles when capitalising projects and how to achieve an increased stability, to actually embed project’s results in the long-term. One of the main reflections is the importance of meeting or collaborative spaces does the MED community need, so that policy makers can meet with project partners to align priorities and efforts, in the form of Transformative Innovation Policy Labs. They then moved on to the core session, where they began to draw their desired TIPLs. to identify the skills, tools and capacities needed to implement it. All the inputs were highly important qualitative information to understand how the ISE Mission will support these processes.  

Some very interesting and noteworthy insights emerged from this exercise. Starting with the importance of involving the right stakeholders, with facilitators to help them find the right direction. Continuing with the identify where these processes can add value and create common ground, so that TIPLs can be spaces for a systemic understanding of challenges, designing projects and initiatives with clear directionality, putting forward collective dialogue and constructive exchange. Suggesting a combination of different tools, such as analysis, peer review, study visits, alignment of diferent policy levels … Some participants identified the need of more  innovation camps dedicated to this topic, while others started to think about how TIPLs could become autonomous mechanisms after the end of the project. 

Beyond the interesting ideas that the participants shared during the two days of work, food for thought for the main implementers of the first 9 TIPLs to be realised, what will surely remain most impressive is the spirit of collaboration and engagement that the participants demonstrated. This confirms once again that Innovation Camps are necessary to get out of one’s own vision and meet other ideas and perspectives, because it is not possible to talk about transformative innovation without dialogue and exchange.