Some impressions of the Urbact Summer University, held in Krakow, Poland, 28-31 August 2011

Sep 3 2011

In urban policy, there are some buzzwords that are repeated all the time: sustainable development, involving stakeholders, integrative urban development rather than sectoral approaches, ‘bottum up rather than top down’, etc.. It sounds nice, but how to do it in practice?
The Urbact Summer University was designed to provide some training to local policymakers all over Europe, and to exchange experiences.

I was a bit sceptical if it would work, but the event –held for the first time- turned out to be a great success. Over 300 people, from many different countries (most of them civil officers), came to Krakow to learn new techniques, and to exchange experiences with each other. There were the usual ‘old style’ plenary sessions with keynote speakers (some boring, some great), but the heart of the event were the small groups, in which people had to work on a fictional city case. During lab sessions (one of them led by me), they were given some tools and techniques, helping them to do a stakeholder analysis, to define the problem well (there are many ways to look at a problem), to translate a problem into objectives, to prioritize objectives, and to make a consistent action plan.

In my lab, the ‘fake problem’ was how a medium sized city can offer its municipal services in a more creative way, using the potential of the students and creative industries in the city. Also, the job was to save money, because the budget of the city is under strain. I gave some lectures on problem tree analysis, the Bono Hats method, stakeholder grids, and making activity tables. These techniques are simple at first sight, but applying them can be a challenge, especially when involving stakeholders (citizens, companies etc.) in the process.

In the small groups –led by moderators-, the participants had to apply the new techniques, and design solutions for the fictional city case. In the end, groups had to compete to decide which plan was the best.

It was amazing to see how much people can learn in a few days, and how much energy they put into designing a good action plan. The results were overall of high quality. The event shows that co-creation has so much potential (although all realise that it is hard to do it in real-world practice). It was great to be part of this event.

More information on Urbact can be found here