Article by IVY reporters Laurence Moureh-Ledig and Alessia Baratto.
At this year’s EU Week of Regions and Cities event dedicated to cohesion policy, Interreg FCE hosted an online Participatory Lab on the digital transition in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The event, titled ‘Digital transitions in a post Covid-19 world: Lessons learned from the Interreg France (Channel) England programme’, took place on 13 October and featured presentations from Interreg FCE Programme Manager Carolyn Reid and seven FCE projects.
During the 90-minute session projects had the opportunity to share knowledge, experience, and useful practices on the innovative digital methods they have implemented to address challenges such as tackling social exclusion, reducing carbon footprint, and engaging stakeholders during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Spread over three thematic sessions, participants had the chance to engage in discussion and ask questions directly to project partners.
The first breakout room hosted a unique experience in the form of an immersive Live Lab. Delivered by CobBauge project team: Steve Goodhew, Jim Carfrae, and Kevin Owen from Plymouth University, Malo Le Guern and Karim Touati from ESIT Caen and Anthony Hudson from Hudson Architects, the session took attendees on a virtual voyage across the channel to various labs and development sites, showcasing the projects ambition to revolutionise the building sector.
The team, which is creating a new form of cob to be used as a sustainable building material for environmentally friendly houses, demonstrated how their live lab sessions during the pandemic have helped them to engage stakeholders and promote the material to larger audiences.
In the breakout room dedicated to empowering individuals and communities through technology, Hugo Sintes from Increase VS, Nathalie Vauterin for Aspire and Camille Franceschi from Adapt provided useful insight into how they addressed the challenges of social exclusion and helped to improve health outcomes using digital technology.
Speaker Hugo Sintes, Head of Programme at Optivo Housing Group, explained how Increase VS project addressed social exclusion through an increased use of digital promotion and online support during the pandemic to engage and train disadvantaged people from deprived areas for the job market. The project has gone from delivering face to face skills training with housing residents, to delivering entirely online training by providing laptops, tablets, and online tutorials for those involved, helping them with the digital transition and securing access for them to the outside world when they were most isolated.
Nathalie Vauterin, Associate at C3 Collaborating for Health, introduced the CHESS technology, a tablet-based community engagement tool and data collection system designed to identify opportunities for health promotion and disease prevention. This innovative digital tool is being tested on the ground in France and England by project ASPIRE, helping to break the connection between unemployment and obesity in deprived areas.
Camille Franceschi, European Project Manager at ESIGELEC, explained how Adapt was able to implement video-based online training, develop its webinar offer and increase its presence on social media to promote the project and reach communities in need of access to innovative wheelchair technology, improving mobility and social cohesion for disabled people, which was especially important during the pandemic.
In the third breakout room, Lucie Domingo, Lizzie Lewis, and Carly Leonard presented how their respective projects Blueprint, Preventing Plastic Pollution and Cool Food Pro used technology and digitalisation to support the low-carbon sector and contributed to efforts to reduce carbon footprint in various sectors. The projects obtained significant results through training and resources that as a result, have helped promote positive behavioural changes in the use of plastic and food consumption.
Speaker Lucie Domingo, Lecturer in Eco Design at UniLaSalle, presented Blueprint project’s engagement in the support and creation of social and circular economy jobs through online tools, such as vocational training and an online accelerator cluster connecting 100 social enterprises, that are helping workers and students to develop new crucial skills and competencies for the low-carbon sector. The project is also dedicated to bringing awareness to the technology available to support the transition toward a low-carbon economy.
Digitalisation also helped Preventing Plastic Pollution project to adapt during the pandemic. Lizzie Lewis, Project Officer at the UK’s Environment Agency, explained that the digital tools they have been using (such as Yammer, webinars, and a knowledge hub) were vital to create a lasting sense of community engagement, resulting in new members and volunteers joining the project even during the pandemic. Moreover, they were crucial to influence positive behavioural changes in the management of plastic waste, therefore supporting the transition toward a low-carbon society by reducing plastic pollution.
Finally, as Chief Executive of Peterborough Environment City Trust (PECT), Carly Leonard explained that digital tools played a big part in the success of Coo-L Food as a REGIOSTARS 2020 winner. The project had a web application at its heart, through which it managed to advise users on sustainable practice for food consumption and quantify the carbon impact or savings of some habits. For the new Cool Food Pro project, that is building on the success of the previous project, the team aims to make the digital programme as low-carbon as possible using low tech, while keeping content vibrant and engaging.
Overall, projects involved consider digital tools as an added value and beneficial for their project implementation and for scaling up their impacts. Digitalisation, especially in pandemic times, helped projects to advance their missions and accelerate the emergence of results, facilitated work efficiency and collaboration, and offered more flexibility.
Digitalisation also provided opportunities for wider dissemination of information and introduced more informal ways to reach and attract beneficiaries and connect with excluded groups. While online training created new learning opportunities for people and fostered digital literacy.
However, the speakers also pointed the limitations of technology, noting that digital tools are big polluters themselves despite the lack of information around it, highlighting that online engagement can be less attractive than face to face interactions and underscoring that not everyone has the same access or understanding of online technology.
This overview of technology’s benefits and shortcomings gathered during group discussions provides a useful base for other projects and organisations to consider when implementing their own digital transitions, whether it be to engage new audiences, introduce new services or products or promote positive behaviour change.