How do you keep stakeholders engaged throughout the project? A challenge even in normal times, let alone during this difficult and nerve-racking pandemic year.
Timisoara’s stakeholder group was made of local and regional authorities (West Regional Development Agency, Timis County Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, Intercommunity Development Association “Timisoara Growth Pole”, Territorial Office for Small, Medium and Medium Enterprises Timișoara), educational institutions (West University - Economy and Business Administration/ Institutional Relations, Politehnica University - Digital and E-learning), cultural associations (Plai Cultural Center, Art Encounters Foundation, Artmedia, Flight Festival), TM2021 ECoC Association, youth organisations (Timiș County Youth Foundation), companies and incubators that focus on creating new businesses or helping with business ideas (Cowork Timisoara), young entrepreneurs that could benefit from the ECoC programme, tourism and IT&C business, youth organisations active in the framework of TM2021 ECoC programme.
Stakeholders stressed the importance of discussions and representation from various sectors to facilitate dialogue between them in order to get to know each other better, and co-create based on common interests. Therefore, we tried to balance and alternative between face-to-face and online meetings to ensure a safe environment for both participants and organisers.
Different venues were used for our face-to-face meetings, including an art gallery, a former chancellery of war, and a co-working space. To keep things interesting, we diversified our methods of interaction: the world café method for exchanging ideas, good practices and experiences; the Lightning Decision Jam method for the presentation of good practices and challenges identified by the project partners; the interview method and phone call conversations to find answers to a set of questions; and the brainstorming method for collecting possible new ways of approaching the theme. The stakeholders that participated in the Local Learning Labs enjoyed the possibility of networking and interaction during coffee breaks, and before and post-workshop.
The discussion themes were quite appealing and, at the local level, still caught the attention of different groups of stakeholders in the framework of the ECoC mega-event.
It was a new experience to resort to a different format, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the social-distancing measures that prohibited face-to-face meetings, an online one still ensures that the stakeholder group will be properly engaged.
Our stakeholders were kept updated with the evolution of the project and the implementation of the actions discussed: they received all project newsletters, as well as a number of articles published on the project website; they were invited to various webinars organised at the European level; they were invited to the site visit and open seminar in Matera; they were sent feedback forms after each Local Learning Lab; we wrote press releases and posted all relevant information on the implementation of the project on a dedicated section on the municipality’s website.