Six URBACT „Golden Nuggets” For Successful Partner Visits

Ivan Tosics

By Ivan Tosics, on March 14th, 2014

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URBACT Projects include a lot of study visits, where partners from several cities travel to one network city to get a sense of the project’s context, local actors, successes and obstacles. What makes for a good partner’s study visits? Here are a few tips from the last project Kick-off meetings.

1. Increase Innovation Potential With Unusual Circumstances

During the Bristol meeting of the Sustainable Food Project  in october 2012, one of the site visits was to the remote, peripheral Avon Wildlife Feed Bristol (not even the cab driver knew the place…) where one of the discussions took place in a poly-tunnel – a tent used to grow vegetable. The site has started to be developed just this year on unused plots of the municipality. Besides a few paid employees, it works with volunteers,  from a corporate social responsibility system  – e.g. bankers come out once a year for a whole day-, with prisoners… Products are eaten on the plot or given to community cafes, elderly homes… you name it. The food is very healthy,  as vegetables are grown organically. Efforts are made to make the place friendly, by allowing people to stay in the evening, to cook on barbecues, to meet other people by eating together. As a result, the place has a strong social and inclusive aspect, with those diverse categories of people coming to work.

2. Involve Participants In Collective, Playful Actions


In Braine-l’Alleud, partners of the Together Project visited the Youth Center where they were involved into a ‘Healthy Tuesday animation’. There were 3 circles focusing on the three aspects of food production and consumption: people in the first circle were the food eaten,  a second circle of 7-8 people enacted actors who had prepared the food, while a third circle represented the impacted environment.

Minutes of their summit are telling: The beef spoke first, and I, Water, got concerned. 35 th water is needed to produce 1000 g beef! But the dense tropical forest also expressed concerns about what was told by the beef:  1 ha forest has to be turned into pasture to feed animals to produce 1500 hamburgers… The Agrifood multinational jumped in. “Providing jobs and works in third countries where environmental rules are less strict, I can use my huge profit for advertisement to convince people to buy my products”, said she. Your favourite supermarket was also there: “you can buy everything even things you never wanted to buy. I offer everything at any times of the year not counting at all transport and cooling costs!”After activists from El Salvador and India, fighting against multinationals had spoken about genetically modified seeds monopoles, the typical Belgian plate finally got the floor – “I include 138 g fresh vegetables (500 would be needed), 60% of which are imported from far away countries, travelling thousands of km-es. And by the way, I do not follow seasons any more…” An inspiring discussion followed in the garden about local food production, urban agriculture…

3. Organise Dynamic Presentation Of Interesting Practices

During the Sustainable Food meeting in Bristol in October 2012, a Speed Presentations Night in the M Shed Museum allowed for the presentation of 9 local and 9 international practices. Each speaker got 3 minutes to present a new initiative, with time getting down from 03.00.00 min to zero on the screen of a computer, making the night a particularly inspiring one. Also a plus: many members from the Local Support Group attended the event!

4. Ask Partners To Identify Innovative Small Case Practices

Besides large-scale project, it can be useful to collect smaller good practices & small case studies! Again in Braine l’Alleud, Together  partner cities had to present innovative practices on complex societal problems. We then got to hear about the creation of a Social pharmacy – social medical office in Kavala (Greece):  in the precarious financial situation of people, new ideas were needed to address people’s health – both the people and the institutions have to take innovative approach. Doctor’s association immediately joined the initiative. Non used medicine is collected from houses and also pharmaceutical companies themselves, and distributed by the pharmacy store operating in the middle of the covered market of the city.

5. Make Space For Two-way Knowledge Transfer With The Hosts Of Study Visits

At a partner meeting of the NODUS Project in Amsterdam, during a walk through the Biljmermeer estate the Dobrich (BG) person asked the hosts: „where are the corner shops”? From this remark, a serious debate started about the too rigid Dutch planning regulations… This examples the importance of creating opportunities, e.g. through study visits, to collect observations of project partners, based on their own practices.

Last, but not least, at a Sustainable Food meeting in Göteborg, micro-consulting offered the opportunity to the local organizers to raise a few questions to the international visitors – who suddenly went from being  visitors to becoming experts. Projects in economically deprived areas were visited in the NE part of Gothenburg. This relatively deprived part of the city has the ambition to develop into green-rural city. Galaxen is a non-profit association that conducts a city farm and café with open and free activity, and which incomes come  from the city and from some services (pony riding, selling honey…). The persons running the farm asked us, visitors, to act as experts, giving them advise on a question which interests them, and the exchange turned into a rich discussion.




By Ivan Tosics, URBACT Thematic Pole Manager

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