Article of the UIA Knowledge base
Edit 09 February 2021
by UIA Permanent Secretariat

UIA Achievements: What has been achieved so far?

UIA Achievements: What has been achieved so far?
UIA Achievements: What has been achieved so far?
The Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) and the Urban Development Network (UDN) are joining forces to organise a series of three webinars on UIA, achievements and perspectives. The first webinar on UIA state of play took place online and gathered more than 660 participants! Read more about key moments below

On 3 February, the UDN and UIA Initiative launched the webinar series with a first session focusing on UIA state of play and achievements.

This first event gathered around 660 participants from all over Europe and beyond. Key actors of UIA projects’ implementation attended the event, such as City Authorities (23%) or private (21%)  sector. The event also attracted actors that are not usually directly involved in UIA projects such as National Ministries or agencies (22%) and Managing Authorities (8%). There was indeed a great need and willingness from the audience to learn more about UIA projects and Initiative as 40% did not know much about them. This first webinar was therefore an ideal occasion to showcase UIA state of play, achievements and contribution to the EU Cohesion Policy.

From UIA to UIA 2.0 - a 5 years journey

Normunds Popens Deputy Director-General for Regional and Urban policy at the European Commission and Anne Wetzel from Hauts-de-France Region, UIA's Entrusted Entity, introduced this webinar series as a key moment to gather urban practitioners of the EU community together, five years after the launch of the UIA Initiative journey, in a context that further strengthens the key role of cities in the policy-response to the ongoing pandemic. 

They both stressed the importance of looking at UIA achievements, highlighting their added value for a better programming of Cohesion policy funds earmarked on sustainable urban development, to bring the UIA model to a new level as a component of the European Urban Initiative for 2021/27.

Visit the new European Urban Initiative website here!

Testing and prototyping innovation in cities will play important role in this new initiative. “This is where our reflections coincide with the launch of the New European Bauhaus initiative”, announces Normunds Popens, enhancing potential synergies between both Initiatives (NEB will be presented by JRC in webinar 3 on 17 February, register here).

Urban Innovative Actions at a glance

Tim Caulfield, UIA Director, presented UIA key data setting UIA state of play. Since its launch in 2015, within the five calls, UIA counts on a total of 86 funded projects located in 19 Member States and UK, selected out of 1165 project proposals, addressing 14 urban challenges, for a total commitment of EUR 368.5 million

presentation tim caulfield

How do UIA projects contribute to Cohesion policy objectives? 

Panels gathering UIA cities discussed how UIA projects are contributing to reaching 4 of the Cohesion Policy objectives for 2021-2027, for a Smarter, Greener, More Connected and More Social Europe.


A more Social Europe

In this panel, Barcelona, Athens and Lille representatives discussed how solutions tested by their UIA project contribute to the 'European Pillar of Social Rights'. More specifically, these projects address the challenges related to urban poverty and inclusion of migrants and refugees by improving access to inclusive, quality and adequate urban services for all. This panel, moderated by Levente Polyak (UIA expert) brought together:

Tast'in Fives, Lille credits to Marcelline Bonneau, UIA expert

Athens, Barcelona and Lille have all engaged in developing new responses to their social challenges. In the years after 2015, thousands of refugees arrived to Athens. Aspiring to become a real home for the newcomers, the City of Athens wanted to go beyond emergency relief and concentrate on the long-term integration of refugees. In order to achieve this, the UIA-funded Curing the Limbo project addresses the “limbo” effect created by the refugees’ long periods of inactivity with the help of an integration model that leads to individual autonomy instead of dependence on humanitarian programmes. 

Barcelona’s response concerned another crisis, still ongoing in its effects: the 2008 economic crisis. Many families living in the Eix Besòs area in the North-East of the city are still suffering from poverty and insufficient welfare services. With the UIA project B-MINCOME, the Barcelona Municipality aimed to reduce poverty and combat social exclusion with the help of a guaranteed minimum income programme co-produced with NGOs and other social actors. Both Athens and Barcelona situated themselves in a policy gap, left behind by the inadequate or insufficient interventions of state and regional authorities that left refugees in Athens and poor families in Barcelona in uncertainty.

Similarly to Barcelona, Lille’s UIA project TAST’n FIVES focuses on the district of Fives, one of the most challenged areas of Lille, characterised by high levels of poverty, unemployment and social exclusion. Situated within the broader regeneration of a former industrial site, the project aimed to build a community kitchen at the site and develop food-related activities in order to create a virtuous system that promotes local economic growth, fosters training, stimulates social connection and encourages solidarity initiatives for nutrition and public health.

In its process to develop a productive and inclusive ecosystem around food, the TAST’n FIVES project relied on a transitional urban planning solution. The experiences of the preliminary project Avant-Goût helped preparing for the long-term future of the site. The temporary activities allowed the project to involve local stakeholders in the project, test uses, anticipate potential risks and explore governance models for the future local ecosystem. These experiments all provided relevant knowledge for the installation of a venue including a food court, a shared solidarity kitchen, a culinary incubator and an experimental agricultural greenhouse, supported by a business model mixing social objectives with economic sustainability.  

In Barcelona, the introduction of a guaranteed minimum income model proved effective in improving the well-being of families and reduce their sense of insecurity. The involvement of various social entities and community organisations in the programme had a positive effect on local residents’ community participation and a sense of belonging to the neighbourhood. Furthermore, the integration of guaranteed minimum income in the broader policy environment helped the city in creating an integrated approach to social welfare, rationalising and unifying municipal benefits, developing  a new role between social workers and service users, and designing and implementing a new citizen currency. The community-led approach of the programme and the involvement of neighbourhood-based social entities allowed non-public actors to take a more active role in the implementation of welfare services.

In order to offer a complex trajectory for refugees, Athens’ Curing the Limbo project created an integration model combining access to housing with education, employment and community activities. Besides developing a community hub to provide a unique educational offer and access to housing, the project also sought to reduce the isolation of refugees and to help them create new bonds with the local population, with the help of actions to improve the urban environment, co-designed by refugees and local initiatives. Curing the Limbo is also characterised by a series of micro-innovation, ranging from new education methods nurturing cultural, linguistic, communicative and technological diversity, through a psycho-social service aiming at empowering refugees through building their autonomy, to the social rental agency model developed for the project’s continuation.

Many of the policy learning points of the projects developed by Athens, Barcelona and Lille reflect the opportunities offered to them by the UIA programme. Support from UIA, in the form of facilitation and expertise was considered fundamental to the success of the projects. The opportunity to create a local consortium has prompted municipalities to form new partnerships, develop new modalities of cooperation with social and community-based entities and involve stakeholders that are traditionally not connected with any forms of public action. The flexibility of the funding and the possibility to adjust the programme at all stages enabled cities to follow an “action-research” model (Athens) or a “trial and error”’ process (Lille), allowing them to take risks and experiment with not-yet-proven solutions. The UIA programme has proven a key actor to unlock innovation in European cities. In order to help Europe face its challenges and engage in a more social, more just green transition, multiplying and upscaling these logics of partnership and experimentation will be of great importance.

Based on Levente Polyak's inputs.

A Greener Europe

This panel, moderated by Birgit Georgi (UIA Expert), gathered three UIA cities addressing environmental challenges, implementing solutions for greener and low-carbon cities:

Vilawatt, Viladecans

Lahti in Finland, Maribor in Slovenia and Viladecans in Spain follow different pathways with their Urban Innovative Action projects in which they contribute to a Greener Europe. Lahti’s CitiCap project focusses on sustainable urban mobility around the central idea of building a citizens’ cap and trade system to encourage a shift from car to more sustainable transport modes. 40% of the users have already changed their mobility behaviour. Maribor’s UrbanSoil4Food with its circular economy approach aims for increasing the city’s food self-sufficiency supported by recycling waste to soil. A pilot installation started to deliver safe and certified soil for food production, parks and construction. Viladecans wanted to change its citizens’ perception towards energy consumption and tackles energy transition with a new governance model. With the new Public-Private-Citizen Partnership, citizens are directly involved in the governance of the local company Vilawatt supplying 500 dwellings to date.

While these projects approach a greener Europe from different angles, they share common lessons learned for successfully driving innovative projects and sustainable transitions:

  • Social innovation is as equally important as technological innovation is. Only thinking both parts together makes the success possible. While UrbanSoil4Food developed the pilot in Maribor, supplementary activities have brought local food producers and consumers closer together and supported the development of public and private green, like 66 allotment garden, green facades, roofs and greener balconies. These activities generated a much broader impact; citizens became aware of circular economy and how to integrate that in their everyday life.
  • To achieve these much broader impacts, the projects need to approach users specifically and involve them actively. CitiCap tested in Lahti developed app for using the cap and trade scheme and carefully adjusted it to the citizens’ needs to make it as intuitive as possible and easy to use.
  • The core activities and solutions of innovative projects can give way to multiple spin offs and other benefits providing the projects a much higher value; they should be actively sought after. A shift from car to cycling in Lahti reduces CO2 emissions and provides, at the same time, health gains; more gardens, green facades, roofs and balconies in Maribor provide food and quality of life, and new market opportunities for local farmers have opened up. Viladecans became an agent of change in general due to the innovative climate.

Different success factors have enabled these achievements. All three projects stress that inviting citizens with creative, interactive, even playful participation forms and tools has been highly important. Governing the local energy company change the mind of Viladecans’ citizens about energy. Lahti’s citizens try the app to trade their saved emissions from walking, cycling and public transport use to get virtual euros they can spend on city services. Maribor enjoy easier access to healthier regional food and an increase of private green. Finding the right partners that are innovation-minded and come from different fields of expertise is a cornerstone of innovative projects. In the best case, they develop already the project design together thus enabling maximising innovation integrated into the design. Managing these partners with their different experience and expectations requires clear and transparent collaboration mechanisms as well as fairness, willingness to find solutions and flexibility with the single partners.

The UIA funding enabled the cities not only to implement innovative solutions but a deep change of the mindset of their stakeholders.

Our administration works very differently now by going beyond business-as-usual procedures and enjoying the new approaches and expertise these bring. Alicia Valle, Vilawatt.

These deep changes pave the way for further innovation urgently needed for sustainability transition for a Greener Europe.

Based on Birgit's inputs.

A Smarter Europe

This panel gathered Eindhoven, Bilbao and Aveiro projects representatives to discuss jobs and skills local solutions. Moderated by Lucia Scopelliti, it brought together:

These 3 jobs and skills projects took 2 different approaches to look at labor market challenges: in the case of Eindhoven the focus is mainly on “re-employment”, while Bilbao focuses on “reskilling” and Aveiro on “retaining talent”.

Eindhoven PASSPORT 4 WORK is a solution to redesign the journey to (re)employment for the lower educated workforce through a user-friendly new platform, that leads to the development of an intersectoral skills passport obtained through a gamified assessment.

The overall objective of Bilbao AS-Fabrik project is to test a model of a “Factory for the creation of advanced services for the industry” (AS-FABRIK), so the project aims at facing the challenges of the digital transformation and industry 4.0, that the manufacturing sector must face in a very near future.

Aveiro STEAM city seeks to improve the technological infrastructure of the city in order to enable local economy, to create new opportunities for the youngsters, to collect and share data useful for decision makers, companies and citizens, that will gain access to information, open data and open services.

The common ground of these 3 projects relies on the jobs’ mismatch issue and the challenge to prepare workers (new generation’s and middle aged people) to the new competences requested from the labour market today (i.e digitalisation and ICT skills connected to industry 4.0, coding, robotics).

UIA call was a chance for these 3 cities to reflect and to implement on the ground the well-known principle of innovation " triple (or event quadruple) helix". it was a push towards the close collaboration among different organizations, such as Institutions, Research bodies, Industries and civil society.

More specifically, it clearly came out from the discussion that collaboration learnings are the key contribution of Jobs and skills project to policy making. Indeed, it is viewed as a corner stone to correctly capture industry and entrepreneurship needs and redesign labour schemes for re-employment.

Finally, there has been a great convergence around the idea that the UIA funding scheme has made possible to consistently accelerate the development in practice of some public policies already identified by the municipalities but probably still far from a concrete experimentation, also thanks to the implicit EC “endorsement”.

Cities acknowledged that one of the main outcome is linked to the concept of "public value" creation, very up-to-date at the moment, and closely connected to the research around the impact assessment of public policies. All the three speakers interviewed, somehow, recognized the value created by these projects in terms of outcomes and not just outputs or mere actions delivered.

Based on Lucia Scopelliti's inputs.

A more Connected Europe

In this panel, Szeged, Ghent and Rennes representatives discussed how their project contribute to urban mobility and digital transition policies as they implement innovative solutions that contribute to Europe’s connectivity. The panel, moderated by Simon Chignard (UIA expert), brought together:

Convincing people to use the already existing public transportation facilities is quite difficult, states Sandor Nagy, the Vice-Mayor of Szeged the third largest city in Hungary.

The SasMob project started in 2018 and aimed to reduce individual cars' use among commuters. Inspired by a previous experiment in Austin (Texas), Szeged focused its efforts on environmentally-conscious employers. “Providing them with small financial incentives - to finance a bike shelter, for instance - proved very effective to engage private companies in the project”. Twenty employers from various industries signed a mobility pledge with SasMob.

Collaboration with the private sector is the key enabler. We expect long-term commitment from these companies to sustainable transportation.

Changing people’s behaviour is also one the objective of Tmaas (traffic management as a service) in Ghent. The city, capital of East Flanders, is the second-largest municipality in Belgium. “We aim to inform citizens with real-time information about their trips before they leave homes” explains Sophie Gillaerts, Tmaas project manager. “We built a dashboard that is the main centrepiece of the project and notifies users”. Once they sign up on the platform, users can receive a short SMS or email notification 15 minutes before their daily trip. In case of disruption, Tmaas provides alternative routes and transportation modes. The service relies heavily on open government data and privately-held data. “Private companies needed a robust partnership agreement to feel comfortable to share their data with us” stressed Sophie Gillaerts. “Giving people the right information, in the right form and at the right time is key to our success”. Tmaas is starting the knowledge transfer phase after successfully ending the implementation phase in early 2021.

Data sharing at the local level is Rudi's purpose (Rennes Urban Data Interface). “Many different stakeholders - private companies, public sector agencies but also non-governmental associations and individuals - will be allowed to share data on the platform” describes Simon Saint-Georges from Rennes Metropole (western France). Compared to Szeged and Ghent projects, Rudi doesn’t exclusively focus on mobility: “We want people and companies to use these data to design new projects and services for the public good”. For instance, making households aware of their domestic waste or energy consumption is the first step towards a behavioural change.

One challenge is to create a legal and technical framework so that stakeholders could freely share their data.

The three cities representatives agree that UIA support was instrumental in their projects. “The fact that an external body approved our SasMob project showed that this is a strong project. This helped us gain traction at the local level” summarizes Szeged’s Vice-Mayor. Sophie Gillaerts from Ghent adds that “UIA provides a platform so that we can learn a lot from other cities and their experiences to deliver a successful project”.

UIA gives a framework to manage an innovative and risky project, concludes Simon Saint-Georges.

Based on Simon Chignard's inputs.

The UIA Knowledge Management in practice

A great wealth of thematic and operational knowledge has been generated by UIA projects, aiming at inspiring the design and implementation of future programmes and urban projects. In this session, Amélie Cousin, UIA Knowledge and Communication Lead Officer, guided participants through the UIA Knowledge Management Strategy principles and explained how its pilot mechanisms and knowledge activities enable this transfer and contribute to the definition of the European Urban Initiative value chain. Iraklis Stamos and Laura Colini presented 2020 Knowledge activity findings on UIA cities reflection and experience on innovation and mobility and European cities engaging in right to housing.

Read more about these knowledge activities here and stay tuned for the final reports and events to come!

Join us for next events as we discuss how to bridge UIA knowledge and Cohesion Policy (webinar 2, 10 February) and the future of UIA (webinar 3, 17 February). Register here and join the discussion on Social Media - #UDNWebinars #UIAfuture.

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