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Linking research and practice: The Europe dimension

30 September 2013

Christabel Myers

As Jo Talbot wrote in an earlier post, the results of projects supported by European funded cooperation programmes are a valuable source of knowledge. UK partners have taken part in well over 500 of these projects in the current funding period alone. The nature of the projects varies from research carried out by universities and other research organisations (supported by ESPON and FP7 research programmes), to more practitioner based exchanges on particular topics (INTERREG IVC and Urbact) and piloting of innovative public services (INTERREG IVB, Intelligent Europe).

[These findings] have the potential to help us all – researchers, policy makers and practitioners - keep up with the latest thinking on what may, does, or doesn’t work in policy responses to tackling the big common challenges we and other EU countries face.

A key feature of these projects is that they are carried out by multi country partnerships, so they bring different perspectives and experiences to those of us based in the UK. In addition, they aim to help knowledge exchange across all with an interest in sustainable spatial development (the European term is 'territorial development'). So they have the potential to help us all – researchers, policy makers and practitioners - keep up with the latest thinking on what may, does, or doesn’t work in policy responses to tackling the big common challenges we and other EU countries face. These challenges include climate change adaptation, sustainable urban development and ageing rural populations. 

Some provide inspiration – see the different climate change adaptation measures involving water management, and even enabling citizens to dig up pavements to grow green walls, pursued by the Dutch and Belgian partners in Future Cities (INTERRRG IVB NWE). Some provoke questions – for example, whether planners are reflecting the needs of cooperatives and other forms of enterprise in plans and development management policies, and point to countries such as Italy and Spain as a potential focus for further learning in this area (SolidarCity INTERREG IVC).

Europe by night

Many also offer help in understanding the governance processes necessary to make policies work on the ground. The economic recession has highlighted the need to secure contributions to achieving particular policies from across whole communities, including organisations from all sectors and sizes and individuals. Projects such as TANGO (ESPON) provide a framework for us to judge whether UK initiatives such as Neighbourhood Planning help to do that.

The recession has also increased the need to find cost effective solutions that really do make a difference in improving quality of lives. Even the new regulations governing the use of European funds in the forthcoming programming period call for more results (or outcomes) oriented projects. European knowledge such as that from KITCASP (ESPON) can help with this dimension too, for example in providing benchmarking to help place shapers judge the relative size of a challenge they are facing and success in tackling it. 

So what’s stopping us from taking a few minutes every so often and dipping into this source of knowledge via the web? Well, it can take a long time, at least initially, to track down the information you are after. Project results are scattered over many different programmes and project websites and not geared up to key word searches. In addition, their relevance to UK planners, especially those in practice rather than research, may not be immediately apparent since the headlines or summaries provided may be too general and from the perspective of the multi country partnership. The ESPON research programme is starting to tackle this – see the results of the USESPON project which is aiming to illustrate what ESPON research results mean in practice – and watch out for some thematic summaries of INTERREG IVC interregional cooperation projects, due out shortly. However, we are still a long way from a system enabling UK researchers and practitioners to join up the dots. 

To help you find relevant results from research and pilot practice, including that from Europe, the RTPI is currently seeking views on “Project Logs” which could briefly report project results using a common format and key words and providing a UK perspective. Some sample Logs  based on European projects (SolidarCity, Nexus, Future Cities) have been worked up to show what they might provide when completed. They might be used either as a source of knowledge in themselves or as a signpost to those projects you’d want to read in more detail. 

So go to /knowledge/research/project-logs/, have a look at the sample Logs and complete a short online questionnaire by the end of September. You’re worth it!

About Christabel Myers

Christabel Myers headed the international planning unit in the Department for Communities and Local Government and other policy units in DCLG for many years. As a consultant she has assisted European programme secretariats and project partnerships, local government, universities and other organisations. She has particular expertise on European funded cooperation initiatives such as INTERREG and ESPON.