By Markus Kather and Tobias Sieblitz
What can we do if certain cities or regions are facing difficult socio-economic situations? What if for example skilled labour is missing, what if qualified and educated people are leaving – commonly known as the brain drain? Together with the city of Guben as well as transnational partners from Gubin (Poland), the region of Crete (Greece) and the Institute for Place Management at the Manchester Metropolitan University (UK), INPOLIS and Multiplicities undertook a project called COBRA in the Lausitz region, situated in the German state of Brandenburg, close to the Polish border. The project was funded by the state ministry of labour and the European Social Fund (ESF). The idea of the model project was all about collaboration and cooperation – the most important means to alleviate above described problems. But what exactly did we do? And what did we learn from the experience in the Lausitz? In a series of two blog entries, we present the most important findings. Here is part one:
The biggest issues that were identified in the rural areas where COBRA took place were that skilled labour was leaving and companies did not make use of their innovation potential either because they did not have the means or the time to do so. This is exactly where COBRA came in. What we tried to do was to establish a connection between traditional companies in the region and young entrepreneurs and creatives – sometimes students, sometimes graduates. The project COBRA essentially aimed at optimizing the intersection between creatives, Brandenburg companies and traditional craft enterprises: thus creating “collabourative labour opportunities in Brandenburg” – COBRA. At the core we set up a series of one-week workshops, bringing different groups together in Guben and working on questions that arise from the daily business of the firms, while getting to know the region. How does such a project work though? Here are some insights in the most important steps:
Discovering new potential and challenges
At first it is important to discover new potential and challenges in the area involved – it´s all about finding the right partners. Basically you need to find out which people are actually interested in the project and who fits the project idea. What companies would be interesting to involve? Are there regional competencies that help creating a focus? Who are communication partners and where could you make such a project happen? In this early exploratory phase it is not uncommon to end up with more partners than you might expect. However, this is not a bad thing as some partners will not stay on over the entire duration of such a project.
Establishing new networks and relations
After identifying the right partners and platforms, in the next phase you are trying to establish a network between these partners in order to build up trust and make them more accustomed to the idea of the project. What COBRA did was start off with a Kick-off event to which potential company partners were invited. Then, over the course of several months, the “creatives”, as in students and young entrepreneurs, visited the companies and people involved got to know each other – also on an informal level which is very important in establishing trust. The communication between the different partners is the most important aspect in this phase. It is critical to realize the best way for them to communicate and to appreciate the “different languages” that each group speaks. It is essential for the lead project partner to understand that fact and help the different project partners understand each other.
Moreover, the result of a project like COBRA should not be pre-set. Imagination should eventually be allowed to run its course and no pressure be built up. Supplement that with examples and references and there are no boundaries as to what can come out of collaboration and cooperation…
However, this is only the beginning of such an undertaking. What are the actual challenges or goals in the minds of the project partners? How do we pick the right tools to create situations of trust and collaboration? What are the results of a one week workshop and how do we deal with prototypes, the rough and unfinished? In the second part of this series light will be shed on these questions.