Collaboration as a driver for regional development: Learnings from the transnational COBRA project (II)

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Photos: Sebastian Marggraf

by Markus Kather and Tobias Sieblitz

In the first part of this blog series we discussed the beginnings of a project that is aimed at establishing collaborative labour opportunities in rural regions – in our case the project COBRA in the German state of Brandenburg. Now, it´s about the next steps of such an endeavour: What exactly do the project partners want to achieve and how do they want to go about this? How do we pick places where the collaboration happens? How do we deal with the rough and unfinished outcomes? And finally: what happens after the project is finished, how do we achieve sustainability?

Defining a challenge

While the definition of a challenge is an important step in building up the connection between regional companies and creatives, it is also the first real step towards a workshop – where the actual work would take place as it did in COBRA. In order to find out what challenges the companies involved have, a series of in-depth-interviews is needed. On the basis of this information a regional project market can be installed. There the firms can present their problems and desires and the project team can collect them. This can also be presented online or the information can be held by the project manager. It is important that in this step the actual impulse comes from the companies themselves. Only after they present their ideas and challenges these will be developed into interesting and manageable questions together with the project team.

Developing the right formats and tools

Since the groups that are coming together in such a project are not necessarily accustomed to working together it is crucial to find the right format for such an encounter: in this case it is a project workshop. Especially in rural areas this format is a great platform for temporary collaboration. However, next to all the work, it´s also desirable to create a fitting framework by integrating leisure activities such as biking or hiking tours into the process in order to further strengthen the bondage between the different partners – and a tool for getting to know the region and its qualities. The workshops as such can be relatively short, as in the case of COBRA one week, and supplemented by visits of experts. The produced artefacts will be formally presented at the end of such a workshop.

Choosing interesting and exciting venues

Next up: where should the different elements of the project take place? COBRA used two venues: one formal and one informal place. It was the city hall of Guben on the one hand. Thereby the project gets a certain official touch and it is a good venue to start and end the project. On the other hand you need an informal realm where the actual workshop takes place. With COBRA this was a camp at Lake Deulowitz. It is important that the place offers a good balance of work space but also opportunities to retire from time to time. Of course, the workshop camp should not be too far from the companies involved in the project as thus a constant communication between the different groups will be guaranteed.

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Handling prototypes

The prototypes that come out at the end of a workshop are supposed to be unfinished but at least visualized and thus be able to entice the project members to further continue to work together after the project and its workshop have finished. In case any product might eventually become ready for the market, contracts come into place that assure that everyone involved in the making of the product will benefit fairly from it.

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The Caretakers

One question remains though: Who makes sure that such a project actually succeeds and even continues after it has finished? The Caretakers. These are the people that actually make such a project come to life: they act as intermediaries, brokers, translators, discoverers and observers. They are absolutely essential to help involved parties understand each other and open them up for new ways of thinking. The caretaker is the one that constantly sees the project to succeed and sustain.

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In the end collaborative labour projects such as COBRA offer various opportunities to further expand the idea – maybe even on a transnational scale. And it is a great way to bring people together and make something creative and yet traditional come to life. On the other hand the approach, of course, has its limitations (as described in an earlier blog post). The COBRA project is a temporary intervention that aimed in the first place at creating knowledge on how to stimulate collaborative labour in peripheral areas. The knowledge can be used by other people trying to implement similar workshops in their regions – and so can the prototypes, that can be used as references and examples to illustrate potential outcomes. It also becomes clear that an initiative like this needs a caretaker. In order to achieve that, the support for collaborative labour in peripheral areas has to be considered as one key aspect of regional economic development and find its way into the practice of regional development agencies. Additionally a fixed place for innovation and collaboration in the small towns can be needed (an example are the OTELOS from Austria) and a local association that runs the network and the place. In Guben there is the attempt further develop the cooperation through an Interreg project together with the economic development department of the town.

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