AGRILINK – Living Lab – Second training in Leuven

What did I and Irina do in Leuven? Mid September 2018 we re-joined our colleagues from Italy, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Latvia and Norway to the second full meeting of this year of the Living Labs teams. We met again in Leuven. The objectives were to catch up on each other’s LL progress, learn from it, work on the practice abstracts covering this activity and our action plans for the following year. The last 6 months, our team was very busy with developing the financial guide for our vegetable growers from Vărăști Carrefour Cooperative and we were eager to discuss it with our colleagues.

Day 1 – Hanne Liers and Hermann Schoorlemmer, our coordinators from Innovatiesteunpunt and Wageningen University & Research engaged all of us in an exercise of laying out expectations and the result was a very nice word cloud that speaks for itself.

With this energy in us, we gave very short pitches about our progress with the Living Labs, illustrating with pictures and mentioning pearls (successes) and puzzles (obstacles). Topics raised by our colleagues from the other 5 Living Labs were: working with farmers on a crop rotation plan, on an integrated pest management plan, on the use of catch crops in maize production, on a knowledge platform and on setting up local production and sales of bread.

I talked about the beginning of our collaboration with the small vegetable producers, about the initial importance of trust building but also about the challenge of articulating their fiscal needs to experts in order to develop the best suited materials. This intricate process of briefing and coordinating the fiscal expert was led by our colleague Raluca, as she made a thorough analysis of these producers’ needs during another H2020 project, called SALSA, focused on food security and nutrition.

The Romanian Living Lab’s case caught our colleagues’ attention as they were curious about the lack of public advisory engagement in fiscal support to small farmers. I referred again to the PRO AKIS study and my own recent research where it is shown the collapse of public advisory system and its dire consequences particularly among small farmers who find it hard to navigate an ever-changing legislation and market conditions. This Living Lab will fill in this void and seek to assist the members of a cooperative in strengthening their fiscal capacity.

After the facilitators’ moment came the monitors’, where Irina presented an update on her monitoring strategy, on the development of a baseline evaluation metric necessary to measure the impact of our  ”interventions”.

The gem of the day, from my point of view, was a peer to peer exercise in which each lab presented an obstacle or issue regarding their progress to the group in 5 minutes, the group then asked open questions to understand the issue better and to make the lab see the problem from other perspectives. This was particularly useful and we took home the advice we got. For example, we raised our concern about the challenge of training 100 producers, with different levels of understanding and business orientation in fiscal issues and we were suggested to make a prototype first on which to follow on a small group with whom to test our model first and then readjust it for the rest of them.

After this very intense and serious moment, we were provoked to start drawing to develop online pedagogical materials. Each lab got the opportunity to make a storyboard of their approach, imagining we could make a film with 9 shots, and what would it be in the film.

Day 2 – In the second day, our Practice Abstract were internally reviewed – these are very short pieces covering our work so far – a very good exercise for each of us and a good communication material to the wider public. Then, we finished intensively, working in our LL teams, monitor and facilitators together. Irina and me we put down the action plan for the next 12 months. On our list is the finalisation of the fiscal guide and the facilitation and dissemination of its content among the vegetable growers from Vărăști.

This was our participation in the second Living Lab training. It might seem tiring and not always cost effective to make people travel from distant locations, but these trainings really put you into a very intense working mode, some that you don’t always get “at home”. And this training was very useful – for both the Living Labs monitor & facilitator teams but also for the whole group of Living Lab-ers.

 Many thanks to the hosts – they engaged us in very interesting, funny and productive exercises that got us into a cool working mode.

Cosmina Dinu, Highclere Consulting