Balancing reiteration and innovation: one year in review

    How to deal with the unexpected illustrates the diversity of human nature. Some of us would rather be prepared in advance and recognise it when it happens, while others prefer to be taken by surprise and enjoy navigating through it. After eight years supporting the neighbourhood territorial cooperation community, deep in TESIM hearts we expected our mandate to be continued as from 1 April 2023. One year later, can we conclude that everything that has happened since then was fully predictable?

    The easiest answer is also the most obvious one: yes and no. While the experience and the friendly relations built for nearly a decade have substantially eased things for us, TESIM’s continuation has not exactly been a linear exercise. The world changes, our community changes, so should we. Ensuring that there is no disruption in services yet continuously adapting to a dynamic micro and macro environment requires not only time and efforts, but also a healthy dose of self-questioning. All along these twelve months we have juggled between an understandable desire to capitalise and replicate and the aspiration to constantly innovate, diversify and improve our services. What have we accomplished and where does our delivery stand so far between these two contrasting visions?

    To start with, we have been more and more often confronted with the effects resulting from a twofold target audience. Hélas, the discontinuation of Northern programmes has impacted the way that we conceive one of our key areas of intervention, namely networking, which – except for issues related to closure – has mostly taken place on a geographical basis rather than as full community, successfully combining online and presential meetings. The highly participated meetings held in June add to the seven events organised during our first year of implementation. These events include also more sectoral meetings, such as those of the audit network, which as a novelty have counted on a growing number of new practitioners, in particular members of the Groups of auditors from Partner Countries.

    With a community building on the experience gained during two full programming periods, our capacity building services have predominantly shifted in recent times towards the national sphere, contributing to a smooth launching of Interreg NEXT programmes, particularly in countries where the turnover in staff of national authorities hinders the necessary continuity, or where new bodies have been appointed to undertake an active role in the new period. While the ten sessions which we have organised so far have received a very positive evaluation, the knowledge of TESIM experts is no longer enough. The need to count on peer experience is increasing, something which we have put already at disposal during several events and that in the future is meant to be enhanced through the organisation of study visits for representatives of Partner Countries. In the case of the new candidate countries, such visits would span beyond the realm of territorial cooperation, representing instead an opportunity to enhance the knowledge also on the implementation of national and regional programmes under shared management.

    Joining the Interreg family has stressed the importance of promoting coordination and synergies beyond our own community. So far, this has translated more vividly into specific activities in the Mediterranean area, where the MedLab Group – coordinated by TESIM and Interact – steadily continues the work initiated back in June 2020 and has already generated its first spin offs. In the East, many platforms are available to the participation of neighbourhood cooperation programmes and TESIM has actively showcased the achievements of ENI CBC and the prospects about Interreg NEXT not only in the context of the activities organised by the Danube Strategy Point, but also in some of the regional networks set by Interact.

    The multiple efforts put in place by programmes to promote their first calls for proposals have cascaded down to TESIM, and our involvement in the organisation and codelivery of awareness-raising events, capacity building sessions and partnership fora has exceeded our original expectations. All in all, TESIM experts have contributed to 56 of these events, involving over 4.600 project promoters. Also here, the need to deliver differently was perceived and changes have already intervened in those events covering the second calls of some programmes,  privileging practical aspects of project preparation, enhancing interaction and downsizing the amount of upfront information. Despite their obvious limitations, the novelty represented by the organisation of online partner fora should likewise be mentioned, notably for what concerns the longer time availability of partnership building tools. Backing these efforts, TESIM has revamped and updated its capacity building platform, which now provides video tutorials in seven different languages, soon to be topped with tutorials in Arabic and written materials in all eight languages. Most important, we have diversified services and put at disposal of local and regional actors a new capacity building offer: our GoforCooperation Weeks have allowed 172 potential applicants to dwell into project preparation contents at a different learning pace, going beyond the usual one-off event.

    Acting as horizontal principle, the need to increase the visibility of the instrument has been at the heart of our efforts during this first year of implementation. Developing meaningful contents on a daily basis, identifying what raises interest among our audience and what does not, trying to fairly portray the extraordinary achievements in such a vast geographic area, replacing some tools with new ones and integrating the neighbourhood in wider communication networks are just some of the challenges that we have been asked to address in this sphere of intervention. 

    To conclude, TESIM would of course not be TESIM without its sound amount of tailor-made advisory services. Even if not having the same visibility as other activities, these services represent one of the specificities of this Project and clearly reflect the proximity to the stakeholders and the on-going availability of experts to provide advice and propose solutions, based on a thorough knowledge of requirements and practices in the countries concerned. This is one of the areas of intervention which the stakeholders appreciate most as a contribution to programme success and, all in all, we have not felt any particular request for change.

    As explained in a previous article, we had given ourselves three narration lines when preparing for the new assignment: the transition from ENI CBC to Interreg NEXT, the new candidate status granted to Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine and the fostering of the already existing cooperation with the Interact Programme. They have proven a helpful foundation to cope with the expected, but – in a world where the only constant is change – they were far from preparing us in full to what a skilled and lively community requires in terms of support. Based on your regular feedback, we believe that we have managed to navigate the unexpected winds of change with good grades so far. And so, we expect to do from now until April 2027.

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