Taking the conference room discussion to the streets of Brussels
People tend to believe the world of policy is floating high above on its own remote cloud. However, the first SEiSMiC Forum held in Brussels at the end of April set out to prove otherwise. Thanks to an internship for JPI Urban Europe, this was a first not only for SEiSMiC, but also for me, as I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of this kind for the first time ever.
The thing that brought the ‘policy cloud’ in sight was the venue elected for the event: an old linen factory right in the middle of an ordinary neighbourhood. This conference room with its distinct character was the home of very fruitful discussions and exchanges between the ten NaNets (SEiSMiC National Networks) delegations. Transnational working groups alternated with panel discussions with representatives from the European Commission. A wide scope of topics ranged from ‘women in politics’ to ‘the role of technology in social innovation in agriculture’. Having the opportunity to actively participate in discussions made me realize the ‘policy cloud’ was now not only in sight, but floating in my own world.
The NaNets had come to the forum with diverging agendas, priorities and practices. National traits in both behaviour and vision were omnipresent. It was really inspiring to see how despite the sometimes quite large discrepancy everyone was in search of the European essence and had obtaining an overview of European issues as one of the key goals. The forum also demonstrated how sometimes you are a lot closer to each other than you realize: before I knew it, I was having dinner and singing a local folk song from my home region with someone born and living 2000 km away.
The forum ended with an exhibition of the urban initiatives SEiSMiC envisions. We went on a field trip to Cultureghem, a social enterprise committed to fostering community engagement in what is considered a somewhat troubled neighbourhood. Having concluded various agreements with private sector developers, Cultureghem uses the site of a market place to host community cooking, an information hot-spot for the neighbourhood, sports and dance classes for children and many other activities, all involving volunteers. The initiatives of Cultureghem and the impact it was making were truly remarkable.
With some time left before having to take the train back home, my supervisor and I explored the neighbourhood some more and got involved in a conversation with neighbourhood residents. We explained about the SEiSMiC event, they shared with us what their concerns and needs were and the social innovation they considered appropriate. We gave Cultureghem as an example and clarified what it precisely did, since it turned out it was known in the neighbourhood, but not everyone was aware how it could be useful for them. It was very satisfying to be able in a way to take everything you have been discussing to the streets and to make a link with practice and the citizens. It really helped me feel the usefulness and the uncountable possibilities for realization of every word spoken out in the conference room. Suddenly, policy had come off its cloud and it was sitting right there with a Nigerian immigrant, my supervisor and me on a couch on a sunny afternoon in Brussels.