Concrete achievements through cross-border cooperation
A report about the first Central Baltic Programme’s ended projects
Three years have gone since the launch of the Central Baltic Programme 2014-2020 and it is time to start focusing on the achievements that the Programme has made possible.
After a fruitful collaboration, so far 8 projects have reached an end during 2017 and another one is approaching its final date, meaning that it is now possible to get a complete overview on their activities and, foremost, on their results.
As is well known, looking back at the previous experiences is important for more than one reason. First of all, in this way it is possible to concentrate on all the activities of projects partners and discover which results they reached and how. Focusing on projects’ achievements is not simply a means to measure the success of the project itself, but it can also give a proof of how far cross-border cooperation has gone, reminding the core of the entire European Territorial Cooperation.
Furthermore, a detailed focus on ended projects provides useful feedback on the activity of the Central Baltic Programme as a whole. To confront with the previous experiences always implies the possibility of an improvement: in this way the programme has the opportunity to discover the best practices in its relation with the projects and what needs to be adjusted instead.
Not least, it must not be forgotten the relevance of information for the citizens, who can understand what is happening in their countries and on what ERDF is used for. A clear communication is the basis of transparency, and transparency is compulsory for a strong connection between the EU and its citizens.
2. The projects
The 76 projects involved in the programme belong to 4 four different Priorities, ranging from Competitive Economy to Sustainable Use of Common Resources, from Well-connected Region to Skilled and Socially Inclusive Region.
The first projects to complete their cycle belong mainly to Priority 4 framework, offering a glimpse of the dynamics within Skilled and Socially Inclusive Region context and of the most common needs of Central Baltic’s societies as well.
By looking at the projects implemented in priority 4, it appears that in the Central Baltic area there is a will to answer the questions arisen from the ageing of population. As demonstrated by previous studies (more information about this are included in the Programme Document), in Central Baltic countries the number of the elderly is growing and their well-being, as well as their role in the society, is becoming more important than ever.
An active life and a network of relations involving elderly people are the fil rouge of projects Sippe and Let us be active!. Both projects aimed at finding solutions to tackle loneliness and health problems stemming from it. Sippe worked with social workers in order to organise “well-being parties” for the elderly. These parties were organised with the support of the elderly themselves. Let us be active! on the other hand established volunteering activities for the elderly to make them feel useful to society.
Another topic covered by priority 4 is migration, as can be seen in Regi and Pim projects.
Regi had a peculiar focus, since it referred exclusively to Estonian immigrants living in Finland, in particular families. The project wanted to support immigrants in their new country and help separated families through the work of ad hoc trained social workers.
The point of view provided by Pim project was a bit different, considering that its target group consisted instead of bilingual children from the Russian-speaking minority across Central Baltic countries. Rather than directly help immigrants, Pim’s objective was to develop children’s bilingualism with the establishment of a new teaching model that involved families alongside schools.
The 3 other ended projects in priority 4 tackled the challenge of a positive attitude toward young people affected by mental health problem (PAD); job-oriented training for students (EDU-SMEs’); support for young artists and producers (TheatreEx).
Besides Priority 4 projects, on the 30th September also a Prio 3 project reached its end. SmartPorts aimed at developing small ports in the Central Baltic area. This subject is revealing once more a strong connection between the Programme and the territory.
Before a Central Baltic Programme’s project can start, it has to fulfill Programme’s requirements, it has to know what it wants to build and what will be the outcomes. As a consequence, when a project comes to its end, it is easier to keep track of its activities and confront them with the expected results, which are one of the most important components of a project. In this way it is possible to juxtapose expected and effective results and discover the subsequent findings. It is not just a matter of “see if they match”, but of understanding what the achievements consist of, what meaning they have and how the process that lead there was.
Starting from the basics, it is safe to say that all the 7 projects have been successful. During the last years of cooperation between the Programme and its projects, project partners kept the Programme informed about their activities, so that it is now easy to discover what they have built. And, on the other hand, it must not be skipped that this kind of punctual communication between the projects and the Programme is already a remarkable result.
3.1 Reaching concrete achievements (and how to measure them)
What is evident from the updates provided by the projects is the concrete dimension they had: they were all result-oriented and there is more than one proof to justify that.
Regi is a good example: its objective was to create a support (also meant as a model for a support network) for migrant Estonian families, dealing first with children’s needs. Alongside training for social workers and the organisation of a series of meeting for Estonian immigrants in Finland, the project has in fact published a book dedicated to children, which helps explaining what it means to live in a foreign country and how to deal with it. The special feature of this publication, called “Vigurivänt’s two homelands”, is the fact that it provides texts in both Finnish and Estonian, in order to offer bilingual pupils a useful comparison. The creation of a book is something that will remain, is a literally concrete support for immigrant children, also after the end of the project.
Regi´s book “Vigurivänt’s two homelands”
As it is tangible, a book is a most evident example, but not the only one. Another positive outcome of Central Baltic’s projects is the network created by Sippe through its “well-being” parties. By organising parties for the elderly, Sippe succeeded in establishing new relations between older people, with the consequence of avoiding loneliness. According to project partners’ experiences, the elderly made real friends and many of them became enthusiastic hosts for other “well-being parties”. In addition, numbers support the evidence of Sippe’s impact, telling that more than a thousand older people took part in these parties. Even if the start was not that easy, with the elderly’s dubious attitude towards the idea of such meetings, in the end the project succeeded in reaching its goals.
A similar experience, at least because of the shared target group, came from Let us be active!, engaged in involving older people in volunteer work. Let us be active!’s representatives underlined the intense impact the project had on its target group. Volunteering changed older people’s perspective on their own life, giving them the chance to feel useful again, as it was recalled by project partners. Furthermore, the positive influence of the project is matched with the establishment of a senior call center in Riga, that is continuing its activity even after the project has ended. At the senior call center the elderly can find peer to peer suggestions, support and company.
Thanks to the study course it developed, EDU-SMEs is another revealing case. If we focus on the results it had expected, it is arguably that they have been reached. The project wanted to align curricula in vocational schools, in order to share a cross-border education path with an eye on SME’s requirements. The study course EDU-SMEs designed is now available for students enrolled in partner schools, and it will be also after project’s end.
Projects’ achievements can be evaluated in many ways. To list one of them, TheatreEx’s objectives can be measured using numbers. The project goal was to create a stronger independent art scene in Estonia and Latvia, also by giving job opportunities to young artists and producers. Hence TheatreEx planned to set a series of traineeships (with employment possibilities) that so far have involved at least 8 young producers between Latvia and Estonia.
Talking about how to measure results, PAD stands as a peculiar case. Measuring employment opportunities is relatively simple: numbers are self-evident. But what about the change in public attitude towards young people with mental health issues? PAD’s partners had a long experience in dealing with mental health issues and planned both a series of meetings with the general public and entrepreneurs to foster a positive attitude and a method to collect measurable data. The use of a specific questionnaire provided to those who took part in PAD’s meetings was a suitable method to transform answers in attitude’s indicators and give a concrete dimension to such a difficult topic.
3.2 Towards the future
Taking the past into account is a most suitable way to think about the future. In this sense projects’ past experiences are revealing on two different sides, regarding the whole Programme and the next steps of former project partners.
The first dimension refers directly to the relation that the Central Baltic Programme has with the projects it is supporting. Looking back at the collaboration with ended projects allows the Programme to learn more about projects’ successes and challenges.
The second dimension regards the projects in a deeper way. Once they reached a conclusion, their results often became a useful tool for further achievements, or something to maintain – in other words for many of the projects the end of the collaboration with the Programme does not mean the end of their activities. Many projects established a model, as Pim did with the development of a new method to deal with children’s bilingualism in the Russian-speaking minority in Central Baltic area, many others started a network that is meant to last. In each case, it is safe to say that the projects took into account what was going to happen in the long run.
For example, for reasons deeply linked to its aim, SmartPorts is an interesting case to consider. SmartPorts’s purpose was to develop small ports on the Baltic Sea’s coast, and thus to literally create something that is here to stay: services, safety improvements and waste handling, just to name three of SmartPorts’s objectives, were developed to be available in the future in order to attract more people in the ports. Besides long-lasting creations, SmartPorts’s representatives declared their will to keep the network between ports active in the next years, matching the core spirit of European Cooperation (and here the reference is to the latest ECDay’s motto, “To go far, go together”). And it is not an exception.
The input to continue the activities and maintain the networks established during the project’s lifecycle is widespread: many of the now ended projects’ representatives stated their intentions of keeping their work ongoing, because of the positive impact it had on the target groups and because of its outcomes.
Let us be active!’s project partners are continuing the services of their senior call center in Riga, for example, thanks to the effects it had on older people’s lives.
EDU-SMEs showed even the will to go further in its curricula alignment process, as its coordinators are interested in expanding their model, involving also other partners from Northern countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Lithuania and Iceland.
Taking into account senior’s enthusiasm, Sippe as well is looking forward to continue holding its “well-being parties”, which have become a common feature in the everyday lives of its target group.
These are just few cases, but they are sufficient to express the important role that Central Baltic Programme’s projects have had on their target groups. Ended projects built concrete results and sometimes enhanced a strong network to make further improvements possible. They had a tangible impact on Central Baltic region’s societies and citizens.
After focusing on all the 8 projects that have ended, few findings were subsequent.
First of all, the result-oriented vocation was clear from the very beginning of the projects, and this lead to concrete achievements. The Central Baltic Programme has contributed to the development of solutions and models which will remain useful in the long run, as the above mentioned examples proved.
The intention of keeping their network alive that was showed by many project partners is another remarkable feature revealed by past experiences, and it must not be skipped.
Although they were many and different as well, the one thing that all the projects had in common is the cross-border cooperation’s dimension.
Cross-border cooperation is the necessary condition to make a project possible: all the projects included in the Central Baltic Programme’s framework have partners from at least two different areas of the Programme’s region, and the ended projects make no exception. But the cross-border element is far from being a mere requirement, it is the real core of the Programme. While the ended projects reached their results through cross-border cooperation, the latter was, in turn, increased by the projects themselves. With the creation of a network of project partners, the link between different Central Baltic countries became more and more intense. EDU-SMEs gave us a suitable proof, designing a study course to align curricula across the Baltic area that is now a way to connect students and to provide the same education beyond national borders.
Through all the 8 projects, participants and coordinators had the chance to discover more of other European nations from the region, to reach their objectives and, in the end, to feel part of a shared macroregional community.