Image by Elke Franchois
More than 15 years ago, the idea first emerged to create National CIVITAS Networks (CIVINETs). The purpose of a CIVINET was, and still is, to share and promote the CIVITAS approach in a specific linguistic and cultural context. Their role as ambassadors of the CIVITAS Initiative and its principles is undoubtedly crucial!
Last month, the CIVINETs came together in Zagreb (Croatia), for three days of sharing, learning, exchanging, and dreaming of sustainable futures. Organised by CIVITAS ELEVATE in close cooperation with CIVINET Croatia-Slovenia-SEE, participants took a closer look at the activities the CIVINETs undertake to achieve their objectives. The Forum provided ample time for informal and formal transfer of knowledge and tips, and shed light on the future of CIVINETs and of CIVITAS.
Day 1: Let’s strategise
Day one, the ‘strategy day’, opened with pitch sessions with which each CIVINET presented themselves. When examined holistically, the pitches clearly demonstrated that CIVINETs provide a unique, open, interactive and transparent learning community, made up of passionate, engaged sustainable urban mobility experts.
A subsequent insights session highlighted more lessons that could be gleaned from the gripping pitches of the present CIVINETs.
Day 2: Time to deepen exchange
On the second day, the ‘exchange day’, all CIVINETs presented their success stories. Though each CIVINET has its own unique successes, common lessons emerged from consider the success stories together:
- Building capacity in the public sector via training is critically important
- Getting together and establishing cooperations which may lead to joint projects is impactful
- There is great value in activities that support citizen engagement, and those that transfer practical experience from one city to the other
- Communication with cities needs to be constant, and that communication must be both within and beyond the network
The conversation moved to adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic, discussing how CIVINETs were able to swiftly change the ways they delivered activities, and reflecting on how local circumstances were affected by the pandemic. Many foresee that online formats are here to stay, and will be maintained and mixed with in-person activities.
The exchange day closed with an interesting and inspiring site visit in and around the city centre of Zagreb, guided by Matija Vuger, from the City of Zagreb.
Day 3: Looking ahead
The third day asked ‘what is next?’. The CIVINETs identified future perspectives, identified strengths and weaknesses, as well as opportunities and threats. This was facilitated by three World Café discussion tables, which explored the following questions: (1) how to better cooperate within the CIVITAS Initiative and beyond; (2) where you see your CIVINET in five years; and (3) what is the unique selling point of a CIVINET?
How to better cooperate within the CIVITAS Initiative and beyond? First of all, the discussion focussed on how to streamline the procedure to become a member of the CIVITAS network of cities. CIVINETs are keen to have a bigger, and more important role at the CIVITAS Forum Conferences and the Urban Mobility Days, as well as a more specific and clear role within the CIVITAS Community. For the moment, the CIVINETs have a quite isolated spot in the community, espite being considered the backbone of the Initiative. The CIVINETs also requested that they be consulted in order to provide feedback to the CIVITAS Initiative. The CIVITAS Community should use the CIVINETs more to gather data. Finally, the CIVINETs request to be observers in CIVITAS PAC meetings, and to get closer to the educational side of CIVITAS.
Where do you see your CIVINET in five years? Within the next five years, the CIVINETs want to be the reference point for all stakeholders regarding mobility challenges, opportunities and solutions in their respective country or region. They want to organise more events and conferences, for CIVINETs and with CIVINETs. They want to be able to focus on their work within the countries and regions, and to be involved in the European push to reach climate neutrality. Furthermore, they want to be more involved in the EU landscape in general, including being involved in CIVITAS projects, and in the EU Mission for 100 Climate Neutral and Smart Cities. They ask to have common and better tools to improve interaction between CIVINETs and the other members of the CIVITAS Community. The CIVINETs want to open learning and community platforms, launch a mobility academy and courses for advocacy, and to convene a pool of experts from the CIVINETs. The CIVINETs hope to have more CIVINET funding made available to them – this can take the form of support with proposal writing and predictable financing acquisition. Last but not least, the CIVINETs want to have more active members, increasing engagement with cities, and motivation of members.
What is the unique selling point of a CIVINET? Each CIVINET has its own view on what makes them unique and that is highly context-dependant. The main aspects of their unique selling points include:
- Low-cost participation compared to other networks
- Involving varied stakeholders
- Covering all mobility topics
- Being linked with the very recognised and trusted EU brand of CIVITAS
- Being very close to the local market
- Passion-driven secretariats
- Link to other CIVINETs and so enhancing peer-to-peer learning
- Translating content to the local situation
- Continuity over time
All in all, the CIVINET Forum was a hugely fruitful meeting, and is sure to catalyse impactful future activities.