The workshop “The Role of Thematic Networks in EU Agricultural Innovation”, held in Brussels on the 3rd of February 2017, brought together the experiences from 4 European thematic networks funded under H2020: Agrispin, 4D4F, Smart AKIS and SKIN in front of an audience of more than sixty invited key actors (farmers organization, European Commission, Regional representatives, Universities, entrepreneurs, etc.) and represented the first opportunity for SKIN to engage with stakeholders and show its innovative approach to short food chains.
The workshop, hosted by Copa-Cogeca and coordinated by ZLTO, opened with the presentations by the European Commission representatives outlining the relevance and role of Thematic Networks as a key-instrument to support innovation in the European agricultural sector. Thematic Networks (funded under H2020) and Operational Groups (funded under the RDPs) should thereby work together and under the coordination of the EIP-AGRI in order to promote and boost agricultural and rural innovation in Europe in view of increasing awareness, fostering stakeholders acceptance and drawing a pathway for further uptake.
The workshop has been organised by three partners from SKIN: University of Foggia, ZLTO and Martin Collison & Associates. After a short introduction of each network, six closer workshops took place in view of tackling two crucial questions:
- How Thematic Networks can better interact with farmers and foster bottom-up innovation?
- How should Thematic Networks work together and engage with other projects?
The results of each brainstorming session will be showcased in a report that will be prepared in cooperation with the SCAR Standing Committee on Agricultural Research. The European Commission has funded until now 17 thematic networks: some of them address very specific and sector-related issues, whilst others, as the SKIN network, focus on cross-cutting themes.
Given the scope and nature of thematic networks, it is thereby very important to establish close connections with both Operational Groups working within Member States and Regions and the EIP-AGRI. On top of this, clustering activities among thematic network are needed to foster cross-fertilisation and impact on society.
For SKIN, the participation to the event represented a unique opportunity to gather lessons learned from other initiatives and to engage in the dialogue for facilitating the co-learning processes among the different networks. Even if the central focus of the networks, necessarily, varies, several activities, tools and methodologies entail a replicability potential which need to be fostered through knowledge exchange.
One of the main outcome of the workshop has been thereby related to the effectiveness of bringing together different experiences and actors, starting or reinforcing the dialogue among those in order to strengthen the impact and potential added value of the “thematic network” instrument as a whole.
Methods and practices for interacting with the stakeholders, using of the ICT tools for facilitating the exchange and the dissemination of TNs’ results, collection of data and information about stakeholders and good practices, identification of the critical nodes to engage with for ensuring the participation of practitioners within the network are just some among the possible ingredients of cross-fertilization among thematic networks, which can be established through the organization of pro-active, open and trustful dialogue among representatives of the networks.
For SKIN, the event represented a great opportunity to exchange information and to assess experiences of already on-going sister initiatives, as well as to raise awareness on its approach, objectives and share preliminary lessons learned.
The path towards a stronger cooperation among thematic networks has been set and SKIN is positioned at the forefront of this collaboration process with Agrispin, Smart Akis and 4D4F networks and widely opens its door to other initiatives, while pursuing the objective of fostering the creation of new a European community of relations, closing the gap between agriculture and society.