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Social Impulse – a brand for urban and social CLLD? 12 December 2013

Posted by cooperatoby in EU, journalism.
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Event flowAt the Telling the Story conference yesterday, the Commission took the offensive to stem the tide of negative feelings about the EU. It assembled 800 communications professionals to help them to ‘tell the story’ about the good work the EU does with its various funds. According to Pascal Chelala of Eurobarometer, the public image of the EU has been in steady decline since 2007. But the trend is the opposite among people who have heard of the EU’s funds – here the approval rating is on the rise. Awareness of the ESF has risen by 4% in the last few years – to 44%. However the proportion of people who actually have heard of the EU funds varies widely – from 80% in Poland to only 10% in the UK. That explains a lot.
The event was both innovative and nostalgic for me. The pleasant nostalgia came from the fact that it was held in the Square, the conference centre that commands the Mont des Arts, with a panoramic view of Brussels. When it housed the Economic and Social Committee it was the first official building I came to in Brussels, for a CECOP general meeting in 1985. We used to meet in the Salle Europe (now the Arc), and I remember being amazed at the institutional welfare state which sold me coffee at only 10 francs (24 cents nowadays).

A new style of conference

The innovation was the open and participative style, aided by a comedy duet and graphic visualisation – i.e. cartoons.
Commissioner Johannes Hahn made the plea that regional policy should be seen as an investment policy with a return in terms of solidarity and welfare, and hence must apply across the whole EU and not be limited to the least developed parts. His colleague Dacian Cioloş pointed out that nowadays the CAP has territorial and social dimensions, and supports the production of social good such as biodiversity. It was good that Zoltán Kazatsay, deputy head of the Employment DG, chose to preface his speech with a testimony from an actual ESF beneficiary, Brigitte Debey. Lowri Evans, head of the Fisheries DG, was impressively to-the-point: the fisheries reform will mean more fish and more jobs – perhaps 7 million of them in coastal areas. She instanced Northern Irish fisherman Sam Cully, whose life was saved by an EU-supplied lifejacket. Nevertheless, journalists complained that the sort of firm information on real projects that they need to ‘tell the story’ is infuriatingly hard to obtain.
The high point was a masterclass in storytelling from Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans and a controversial biography of Mao Zedong. She told us how it as to live through the cultural revolution, and signed copies of her new book on Empress Dowager Cixi – the woman who abolished the torture known as foot binding

Gamification is the way to go

I learnt a lot about using social media from two expert contributors. Sean MacNiven, Head of Communications Innovation at SAP, talked about the trend to ‘gamification’. People like playing computer games because they have are clear goals and rules, they give constant feedback, you are allowed to fail, and you are promoted on merit. So a game like Farmville could be used to promote agricultural policy. This is not such a silly idea – look at what Sim City has done for town planning. His main reference is Gabe Zichermann, who says what motivates learning is the ‘3 Fs’: feedback, friends and fun.
Aurélie Valtat, the Council’s Digital Communications Manager, was also impressive. She encouraged communicators to think in terms of messages not ‘lines to take’ (rebuttals). Using social media is a matter of starting with an existing community and turning it into an audience: for instance the Employment DG started Social Europe after consulting the relevant NGOs. She advised communicators to be prepared for adverse reactions – which, where government is concerned, there will always be. “If you offend no one, it’s a sure way to be forgettable.”

Telling the story about CLLD

I contributed to the workshop on ‘communicating CLLD’ by presenting the case of Portugal’s Programa Escolhas (‘Choices’), a national ESF programme that has trained 220,000 young people, mostly of migrant origin. It operates in 110 places across the country, with an €8m annual budget. It is successful, having reintegrated 10,000 people into education or work, and given 14,000 of them IT qualifications – at a cost per participant day of just 42 cents. It undertakes two distinct communication operations:
• to partners and potential clients, via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Ning etc. It has produced 365 ‘life stories’ and has a weekly slot on national television.
• to institutions. It has maintained unwavering political support for 12 years by providing robust evidence of its effectiveness, through 20 impact indicators, calculations of social return, and thorough external evaluation.
Everyone in the workshop knew and approved of CLLD, and we saw some excellent examples of communicating it – see the video by Dreckly Fish in Cornwall, which was produced for €600! Thomas Müller of the LEADER group in Sauwald, Austria, gave us an excellent 8-point plan for putting CLLD over to local people.
The conclusions were that we are strong at putting out success stories of changed lives and livelihoods, but how do you explain the processes that produced them? The building of alliances and the negotiation of funding streams are riveting to very few. And the concept of CLLD is complex. Maybe LEADER has been over-codified, suggested our chair, Paul Soto. Its seven principles were developed in response to a Court of Auditors report, but in adapting the method to tackle urban and social problems, we may need to slim them down to the essentials: delegation of power and user participation. In towns, there is often no clearly delimited geographical area, there is a multitude of interested parties, and there are overlapping communities.
CLLD is a funding mechanism not a brand. Rural policy has the LEADER brand, and coastal policy the FARNET brand. So what is needed is a brand for urban and social CLLD – ‘Social Impulse’ was suggested.


1. serge - 12 December 2013

Thank you Toby for this excellent report, really like the style. Can you please update/include the link to the Drecklyfish video, which is not private: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6Hu5eVMKFw

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