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National engagement sessions and support to the establishment of soil health living labs

 

The implementation plan of the Soil Deal mission[[https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/research_and_innovation/funding/documents/soil_mission_implementation_plan_final_for_publication.pdf]] provides for the gradual creation of 100 soil health living labs in 100 different European regions. The first living labs will be funded through annual calls under the Horizon Europe work programme 2023-2024. These calls will support collaborative projects, each of the projects assembling three to four living labs located in three to four different regions and countries. At the same time, Horizon Europe will also support the creation of a European network coordination body to support stakeholders in creating and running soil health living labs and to organise exchange of knowledge and innovation between them.

The success of the soil mission will depend on how well the community of stakeholders and actors is prepared to implement living labs, in particular the first ones following the 2023-2024 work programme call.

The successful project will organise a stream of support activities including two sets of national engagement sessions complemented by hands-on support of potential applicants based on capacity building material.

The project should work in close cooperation with national and regional authorities, Horizon Europe national contact points (NCPs), mission national hubs, on-going projects preparing for the implementation of the soil mission and structures established at national level on or with interest to soil research and innovation, especially in the context of the European Joint Programme EJP-Soil[[https://ejpsoil.eu/]]. It will, in particular, build on the mapping of existing living labs and lighthouses carried out by the Soil Mission Support project (SMS[[https://www.soilmissionsupport.eu/]]) and on the identification of priority challenges and regional needs for living labs identified by the project to be funded under HORIZON-MISS-2021-SOIL-01-01[[https://ec.europa.eu/info/funding-tenders/opportunities/portal/screen/opportunities/topic-details/horizon-miss-2021-soil-01-01]].

Through national engagement sessions the project should:

  • raise awareness and build ownership of the soil mission’s objectives as well as the definitions, concept and criteria for soil health living labs and lighthouses, as foreseen in the mission’s implementation plan[[Reference to specific objectives in mission implementation plan]];
  • raise awareness on key soil health challenges identified in the different regions and steer a conversation on the regions or areas and sites which would be most suitable to set up the first living labs in each country;
  • provide key information and capacity building material on the living lab approach and how to start and run living labs, including a range of different inspiring examples from the EU and beyond;
  • provide coaching sessions to potential applicants to start testing and improving their initial ideas; and
  • identify potential applicants and facilitate matchmaking between applicants in various countries to support the creation of transnational proposals for living labs.

To ensure equal opportunities for stakeholders in all countries, these engagement sessions should be organised in all 27 Member States and participating Associated Countries in national languages. The sessions should ensure the participation of a diverse group of actors who are most suitable to take part in soil health living labs, covering various land use types and climatic conditions in a balanced manner (e.g. urban, industrial, forestry and agriculture). In addition, engagement sessions should take into account the mission’s eight specific objectives as described in the mission implementation plan and the diversity of soil challenges in each country.

The two sets of national engagement sessions should take place ideally in the first trimester of 2023 (for call 2023) and in the last trimester of 2023 (for call 2024). A well-developed plan for the organisation of the meetings should be part of the proposal, so that the consortium selected for funding can start the engagement sessions immediately following grant agreement signature. The proposal should include options for physical or hybrid sessions with a digital-only option as a back-up. National engagement sessions should be complemented by a series of capacity-building webinars.

In addition to the national engagement sessions, the successful project will act as a helpdesk to provide on-demand support to stakeholders involved in developing proposals for soil health living labs. It will also produce capacity building material capitalising on the national engagement sessions for future use by other entities engaged in supporting the creation of living labs, notably the aforementioned European network coordination body (to be set up).

The consortium should demonstrate outstanding capacities in terms of participatory approaches, facilitation of groups composed of multiple types of stakeholders with varying backgrounds and expertise, and running of living labs and support networks. To this end, the consortium should be composed of partners with varying expertise and capacities to engage with the relevant actors expected to take part in future living labs. The consortium should also include members with a sound understanding of the subject of soil health.

The successful project is expected to last two years. In addition to its collaboration with the Horizon 2020 project SMS and the project funded under HORIZON-MISS-2021-SOIL-01-01, it should work in close coordination and synergy with the mission secretariat. The project should also engage with relevant innovation networks (Smart specialisation platforms, EIP-AGRI, European Institute of Technology and its knowledge and innovation communities (KICs), Enterprise Europe network etc.). Applicants should take note of the content of the mission’s implementation plan and be flexible enough to accommodate some adjustments to developments that will have happened between the publication of this call and the grant agreement signature, especially on living lab definitions and selection criteria.