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Resituating the local in cohesion and territorial development

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - RELOCAL (Resituating the local in cohesion and territorial development)

Période du rapport: 2019-04-01 au 2021-05-31

RELOCAL departs from the basic premise that localities and their functional spaces represent the contextual nexus where the relationship between individuals and spatial justice unfolds. RELOCAL defines localities as multifarious and porous, at the intersection of vertical, horizontal and transversal forces. Spatial justice is conceptualised as integrating social, spatial, temporal, distributive and procedural dimensions. The main ambition behind RELOCAL is an evidence-based advocacy of localist approaches to cohesion and other spatial development policies where the EU plays a key role. New conceptual frameworks as well as policy models and instruments are needed to promote the development of Cohesion and other EU policies into more locally sensitive opportunity structures. The ‘local’ plays an important role in the promotion of fairness, spatial justice and wellbeing in Europe and, in turn, functions as an important laboratory for the elaboration of European, national and sub-national policies addressing cohesion and spatial justice.
RELOCAL will result in a number of policy recommendations that will help to make EU Cohesion Policy and its deployment in regional contexts more efficient and relevant to civil society and the citizenry. First, RELOCAL will contribute to an understanding of the ways in which European regions are very different and diverse in terms of their socio-economic, institutional and cultural environments. Second, RELOCAL will provide knowledge and scientifically sound insights into good practices in communicative strategies and participatory practices with regard to the deployment of cohesion polices in diverse European regions.
The main objectives of RELOCAL are defined as follows: 1) contribute to new conceptual frameworks of territorial cohesion, 2) develop working and practicable definitions of spatial justice based on the local quality and availability of social opportunities, 3) provide critical evaluations of the substantive adequacy, local accessibility and development impacts of existing cohesion policies, 4) elaborate new policy and development models that bridge conflicts and trade-offs between regional development and governance models that address territorial cohesion and spatial justice across Europe, and 5) develop a new, empirically tested, theoretical framework for the relation between regional autonomy, decentralisation, local participation on the one hand and greater economic, political and social justice on the other.
Milestone 5 ‘Empirical phase 2’ included intensive work to develop baseline Theory of Change (ToC) mechanism maps of the 33 case study interventions were carried out coordinated by WP8 and supported by all empirical-analytical WPs. The mechanism maps were comparatively analysed to achieve a reconceptualization of spatial justice. Case study related work during leading up to Milestone 5 also contained a comparative analysis across the 33 cases led by WP6. National comparative perspective drew out the factors that influence the impact of place-based approaches or actions. Second step was to provide an overview of the characteristics of the total sample of 33 case studies. The grouping and clustering process, based upon the findings from the case study reports, provided insights into similarities across the case studies.
In the beginning of the Milestone 6 ‘Coherence scenarios and policy implications developed’, a methodological protocol to develop scenarios and reviewed ToC mechanism maps of the 33 case study interventions was elaborated and presented. This rather intensive phase of working towards coherence scenarios was further discussed in December 2019. Besides developing the ‘coherence scenarios’, Milestone 6 comprised also a thorough analysis and synthesis of policy results and implications from the 33 case studies as well as returning to the conceptual framework of the project in the WP1. This phase allowed for better synchronisation of the WP1 particularly with the completion of WP3, WP4 and WP7.
Milestone 7 ‘Synthesis and summarised evidence compiled’ was originally planned for four last months from July to September 2020 in the project. The effects of and challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on research work, stakeholder interaction and dissemination as well as exploitation activities made it, however, necessary that the Consortium jointly decided to request an eight-month project extension May 2021. Therefore, the Policy Conference together with policymakers from EU-related institutions was cancelled at a short-notice in March 2020 and could be finally organised only in March 2021. Nevertheless, the Conference served its original purpose of discussing results of WP7 and cross-checking findings with the key practitioners, as well as provided important input to WP9 for elaborating policy considerations. The project organised during the eight-month extension period a series of webinars to inform and engage various target audiences to discuss more thoroughly about the project achievements. These webinars were also important information sources for the WP9 in working towards RELOCAL policy considerations and Policy Brief 3.
RELOCAL has during the reporting period achieved its objectives and milestones regarding to empirical phase and analysis of policy results and implications from the 33 case studies. Project has now given more attention and effort on dissemination activities to ensure the policy relevant impact. Priority has been given to scientific dissemination, interactions with stakeholders and decision makers on the local/regional and national levels, and to ensure impact on EU policy. Our thinking about the nature of the impacts have also included fostering collaboration of other ongoing projects as well as initiation of new and innovative projects based exclusively or partially to results of RELOCAL.
All consortium members have made relevant efforts to advance dissemination and to foster collaborations with relevant projects. In the interest of the uptake of policy considerations, a maximised impact has also been achieved by close cooperation with other nationally and EU-funded research projects. It is also expected that the impact of high-level scientific publications will lead to the establishment of new scientific collaborations between researchers.
RELOCAL has achieved those objectives through the mobilisation of its ‘localities’ approach which has addressed considerable research gaps in the study of Cohesion Policy. At the core of this approach lies the analysis of local development processes based on place-based and social justice criteria on the one hand, and the role of contextual factors and opportunity structures operating at multiple scales on the other. The main scientific achievements of the project have been to provide clearer theoretical and conceptual understandings of spatial justice as a development objective. RELOCAL has also contributed a significant advance in addressing the question – which also formed the hypothesis of the project - whether decentralisation and regional autonomy facilitate more effective place-based strategies. Given the importance of addressing issues central to European cohesion, understandings its challenges and showing how it can be more forcefully promoted, RELOCAL represents research of clear social and political significance.