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6 questions to better understand the CIVIS Open labs and see where CIVIS is going

15 diciembre 2020

Interview with Professor Jose Luis Pau, coordinator of the CIVIS open lab project and Head of the Innovation Unit at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

1. What are the CIVIS open labs and what makes them “open”?

CIVIS open Labs are the active structures designed to connect CIVIS education, research and innovation with local needs and challenges to find high impact solutions together with the territory. The ultimate goal is the development of a network of open Labs across Europe that strengthens the relationships between the Alliance and the local communities and enable the bidirectional dialogue between both.

They are open in the sense in which all opinions and ideas are not only welcomed but necessary. Different interest groups within each CIVIS territory (public and private entities, SMEs, associations, NGO’s…), university members (students, researchers, and academics) as well as citizens, are all invited to join us.  We want a wide diversity of actors to participate in addressing commonly shared problems around the 5 CIVIS Challenges and the Sustainable Development Goals. The more diverse the approach to a problem, the more transformative and of higher impact, the solution. So open innovation and open science are at the core of the open labs activity.

Each CIVIS university has its own open Lab or university-territory round table, which at the European level means a network of knowledge, experience, and approaches of great relevance in addressing the challenges of tomorrow, one of CIVIS core goals.

2. How will they operate within CIVIS and for what purpose?

Open labs rely on the preparation and incubation of innovative projects through co-creation processes with regional stakeholders. The initiatives address the 5 CIVIS challenges with the aim of making the projects grow through the search for synergies among the different territories that allows us to build solid international consortia to provide long-run sustainability.

Each open lab works in identifying key stakeholders within each territory and bringing them together with the university and citizens to discuss needs or concerns and to work together in delivering joint initiatives by sharing experience, learnings & best practices. Ideas or projects arising in response to a local concern can become solutions to global issues, through our open labs network which aim is to connect universities, stakeholders, and citizens from all 8 territories.

Connectivity, to facilitate interaction or cooperation, is the key here, whether it is by bringing together university and society through collaborative service-learning activities for instance, or by bringing society’s interest and concerns into the university by including these in new study or research programs.

In the long run, our OLs aim to act as CIVIS platform for civic engagement. Our main goal is to contribute to building a real participatory, inclusive and open to its territory University by creating a true University-Citizens Community, both at a local, regional, and international level.

3. The first CIVIS open lab was launched in Madrid in February 2020, what achievements have been undergone so far and did the COVID-19 outbreak changed your plans?

The plan consisted of having a first open lab developed at Madrid to learn from that experience to later transfer it to the rest of universities. The establishment of the Madrid open lab took place during the first semester of this year including our February kick-off meeting and different workshops with territorial stakeholders to define the areas that require prioritized action to prepare a formal Call for Proposals with external collaborators and University members. Although many activities took place virtually, the pandemic did not slow us down and the result was very compelling. Open Labs were conceived to find solutions to local issues, and COVID-19 put some of those issues right onto the table. The urgent need for innovative actions to tackle the situation strengthened the commitment of the stakeholders participating in our Lab, to collaborate with academics and students in the pursuit of new insights. We called upon our main stakeholders within the University’s environment to share ideas and identify initiatives to respond to the challenges ahead in the field of health, as well as in the economic, social, and technological sectors and their response and willingness to collaborate was incredibly enthusiastic.

In cooperation with the open lab coordinators in the remaining seven universities of the Alliance, our open lab Board at UAM selected three of the projects submitted to the call, to be seed funded for its incubation. These projects deal with territorial initiatives in sustainable mobility, circular economy and in providing educational support and legal assistance during COVID-19 to different vulnerable groups, with broad participation of external partners, academics, and students.

Running since this past September, we expect projects to be carried out until July 2021, and all of them are open for participation to anyone interested, both in Madrid’s region as well as in any of the CIVIS territories. Those interested in participating can reach the projects’ coordinators by visiting our open lab projects site.

4. I’m a student, a university staff, a citizen, a businessman, why should I get involved in the open labs?

Open labs should be seen as a tool to transform the territory and to contribute to its development. The different profiles, inside and outside the university, may have different interests, but the prosperity, sustainability and solidarity within the territory should be a common goal, and it is there where the Open Lab importance becomes prominent.

Participating or getting involved in CIVIS open labs, could be, for instance, an opportunity for stakeholders to become part of a Network of 8 University-Citizens Communities, beneficiate from this collective knowledge, and find solutions in one’s particular area of interest or territory. 

It could be a chance, as well, to make local issues matter and to expand local initiatives through CIVIS Alliance’s experience and resources, which could enable participation in international or European programs for projects’ support, such us Erasmus +, HORIZON 2020, RIS3...

For students, it is a real opportunity for civic engagement, being able to get involved with society and to learn by providing a service to the community through service-learning activities linked to running projects.

Ultimately, it represents the opportunity to contribute to building the 21st Century University: a new, civic and European University committed to society’s development locally and globally with a strong implication and participation with its territory.

5. How can I contribute to the open lab projects and where should I go?

The OL projects are for the moment announced through the CIVIS website together with the leader’s name and contact information. Anyone can feel free to send a message to the leader looking for cooperation. On top of that, each CIVIS territory has an OL coordinator that provides guidance on the contributing initiatives from her territory. They also support the internationalization process through the regular monthly meetings with the rest of OL coordinators where the common strategy is discussed and designed. For those willing to share their ideas and views with the Alliance about the future of the regions, the OL coordinators are the best local contact points for them.

6. What’s next for the CIVIS open labs in the coming months?

Following the release of Bucharest and Athens open labs, next to be officially integrated into the CIVIS Open Lab network will be Rome and Brussels, on December 15th and 18th respectively. The remaining 3 member universities will be presenting their Lab in their territories in early 2021.

For the coming year, and interesting to highlight among other activities would be the set-up of a participatory tool that should help create a digital space of debate and advisory content for the development of both the territory and the Alliance. This digital tool will allow for citizens and stakeholders to participate on the strategical plans of the CIVIS University-region ecosystems which, I believe, will be a significant step forward in our commitment to engage society locally, and jointly at a European level, to work with us in addressing today’s and tomorrow’s societal challenges