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The five keys to success in the European Urban Initiative

european urban innovative actions 2023
Iñaki Armendáriz

Iñaki Armendáriz

Consultant and EUI expert

The European Union is one of the most urbanised regions in the world. Three quarters of its 447 million inhabitants live in urban areas, and this proportion could reach more than 80% by 2050, according to UN estimates. Cities are the places where public services, business, science, culture, and education are concentrated, and therefore where multiple social, economic, environmental, and logistical problems arise, which in turn make them places of innovation, engines of latest ideas and solutions for both the local economy and the global system.

Consequently, the way we think about these urban areas has a major impact on the sustainable development of the entire European Union and its Member States. Among the different initiatives designed by the European Commission to promote sustainable development strategies, the European Urban Initiative (EUI) was born in 2022, with the aim of supporting cities of all sizes in the search for solutions to the challenges they face, building capacity and knowledge, and supporting innovation in all areas.

The programme, financed with Feder funds, is articulated, on the one hand, in the Innovative Actions, focused on the testing and development of innovative solutions in urban environments. On the other hand, the Capacity Building branch offers support tools to cities, especially smaller or less experienced ones, so that they can share challenges and problems with other more experienced cities through mentoring and training sessions.

Zabala Innovation and the EUI

Zabala Innovation has already participated in the predecessor of EUI, i.e., the Urban Innovative Actions (UIA). Thanks to the experience and work of our Regions knowledge area, we have defined five key points to get a proposal positively evaluated.

Innovation. It is a word that is repeated a lot throughout the guides and documents related to the programme and not by chance: the projects funded by the EUI must be highly innovative and have never been evaluated in Europe. It is important to understand that not all ideas, solutions or proposals are valid. What we present must be a truly novel action and have a major impact within the city, be it in the field of mobility, energy efficiency, security, culture, creation of new business opportunities or in the circular economy.

Holistic approach. The aim of any EUI project is to solve problems that affect a city as a whole. Therefore, although each call will define the themes on which the proposals should focus, we will always try to address several urban challenges and integrate them into our project. If we talk about greening concepts, for example, we will be able to make connections with a wider range of policy areas such as zero pollution of air, water and soil, sustainable mobility, building renovation, energy, water management, circular economy, and public health. In the long term, an integrated solution will create a more attractive urban environment to live and work in.

Citizen participation. We cannot overlook the involvement of citizens in the planning and implementation of projects. If the problem affects them, they must be part of the solution and the main beneficiaries. Similarly, it will be necessary to bring the different actors that make up a city’s ecosystem to the same table. Successful collaboration between local authorities, businesses and civil society organisations will undoubtedly lead to more creative solutions. For some of these actors, new business opportunities will emerge.

Quality. Projects need to have a clear and logical interrelationship of objectives, activities, and results, realistic and justified ambitions (for example, there is no point in addressing pollution reduction through traffic calming in cities where this is not a real problem), effective management structures and procedures, and value for money. It is therefore essential to establish indicators that allow us to measure, quantify and evaluate the impact that our project will have on the city, in relation to the need or challenge initially identified.

Transferability. Finally, the solutions developed in the framework of EUI projects must be applicable and replicable by other cities in Europe. Consequently, we must identify, together with our clients, other European urban areas that could benefit from the proposed solution. This will also affect the search for the most suitable partners, among which we will try to include cities that already have sustainable development strategies in place and, if possible, have already worked on such European initiatives.

European Urban Innovative Actions 2023: great opportunities in sight

The results of the first Innovative Actions call are expected by the end of June. In other calls of the EUI’s predecessor, around 15% of the applications submitted obtained funding, a success rate that reaches 34% in the case of the projects accompanied by Zabala Innovation. In other words, this is a complicated and competitive test, but not an impossible one to pass.

The new call for Innovative Actions, whose budget is 120 million euros (5 million euros per project). Each project must focus on one of the following themes.

  • Green Cities. Projects to assess and implement innovative green infrastructure solutions to better address the challenges of biodiversity, pollution, resources, and climate, including the development of synergies with other key policy areas.
  • Sustainable tourism. Projects that support the green and digital transformation and resilience of the tourism ecosystem. Through these holistic solutions, cities can set an example for smaller cities, towns and regions that rely more heavily on tourism for their economy, particularly in terms of reducing over-dependence on a single sector.
  • Talent retention. Pilot projects that involve local communities in urban-scale experimentation and address the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of the demographic challenges they face.

In terms of Capacity Building, two calls are open:

  • City-to-City exchanges. These are face-to-face visits between a city with a specific challenge related to sustainable urban development and a city in another Member State with experience in the same field. One to three events per application may be held over five months, with travel and accommodation costs covered.
  • Peer reviews in the form of workshops in which cities and panels of experts will mentor and assess other cities to analyse and improve their sustainable development strategies over a period of four to six months, with two-day events and travel and accommodation costs covered.

This is an unbeatable opportunity to prepare a project to submit to these calls for proposals. If you really consider yourself an innovative city with the capacity to conduct actions that are effective at European level, but you do not have the necessary resources or knowledge to prepare the application, Zabala Innovation can help you. The experience and proximity of our consultants will make those ideas that often remain in the drawer become a reality.

Expert person

Iñaki Armendáriz
Iñaki Armendáriz

Pamplona Office

Consultant and EUI expert

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