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November 28, 2014

SEiSMiC launch kicks off 10-country project

SEiSMiC launch kicks off 10-country project

The SEiSMiC project wrapped up a four-day international launch in Brussels, drawing some 2000 visitors to an urban-dream art installation and preparing 100 project participants for work in the next phase.

The event began Saturday, November 22, as the “Sketch” installation – looking like an enormous crumpled bag scrawled with pencil -- went up near Grand Place in front of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene. On the interior canvas walls of the eye-popping exhibit, some 400 sketches – about 40 from each of SEiSMiC’s 10 countries – displayed the urban gripes and dreams of regular citizens and SEiSMiC partners.

The sketched ideas ranged from public fountains spurting Coca-Cola (Budapest), to a “hate park” where citizens can complain about city services (Prague) to pleas for car-free cities and neighbourhoods (an idea proposed in most, if not all, countries). Along with the exhibition of completed works, project artists were on site helping visitors get their own ideas on paper.

The sketch event drew an estimated 1,700 visitors over the weekend, and a smaller but still steady stream of guests on Monday, as the formal part of the launch event began at the nearby Theatre de Vaudeville.

About 100 participants gathered at the theatre, a historic landmark. Seated at a dozen round tables in the central auditorium, they included all Seismic project partners, representatives from the European Commission and JPI Urban Europe and network partners from the project countries. The network partners represented civil society organisations, schools and universities, municipalities, businesses and more. All came to discuss opportunities for trans-national cooperation in urban social innovation.

Although social innovation is a cornerstone topic of Seismic, its essence was a point of discussion and debate. National network participants, who are expected to come up with recommendations for future urban research priorities, will flesh these out while working together on concrete social innovation projects. They have proposed a wide range of possible initiatives – 27 in all. Examples include a horticultural database of plants suited to urban conditions; crowd-sourced maps for wheelchair users; a legislative proposal to ensure that winners of public contracts provide social value to cities; and an international concert tour focusing on Roma music and culture. Several ideas centered on business ventures in the sharing economy.

Representatives of the European Commission voiced enthusiasm for the project, with two speakers from the Directorate General Research and Innovation praising the participation of “doers” alongside theorists, and for helping to break through the “Brussels bubble” with input from citizens. A word of caution was given by Dionysia Lagiou, Seismic’s project officer from the European Commission. Noting that Seismic was originally commissioned by the programme Science with and for Society, Lagiou advised participants that a special emphasis should be placed on “responsible innovation”.

After two days discussion, participants split into 10 groups formed around project themes. The groups will continue discussion over the next two years, elaborate opportunities for social innovation, share good practices, and identify research and policy needs for strengthening social innovation and action.

The 10 project themes are: languages, civilians and governments; social innovation-friendly ecosystems; social exclusion; Roma minorities and social inclusion; power and influences in development processes; social entrepreneurship (two separate groups); funding and social impact measurement; an innovation factory; collaborative mapping; and an upcycling factory.