LIVINGAGRO for Mediterranean agroforestry, overview about the progress of activities for achieving innovation and technological transfer
A review of the project challenges in brief
LIVINGAGRO project addresses the challenge of knowledge and technological transfer in Mediterranean agriculture and forestry systems for achieving and sharing good practices aimed at sustainable production, protecting biodiversity, enhancing transfer of innovation and increasing profitability for territories and main actors as well as stakeholders involved. Using an open innovation approach for co-creating economic and social values and interactions between supply and demand, two Living Laboratories (LLs) are established focusing on olive multifunctional systems (LL 1) and grazed woodlands (LL 2) in order to promote the creation of a public-private community experimenting cooperation between companies and research organizations for the development of innovative startups, activities, services and products.
What specifically refers agroforestry to and what are Living Laboratories?
Agroforestry is a land use management system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland. This diversification of the farming system initiates an agroecological succession, like that in natural ecosystems, and so starts a chain of events that enhance the sustainability of the farming system.
A Living Lab, or living laboratory, is a research concept, which may be defined as a user-centered, iterative, open-innovation ecosystem, often operating in a territorial context (e.g. city, agglomeration, region or campus), integrating concurrent research and innovation processes within a public-private-people partnership.
Work in progress for achieving project ouputs and results
Almost ten months after the start of the LIVINGAGRO project, the technical activities are proceeding, all in all without significant shifts compared to the work plan.
This is despite the temporary slowdown and the global emergency difficulties of Covid-19, thanks to an acceleration of activities by the technical team of the partnership which has started to meet monthly, with two technical meetings already carried out in June and on last July 8th, in addition to the virtual comparison made possible by the steering committee meeting.
The second semester of the project is still highly preparatory, the ongoing work phase consists in fact acquiring the tools, defining the project's bases, framework and procedures, to then be ready to start with the concrete actions at the beginning of the third semester.
For this reason many activities can be carried out despite the emergency. The only concerned was the ones foreseen "in presence", indicated below, for which specific solutions or compensations were however provided:
• Field visits scheduled for the second semester: they have been rescheduled for the third semester;
• Face to face meetings: to be performed in virtual mode;
• Participatory procedures for stakeholder involvement: to be implemented using remote survey methods.
This preparatory phase therefore saw the technical team engaged in building the starting points of the project and in particular for:
1. improving the knowledge between the partners and in particular among the people who make up the local technical groups with a team building activity;
2. defining and acquiring the technical staff, the cognitive tools and the technical IT-equipment;
3. creating the working procedures and methods of the group and the spaces for sharing the work itself;
4. defining its reference context;
5. defining the reference models of the two Living Laboratories and the procedures;
6. determining methods for identifying the actors and for identifying their needs; collecting data, structuring the most suitable databases to collect and process project data.
7. designing and preparing the fundamental tool for the implementation of the project, the ICT Platform, necessary at the same time to contain, organize and make accessible and transfer the available knowledge and innovations to end users.
The activities carried out in the context of points 1, 2 and 3 have made it possible to activate a close-knit technical group, which operates according to shared methods, equipped with human resources and the technical and IT tools necessary to carry out the planned activities. The group today operates by sharing weekly activities and progress through, besides the project mailing list, a system of shared virtual folders, where each partner can consult and share and give their contribution to technical documents. In addition, the technical team updates itself through monthly meetings on the progress of the activities, and shares, through the leader, further initiatives relating to the project.
While the team building activity represents the human basis necessary for the project, point 4, with the definition of the baseline and the possible laboratory models, represents that of creating the knowledge base. For this reason, three separate studies were developed in the first half of the year, aimed at defining the Living Laboratory framework at the partnership area level. The first study identified, contacted and interviewed the contact persons of about 125 international related projects in terms of topics of interest to LIVINGAGRO acquiring important information, useful for the development of the project and the availability of contacts to share problems and experiences; these data are collected in the Baseline Survey document.
Another important element in the construction of the knowledge base is represented by the Policy framework analysis, which is currently in a good implementation phase thanks to the collection of various available documents, on agroforestry systems and, in particular, on grazed woodlands and olive multifunctional systems, CAP and its two pillars. The framework is being updated especially as regards the definition of the reference framework in cross-border, non-EU project areas, Lebanon and Jordan, which will be possible thanks to the support of the partners LARI and NARC.
At the same time (point 5) the two Linving Laboratory models were developed, with an analysis of the meaning and characteristics and potential of the Living Lab open-innovation based method, verification of the different theorized and applied models, choice of the most suitable model for the LIVINGAGRO Project.
The analysis led the partners to choose the so-called "Umbrella model", which, for the characteristics of the LIVINGAGRO project and of its cross-border partnership, turns out to be the most suitable model, for its flexibility, plasticity and democracy. The study is reported in the two reports Model of Living Lab 1 and Model for Living Lab 2, elaborated in the first semester. Today, however, the technical group works together with the transition from the theoretical, model to the operational and concrete phase, with definition of details and operating methods and procedures, also in order to proceed with the definition of the external services related to Living Lab building.
The key differences between the two laboratories will be considered in detail during the updating phase currently underway.
Another ongoing challenge, equally important to create a project that is actually useful to end users, is the one foreseen in point 6, represented by the need to identify the different categories of economic and research stakeholders to involve highlighting their needs of the stakeholders, and define, compared to these the innovations and key products available for the two Living Laboratories, to be shared and disseminated.
It is in some way to bring together the demand for innovations from stakeholders and economies with the offer, represented by the solutions produced by the world of research and institutions.
To do this, two different methodological approaches have been put in place, designed on the basis of the type of stakeholders studied. In particular, as regards the economic stakeholders, which represent the demand for innovation, the use of participatory approaches, bottom-up, has been envisaged, designed on the model of those already used by some of the partners in other projects such as LIFE Regenerate and AGForward.
At this moment, due to Covid-19 emergency, it is difficult to carry out the expected participatory processes at regional and international level, in traditional way (face to face). In this sense it is necessary to find new involving and participatory approaches to be carried out in the coming months. Surveys can be a good alternative option for analyzing innovation supply and demand.
As regards the research stakeholders, who represent the innovation offer, the top-down approach is chosen, which starts from the identification of the topics of interest of the two Living Labs and the study of products, patents and results of the research available with respect to these topics, to then reach the authors, owners and holders of the innovations themselves and create a subsequent contact with the economic stakeholders.
These activities are described in specific methodological documents and the results collected in specific databases, by stakeholders and innovations and publications that are currently being shared, updated and implemented by the technical group.
Last preparatory element, but not less relevant, is that relating to the creation of the ICT Platform, which will represent the engine of open innovation and the virtual meeting point, essential for giving life to the two laboratories and for guaranteeing their success. In these first ten months the platform has been conceived and designed, its main requirements have been defined, the types of content, accessibility, capacity. The public tender will soon be launched for its concrete implementation, which will hopefully allow the tool to be available for the third semester of the project.
In relation to the complexity and cross-border nature of the project, there are various challenges in progress, many of which are transversal: from how to share data respecting rules and the right to privacy, to how to overcome the language barriers between the stakeholders of the two cross-border Living Labs, and again how to involve the "people" component, end users, farmers but also consumers.
These and other challenges will be addressed in the coming months by the project team as a whole, with the common goal of achieving the objectives set by the LIVINGAGRO project, focused on the transfer of existing innovations useful to solve technical problems common to different Mediterranean agroforestry systems, such as, for example, improving the management of olive systems and tree pastures, improving their resilience, quantity and quality of products, the effectiveness of their distribution, their value on the market.