As we come to the end of the first year of the project, the third training session hosted by KU Leuven provided the researchers with time to reflect on progress made, gain insight into how to move forward and acquire valuable skills. This training included 3 core modules: Sustainable Place-Shaping, Communication and Dissemination, and Valorisation of Research. A deliberate attempt was made by the organisers to host the training in a variety of settings and university buildings, new and old, urban and rural, in order to emphasise the importance of physical place. Similarly, attention was given to the catering provided to give a variety of choice that included locally sourced and sustainable options.
The Sustainable Place-Shaping module was predominantly made up of lectures by leading academics, Constanza Parra, Pieter Van Den Broeck and Frank Moulaert of KU Leuven, and a ‘Learning Journey’ led by Julie Arts of the Presencing Institute. This module also included discussion on how video-making can capture these processes and practices, and open time-slots for researchers to discuss and practise methodologies. The Learning Journey in particular showed us a different approach to engaging with real-life situations. Starting in the workshop space of Belgium’s largest supermarket, the environmentally-aligned Colruyt, and ending at a local community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm. We were confronted with two different pathways to sustainability and asked to identify differences and potential synergies between the two. The Learning Journey taught us about different modes of listening, downloading, factual, empathic and generative, with the latter two being more conducive in getting quality data for sustainability research. We were able to put them into practice at the CSA farm when listening to the fascinating stories of Tom, the farmer, who had started with nothing but ambition and turned his farm into a growing hub for community and sustainability by using positivity and cooperation to spread his message. Upon reflection of the Learning Journey experience, the group came up with some preliminary principles of sustainable place-shaping that included: collectiveness, a moral order, leadership, inclusivity, flexibility, positivity and transparency.
The Communication and Dissemination module involved 3 days of very engaging presentation skills and blogging training. The first day, led by leadership and communication specialist Gil Renders, pushed the researchers out of their comfort zones, focusing on soft skills such as posture and voice. This was followed by a day with The Floor is Yours, which was tailored towards communicating scientific research in a clear and attractive way. Marek Kiczkowiak, local blogger extraordinaire, showed us some practical and theoretical approaches to blogging, and inspired many of us to start personal blogs about our research interests. We also held our biannual seminar with all the project supervisors during which the researchers presented a condensed version of their progress and questions in order to put into practice their newly acquired presentation skills. Following the presentations, an intervision took place which was is a vital moment for researchers to receive advice not only from the supervisors, but from one another.
Finally, the Valorisation of Research module, led by Erik Mathijs of KU Leuven, required the researchers to work in groups to formulate a valorisation strategy for two of their research projects. This collaborative effort encouraged us to think beyond our daily tasks and understand ways that our research can have a longer-lasting impact in society. The results were very impressive and at times creative, highlighting the potential for engagement with policy-makers, schools, and even local celebrities! This module also included a keynote by Terry Marsden of Cardiff University which planted the idea of a collaborative SUSPLACE output for which many ideas arose, from books to websites to interactive maps. At the very least, this got our imaginations going and time will tell what form it will take.
Overall, it was a successful two weeks and the group appreciated the more interactive nature of many of the modules. The next time the group will meet will be during the Autumn School in Aveiro, Portugal, in October 2017. In the meantime, the researchers are off on their first secondments to partner institutions to learn professional skills or start on data collection, so watch this space for more blogs to come!