Public Engagement Planning in Gabrovo
A clear political vision
The two key aims of the experiment carried out by the Municipality of Gabrovo are to increase public engagement in its Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3) development and to promote science education. To achieve these goals there are several challenges that should be addressed. It is necessary to involve the public effectively and establish cooperation. The Municipality plans to coordinate activities to effectively manage a stakeholder group composed of representatives with sometimes conflicting interests. Timing is important for providing the appropriate information and gathering opinions to establish effective means of public engagement. The Municipality of Gabrovo considers this a precondition for successful and sustainable territorial development, achievable through continuous interaction with and between the main stakeholder groups.
Despite challenging conditions, Gabrovo has managed a successful co-design process. In February 2020 they held a general introductory meeting. After that, two of the bilateral meetings initially planned were substituted by in-detail surveys due to the Covid-19 situation. These also included open questions with the aim of gathering public opinions, practical ideas, and personal visions. It was possible to organise in-person events for the third bilateral meeting in summer 2020 and finally, the summit, with wide representation of stakeholders. The co-design process ended with another meeting involving stakeholder groups and high-level politicians of the Bulgarian Ministry of Regional Development. The politicians explained to general public the plans for future regional development across the country for the 2021-2027 programming period, specifying that the future territorial actions are to have complementary and synergetic nature. An important outcome of this meeting was the consideration that all actors in Gabrovo should work together, joining up their projects, efforts, and activities to make maximum use of all the benefits offered by those programmes.
Focus group on economy, innovation, and human capital
The Transformative Experiment in Gabrovo contributes to the long-term development vision of the city as green, smart, and innovative. To work successfully on this experiment, the Municipality of Gabrovo has created a focus group on economy, innovation, and human capital. This group is carrying out both socio-economic and SWOT analyses and discussions to establish goals and a shared vision.
The focus group will identify ideas and facilitate the establishment of joint projects for the upcoming programming period. All activity will be characterised by complete transparency, keeping the general public informed and gathering feedback to facilitate the coordination and introduction of new ideas.
The last meeting of the focus group in person was held on the 8th of October 2020 with representatives of the local authorities, public administration, leading local businesses, civil society, and external experts from the Institute of Market Economics and Technical University of Gabrovo. The discussion focused on two aspects: human capital and business. The initial socio-economic analysis is currently under review by sectoral experts to allow Gabrovo Municipality to receive feedback and suggestions for improvement. Later, the focus group work continued its activities online.
What lies ahead?
The focus group will continue to work, involving the main quadruple helix actors. The analysis will be adapted after a review process of the external experts’ review. This revision will be aligned with the political vision for the territory and its administrative requirements.
The Municipality of Gabrovo is planning an ambitious next step of public engagement with further community representatives. This will involve gathering the views of 400 participants, regardless of the challenges the current pandemic context poses. The Municipality will carry out interviews and distribute questionnaires, as well as following any other possible method for data gathering. The information collected will serve as a basis for a revision of the SWOT analysis, and a draft formulation of the S3, validated with these specific proactive actions towards a complete public engagement.