Survey to substitute meetings to engage civil society

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Survey to substitute meetings to engage civil society

The Municipality of Gabrovo (Bulgaria) is following the principles of Responsible Research and Innovation to raise the engagement of its local civil society. The process is used in the framework of the formulation of the new Smart Specialisation Strategies for the next programming period 2021-2027. The Municipality is carrying out a broad, open consultation with companies, associations, the general public, and other actors. The first phase of this engagement with civil society was related to educational institutions; later it is set to continue with private companies. The approach to students was carefully designed. A series of debates were planned, with tailored questions such as ‘How do you imagine your future?’, ‘What is the city of your dreams like?’, ‘What should change in order for you stay in Gabrovo after your studies?’, and ‘What would you like to do in Gabrovo?’

A survey answered by 645 students and young people

Gabrovo has one of the biggest technical universities in Bulgaria, with more than 5 000 students. Their engagement in the city is important for ensuring talent retention. Over the course of February and March, the Municipality of Gabrovo designed a series of meetings to identify the vision of students and teachers concerning the future of the city. Covid-19, however, had other plans and forced the Municipality to change their way of engaging with the students; it was no longer possible to organise any public events. The city council decided to adapt to the new situation rather than wait for the crisis to subside. Since all the students were at home and all their teachers were providing online tuition, an electronic questionnaire was sent out, using the same channels of communication as the teachers use to make it more straight-forward to answer it. In total, 645 students replied to the survey, which has now concluded.

After the students, the enterprises

The second phase of this public engagement involves private companies and follows on from the successful survey completed by students, using that as a template. A similar accomplishment is expected. Similarly to the previous one, this survey will take advantage of the fact that a significant part of its target respondents, the entrepreneurial community, are confined to their homes. The questionnaire has already been adapted for enterprises. The system will be used in Gabrovo’s Geographical Information System (GIS). The survey of companies includes their main economic results, entrepreneurs’ expectations for the future (increasing or decreasing turnover), their percentage of income from European funds, the suitability of the government’s economic policy initiatives, their workforce and equipment needs, and the extent to which they need industrial parks (for buying, renting, or selling land there). A bilateral meeting with policymaking experts is also foreseen, expected to take place by the end of June.

A dynamic and engaged society facing challenges together

Although Covid-19 has spread to a relatively limited degree in Bulgaria, the country has adopted important restrictive measures to guarantee public safety. The total number of infected people is below 2 000. Nevertheless, companies in Gabrovo have adopted a proactive attitude. Following governmental indications, some of them have modified their production lines in order to manufacture face masks necessary in Bulgaria and other European countries. One major company from Gabrovo which manufactures clothes and equipment for the German army has shifted to producing up-to-date technical personal protection equipment (PPE). Whether switching from military uniforms to PPE or from in-person stakeholder consultations to online surveys, everyone has had to make some adjustments.

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