Workshop: ‘Sense of belonging’

Timisoara, 16/05/2019

Workshop: ‘Best practices’
Workshop ‘Evaluation indicators’

Workshop: ‘Best practices’

Participants in the workshop presented a series of good practices, which are expected to benefit a European identity and a sense of belonging within cross-border regions. These good practices often have a touristic and popular dimension (for example, the traditional food, street festival between Oradea and Debrecen). Some projects target youths and disadvantaged people. The work with youngsters is interesting, but it presupposes the availability of supervisors (teachers, etc.) who do not all have the same constraints across a state border (different holidays, periods for exams and timetables). There is always a need for volunteers. Interreg funding is frequently mentioned as a source of funding for good practices across the state border in the field of culture.

It is not always evident how to assess the impact of cultural projects on a European identity and a sense of belonging in cross-border areas. Indicators still need to be developed to assess the impact of cross-border European Capitals of Culture (ECOC). It is important to start from the cross-border area (who lives there, what is happening, what Europe means in these regions, cross-border workers, common language, etc.). There is also a risk of the cross-border energy disappearing (for example due to no more funding or no coordination) when the ECOC cultural programme ends. The development of a European identity and a sense of belonging in the cross-border areas through cultural activities require long-term policies. Furthermore, the key issue in the cross-border ECOC initiative is not that of promoting a cultural programme for the local Europeans, but to better understand them and to find out their expectations in terms of cultural programmes. The inclusion of European citizens in the process to become an ECOC could begin for instance with a referendum or survey to uncover whether the local inhabitants want their location to be a candidate city (e.g., Zittau in Germany and Novi Sad in Serbia).

‘Bad practices’–in terms of unsuccessful actions–can be common in the ECOC programme. A referendum regarding an ECOC candidacy and other types of participative democracy can be a good idea, as shown in Zittau and Novi Sad, but might be risky in other places (for example, the possibility of a high abstention rate or a potential vote against the candidacy). It is difficult to involve local people in an ECOC. There can be a lack of time to explain what the project is about, and local Europeans may think culture is not important for their region, especially so in times of economic crisis. Some ‘bad practices’ are related to the potential gap between the cultural interests of people and what is on offer. This type of bad practice means that two issues have to be addressed: the adaptation of the contents to the cultural routines of people living in a city and the definition of a European cultural education prior to the implementation of the ECOC. Social media can be used to better understand and to address these two issues, and also to work out how participative democracy can be improved.

The participation of the local inhabitants can be contemplated by an ‘ambassador initiative’, in which people play a voluntary role in promoting their cities during the ECOC (for example Lille 2004, with 10,000 ambassadors). Children can be excellent ambassadors (such as in Mons during the Van Gogh exhibition). The participation of inhabitants can also be expected if projects involving local amateur artists are put in place.

Communication around an ECOC to support a European identity and a sense of belonging within cross-border regions requires strategic, top-down policies, but also the grass-roots involvement of ‘ambassadors’, volunteers and amateurs, not to mention the use of mass media. People in charge of cultural locations (theatres, etc.) also need to organize their promotion. These mid-level communication stakeholders are important, as they can develop the long-term promotion of cultural activities, before and after the annual events linked to the ECOC. A cross-border communication plan can be difficult to put in place, because the cultural sector in a neighbouring region is potentially considered as a competitor. Communication is a part of the ECOC programme that can present many bad practices from which lessons should be learned. Cross-border cultural communication can be based on personal interactions, and less on strong institutional ties. Consequently, it can be effective, but can involve uncertainties if there is a change of people.

The mass media develops their own strategies when they portray the ECOC. They can be indifferent to what is happening at the beginning, but rapidly become positive about it when the cultural agenda has finally been able to impose itself in the mediatized public sphere (for example Lille 2004). However, the media can also reinforce the negative image of a city that has become a European City of Culture. The mass media cannot be considered as a territorial marketer of the ECOC. The media are institutions that develop a broader urban news agenda, within which culture is just one dimension connected to others. However, it is very important to inform the media about the ECOC programme from the beginning, in order to better secure their interest in this European initiative.

Good and bad practices concerning communications are also related to transport services. Public transport services can be good initiatives to encourage the mobility of Europeans in transfrontier areas. However, the existence of these services does not mean that the public will actually cross a border. It can encourage people who already cross by their own means to increase the number of journeys, but it will not have necessarily an impact on people who do not cross a border for cultural activities. There can also be a cross-border public for a specific cultural genre (for example, the community of people interested in heavy metal music has developed a mobility practice that is not limited by state borders). The lack of mobility across a border can be associated with the insufficient promotion of events taking place in neighbouring countries. It can also be due to the inability of some exhibitions/performing arts to pull in people from outside their national/regional community because of mental borders.


Workshop ‘Evaluation indicators’

To better understand and measure European identity and the sense of belonging within cross-border areas, it is necessary to agree on the meaning given to these two concepts. There are several possible definitions, often linked to ideas about culture, nationalities, place of birth and mastered languages. Moreover, there is an additional complexity related to spatial scales: European identity and the identity of a cross-border area are not necessarily perceived as the same thing. The same applies to the sense of belonging. A person can feel ‘attached’ to a cross-border space without necessarily being ‘attached’ to Europe. In addition, it should be noted that at the cross-border level, it can be difficult to talk about a common identity, especially in regions that have experienced numerous and violent conflicts with their neighbours. Meta-membership or global identities might also evolve more rapidly than local or regional identities and a sense of belonging that are deeper rooted and therefore less subject to fashions and trends. In any case, the two notions are based on a personal and subjective assessment, which can be plural and articulated with each other.

Can indicators be defined to assess a European identity and a sense of belonging within cross-border areas? This is a difficult question. Different points of view coexist. For some people, identity and a sense of belonging are beyond the reach of surveys and not quantifiable. Only speeches and representations can be accessed and the investigator is a co-producer of these speeches. Other people invite us to rethink identity and sense of belonging by taking them out of the ‘straightjacket’ of the nation and territory. Identities are a-territorial or de-territorialized. Still others put forward observable and as ‘objective’ as possible criteria to measure the sense of attachment to a territory (and by extension, potentially trigger a sense of belonging). In this context, several dimensions can characterize it: cognitive (I know my territory well, I often travel in it, I have certain socio-spatial practices there); emotional (I really feel at home in my region, I am very attached to my region, I would feel uprooted if I had to leave my region, when I leave my region I am happy to come back); cognitive (I am involved in transregional projects, I feel very supportive of my region and the community, it is important for me to help my region develop); social (what relationships do I usually have with the inhabitants of this territory? What relationships did I have during the development of the European Capital of Culture?); and spatio-temporal (how long have I been travelling in this territory? how? By what routes and how frequently?).

Defining the indicators requires questioning the objectives relating to a European identity and a sense of belonging that are reported in the framework of the European Capitals of Culture initiative. Four main actors can be identified in the definition of its objectives: the European Commission, the territorial authorities (including the city carrying the ECOC project), cultural operators and residents. Through its various regulations, the European Commission has detailed a series of objectives, which nevertheless remain general. In addition, some participants believe that little support and few financial resources are made available to cities in order to reach these objectives. At the local level, the objectives are not always very well specified. They often aim to promote the territory; culture being used as a means to strengthen economic attractiveness and to guide urban development. It is therefore fundamental and essential to define–with the partners involved–precise objectives in line with the intentions of European regulations. Furthermore, reflecting on indicators concerning a European identity and sense of belonging can be a tool to initially discuss the aims of a European Capital of Culture project, and then to implement a working methodology to address these aims.

Measuring identity and the sense of belonging also invites us to reflect on the usefulness of an evaluation. It is a process by which we aim to establish whether or not a project has achieved the objectives that were previously set, and in what ways and by what means they have been achieved. For example, in the context of the European Capitals of Culture, in response to the European objective to ‘increase citizen’s sense of belonging to a common cultural space’, the idea is to identify indicators that show how culture contributes to functional cross-border integration (through measuring cross-border mobility) as well as to rapprochement between Europeans on both sides of a border (through measuring shared values, common experiences, co-productions and cross-border projects carried out, language proficiency and social interactions).

In terms of methodology, it is important to carry out a diachronic study, before and after the programming led by the European Capitals of Culture; and in the best case scenario, using a sample of identical people. The collection of information could also be accomplished through interviews or questionnaires. The use of mental maps is also a relevant tool to address the sense of belonging. Linking the information collected to socio-demographic data and people's cultural practices would be a good way to refine the results. It is important to consider all the inhabitants of the territory or territories concerned (public, non-public, prevented public, cultural operators and political decision-makers who are relatively distant from the reality of what cultural actors do) in order to understand their perceptions, representations and socio-spatial practices before and after a European Capitals of Culture event.