‘Exploring Operational Programmes’ was the theme of the second Design4Innovation Partnership Meeting which took place over two days (31st May – 1st June) in the vibrant city of Thessaloniki.

During this time, the Design4Innovation partners reviewed the progress of the project's activities, examined their Operational Programmes (OPs) and visited three innovation hubs in order to find out about the best practice in business and the innovation support in Greece. The project workshop, which was perfectly organised by KEPA – Business and Cultural Development Centre, was held in the tastefully repurposed old Warehouse 1 in the harbour of Thessaloniki.

Following the kickoff of the project in Bruges, the partners reviewed their Regional Design Ecosystems with the broader stakeholder groups and the partners are now collating the data which will form the body of the first Design4Innovation Policy Booklet. Dr Anna Whicher, Project Manager:

Mapping the Design Ecosystem and identifying its strengths and weaknesses is the first step to developing effective and compelling Design Action Plans. We will share our learnings with other interested regions in the first Design4Innovation Policy Booklet.

The second step of this interregional learning journey was to delve deep into the ERDF Operational Programmes and their existing implementation mechanisms in order to identify the opportunities for the integration of design into support programmes for SMEs. Lightning presentations of the OPs given by representatives of the Managing Authorities from partner regions clearly demonstrated the diverse scale and the varied approaches to providing support to businesses. Programmes on a national scale such as EPANEK in Greece or ‘Growth and Employment’ in Latvia offer a broad range of both financial and non-financial support opportunities to thousands of companies either directly or via intermediaries, whereas in Flanders for instance, this support is focused mostly on non-financial means of support which are channelled through various business support organisations, research institutes or local authorities. The presentations revealed that in many of the partner regions the use of design in SMEs could be financed under Thematic Objective 1 ‘Research and Innovation’.

During the workshop, the project partners heard about a successful design support mechanism from the guest speaker, Jan R. Stavik, from DogA – Design and Architecture Norway, who shared his experience of developing and running an impactful support programme ‘Design-driven Innovation’:

The programme was launched in 2009/2010 with the aim to contributing to increased competitiveness and new growth in ever more demanding markets by greatly enhancing the target accuracy of innovation projects. We have now supported 138 projects and achieved amazing results in sectors as varied as the shipping industry, health services and deep sea mining.

Partners used poster tools to map out the existing support mechanisms funded from ERDF and look for opportunities for design. They were asked to identify a potential case study of good practice and to set actions for further exploration of the programmes using design methods such as design safari, persona building and user journey mapping. Dr Anna Whicher:

We want to practice what we preach, therefore we must take a design approach to developing our Action Plans.

The findings from this exercise will be shared during the next meeting in Santiago de Compostela, hosted by the Galician Agency of Innovation on 7th and 8th November.

The second day of this meeting was dedicated to study visits to the award-winning Centre for Research and Technology – Hellas (CERTH); tech and science start-up incubator i4G (Incubation4Growth); and a unique quadruple-helix collaboration OK!Thess aimed at catalysing the local innovation system and providing pre-incubation services for innovative start-ups. Piotr Swiatek, Design4Innovation Communication Officer, summarised these visits:

We not only had an opportunity to discover models of business and innovation support in Greece but also discussed the possibilities of providing design support through these types of organisations. During the visit in OK!Thess incubator, we were joined by a group of aspiring entrepreneurs to present design as a tool for strengthening their business ideas and find out first-hand about their challenges and needs.

Design4Innovation partners are now working with their stakeholders to build shared understanding of the opportunities for design in their regional Operational Programmes. We are also attending European Design Forum in Vilnius to promote the project and discuss the topic of the future of design support across Europe. Stay tuned, we will share the news from regions and the European Design Forum soon.