During phase two of our project, partners have identified good practices for working with co-creation and open social innovation during the pandemic. This good practice comes from the Province of Drenthe in the Netherlands and describes how to start a movement among small enterprises in the craft sector and how the companies made a digital leap.
The Craft Project
A project for and of craft businesses to improve their entrepreneurship and (digital) skills, to extend their market opportunities, to create new forms of mutually profitable cooperation.
About the good practice
Southeast Drenthe counts a large number of small businesses – many of which are craft related. They keep the socioeconomic structure of the area afloat. Supporting them therefore contributes to the liveability and the welfare of the region.
The project consisted of strengthening the businesses’ entrepreneurship/(digital) skills, their cooperation, working on promotion and marketing, exploring existing markets and tapping into new ones. The pivotal factor in this was the market scout, a ‘craft broker’ as we called him. Another cornerstone of the project was the coordinating role of Geopark De Hondsrug.
Elements of the project
-branch meetings and mixed branch meetings, analysing problems and brainstorming about new ways to do business,
-cooperation in the shape of a network of businesses, a modern craft guild, also with the aim of creating modern master-apprentice schemes,
-finding new markets – examples: lamb, wool, new combinations of products,
-creating business presents and Christmas gifts by cooperation of various branches and setting up a shop (The Homestead) in which the different products were brought together,
-promoting the craft businesses with a photo/short introduction on the website of Geopark De Hondsrug,
-strengthening the entrepreneurs’ digital skills – ‘digital presence’, video calls, digital supply and demand, several businesses have tapped into other local product sites and thus into new markets,
-creating interactive trails throughout the region that lead past craft businesses or food craft businesses,
-the craft broker who connected the dots, brought the businesses together, explored markets, made the connection with websites and the interactive trails, organised training courses.
The project is in fact a movement, a craft movement, still vulnerable but something we need to cherish. The Geopark is committed to keep this movement afloat.
Enough financial funds to pay the salary of a (parttime?) market scout/craft broker. And some room to finance meetings.
Evidence of success
• Over 60 craft entrepreneurs have joined the project and are presenting themselves on the Geopark website.
• About that same number can be visited along the two storytrails: The Craft Tour and the Food Craft Tour (literally translated: Tasty Local Tour).
• The businesses are also presenting themselves in numerous other local and regional sites.
• The Homestead is a concrete result: many products of a large variety of craft businesses can be found here.
• Combination of craft products are used to compose business presents and Christmas gifts.
• A craft network, a modern guild, is rapidly expanding.
• The entrepreneurs have adopted new digital skills.
The main challenge was and will be to keep the project going.
Or, more precisely, to create the financial room for keeping a ‘craft broker’. Many aspects of this project are future proof and self-supporting. But the function of a market scout remains a necessary one. So either the business models of the entrepreneurs generate enough turnover to pay a percentage into keeping a market scout, or local/regional authorities offer to finance this function.
Potential for learning or transfer
Many rural areas in European countries experience a problematic socioeconomic structure. And especially in more rural regions (small) craft businesses and old/classic crafts are an ‘endangered species’. Howver, they contribute to much economic activity, tourism, wellbeing, employment, vitality and resilience in the region. So vitalising and strengthening the craft industry is definitely a good practice.