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Setting up the ESPON 2030 Program m e: heading towards the finish line

The last few months have been particularly intensive when it comes to the preparatory work for the next programming period. The Joint Working Group in charge of drawing up the ESPON 2030 Programme accelerated its efforts and, with the valuable inputs from the public consultation, was able to move forward to discuss a final draft version in its June meeting.

A lot of fine-tuning is needed to find a balanced thematic approach that will provide sufficient evidence and knowledge to address the main territorial challenges that we are facing and will face in the next few years, without dispersing the efforts on too many fronts.

The first Thematic Action Plans

An agreement in principle was established, and an initial indicative list of seven broader themes for the Thematic Action Plans (TAPs) was established. The list was based on the accumulated ESPON evidence, and they are intended to be mentioned in the ESPON 2030 programme. The themes identified cover the territorial challenges validated by the public consultation, and connect to the main European policy priorities and objectives. When the partners of the ESPON 2030 programme have agreed to submit the programme to the European Commission for approval, three to four themes out of this list may already be subject to consultation in parallel with the approval process.

Ongoing needs management

More work is needed to further scope the themes of the TAPs and identify any additional themes, with regard to the identification of policy needs and knowledge gaps, and decrease the overlaps between them and with already existing or ongoing evidence production. To accomplish this task, the ESPON 2030 programme intends to engage with programme stakeholders, including scientists, on an ongoing basis. The programme will shift from a more cyclic needs assessment at certain points of the year towards an ongoing and comprehensive needs management (Figure 1). This will comprise a series of actions that identify the needs of the different stakeholders. The management of ongoing needs will be targeted to cover both the needs for evidence and the needs for knowledge activities and, in this way, will shape and focus and the specific activities included in the TAPs.

All key players will be involved in this ongoing exercise: the Monitoring Committee (MC) will have a guiding role in identifying thematic areas that are relevance to territorial development, the ESPON Contact Point s (ECPs) will have a supportive role in identifying the needs in the specific countries, and scientists and researchers will be invited to provide inputs on the territorial evidence that is available outside ESPON and the persisting evidence gaps that the ESPON activities would be most suited to address. All key players will be involved in this ongoing exercise: the Monitoring Committee(MC) will have a guiding role in identifying thematic areas that are relevance to territorial development, the

Thematic Action Plan consultation process

As previously mentioned, TAPs will be subject of public consultation - theTAP consultation process (Figure 2). This represents the core aspect, and one of the most innovative aspects, of needs management in the new, inclusive approach of the ESPON 2030 programme.

The objectives of the TAP consultation process are:

to raise the awareness of policymakers, practitioners and scientists about the specific thematic work streams that ESPON will be opening up to support policymaking;

to engage in an exchange with policy makers'at all levels on the general policy needs that could be addressed and the ways in which they could be addressed;

to engage in an exchange with scientists on the state-of-the-art territorial research in the related fields of each TAP and to collect a wide range of proposals for programme research activities that would ensure the relevance and added value of ESPON evidence production;

to create a platform for exchange between policymakers/practitioners and scientists to ensure a common understanding of the frame of the policy questions, the policy context of evidence application, and appropriate stocktaking of existing evidence and research methodologies;

to support the ESPON EGTC and the Monitoring Committee in shaping the TAP scope and content by identifying the specific activities to be implemented under the broader TAP theme.

The consultation on the TAP will be organised as a process rather than as one single event, and will include several steps.

Kick-off information day: it will be public, widely promoted and open to all interested potential contributors (from policy and scientific fields); it will target all potentially interested policymakers, scientists, students and members of the general public.

Online interactive feedbacks: stakeholders and scientists will be able to comment, exchange and provide inputs online. ESPON Contact Points will raise awareness of this continued consultation processes in their respective countries and further activate policy and research networks at national level to contribute to the overall consultation process. The information collected through these exchanges will be compiled and structured to prepare for more in-depth discussion in dedicated focus groups.

A series of specific focus groups: these will deepen the discussion on certain elements/aspects and involve a small group of identified stakeholders and scientists. The purpose and the composition of each group will be carefully designed to maximise their expected outcomes and avoid conflicts of interest when gathering ESPON representatives, policymakers and potential future service providers.

Next steps

The Joint Working Group intends to finalise the discussion around the final draft of the Cooperation Programme and agree on the themes of the first Thematic Action Plans that will be covered before the summer break. Despite the uncertainty around the final date for the approval of the programme, which is linked to the entering into force of the new legislative package, the Joint Working Group has decided to go ahead with the preparatory work to ensure the necessary continuation between the two programming periods.

For these reasons, the Managing Authority, following the advice of the Joint Working Group, should not launch the public consultations of the first three or four Thematic Action Plans most probably before the next ESPON week in November 2021. In addition, depending on the process of approving the ESPON 2030 Programme, the Joint Working Group is working towards starting the implementation of the programme around June 2022.

This article appears in the Rural areas: an eye to the future Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the Rural areas: an eye to the future Issue of TerritoriALL