Tim Caulfield started to work as Director of the Urban Innovative Actions Initiative in September 2015. Tim’s career has involved working at local, regional and European levels, developing and implementing strategic programmes and projects. Before being appointed UIA Director, he worked for a maritime cross-border programme called Interreg 2 Seas.
1) UIA is a newcomer in the world of ERDF programmes. What are the specificities of UIA and how would you describe the Initiative in a few words?
Firstly I would like to remind readers that UIA is not considered a Programme but an ‘Initiative’, as EU legislation provides that ERDF may support innovative actions 'at the initiative of the European Commission'. The terminology is different from a Programme, as the impulse exclusively comes from the Commission, and not Member States. The Initiative is under ‘indirect management’, which means that the Commission has decided to entrust budget implementation tasks to the Region Hauts-de-France (Nord Pas de Calais - Picardie).
Also, there is no ‘Operational Programme’ or equivalent setting out a strategy, priorities and budget. The Initiative is thematically aligned to the 12 urban topics identified in the framework of the EU Urban Agenda.
It has been set up to allow urban areas to take a risk and test how new and unproven solutions work in practice and how they respond to the complexity of real life. So, if I had to sum up UIA in a few words, I would say that it is urban, experimental and flexible!
2) In your opinion why is it important to have an Initiative that addresses urban areas, and what could be their role in the European context?
Well, today, over 70% of the EU’s population lives in towns and cities and this growth is set to continue in the coming years. Many of the social, economic and environmental issues Europe faces have an urban dimension and are most likely to have a larger impact in cities. On the other hand cities are where the potential for innovation lies to solve these issues.
Urban policy is not an explicit competence of the European Union, however many efforts have been made over the last thirty years in giving EU policy an urban dimension. Economic, social and territorial cohesion cannot have a true impact without urban authorities: don’t forget that in the EU over half of total public investment is made by subnational authorities such as towns and cities! That’s why we believe that the UIA Initiative, with its bottom-up and experimental approach, will be an essential step towards unlocking the potential of cities and securing a sustainable urban environment.
The knowledge generated by cities involved in UIA will also be available to practitioners and policy makers in Europe and beyond, and will be used to feed into the work made by the partnerships in the framework of the EU Urban Agenda.
3) The UIA started its activities in September 2015, and many things have been achieved so far. What are you most proud of?
I am proud of the team and how different people from different places with different competences have been able to come together and in a short amount of time set-up and launch the much awaited first Call for Proposals in which 378 projects were submitted!
4) The first call was launched in December 2015. 378 applications have been received and the selection and assessment process has now started. What will be the next steps for the UIA? What will be the main challenges?
The next step will be the assessment and selection of the applications received in our first Call for Proposals. We have set up a strict selection procedure in 3 steps, in order to select the most innovative and competitive projects!
The first step of this selection procedure, the eligibility and admissibility check, is now almost complete. The Permanent Secretariat has checked whether the applications complied with the admissibility and eligibility criteria listed in the UIA Terms of Reference. After this first check, a Panel of External experts will perform the Strategic Assessment, and assess proposals according to the four criteria of innovativeness, partnership, measurability of results and transferability. The Permanent Secretariat will do the last and final step, which is called the Operational Assessment. All aspects related to the management, work plan and budget will be checked in order to select the best proposals. The selection of the first UIA projects is due by the end of this year, and we are looking forward to start working with them.
And of course, our main challenge ahead is the launch of the second call by the end of this year. The themes should be available by this summer. We will build on the experience of the first call and the feedback from applicants to improve both our Guidance and the assistance tools.
5) What advice would you give to urban authorities intending to apply to the second call?
I would advise that applicants take time to prepare their proposal and to involve the right stakeholders from the start. It is also important to benchmark and do some research before setting up a proposal: in a very competitive context, a well-documented project, taking inspirations from the newest ideas with a clear added-value, can make the difference. Impress us with the most innovative pitch and demonstrate to us that it stands out from all others funded before!