On November 5 and 6, 2014, in Turin, Italy, the Urban and Regional Policy Program held its inaugural workshop for its southern European cities network initiative, METROS (Metropolitan Economic Transformation and Regional Organizational Structures). METROS is a peer learning initiative that explores strategies for strengthening multi-sector collaboration to manage the political, economic, and social transformation facing metropolitan regions in southern Europe. Programming will focus on two levels of policy learning and peer exchange that draw on transatlantic best practices. The first level, METROS Fundamentals, focuses on regional multi-sector partnerships and stakeholder engagement to create a metropolitan ecosystem for innovation. The second level, the METROS Policy Focus, zeros in on key policy themes that support regional economic development.
For this inaugural workshop, public and private sector leaders from Turin and Genoa, Italy, Bilbao, Spain, and Thessaloniki, Greece, came together for two days of intensive peer-to-peer learning and problem-solving around these themes.
The objectives for the METROS initiative are:
- Create a forum for peer to peer learning between cross sector teams from four southern European metropolitan regions;
- Explore specific policies and tools that support metropolitan economic development and revitalization;
- Introduce city teams to new collaborative and creative approaches to idea generation and problem solving; and
- Establish a network that can support peer engagement outside of scheduled workshops.
To kick off the workshop, each participating city shared an overview of their city’s history and economic situation and their learning objectives for the METROS initiative. Common themes that arose from these city presentations included urban and regional governance structures, sector/specialization strategies, and stakeholder engagement.
Participants were then introduced to one of the fundamental themes of METROS—partnerships and organizational structures—from Mike Kelly, general counsel & governmental relations at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. Mike spoke to the group about his work with the Opportunity Collaborative, including its failures and success and how it overcame hurdles to form a successful working partnership. One of the key points raised by Mike was that trust had to be built among the consortium of partners in order for their work to be successful. Several other components of their success included building strategic relationships with partners, focusing on inclusivity, and developing common goals. This co-creation drove the partner organizations to work together to achieve a common set of goals.
Delegates also had the opportunity to hear about regions as talent magnets from Mike Lake, president and CEO of Leading Cities. Mike described four levels of talent--homegrown, attracted, retained, and lost--and the role cities and regions play in developing and supporting talent at each level to shape strong economies. One of Mike’s lessons was that talent is mobile. A city can easily attract talent, but without a retention strategy, attracted talent is temporary and can easily move to a new location. Several factors that can help cities attract talent include institutions of higher education, positive immigration policies, job opportunities, and city amenities and branding. Mike used the example of Austin, TX as a city that has been successful at attracting and retaining talent by engaging the community in its city branding strategy. Once a city attracts talent, it must also focus on retention by supporting an entrepreneurship ecosystem and attracting and supporting businesses, and also defining a community and creating a quality of life spectrum that individuals and families find attractive and sustainable.
Since METROS is a project-based initiative that calls on network members to actively work toward goals and milestones, GMF took the opportunity to introduce a new model of problem-solving during the second half of the workshop. Flavia Gnecco, an industrial designer, introduced design thinking, a human centered approach to problem solving that focuses on innovation as a way to unlock solutions. One of the core elements of design thinking is gaining empathy for the user to look at the problem from their point of view. While not a radical concept, this method encourages people to look at both problems and solutions in a different way. The concept was introduced with a Design Thinking 101 workshop, after which participants worked in their city teams to solve a problem they are facing. After defining their problem and gaining empathy, participants came up with several potential solutions and chose one to prototype.
At the end of the workshop, participants presented the network with a prototype of their solution to test when they return to their home city. Design thinking is an iterative process and participants will have the opportunity to continue to refine and test their ideas throughout the METROS initiative.
The next METROS workshop is scheduled for February 2015.
METROS is generously supported by the Compagnia di San Paolo.