With the spread of Covid-19 making the original plans for Transnational Cooperation and Networking activities in 2020 unfeasible, the difficult decision was made to postpone all events.
Sara Southam, senior project manager for the TCA and Stakeholder Engagement team at the UK National Agency, gives an overview of the online discussions that have taken place between Transnational Cooperation and Networking officers from across the NA network, and takes us through how they’re adjusting to the ‘new normal’.
Cancelling activities for April, May and June
In the UK National Agency Transnational Cooperation and Networking team, we had three support activities planned for April, May and June. From support for our apprentice peer network, training young people in how to run their own green Solidarity Project, to our large, international and cross-sector conference “Embracing Inclusion”.
Hotels had been booked, speakers prepared, travel arrangements made. But in early March when the full scale of the pandemic and its impact on the entire Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps programmes, never mind globally, hadn’t quite unfolded – we made the decision to postpone them. We didn’t know then whether we would have the chance to pick these activities up again or not.
Plans might change but strong partnerships adapt
As lockdowns progressed across the continent, all plans for 2020 were placed in the shadow of guarding against the disease. But after the first few weeks in lockdown, slowly adjusting to our new reality, we started to gather and meet again with our counterpart and partner TCA and Networking officers from across Europe; zooming and video-conferencing like never before!
We found solace in our mutual predicament, sharing the situation in each other’s countries, seeing the inside of each other’s homes and lives and finally looking at what support we could continue to offer, what adjustments we could make and how to plan ahead.
TCA has always stood for Transnational Cooperation Activities but what it means in practice is collaborative partnerships between National Agencies to achieve a common goal; namely improving the quality and impact of the programme. It is the closest that NAs get to the experiences of our beneficiaries, complete with all the trials and tribulations and intercultural challenges of trying to work together across countries, around other priorities and without shared systems.
Our main aim was to look ahead, sharing thoughts and practice on how best to support beneficiaries.
In working through these issues and establishing solid, productive partnerships, you experience the power and dynamism which international collaboration can bring. You feel a sliver of the legacy which the Erasmus+ programme has been imparting on learners, young people and participants for years. It inspires you to build on that opportunity and see what you can grow together.
Meeting online, sharing practice and common future focus
By mid-May we had re-grouped, buoyed by the strength of our partnerships. Activities were being postponed, transformed, re-planned but with digital fallbacks or other contingencies. We explored what some groups were doing with interest and snuck into their online sessions to observe and learn. We worked hard to transfer our annual network meetings into online events and eventually, across all Erasmus+ sectors, we had sessions for over 150 colleagues over eight days (with many screen breaks!).
Our main aim was to look ahead, sharing thoughts and practice on how best to support beneficiaries build bridges between the current global situation and Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps.
We discussed examples of virtual activities such as MOOCs; blended delivery of training and seminars with an online element, how to maintain non-formal learning when working digitally and key considerations when converting face-to-face support into virtual activities. We considered safety of participants when asking them to join our conferences and raised needs and issues to the Commission for areas we couldn’t progress without their input.
We came away with ideas, inspiration and a long list of actions to be followed up on. We also came away with three essential common focus areas for future activities:
- Digital skills development. Continued commitment and adoption of digital techniques, not only to widen the number of individuals accessing our support, but to shine a light and put in to practice the development needed in digital skills progression of educational systems.
- Greener Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps. Integration of green approaches and supporting a focus on environmental approaches and opportunities, such as jobs and skills for the green economy, going paperless in your project or exploring digital options to help activities be more environmentally friendly.
- Inclusion, diversity, and equality. Improved impact measurement of our activities to ensure that they are actually supporting and including all individuals and to share the knowledge, skills and approaches needed to ensure that those from disadvantaged backgrounds have just as many opportunities in the future programmes as any other individual.
Tentative steps, upcoming activities and future evolution
The network still has more meetings to come; bringing with them more innovations, collaborations and adaptations. This has been a challenging time for everyone, but there are many useful developments which should and will be maintained, widening the reach and impact of TCA and NET activities to hopefully support our goals.
Our partnerships are strong and our collaborations will continue in one form or another.
For our part, the UK TCA and Networking team have now delivered virtual sessions for Embracing Inclusion. There has been one virtual Go Green for your Community session, an event for young looking to run environmental Solidarity Projects, with another online event planned for September. A physical Embracing Inclusion event is planned to take place in November in Birmingham and we hope to share the outcomes of the conference if it can go ahead.
We’re taking it one step at a time, but no matter the short-term impact, our partnerships are strong and our collaborations will continue in one form or another. We will adapt, evolve and grow together.
If you are interested in the Embracing Inclusion November conference, please email [email protected] for more information.