Blog - SPMM workshops

Smart Territory Call for project 2: interview with Fabienne Roberti, operational referent



Just before the deadline of the second call for project “Territoire Intelligent”, we had a chat with Fabienne Roberti, Smart Region operational referent at Spi, during one of our workshops dedicated to the Smart Project Management Model (SPMM). The aim was to get a deeper overview mechanisms of a call for project and the supporting role played by the various referents, both operational and academic.

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Hello Fabienne. Can you tell us how a regional call for project works?

In Wallonia, in general, a project is drafted by the administration, voted by the government and sent to the organizations related to the administration and the government. There’s generally a given timeframe to submit projects. Once the applications have been submitted, generally through an online platform, they are analyzed and evaluated by the administration and, if necessary, by external experts. The winners are ultimately chosen by the public decision-makers.

The submission process depends on the size of the municipalities. In a small municipalities, the Director General is generally responsible for the submission, unless someone else is specifically interested in Smart Cities projects. In a larger municipality, depending on the theme, the project leader will come from one or other specific department.

In any case, responding to a call for project only makes sense if it fills a need. If this is not the case, the energy spent will be useless, whatever the proposed rate of subsidy.

What are the special features of the second call for project “Territoire Intelligent”?  

Only municipalities and provinces can submit projects proposals. We've been talking about this call since May 2022, so there's been a lot of anticipation. This has enabled applicants to think thoroughly about their needs and prepare themselves in the best possible way. This call a allows innovative projects to be submitted, as well as replicating existing ones. This aspect is important, as the deadline for implementing projects is relatively short (the winners will in principle be chosen at the end of November 2023 for projects that must be completed by the end of December 2024 at the latest). This shows that municipalities can be considered innovative by replicating a project that exists elsewhere and has already proved its worth. Finally, the relatively exceptional subsidy rate of this call for projects is another specificity: 70% of the cost is subsidized, and a further 10% is granted for project management.

Can you identify any obstacles or levers to submitting projects to this call?

The first lever is the financing rate, which is very high. Secondly, it is a good incentive for most local authorities that are keen to modernize and digitize their work. Finally, it's also potentially good communication to be able to highlight a digital project that concerns citizens.

About obstacles, it can be tricky to expect municipalities, especially those with the scarcest resources, to undertake innovative projects before they have strengthened their base (i.e. business tools, data, connectivity). Secondly, a call for projects so close to municipal elections  may also limit the number of submissions. Finally, local authorities lack resources as the 2024 budgets have already been voted. This does not necessarily leave any resources, either financial or human, for an additional project.

What's Spi's role in this call for project?

First of all, Spi has a role to play in awareness raising , whether collectively or individually, in writing or orally. We aim to raise awareness as much as possible, making sure that the people who are most receptive know that this call for projects exists.

Spi also takes part in discussions when the project is unclear for the municipality, and even more so at a supra-communal level.

As part of this call for project, I've also spent much time explaining the conditions, themes and possible set-ups, which aren't necessarily easy to understand when you skim through the texts.

Spi's role is also to create links between different projects, especially when we identify several projects on the same theme, to avoid competition . We put the various players in contact so that they can work together on an ideal project.

Spi also encourages replicability by sharing information on existing Smart projects in Wallonia, including technicalities, in collaboration with other operational referents.

How do you think the Smart Project Management Model (SPMM), and the workshops based on it, can be useful for submitting applications to calls for projects?

I really like the SPMM because it allows us to structure thoughts. It includes a series of prerequisites that we don't necessarily consider. For example, if there's no political will to submit a project, there's no point for local agents to get involved.

In the workshops, we focused on the planning phase. This confronts the project with its objectives, indicators, financial requirements and how to establish a link with citizens. It's highly relevant for participants to benefit from an outside perspective. It allows them to confront an idea with other points of view, to challenge projects. That's how you improve an initial idea. It also allows us to be confronted with our own limits (e.g., the time required to complete a project). It's important to be in contact with other project leaders, but also with the team of the Smart City Institute, which brings its scientific rigor to the discussion and helps reframe certain utopist ideas. These workshops really enrich our projects. They also provide structure. The application form can be difficult to fil. The structuring provided by the SPMM workshops is a first step in the right direction.

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