The Central Baltic Programme 2014-2020 finances result orientated cross-border cooperation projects in Estonia, Finland (incl Åland), Latvia and Sweden

The process of creating a new programme strategy (Intervention logic) for the Central Baltic programme – through the eyes of Ülari and Merike

Wednesday, January 13, 2021 - 15:59
The process of creating a new programme strategy (Intervention logic) for the Central Baltic programme – through the eyes of Ülari and Merike

We are now in our second joint experience to create the intervention logic for the Central Baltic programme. During the years 2013-2014 we were also involved in the process of programming, then for the Central Baltic 2014-2020. What was the same, what was different, what have we learned? Join us onto a journey to the past and then back to the present!
Introduction and history – how did it go for the 2014-2020 period?
At the very start, there was a clear expectation and wish by the owners of the programme – representatives from Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Åland – to move towards a focused and result orientation. This will was expressed in a so-called Mandate Letter and became „the job description“ for the pogramming team.

The objective – a more focused, result-oriented programme – was clear but as always in the creation of the public policy, the biggest challenge is how to achieve it? Because we are on the realm of the wide range of interests, different understandings, confusing terminology, different experiences and again different interests. What helped and worked were following „human language expressions“ like - „let’s use the platforms and networks created before“, „not anymore creating the new networks and platforms and tools as the main results of the projects“, „results should be real, tangible, relevant!“. Good help in this was the European Commission’s strong emphasis on results (impact) at least in their words and writings.

We also had to keep in mind where it makes sense to intervene with rather limited resources (ca 100 MEUR) over 7 years period in programme area of 10 million people and regional GDP ca 300 EUR?

The process was designed to involve as much as possible the potential partners, beneficiaries and stakeholders. We included representatives of regions into a working group (WG), organised open thematic workshops (TW) in all countries, held meetings upon request with different organisations in different meetings and also encouraged from the early phase the sharing of potential project ideas.

The process that was designed to last about one year was in reality slightly longer because of more need for finding consensus and going through needed administrative steps. All in all the process produced the intervention logic including 11 specific objectives in policy areas of business development, environment and sustainable use of resources, transport and social inclusion.

Back to the present - The new process to create the Intervention logic for Central Baltic 2021-2027
The history and links to the time 7 years back are relevant as it should be emphasised that the key in successful public policy creation and implementation is learning from previous cycles and step by step improvement.

This time again the stakeholders of the programme continued the Mandate letter tradition. Principles of result orientation, focusing, improving the division of work with other programmes and continuing the simplification were emphasised.

The intention was to build on the previous experience in designing the planning process and using programming bodies as the working group (WG) with wide representation from the regions. Wide involvement of potential partners, beneficiaries and other interested parties was foreseen via country based thematic workshops (TW). It was understood that there is a need for building consensus and mutual understanding and trust through the process where people meet, argue and agree.

The joint programming committee (JPC) meeting took place as to kick-off the process in March 2020 and we were ready for meeting people,...
...and then Corona arrived and we went digital. Suddenly our work took place in Zoom, emails, written tasks and inputs. These tools replaced the real face to face interaction during work sessions and coffee breaks.

By the time of writing this article 6 ZOOM meetings, several rounds of written feedback, questions and answers have taken place.
The summer succeeded to decrease the power of the virus. Thanks to that we had the possibility to organise four live thematic workshops at the end of August and the beginning of September. The fifth thematic workshop had to go to Zoom and to allow more inputs and feedback the online survey was designed and used as well.

Outcome of the process
The overall process logic was to move from general choices (which Policy Objectives) towards more specific choices (specific objectives and programme specific objectives). By the beginning of July, the JPC accepted the proposal to choose 3 policy objectives (business development, sustainable environment and labour market) and an Interreg specific objective with a list of relevant themes within those.

Those themes were discussed and elaborated and commented during the thematic workshops. It was relevant to understand what would be more specific themes within rather broad topics  and where is common cross-border ground (overlapping interests).

Thereafter the next task was to apply the cross border value-added criteria and to put the measurability principle (the logic of indicators for programme specific objectives) in place. By now there are in principle the intervention themes agreed (7 PSO-s) and ready to go to public hearings and SEA process.

There is still more work to do with indicators’ methodologies and after financial allocations are known, setting the target values for indicators.

Lessons learnt
As said above, public policy can be improved by learning from previous policy creation and implementation processes. Therefore we already take some thoughts with us to the future. What we see as fresh findings and potential improvement themes for the next programming process – scheduled to 2027 in a Corona free environment.
  • The regional, national and sectoral strategies rarely have priorities for cross-border (international) cooperation. Room for improvement.
  • The European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) – should have the ambition to create a clear division of work between different programmes and activities.
  • Programming structures – Joint programming Committee (JPC) and working group (WG) - overlap in the composition of members. Perhaps to consider WG with more thematic expertise – subgroups from the middle of the process when general choices are made on PO-s.
  • More time should be devoted to describing and analysing the current programme experience: what worked, how it worked, what are the strengths and weaknesses. Participants in the new process may not be all informed about the current programme logic.
  • If the division of work is not established in advance or well-coordinated by member states/regions representatives, then it is extremely complicated to achieve it because the programme preparation processes run in parallel.
  • Working in a second language (English) is not easy for all – terminology and the meanings and use of words is important.
  • More time should be devoted at the beginning of the process on how we work, what are the principles (Eg. result orientation, cross-border added-value), what should be the outcome of the process?
  • Thematic expertise within programming team/JS is relevant for finding specific themes for intervention.
  • The European Court of Auditors did a performance audit on the 2014-2020 period. This in-depth process, its findings and conclusions, were helpful for us in developing our work.

Merike Niitepõld
Ülari Alamets

Taking social distancing seriously during one of the few physical meetings since the beginning of the Corona spring