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The Champagne-Ardenne Region is a partner of the European social innovation project SIMPACT. Jean-Paul Bachy, President of the Champagne-Ardenne Regional Council, answers our questions about the project.

The SIMPACT project in a few words:
The project is funded by the European Union as part of FP7, the seventh Framework Programme for Research and Development, and co-funded by the Champagne-Ardenne Regional Council.

Christened SIMPACT, the project brings together 11 research centres and European universities, including NEOMA BUSINESS SCHOOL, from nine different countries. Launched in January 2014, the three-year project aims to improve understanding of the economic foundations of social innovation, with a focus on the inclusion of vulnerable groups within society. Find out more about the project: http://www.simpact-project.eu/

Interview with Jean-Paul Bachy, President of the Champagne-Ardenne Regional Council:

What are the Region’s challenges, expectations and needs with regard to the many social innovation initiatives that are developing in our local area?

JPB: If we consider innovation merely as the emergence of new technologies, we forget that the heart of every enterprise, every project, every community, is people, and the way they organise themselves. So innovation can and must be social, as well: how do we make sense of a crisis? How can we overcome resistance to change? How can we improve the regulatory framework? How can we manage projects more effectively…?  There is no shortage of subjects!

What tools would benefit the Region?

JPB: First, innovation means accepting comparison. However, the economic and social measurement tools available in Europe are not always adequate. We need to make great efforts in the area of harmonisation. The very term ‘region’ doesn’t mean the same thing in the different member states. The Champagne-Ardenne Regional Council has provided itself with a social change laboratory, to assess its policies and its own practices. It’s a good start!

What are the key areas that the Region would like to support?

JPB: We are take part in and fund ARACT (Regional Agency for the Improvement of Working Conditions), which we co-manage with the trade unions and employers federations. It is a valuable tool to rejuvenate management practices in SMEs. Other fields also interest us: how can we make teaching methods in our secondary schools more relevant to society? How can we get universities and business to work better together?

How does the Region plan to develop joint projects with the scientific community and professionals? What action has already been undertaken and what are its future projects?

JPB: Our competitiveness clusters, IAR and MATERALIA, have changed the relationship between researchers and professionals in our region. The region itself is a fabulous vector for innovation. You can’t develop effectively, in either urban or rural areas, without bringing those concerned closer together and encouraging them to interact. Just getting some administrative departments to work together is already an innovation in itself!

What are you hoping for from the researchers?

JPB: That they don’t shut themselves up in a world and a jargon that are incomprehensible for “the man in the street.” Researchers are only useful if they can make themselves understood.

To what extent is the European dimension important to you (the possibility of making comparisons with more or less “advanced” countries…)?

JPB: Despite the cruel lack of shared statistical standards that I denounced earlier, learning about what our neighbours do is vital to grow and progress.

Do you consider that social innovation can be a competitive advantage for the Champagne-Ardenne Region (particularly in the context of the S3 platform launched by the European Union)?

JPB: Of course! There is a lot of sectorial and departmental conservatism in our region, which explains a lot of its backwardness and fragility. When people at either end of the region who were unaware of each other begin to work together, it immediately creates innovation and dynamism. At this level, I really believe in the future of our university community that is being structured around the universities of Reims and Troyes. It will bring together all the public and private higher education and research establishments in Champagne-Ardenne.

Find out more:
-    visit the SIMPACT project website: www.simpact-project.eu
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