Fri 17 Jul 2020

Live Case 4: Capitalising on COVID Consumption Patterns

The first COVID-19 cases in Portugal were confirmed on 2 March. The state declared a pandemic on 11 March and Portugal locked down on 22 March. Twenty days elapsed between the confirmation of the first cases and the declaration of the state of emergency. This is the timeline for the “start” of the COVID-19 pandemic in Portugal.

The last workshop of the Lisbon Metropolitan Area (LMA) Living Lab took place on 4 March, which was already in a pre-pandemic environment, but included the ROBUST team and had good stakeholder involvement nevertheless.

On 13 March, Portugal adopted the first containment measures, whereby leaving home was only allowed to purchase essential goods, to take short walks, and to commute to work for those who could not work from home. Only those activities related to supplying essential goods (food, medicine, articles for teleworking, etc.) and construction remained in operation, with limitations.

In this context of almost complete stop of all activity, at first we also suspended the Living Lab activities. After a necessary task reorganization and adapting to a new way of working, the CCDR-LVT and IST team returned to meetings in an entirely digital medium. Teams, Zoom or Skype were the electronic platforms used to proceed with interactions that could not take place physically.

In addition to the public health impacts and the global economic effects not yet fully understood, COVID-19 revealed two points to consider in ROBUST and the themes we’re investigating:

  • "digitization" of work and interactions with partners
  • stress test on the agrifood system

The profusion of technological solutions for remote working, and the availability of the technical team and stakeholders, allowed the work not only to continue, but even made very interesting advances. It was possible, without physical interactions and supported by reliable technologies, to reflect on the different project components and accurately assess those that were proving more difficult to progress. 

In fact, during the lockdown period, one Living Lab group’s work was reoriented, transforming it into something more innovative and capable of responding to times of uncertainty and redefining strategies.

The situation of being confronted with a pandemic scenario and with a generalized lockdown allowed, in the case of the agri-food system, to verify the response to the needs of the population through the entire food chain - from production to commercialization - in practice.

The entire retail chain - small stores, municipal markets, supermarkets - continued to function, with adaptations to procedures and schedules. However, informal fairs and markets, which are important markets for fresh, local products and their producers, were forced to stop their activity. Moving forward, we will focus on this dimension in ROBUST: close relationship (short circuits) between production and consumption.

Closing the physical spaces for selling fresh, local produce, forced local producers to search for new ways to respond to consumer demand. This solution, like any other in this period, went digital.

The solution to increased consumer demand was to invest in produce baskets, which are managed from digital platforms and delivered directly to residences or to specific "pick-up points".

Digital platforms are not exactly novel; the pandemic only reinforced the potential for online sales, by driving both consumers (to acquire) and producers (to sell) to use existing platforms more, or to invest in new marketing platforms.

The PROVE project, based on the “direct from producer to consumer” model, started in 2006 as an internet-based produce basket system. The project enabled a direct relationship between the local producer and the consumer, with the aims to obtain a fairer final price for both the producer and the consumer, and to improve production flows. The project started with producers from Palmela and Sesimbra. The good results obtained in these places encouraged PROVE to use the model in other places. It currently operates in 12 of the 18 districts of Mainland Portugal.

The onset of COVID-19 increased PROVE producers sales volumes to levels that were difficult to imagine at the end of 2019 (about 115% of the value traded between February 2020 (€ 454,564) and April 2020 (€ 979,913)). The current challenge is to retain as many consumers as possible who shifted to PROVE's services in this time, to further support small producers and strengthen local food production systems, while providing fresh, local produce to local consumers.

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Mon 16 Dec 2019

Live Case 3: Knowledge Sharing and Networking for Open Innovation

The LL LMA regional workshop, corresponding to the project's Experimenting phase, aimed to identify experimentation mottos supported by different participatory co-design techniques. We aimed to cultivate open innovation and critical thinking in participants to address problems, explore ideas, and understand situations. Participating actors engaged in sharing their knowledge while networking.

The regional workshop had 27 participants, about a third of which had already been involved in previous Living Lab activities. The stakeholder groups represented local and regional associations, the business sector, academia, local administration (municipalities and districts/parishes) and regional administration (food, agriculture, land use, business support).

Following previous work, three spheres of interaction were defined (Policy, Education and Partnerships) and used to distribute the workshop participants.

We used a World Café methodology to encourage interactive dialogue and ensure that all of the participants would have the opportunity to discuss each of the three themes.

The closing activity was a stakeholder mapping exercise that explored and stimulated mutual dependencies, learning networks and joint initiatives to be shared within this emerging network of regional actors.


Institutional integration and articulation, political and economic circularity: incentive policies and training / entrepreneurship.


Everyone needs to be educated:

  1. State - to make better decisions;
  2. Teachers - to share knowledge about rural value;
  3. Farmers -  to know how to receive, became better in technologies, and better communicate to increase revenues;
  4. Families – to know how to consume better products.

Education for: (i) value local: (ii) value rural, (iii) value farmers, (iv) value agriculture, (v) value quality in consumption, and (vi) value rural for tourism.


Key groups to collaborate/ partnerships: Education + Local administration + Local Producers

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Thu 02 May 2019

Live Case 2: Creative Approaches to Co-Visioning

In the Living Lab of Lisbon Metropolitan Area (LL LMA) we are working to understand how we can enhance functional relations between rural and urban areas through co-creation, learning and innovation processes. The Envisioning phase thus supports the co-creation of a vision for the LMA as it contributes to the robustness of the LMA research objectives, while also helping identify current perspectives, needs, and success criteria needed to reach our vision.

Being grounded in a participatory process, the success of the LL depends on long-term stakeholder involvement and active participation. The best way to involve stakeholders is right from the beginning through their participation in the Envisioning phase. Identifying the right group of local stakeholders was the one of the first tasks of our LL implementation.

The LL LMA Envisioning work included a visioning workshop that explored different participatory co-design techniques with a group of local stakeholders. We aimed to cultivate open innovation and critical thinking with the participants to address problems, explore ideas, and understand rural-urban relations. Participants engaged in visioning processes for a common future, while simultaneously networking.

Local stakeholders included representatives from local and regional development associations, the business/private sector, academia, local administration (municipalities and districts/parishes), and central and regional administration (food, agriculture, land use, business support). At the end of the workshop, participants completed a Learning Card to monitor and reflect on their learning progress.

About a third of the workshop participants had already been involved in the WP1 focus group meeting approximately one year ago. At the time, we invited actors who understood the core concepts used in the ROBUST WP1 framework and their perception of the functional geographic boundaries of LMA. Interestingly maps drawn by participants defining the potential (informal) and realized (formal) boundaries of the LMA showed very different boundaries, some shorter and others extending far beyond the administrative boundaries of the LMA.

Workshop Outputs

The workshop started with a time travel visioning exercise, where participants were asked to reflect on the LMA in the past, present, and after living in space for 20 years.

  1. [PAST] What was a remarkable event in 1999?
  2. [PRESENT] What is notable in urban-rural synergies today in the LMA?
  3. [FUTURE] After spending 20 years in space, you come back to Earth. What do you see in the LMA?


Summary of clustered answers for the time travel exercise


Past: The remarkable events from 20 years ago are mainly driven by personal milestones (e.g., births, deaths, education and independence) and professional events (i.e., projects, jobs, etc.).

Present: The results suggest that there is, on the one hand, an existing peri-urban pressure, lack of rural professional prestige and social devaluation, depopulation in rural areas and urban migration, delimitation with unclear boundaries, and insufficient transportation across urban and rural. On the other hand, there is a growing fascination with the rural environment and a recognition that urban areas have to learn more about rural areas.

Future: It includes quite contrasting perspectives.

  • A positive vision includes full biological and sustainable agricultural production, a rural world that has grown and can value the urban area, integrated agriculture and forest use, better quality of life in rural areas, professional recognition of agricultural activities, preservation of green areas and better and greater environmental and ecological education.
  • The negative vision includes loss of identity, large urban areas with good green spaces but with inadequate water resources, aging population, a highly dispersed population, and a fully urbanized Lisbon Metropolitan Area with the rural areas outside its boundaries (devaluation of the rural world).

In the second exercise, participants imagined the type of person living in that future by building a Persona Empathy Map. The persona empathy map exercise included naming that persona and identifying what the person “thinks,” “does,” and “feels.” Three groups identified three people.


The three persona profiles created during the Persona Empathy Map exercise


The answers converged in a profile characterized by a more educated, flexible, determined and free person that believes in gender equality and multiculturalism, justice and transparency of actions, has a particular concern for culture and values, and is aware of global trends.

They are a citizen of the world that lives in a context of less social control and family pressure, where everyone has more sustainable eating habits and ecological maturity, and is more technologically-oriented and dependent. They are also a person who demands a higher quality of life, wants to have more time available, and higher-quality food.

The third exercise, a gap analysis, aimed to identify drivers, triggers and conditions of success for achieving the future vision according to each of the LL's Communities of Practice. It also took into consideration the World Economic Forum mega trends and the strategic pillars from the 2030 LMA Region Strategy.

The results show that the drivers, triggers and conditions of success are:

Ecosystem Services:

  • Municipal cooperative policies
  • Knowledge networks
  • Collaborative partnerships
  • Competence and life-oriented learning
  • Better conditions for production
  • Lighter public and private interactions
  • Debureaucratization and changing the role of the state

Sustainable Food Systems:

  • Better policies: to impose restrictions on imported food, make administrative procedures easier, valorise local, sustainable and biological production, and valuation of agricultural land;
  • Better education: to teach the value and importance of healthy food in schools, to provide cooking classes, to value fresh, seasonal foods and avoid food waste; and
  • Better income for all: to valorise sustainable local production.

New Businesses and Labour Markets:

  • Create knowledge networks
  • Educate and raise awareness
  • Invest in professional qualification
  • Promote more innovative companies and projects
  • Valorise waste (circular economy) and the multi-functionality of the territory

The 3 groups working on the gap analysis exercise (each group with a CoP theme)

The last workshop activity was an emerging seeds mapping exercise, that used the LMA map to identify the location of "emerging seeds" to plant the future.  Emerging seeds are defined as existing initiatives, either public or private,  that have the potential to be replicated, expanded, or serve as an inspiration for other initiatives to start. The mapping exercise helped the team identify potential cases to study throughout the LL.

The results of the exercises carried out, in particular those of exercise 3, show a clear alignment with our Reasearch and Innovation Agenda. The Lisbon team is now fully engaged in the LL work and in the process of finishing the Envisioning phase. A stable group of stakeholders were engaged in the process and asked to be active throughout the LL. The LMA LL is now focused on identifying specific ways to improve the functional relationships between communities through processes of co-creation, learning and innovation.

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Tue 22 Jan 2019

Live Case 1: Improving Territorial Cohension from Within

Lisbon Metropolitan Area (LMA) is a dynamic region of stark contrasts.  It is home to an international capital city that serves as the political and economic heart of Portugal, but it is also home to dozens of local communities that have their own special character. It has green and blue infrastructures, urban development next to and sometimes in agricultural and natural areas, and conflicting institutional and policy issues and challenges. In short, the Lisbon Metropolitan Area is the perfect laboratory to explore how rural-urban linkages can help to transform both economies and communities, increase the attractiveness of rural areas, and improve the quality of life in urban areas.

The governance models of the LMA are no longer adequate, as they haven’t changed much since 1991. Various municipalities each have their own strategies and interests and do not share a common, integrated vision for regional metropolitan development. Therefore, creating innovative institutional frameworks for improved decision-making and governance systems (i.e., governance structures through new forms of relations) is one of the research objectives defined by the Lisbon Metropolitan Area Living Lab. In this context, the Lisbon Living Lab established their mission statement: “Territorial cohesion from within: bridging metropolitan communities and economies for improved urban-rural synergies”.

Rural-urban linkages in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area are already present and visible in many aspects. For example, ecosystem services are expressed through local food production, water availability, and climate regulation; and through business opportunities, sectorial links and networks of people in a multi-level governance context. This sense of identity can be reinforced to restore relational community scales and experimental forms of governance: proximity scale, sharing, building trust networks, sense of belonging, living agenda. In the end, this reinforcement of identity could lead to potential growth of the agro-economy with high-functioning rural-urban relationships, which will in turn lead to higher growth rates of both rural and urban areas.

Although concrete actions have not yet been developed within the Living Lab framework, synergies with some of the potential stakeholders have already been developed in previous phases of the ROBUST project. The Living Lab team facilitated a focus group with key local, regional and national stakeholders to identify different perceptions of the rural-urban LMA system. This focus group gave us some important insights about concerns the stakeholders that should (or should not) be involved in the LL development and implementation.

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News about Rural-Urban Europe and the ROBUST project is published regularly in the INFORMED CITIES newsletter.

ROBUST is a European research project involving 24 partners from 11 countries. ROBUST receives funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 727988.

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