The EU-funded INTERREG IV-A project REGION OHNE GRENZEN was one of the biggest projects of the Rhine-Maas-North euroregion. In total, 20 German and Dutch partners were involved in the two sub-projects B2B and tourism/marketing. The project area comprised the Northern part of the Dutch province Limburg as well as parts of the Middle Lower Rhine. But how can be cross-border collaboration be ensured in such a large-scale project?
The organizational level
The heart of the project formed the project office in the Villa Flora in Venlo which has taken over the project management as an extern service provider. The consortium, consisting of 3Hoog Design, InovaMedia en COMPASS, was contact point for both the needs of the project partners as well as tourist organisations and enterprises in the region.
At the beginning the project partners appointed one representative per sub-project (B2B and tourism). At regular meetings completed actions were presented, new ideas discussed and further activities planned. In an accompanying group general project information could be discussed with all project participants. Here it must be ensured that the meetings are frequently visited and that the project partners are sufficiently involved in processes.
An intranet facilitated the communication among each other and project activities could be documented. However it turned out that this medium has been used very one-sided but normally should be based on interaction.
It turned out that the communication between the project partners and local enterprises was a critical success factor for the cross-border collaboration. The work of the project office proved easier the higher the level of awareness of the project. Accordingly, the company which ultimately benefits from the project must be adequately informed (by press, local authorities, project office, other organizations etc.).
A not inconsiderable part was also the administrative burden of such an INTERREG project. In advance extensive preparations were made which were tedious and have delayed the project.
The entrepreneurial level
The aim of the project was to promote cross-border cooperation and innovations between German and Dutch enterprises. But how do you get companies at one table?
At first an open workshop with over 100 participants was organised where the open space methodology was applied. In so doing the needs and desired topics of the entrepreneurs could be captured. This helped to build on the commitment of the entrepreneurs and they also could be encouraged in their interests. Afterwards the subjects were engrossed in smaller thematic workshops and discussions with selected participants. On the basis of those meetings concrete action plans could have been developed to fix the ideas.
The project office pulled all the strings. Companies were attended with their problems and questions. Important criterion for smooth operations was the bilingualism of the project team to respond adequately to the requests of the German and Dutch entrepreneurs. In the Villa Flora were also premises available so that companies could make the first contact on neutral ground.
In addition, a bilingual business databank has been launched to ensure exchange among one another – a kind of dating site for entrepreneurs. On this website companies were able to present themselves and their products/services as well as search for and also find other interesting companies. Such an innovative platform thrives for interaction and it increased life according to a rising number of members.
Break down language barriers
Although the German participants are geographically close to their Dutch neighbours, language is still a certain barrier. Often conversations slipped into German as many Dutch people in the border region speak nearly fluently German. Because of the comfortableness and better expression in own language, it was generally agreed to use mother tongue. If then someone didn´t understand everything there was always anybody present who just could step in as interpreter. By this all participants were appreciative of one another and thus we had good experiences with this model.
In reality this project included of course much larger dimensions than it is possible to display here shortly. For me as project assistant, the following aspects were essential for successful cross-border collaboration:
- Good preparation of application for EU funds
- Clear organisational and communication structures with precise responsibilities
- Transparent project plans
- Bilingual contact persons and clear communication (within and outside the project)
- One contact point at the interface between companies and communities
- Low-threshold services to take entrepreneurs by the hand
- Organization of workshops and networking events to promote personal exchange
- Provision of general information
- For a collaboration itself: The chemistry between two partners must be right
However I would like to point out that of course not all dialogues lead automatically to a tangible cooperation. But already the personal contact across borders might be fruitful in future… So why not look beyond one´s own nose?
Finally I would like to quote Henry Ford: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
For further information over the project visit the website www.regionohnegrenzen.de.