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SME Leaders and Sustainability: Deliberative Engagement (SME-DE)


The project aim:
To develop an on-going, demand-driven executive programme and supporting materials that will equip business intermediaries with a new set of capabilities and business tools which will enable them to engage with SME’s in powerful ways so that those SMEs can collaborate effectively in solving their common and complex long-term business sustainability problems.

The pilot project’s primary objectives:
• To identify a range of intermediary organisations (up to 10) knowledgeable about working with SMEs and who will work with them on complex and long-term sustainable business problems (included in WP2). These intermediaries will be familiar with urban or rural SMEs (or both) and understand the different business environments within the regions of Europe
• To create a dialogue, some of which will be IT facilitated, for intermediaries so they can work deliberatively with the Partners on scoping and framing the problems and issues associated with engaging with SMEs (WP2 D2.2)
• To develop a range of potential DE approaches and techniques designed to engage SMEs in the resolution of sustainability issues (included in WP2)
• To undertake and report on a series of pilot studies (WP3 D3.1) in urban and rural settings across Europe which will:
      - identify existing intermediary engagement activities with SMEs
      - test proposed DE approaches with pilot groups of SMEs to establish their veracity.
• To develop an executive programme for intermediary staff so that they can become competent in the use of DE processes and techniques (WP3 D3.2)
• To create a “European Deliberative Engagement Guide” (WP D3.3) that can be used by intermediaries to engage SMEs in different settings: rural, urban and in the four different European regions (to be produced in three languages and be available on line)
• To create a template for the formation of “SME DE Networks” in which SMEs address their common long-term sustainability problems
• To disseminate the findings of the project widely throughout Europe
• To use the pilot project as an evidence base for determining the efficacy and wider applications of DE as a collaborative technique for solving SME problems
• To use the pilot to create an on-going relationship between SME intermediaries and High Educational Institutes(HEIs) as the DE process identifies emerging SME concerns, which can be addressed through the developing executive programme and a constantly refreshed suite of supporting materials.

A secondary objective is that the pilot project will allow an exploration of how SMEs can effectively engage with the EU and their own governments via intermediaries to feedback evidence on issues of concern so that policy can be better informed.

The changes that will arise as a result of this activity include:
•Through the Executive Development Programme intermediaries will be equipped with the DE processes and techniques required to engage with SMEs on a long-term basis
•Intermediaries will belong to a network of project partner HEIs who will be able to provide on-going executive training which will equip them to address emerging SME concerns
•SMEs will find it easier and more productive to work with intermediaries and others in the SME community on business sustainability issues because the processes and techniques used will align with their needs
•SMEs will be drawn into collaborative networks which will serve as problem-solving fora
•These fora will serve as a stimulus for innovation and creativity among SME leaders more generally
•The innovative and creative potential of individual SMEs will be enhanced as the same techniques are applied in-company by SME leaders
•HEIs will develop a close, collaborative, business outcome-oriented relationship with SME intermediaries which will enable HEIs to:
      - remain up-to-date with the changing needs of the vital and growing SME sector
      - be aware of regional and sector-specific differences
      - develop appropriate executive programmes and support materials
      - take advantage of research and consultancy opportunities arising from this work
      - make a positive contribution to developing the resilience and sustainability of Europe’s SMEs
•EU-wide knowledge sharing on DE will be facilitated.
•The Executive Programme and support materials will be open to all SME intermediaries in Europe
•An indirect, but nonetheless important change is that intermediaries will be able to act more knowledgeable conduits back to governments and the EU so that policy can be more informed as the sustainability concerns and issues facing SMEs are identified during the DE process.

The insights and new knowledge acquired from this project will help HEIs across Europe develop effective and innovative collaborative and co-creational pedagogies; new knowledge about working with intermediaries and SMEs and the issues facing them will be published, and a rich source of research outputs generated.