The first i2connect Summer School, aiming at strengthening the capacity of the future rural advisors to support interactive innovation, took place from the 23rd till the 29th of July 2022 at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania, Crete, Greece. The Agricultural University of Athens as the organizer of the event and facilitators from the University of Hohenheim, the University College Dublin, the Széchenyi István University and the Berner Fachhochschule welcomed 26 Msc and PhD students from Irish, Slovenian, Italian, French, Spanish, Lithuanian, Serbian, Belgian, Swedish, German and Greek universities.
This interesting mix of participants attended a full of activities training course. The course covered crucial topics and concepts for delivering advisory work in the framework of innovation networks, such as, for example, the facilitation of interactive processes and the concept of Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS) (see: Table). A variety of interactive exercises were used throughout the course to trigger students’ active participation and creativity and sensitize them to their role as future innovation advisors and the competencies they need to develop for successfully delivering advisory services. The participants had the opportunity to get familiar with several methodological tools, such as the Spiral of Initiatives/Innovations and the Triangle of Co-creation, and put them into practice including a farm visit (innovation project). Such tools are useful for both advisors and researchers in analyzing innovation networks, identifying the role of the involved actors, and navigating through innovation ecosystems.
Table: Overview of the structure and topics covered in the first i2connect Summer School.
The participants enjoyed a dynamic atmosphere, working in groups in an inspiring environment and keeping their energy high throughout the training, which “was fun” and “at the same time interesting”. According to their evaluation of the Summer School, “it was a true co-learning experience” and all interactive activities served the course’s purposes. The students got “good knowledge” and “the training was pretty different from what I expected … it was better this way”. In the same vein, it was pointed out that:
“I found myself being involved in all these tasks with much more enthusiasm and willingness than I would expect from me. I wasn’t just learning by listening but by participating”.
“I made a network of people that study and work in the sector; learned about innovation approaches; used new tools and expressed myself at the facilitation exercise”
The participants benefited not only from their interaction with each other but from the guidance, inspiration, and feedback they got from the trainers as well. Overall, most students bade farewell to the Summer School with enthusiastic feelings and an appetite “to learn even more”.
It is also worth mentioning that two online courses are included in the summer school’s programme. The first one (ex-ante) served as an introductory course to interactive innovation and a participants’ assignment with the ex-post one serving as a follow-up evaluation and networking event.
Nevertheless, certain possibilities for improvements of the forthcoming Summer School in Hohenheim the next summer were detected, implying the possibility to extend its duration. For example, the participants’ strong interest in AKIS suggests the provision of more detailed knowledge even in advance of the (in-person) course. Additionally, during the Summer School, more time should be devoted to developing certain competencies, therefore relevant activities, and the field visit, while more breaks and outdoor activities can be included as well.