OpenAgri: New Skills for new Jobs in Peri-urban Agriculture: Using Open Badges for Urban Innovation
In the public agenda, food is no more considered just as a commodity or as a nutritional necessity; it is an emerging multidimensional policy challenge, which crosses ecological, social, economic and spatial dimensions. A sustainable and integrated urban approach is needed to deal with the main issues that must be addressed: an inclusive, coherent and reflexive urban-rural food governance system; a more solid social and physical infrastructure to reduce the distance between producers and consumers, and to promote circular economy; reliable markets for quality food producers, resulting in new opportunities for SMEs development; the need for experimenting new forms of entrepreneurship in the agricultural sector, and for creating new jobs and skills.
OpenAgri is an EU-funded project under the Urban Initiative Actions umbrella, lead by the City of Milan and gathering over 16 partners, from start-up incubators to social enterprises, from agriculture and food innovation experts to universities and technology providers.
At the core of the project there is an “Open Innovation Hub on Peri-Urban Agriculture”. The Hub will be a physical place, Cascina Nosedo, at the southern border of the city of Milan: with its buildings to be restored and opened to the public, and some acres available for cultivations projects and the like. But the Hub is also an integrated strategy to deliver innovation in existing and newly created nodes of the agri-food value chain, focusing on new skills, training, pilot projects for SMEs and startups ideas.
The project aims at improving interactions between traditional knowledge holders and other more innovative actors, between local and city-wide realities engaged in product, services or process innovation. It is also expected to foster cross-sector linkages and hybridization between different fields (agriculture, food industry, culture, education…) and actors (SMEs, NGO, PA) with the ultimate aim of testing an innovation-driven inclusive growth model.
How shall we highlight all the knowledge, skills, competencies that already are within the local territory and its actors, and those who will be created through the virtuous interactions activated by the Innovation Hub? How do we map all this value and make it readable as OpenAgri’s value while giving proper credit to the multiple actors who are cultivating, assessing and endorsing skills? How do we provide lifelong learners who will be engaged in the Hub’s activities with something tangible as a result of their path, of their willingness to get involved and share?
These needs lead to the engagement in the project of Cineca and its Open Badge platform Bestr. For OpenAgri the Open Badges features on Bestr will be expanded to include Learning Pathways: a learning pathway can be made up of many Badges by different issuers and may or may not lead to a macro-Badge identifying a professional profile or a specialization related to urban and peri-urban agriculture and the agri-food sector in general. The various skills and competencies growing in and around Cascina Nosedo will be mapped, as will be the different – possibly alternative to each other – ways to develop and assess them.
In this way the different training opportunities, that will arise in OpenAgri, will be matched to Badges and interconnected to form learning pathways that the learners involved in the project will experience, demonstrate and share.
The main challenge will be the mapping itself: we will deal with competencies varying from soft skills to entrepreneurial skills to very specific domain skills; competencies for which the partners are Learning Providers or Assessment Providers, and competencies still unknown to the partners, which will be brought to the table by the candidates for new projects to be realized at the Hub and for which Learning and Assessment opportunities will have to be found or created.
We will need a way to master the complexity while letting it express its potential. We’ll need to set boundaries related to the granularity level to which Badges may be meaningful (not too detailed, but not too broad nonetheless), and we need to define processes to let all actors interact fruitfully while maintaining a clear readable and valuable result in the eyes of learners and of the general public.
The presentation will detail the broader purpose of the project, the challenges expected in the implementation of the project’s competency system through Open Badges and the value that we expect this system will bring to the overall project and the territory.