Bart Neuts

Creative workgroup sessions in autumn 2021

In autumn 2021, 4 working group sessions were organized in quick succession in the Scheldeland Living Lab, on 6 September, 13 September, 20 September and 4 October. The flow of the workshops was designed following a double-diamond session model for co-creative ideation.

The first workgroup session took place in-person in CC Binder in Puurs-Sint-Amands on 6 September 2021 and brought together local stakeholders from the three municipalities of Dendermonde, Bornem, and Puurs-Sint-Amands. The main aim of this first meeting was (a) to serve as an ice-breaker, (b) to get acquainted with each other and the project goals of SmartCulTour, and (c) to discuss the context of Scheldeland from the perspective of the three identified domains (‘Heritage & Culture’, ‘People & Society’, ‘Nature & Water’). A sticky notes sorting game was adopted in order to link the particularities (opportunities and challenges) of the three domains with the situation in Scheldeland.

The second  workshop took place physically at the Sint-Bernardus Abbey of Bornem on 13 September 2021. The focus here is on the “What if…” question. As a first step, the living lab participants were given a presentation of the UN SDGs and trends in order to inspire them to work within the framework of the new paradigms and holistic systemic design thinking. Starting from the general context defined in the first workshop, participants now narrowed down the opportunities and challenges to three challenges (one of each domain: ‘Heritage & Culture’, ‘People & Society’, ‘Nature & Water’) to be focused on in the remaining sessions.

In the third workshop, organized in-person at the city hall of Dendermonde on 20 September 2021, the project moved towards the ‘ideation’-phase (“What wows”). At the start of the session, lab participants were given a presentation on a selection of the best practice cultural tourism interventions that were identified in WP3 of SmartCulTour and were deemed most appropriate/of interest to the Scheldeland case. Next, the workshop adopted a serious play approach, in particular Lego © Serious Play, to further entice creative, out-of-the box thinking. At the end of the session, within the three sub-groups of the Living Lab, three bottom-up cultural tourism initiatives were suggested: (a) a sensory parcours for people with visual impairments, with slow modes of transportation, (b) family-focused and group-based active weekends with gamification elements, linking different cultural heritage attractions (c) nature ‘hangouts’ with landmark values, particularly focussing on a lookout platform linked to cycling routes and bird breeding grounds.

In workgroup meeting 4, which took place in Puurs-Sint-Amands on 4 October 2021, the ideas that originated at the end of the previous session were further refined, focusing on specific questions such as: What’s the objective? Who is the target group? Who are primary/secondary stakeholders? What are advantages/disadvantages? For each cultural tourism initiative, a project initiation canvas was completed which outlined further steps to be taken.

SmartCulTour presentations at the 14th International Conference for Cultural Tourism in Europe

On 21-22 October 2021, Hong Li (University of Lapland), Simone Moretti (Breda University of Applied Sciences) and Bart Neuts (KU Leuven) participated in the 14th International Conference for Cultural Tourism in Europe ‘Regenerating European Tourism through Culture, Heritage & Creativity’, organized by the European Cultural Tourism Network in Athens (Greece).

Hong Li presented some of the tools that were developed under WP7 (Deliverable 7.1) for stakeholder participation and engagement under the title ‘New Tools and Methods for Cultural and Creative Sector and Industries to Engage with Cultural and Creative Tourism Development – Case SmartCulTour’. In ‘Bourdieu’s capitals theory and community resilience: an example in the field of walking tourism’, Simone Moretti focused on some examples discussed in WP3 (Deliverable 3.1 and 3.2), particularly Migrantour and Hôtel du Nord, as interventions to improve community resilience in the sense of Bourdieu’s social capitals theory. Finally, Bart Neuts linked SmartCulTour’s WP4 and WP6 by presenting the theory and methods of surveying resident support as a preamble to tourism development and an initial step towards bottom-up participation via living labs in ‘Resident support for regional tourism development through cultural and natural tourism’.

The presentations were followed live on the event, as well as being streamed and recorded by the organizers for further dissemination.

Presentation at ‘Regenerating & Creating Positive Spaces for our Towns’

On 7 October 2021, Bart Neuts (KU Leuven) spoke at the webinar ‘Regenerating & Creating Positive Spaces for our Towns’, organized by the Irish Walled Town Network (IWTN) and The Heritage Council on the topic of ‘Cultural tourism interventions for heritage-led generation’. The presentation was based on the typology of cultural tourism interventions that was the outcome of SmartCulTour’s WP3 (Deliverable 3.1 and 3.2) and was aimed at providing participants information on the workflow followed to collect the case studies as well as the main lessons learnt from the 107 case studies in terms of their general context, objectives, required resources, impacts and success conditions.

The webinar was streamed online and the recording of this (and other sessions) is available on the YouTube channel of The Heritage Council:

Presentation on SmartCulTour and Scheldeland Living Lab at the ATLAS Conference 2021

On 7-10 September 2021, Vanessa Ágata de Abreu Santos (KU Leuven) presented her working paper on “SmartCulTour and Scheldeland Living Lab, in Belgium: using the systemic design thinking method for stakeholders’ empathy”, at the ATLAS Annual ONLINE Conference 2021. Tourism 21: Re-building Tourism – Continuities and Changes (

This conference was supposed to happen in Prague, but due to the current circumstances of the coronavirus, it happened at the virtual room of LIVETO digital platform, in a room dedicated to Cultural Tourism paper presentations, that were part of the special track 9 on “Cultural tourism re-visited. ATLAS SIG Cultural Tourism”, chaired by Greg Richards. This track was created to celebrate three decades since the launch of the ATLAS Cultural Tourism group. The conclusions of this group’s project are that despite this field is still a relatively new segment of global tourism, it rapidly developed from a niche market into a mass tourism product, and that cultural tourism is in constant change, continuously dividing itself in several other niches. Therefore, seven topics were covered on this special track namely: 1) new forms of cultural tourism; 2) cultural tourism development trends; 3) evolving cultures of tourism; 4) cultural tourism and regional development; 5) new cultural tourism spaces; 6) cultural tourism and the community; and 7) collaboration, and networks in cultural tourism. And the KU Leuven’s researcher focused her presentation on the latter.

It is clear to all of us how the COVID-19 pandemic has been dramatically affecting the way we communicate and interact with each other in the private and professional spheres. These problems demanded systemic and digital solutions, to keep the workflow and the engagement of stakeholders’ networks going, and we had to find ways to encourage empathy in the multi-stakeholder systems and in their cultural tourism network. But it was not an easy task to ask people to connect with each other. Inspired by all this, Vanessa Santos wanted to take a closer look and zoom in at the empathizing process and the relevance of service design tools in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, to develop the multi-stakeholders’ networks within the system of the Scheldeland tourist region.

The work being developed by the Living Labs of SmartCulTour’s project is based on the theoretical approach of systems thinking, which examines the linkages and interactions between the actors involved in the placemaking of each Living Lab’s region. In practice, this theory is problem-based, and its purpose is to encourage the exploration of a specific context and its human connections, as well as perspectives of each stakeholder involved, to better understand the existing boundaries and collectively work on the improvements to be made within the system. As part of this paradigm, design thinking is the iterative and non-linear process used to address and redefine the complex problems found, reframing these with the use of the Double Diamond Model, suggested by the SmartCulTour researchers from the University of Lapland and Breda University of Applied Sciences. This model is implemented to make the conceptual leap from what “is” to what “might be” and facilitate divergent and convergent thinking processes among the actors that participate in the workshops, during the different stages of the design process. The work done so far in Scheldeland’s region has been carried out by Apollo18 Design agency, Visit Flanders, and KU Leuven, through the work and experimentation of its Living Laboratory, and it is now at the first section of the diamond, which starts with the concept phase, in answer to what “is” question, to work on Scheldeland’s context in depth, with the intent of focusing on its system and challenges. Within the systems thinking theory and the design thinking process, empathy is used as a tool to design with, providing insights from users’ needs and informing the overall process. Empathy can be then defined as the capacity of perceiving, sharing, and mirroring bodily experiences and emotions. Until the summer of 2021, the work process was done in one MIRO whiteboard, and included the digital collage of secondary data documents, to inform the LL’s contributors, as well as MIRO’s design tools such as diagrams, and colored sticky notes to organise with color codes the three working groups of 1) Heritage & Culture (yellow); 2) People & Society (orange); and 3) Nature and Water (blue), used as artifacts for group visualization, and interactivity, to facilitate workshop exercises.

However, as the group of stakeholders were geographically scattered, and were physically restricted to meet due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, there was a common frustration and expressed need for a physical encounter to better understand the environment/ context of each stakeholder. So, a field trip was arranged to meet in real life! Real-life workshop exercises then started at the end of September, including various role-playing techniques, for consensus building. This arts-based performative method is considered a core element of this design approach and is commonly used to express the value of the stakeholders’ ideas, and gradually unveiling both functional and emotional layers, to render bodily understandings of environments and its users, and facilitate the perception of in-situ experiences and emotions of others, and how to relate with them.

On this account, this study concludes that design thinking processes require a certain degree of mutuality and locality, meaning that there is some level of physical interaction which needs to happen and be embedded in the stakeholders’ geographical locations, as they make the design process concrete through its physicality.

Scheldeland field trip by consortium team

Fort van Liesele

On 7 June 2021, the project team of Toerisme Vlaanderen and KU Leuven undertook a day visit to the municipalities of Puurs-Sint-Amands, Bornem, and Dendermonde, the central locations of the Scheldeland Living Lab. During this trip, the project team familiarized themselves with the local situation and cultural resources and met with policy makers, entrepreneurs and heritage experts.

In the morning, the Fortress of Liesele was explored, pre-WWI fortress built as part of a defensive ring of fortresses around Antwerp. Twice occupied without any direct battle, the fortress has been well preserved and is now being redesigned as multi-recreational attraction with a museum, escape rooms, B&B bedrooms, meeting locations, and a surrounding nature area.

Next, the team visited the historic centre of Puurs-Sint-Amands, at the banks of the Scheldt river, before moving on to Bornem with its impressive heritage sites of the Sint-Bernardus Abbey – currently undergoing intensive renovations to reimagine the site as a multi-purpose venue catering to both local residents, businesses, and cultural tourists – the castle of Marnix De Sainte-Aldegonde and the castle d’Ursel.

In the afternoon, the city of Dendermonde was explored, with visits to the Town Hall and Belfry, the beguinage, and the Honky Tonk Jazz Club, which has welcomed legends such as Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King and Ray Charles in its 55-year-old history. Dendermonde is also the city of the legend of the horse Bayard, with the impressive processional of giants taking place every ten years and being central to the identity of the city. The day ended at the shipping wharves of Baasrode, industrial heritage from the end of the 19th century.