Bart Neuts

Exploring Scheldeland during international exchange visits

From 20 to 22 June, the Scheldeland Living Lab received representatives of the living labs of Huesca and Utsjoki as part of the SmartCulTour project. These exchange visits form part of the SmartCulTour goals of knowledge dissemination, cross-border collaboration and the sharing of best practices in sustainable cultural tourism development.

Together with local stakeholders of Scheldeland, Griet Geudens of Visit Flanders and Vanessa Ágata de Abreu Santos and Bart Neuts of KU Leuven welcomed the visitors and guided them around the three partner municipalities of Bornem, Puurs-Sint-Amands and Dendermonde, focusing on particular cultural heritage venues, key natural resources and slow transportation modes that serve as a connector of potential network nodes. The living lab managers and other delegates got to visit these sites and carried out brainstorming sessions to look at opportunities, potential and possible thresholds.

After a challenging arrival due to a security personnel strike at Brussels Airport and subsequent rerouting of flights, on Tuesday 21 June a full day was scheduled. After an introduction to the Scheldeland Living Lab and an ice breaker exercise between the participants, an electric bicycle tour took the visitors via multiple points of interest in Puurs-Sint-Amands and Bornem. Via the bicycle tour, the delegates were introduced to the extensive cycling node network in Flanders. First stop was the Fortress of Liezele, a fortification built in 1908 and now housing multiple recreational and tourist attractions in and around the fortress such as a B&B, an escape room, a museum, an ice skating pond (in winter), a barefeet walking path and various walking routes. Next, the group cycled to castle D’Ursel, built in 1761 and now serving primarily as an event location, and its castle park and further via the Scheldt dykes to the Notelaer, a beautiful pavilion in neoclassical style with a magnificent view on the river Scheldt and also originally belonging to the duke of D’Ursel. In summertime, temporary accommodation is offered at the pavilion in the form of five tree-hung tents.

From there, visitors made their way to the castle of Marnix de Sainte-Alegonde. While the location had been home to fortifications and castle-structures since the 10th to 11th century, the current castle is a romanticized rendition from the end of the 19th century. Closeby, the abbey of Bornem has been renovated and redeveloped to house a museum collection and offer both residential accommodation as event areas, with the immaculate library being a particular highlight of the tour.

After lunch, the group cycled to the village centre of Sint-Amands, on the Scheldt bank. Here they were introduced to the development plans of the village, and its central focus on both the tidal nature of the river and the artistic heritage of Sint-Amands, visible by both its link to historic writers and by some creative architecture in the village centre. From there, the bicycles were loaded onto a wagon of the steam train Puurs-Dendermonde and representatives got to ride on the renovated carriages and visit the steam locomotives and other carriages that are being restored and operated fully by volunteers. Participants were given an introduction to the organization and its working and participated in an exercise to map the sensory experiences of the trip.

On Wednesday 22 June, the representatives visited the city of Dendermonde where they received a guided tour and introduction to the legend of the horse of Bayard which is central to a procession being held every ten years, as well as some notable heritage sites such as the meat halls, the cloth halls (nowadays the city hall of Dendermonde), the justice palace and the beguinage, and the Dendermondse painting school. Afterwards Vanessa Ágata de Abreu Santos ran a workshop inviting the participants to conduct an emotions mapping exercise as part of a cultural mapping methodology.

Sub-regional workshop in Leuven as part of the IAST biannual conference

From May 30th 2022 to June 3rd 2022 KU Leuven was the host to the biannual academic conference of the International Academy for the Study of Tourism, bringing together highly established tourism scholars such as prof. Dan Fesenmaier, prof. Larry Dwyer, prof. Bob McKercher, prof. Ulrike Gretzel, prof. Scott McCabe, prof. Pauline Sheldon, prof. Stefan Gössling and many others. The SmartCulTour project was presented as part of the main conference programme by Astrid Dickinger of Modul University, with a presentation on “Research avenues to contribute to the future of tourism” and by Bart Neuts, with a presentation on “Supporting regional tourism development through community-driven ideation”.

Furthermore, as part of the conference, on June 2nd the SmartCulTour consortium organized a first sub-regional workshop on the tools and methods developed within the Horizon 2020 programme to support stakeholder engagement and community-supported development of cultural tourism initiatives. Jeroen Klijs of Breda University of Applied Sciences presented the general introduction to the SmartCulTour project while Bart Neuts of KU Leuven presented the design process crafting stages and the double-diamond design model, as well as destination design roadmapping. Dario Bertocchi of Ca’Foscari University gave an overview of the SmartCulTour Platform and Simone Moretti of Breda University of Applied Sciences presented the dynamic House of Quality for supporting decision-making. Finally Bert Smit and Jessika Weber, both also from Breda University of Applied Sciences, gave a video presentation, respectively on systems and visitor flow mapping and on the SmartCulTour Game.

The session was presented live and also streamed online through KU Leuven’s institutional streaming service. Participants included interested parties from European cultural and tourism networks, local cultural heritage networks, academic institutions and knowledge centres, and regional DMOs.

Presentations on community-led interventions in Scheldeland

In November 2021 and February 2022, two advisory board sessions were organized in Living Lab Scheldeland, with the explicit purpose of presenting the community-led ideation to local policy makers.

The first session on 22 November 2021 took place in hybrid fashion, both real-life in CC Binder in Puurs-Sint-Amands and via Microsoft Teams. In this session, the project ideation canvases of the three subgroups – as developed in the fourth workshop – were summarized in a PowerPoint presentation and presented to the advisory board by selected members of the workgroup. The three prospective project to be presented were:

  1. Scheldeland in beweging” (i.e. Scheldeland in motion): family-focused and group-based active weekends, linking different cultural heritage attractions and particularly focusing on one of the last remaining steam trains in Belgium;
  2. Scheldeland, goed gezien” (i.e. Scheldeland, well seen): a sensory route for people with visual impairments, with slow modes of transportation;
  3. Scheldeland, vanuit de hoogte” (i.e. Scheldeland from above): nature ‘hangouts’ with landmark values, particularly focusing on a lookout platform at the Scheldt river turn, linked to cycling routes and bird breeding grounds.

A House of Quality matrix was used by policy makers on various level in order to scare the different initiatives on different priorities and needs, leading to aggregated scores for the three proposals.

After the meeting, the scores were analyzed and reported to the participants, with “Scheldeland in beweging” receiving the highest average score. In a next advisory board session on February 2022, the different proposals and their respective scores were discussed and “Scheldeland in beweging” was unanimously seen as the initiative to prioritize, considering multiple recognized benefits. In the remainder of the meeting, a customer journey was mapped out in order to identify further needs in product development and help to plan future workshop meetings.

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1PWGllppX4

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 (http://www.atlas-euro.org/Default.aspx?TabID=333).

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.