On 15 March 2021, the inception meeting of the Scheldeland Living Lab, one of six Living Labs established throughout Europe as part of the SmartCulTour H2020 project, was organized. This Living Lab will specifically focus on three municipalities within the wider tourism region of Scheldeland, namely Bornem, Dendermonde, and Puurs-Sint-Amands.
Due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, the first meeting took place online and was organized by Toerisme Vlaanderen, coordinator of the Flemish lab, with further cooperation of KU Leuven as consortium partner. The initial meeting brought together 18 stakeholders, representing the heritage and tourism representatives of the three municipalities, the directors of the local cultural centres, representatives of the regional and provincial boards of tourism, the coordinator of Regional Landscape Schelde-Durme and various heritage experts.
After an initial round table and brief introduction to the project goals of SmartCulTour and the link of the Living Lab with other work packages and European collaborators, appreciative inquiry techniques were used to establish shared meaning of the region. People were asked what connects them personally to the place, with aspects such as the tides of the river and associated nature, and heritage – particularly Medieval castles and forts dating back to the world war – being top of mind.
Next, in smaller groups, participants were asked to think about an ambition and goal for the project, as well as criteria with which a potential successful project should comply. Finally, the brainstorm technique OPERA was adopted to come to a commonly shared project focus. This technique consists of five phases: (1) Own suggestions, (2) Pair suggestions, (3) Explanations, (4) Ranking, and (5) Arranging. After 15 initial suggestions, which due to many overlaps could be reframed into four clear propositions, the final focus for the project was decided as:
“The poetry of coming and going, linked to the ebb and flow of the Scheldt river as hook for the tourism development. The regional characteristics of the tidal river are translated through region-specific heritage such as the industrial heritage, the steam train, and the forts and castles.”