Site visit in Kalisz
28 March 2024

Unlocking local potential: Peer Review Reflections from Kalisz

In January 2024 the Polish Kalisz-Ostrów Agglomeration (AKO) hosted the third European Urban Initiative (EUI) Peer Review in the city of Kalisz. The reviews are a pillar of the EUI capacity building offer, supporting cities to benchmark their Sustainable Urban Development (SUD) strategies, through peer learning and recommendations. We spoke to the host team to find out what inspired them to get involved and what benefits they gained from participation.

Klaudia Kwapisz, Specialist Officer at AKO, recalls seeing information about the Peer Reviews in a newsletter and being intrigued, having never heard about this kind of process. She applied first to participate as a peer in events in Vicenza and Coimbra and was encouraged to host an event as a City Under Review, to invite participants to share solutions to local challenges.

Klaudia:  ‘We were quite curious and could see potential benefits in meeting experts and researchers all working on Cohesion Policy and sustainable development. As an agglomeration of two core cities we want to increase our visibility on the international stage and are keen to learn from good examples of projects financed by European funds elsewhere. ‘

Klaudia explained that joining initially as a peer was really helpful to understand how it all works. She also sees how the peer role is evolving, as the contributions in Kalisz gave more targeted advice as a result of the better matching and preparation.

In January 46 participants from the 3 cities under review (Pula, Croatia and Pleszew, Poland as well as AKO) arrived to take part in an intense 2 day programme together. AKO chose to focus on challenges related to cooperation with business, multi municipal partnership development and (mis) alignment of local needs with fund criteria.

Having other Polish cities on board in the Peer Review helped to explore the specificities of the national perspective. AKO, as host, were able to bring along other important stakeholders from the national ministry, the regional authority, a transport agency and the university for instance, and this gave these colleagues the chance to discuss issues during both formal sessions and informal breaks and foster better relationships for the future.

AKO is very happy with the results. 
‘We had the chance to showcase three local cities during the Study Visits, to network and exchange with all the participants.’

Ewa Milewska, AKO Director, confirmed that the Peer Review experience had exceeded their expectations. In terms of personal capacity building the team felt they improved critical thinking and communication skills. The methodology gives exposure to diverse perspectives and approaches from which new ideas and collaborations emerge. For example, after a presentation of the EUI Portico platform AKO is thinking about creating something similar for Polish cities implementing Integrated Territorial Investments, as this kind of exchange tool is missing and would be useful for the development of partnership projects. AKO appreciated the presence of the European Commission representative in the opening panel, which turned it into a truly multi – level governance dialogue.