1.4 Main features of a successful innovative solution

As stated in Article 12 ERDF/CF Regulation, EUI shall support innovative actions with regard to sustainable urban development. One of the main objectives of EUI is therefore to continue support initiated by the Urban Innovative Actions Initiative by providing urban authorities throughout Europe with space and resources to identify and experiment (via pilot projects) new innovative answers to the interconnected and complex local challenges related to sustainable urban development. Through the Initiative, urban authorities will have the possibility to test how new and unproven solutions work in practice and how they respond to the complexity of real life.

Urban authorities should seize the opportunity offered by EUI to try out innovative approaches and working methods outside the scope of “normal projects” (that could be financed through “traditional” sources of funding, including mainstream ERDF programmes). EUI allows cities to turn ambitious and creative ideas into prototypes that can be tested in real urban settings. In other words, EUI-IA supports pilot projects that are too risky to be funded by traditional sources of funding, provided that they are highly innovative and experimental.

By piloting innovative solutions, EUI aims at strengthening the transformative power of also other EU cities for innovative way of responding to current challenges for the resilient, sustainable and inclusive urban life. The results and experience gained in the EUI should allow other urban actors and cities across Europe to develop the knowledge base and confidence that is needed for subsequent up-scaling and replicating of innovative solutions, in particular through EU funding available for urban areas under mainstream Cohesion policy programmes.

In order to fulfil this ambition, EUI-IA is looking for projects which test innovative solutions that have a potential to be transferable and scalable, that address challenges linked to sustainable urban development of EU relevance, and that contributes to the vision of sustainable urban development as presented in the New Leipzig Charter and the Urban Agenda for the EU, as EUI was established as one of the tools supporting its implementation. Place-based, integrated, participatory, multi-stakeholder approaches[1] should be embedded in EUI-IA projects’ delivery. Projects should demonstrate a clear ownership of the urban authority being actively involved in the implementation of activities and in the local partnership. EUI-IA is also looking for projects which innovative solutions will be linked to urban megatrends highlighted in the Article 11 of the ERDF/CF Regulation[2], i.e. green and digital transitions[3] (please note that proposed innovative solution will have to concentrate on the topics described in the different calls (see Chapter 1.6 “Thematic coverage”) while also demonstrating  implied contributions to tackling environmental and climate challenges, in particular the transition towards a climate-neutral economy by 2050, and to harnessing the potential of digital technologies for innovation purposes.

EUI-IA supports projects that are[4]:

  • Innovative.

Projects should be new, bold, creative and experimental. The proposed project must go beyond the present state-of-the-art and business-as-usual. Building on research and benchmarking, urban authorities should demonstrate that the proposed project has not been previously tested and implemented on the ground in the urban area, in the Member State where the urban area is located or elsewhere in the EU. Urban authorities can propose solutions (products, services, processes) that have evolved over time based on lessons learned from experience (evolutionary approach where the innovation lies in the new elements added to the idea) or completely new solutions never tested before in the policy field concerned (revolutionary approach) in the EU.  As sustainable urban development projects are normally a complex set of actions, it is important to demonstrate that the innovative elements included are the central components to the solution proposed.

Urban authorities, as exclusive eligible applicants to the EUI-IA (see Chapter 1.5 “Eligible authorities”), should not be the mere intermediaries of innovative solutions conceived and tested mostly by other actors. They must play a key role in the proposed project, by leading a local partnership aimed at achieving medium to long-term goals defined for their cities and/or being actively involved in an experimentation offering the best from the green and digital transitions to their population.

The innovations proposed should finally be relevant to achieve Cohesion policy goals, and to the ERDF in particular, as prime source of funding for EUI-IA projects. Projects should have the potential to inspire the use of mainstream programmes in urban areas once successfully tested, and possibly to benefit from these programmes for their upscale and replication throughout the EU.  


  • Of good quality.

Projects should meet key quality standards such as clear and logical interrelation of objectives/activities/outputs, evidence of preparatory work, realistic ambitions, effective management structures and procedures, good value for money.

  • Participative.

Urban authorities should seek to benefit from sources of external expertise from their local innovation ecosystems such as academia, industry, civil society and other levels of government both in the design and in the implementation of the project. To ensure the participative approach they need to define effective mechanisms of consultation, coordination and co-design.

  • Measurable.

Urban authorities should be able to clearly explain what the changes are that they want to achieve in the local context as a result of their projects. They need to demonstrate how any change in the local situation is directly attributable to the new solution developed and how the results can be measured, quantified and evaluated.[5]

  • Sustainable and scalable.

Urban authorities should be able to anticipate and explain how the solution will be sustained and scaled-up once successfully tested through the identification of adequate sources of public and/or private funding, including from Cohesion policy and/or project partners own resources and/or embedded mechanisms of financial self-sustainability (e.g. revolving funds, crowdfunding, revenues).

  • Transferable.

Solutions developed in the framework of the projects should be applicable and replicable by other cities across Europe, possibly by making use of the Cohesion policy funding available to them. Based on their experience, urban authorities should be able to explain the conditions (legislative, technical, etc.), resources needed (human, financial, etc.) and potential challenges to overcome, that other urban authorities should consider in order to adapt and possibly replicate, in full or in part, the proposed solutions in their local contexts. When applying, cities should demonstrate that they have identified other European urban areas that could benefit from replicating the proposed solution; how the most suitable Transfer Partners will be identified and specify potential Transfer Partners, if already identified, together with the underlying motivations/rationale. In order to foster transferability of the innovative solutions new transnational transfer component has been introduced as an integral part of EUI-IA projects – for details see Chapter 5 “Transfer”.

The EUI-IA projects are selected through the Calls for Proposals on one or more topics proposed by the European Commission. Each project can receive up to a maximum of EUR 5 million ERDF co-financing and project implementation should take place within a maximum period of 3,5 years. There is no ideal size for EUI-IA project budgets. Small projects (i.e., below EUR 1 million ERDF requested) may have a reduced probability of being selected as they may struggle to demonstrate that the actions are of sufficient scale to produce meaningful conclusions. Whereas, projects including significant investment costs, particularly at the end of the implementation period, should demonstrate that the cost fits the project’s purpose and are duly justified.

Knowledge generated by the EUI-IA projects will be captured (also through the involvement of European Urban Initiative Experts) and shared with other policy makers and practitioners across Europe. Different mechanisms will be set up to ensure the capitalisation and transfer of knowledge and thus contribution to the wider EUI ‘value chain’ above mentioned – networks of cities in cooperation with Urbact IV, peer learning, involvement of the urban authorities supported by the EUI in the activities of the Urban Development Network, activities undertaken by Urban Contact Points, use of Knowledge Sharing Platform, etc.

[1] You can learn more about these key principles of good urban governance in the New Leipzig Charter: https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/sources/docgener/brochure/new_leipzig_charter/new_leipzig_charter_en.pdf

[2] “Special attention shall be given to tackling environmental and climate challenges, in particular the transition towards a climate-neutral economy by 2050, to harnessing the potential of digital technologies for innovation purposes, and to support the development of functional urban areas.”

[3] For more details, please check EU Factsheet “Supporting the green transition”: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/fs_20_281 and “Shaping Europe’s digital future” https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/fs_20_278

[4] A detailed presentation of the selection criteria for EUI-IA projects is provided in the Chapter 3 “Project Application and Selection”

[5] URBACT has published the guidance “Applying the result framework to Integrated Action Plans” that could prove useful to design monitoring and evaluation strategies and tools. It is available at http://urbact.eu/library-contents

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