1.1) Project objectives and challenges to tackle with the study: The purpose of this study was to provide the REGI Committee with an objective scientific perspective and analysis concerning social challenges in cities – in particular, those that are linked to the needs of the most vulnerable groups predefined as Roma, migrants and youth – and of the actions taken by cities to tackle such challenges. The study hoped to contribute much-needed insights into the ways in which social challenges in European cities evolved during the global pandemic (the initial context of the study). The evaluation of EU cohesion policy carried out by this project attempted to shed light on the aforementioned knowledge gaps. To the greatest extent possible, the study aimed to shed light on multi-level governance processes and how they can be strengthened to ensure a bigger impact on meeting the social challenges faced by cities.
1.2) Project challenges (and opportunities) for the research team: The main challenges regarded the broad scope of the project in term of social challenges, which we were not able to reduce more during the inception period as we would have liked. This showed itself in later stage of the project because the validation workshop was difficult to do in practice because we had to include very different people to cover the broad agendas and we were not able to make the discussions concrete and interesting. Another challenge was to deal with the national experts as we had several of them abandoning the project with difficulties in finding really good replacements. One of our core experts did not contribute much, while the other one (recommended by another team member) turned out to be amazing. Another challenge was that the study itself became less relevant over time. At the end of the study, the client wanted a policy brief focusing on the Ukrainian refugees since this suddenly had become a much more important 'social challenge' in cities comparing with covid-19 which was initially the context. The additional work with another topic for the policy brief, and search for experts, all drained the relatively small project budget to make it not profitable. However, the policy brief on Ukrainian refugees turned out to be very valuable and appreciated by the REGI commitee and even journalists who contacted the research team about it afterwards. Thus, regardless of the challenges, the project turned out to be a good testing ground for more teoretical work for the team members and gaining references as well as attention for PPMI due to the hot topic of the Ukrainian refugee situation which eventually made its way into the research.
2) The theoretical underpinning of this study was the Bristol Social Exclusion Matrix (B-SEM). The semi-systematic literature review aimed to gain a broader overview of 1) the types of social challenges faced and 2) the groups most exposed to these challenges. Thus, it provided a solid basis for the subsequent stages of the study. The literature review followed the steps of the Rapid Evidence Assessment method. Over the course of the desk research and literature analysis, the research team gathered examples of good practice of urban action in an online inventory. Good practices were identified as those urban policy actions and initiatives that contribute to urban resilience, are based on a strong rationale and need, addresses research challenges, and provide valuable lessons for other cities and actors. In the next stage of the study, national experts carried out case studies to generate in-depth findings on the social challenges affecting selected cities, identifying the needs of the most vulnerable, as well as city and EU-level actions taking place. The selected cities cover a broad spectrum of social challenges in the EU and marginalised groups (e.g. Roma people, migrants, youth at risk) as well as social issues (e.g. discrimination, housing, unemployment, segregation, etc.).
3) The outputs of the project that were published were the final study (main research report) and the policy brief on cities and the Ukrainian refugees. The study provides insight into existing and new social challenges in European cities and policy responses and governance methods to address these challenges. The policy brief summarizes the implications of the influx of refugees from Ukraine for European cities, and how cities can navigate challenges to continue being a positive factor in the support of Ukraine. The project results will be used by PPMI colleagues in the future potentially for writing an academic journal article on the main study findings.