Unfolding the evolution of the Portugal Living Lab

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With two case study areas, a Community of Wildfire Innovation numbering in the hundreds and five national partners committed to the testing and implementation of several Innovation Actions, some might say that the Portuguese Living Lab…never sleeps! We had a chat with Brigite Botequim (ForestWISE) to take stock of the journey so far and peek into the LL agenda for the next period. Spoiler: it’s very busy.

Embracing Challenges and Welcoming Progress 

We kick off the discussion by diving into the unexpected challenges, both with positive and negative implications. Recently, the National Firefighters School (ENB), among the five key partners coordinating the LL operations, carried out successfully a widely anticipated prescribed burning action. This crucial practice aims at enhancing the resilience of landscapes through carefully planned and controlled vegetation ignition. However, despite compliance with existing regulations and obtaining necessary authorizations, establishing contacts with various entities posed a challenge. 

The selected plots for the prescribed burning fell within the Natura 2000 network, introducing complexities in regulatory frameworks. Moreover, opposition to the practice arose from specific residents in the second case study of the Living Lab, the Vale do Sousa area, driven by the fear it could be a way to replace native species with eucalyptus. This underscores the need for increased effort and careful consideration. On the positive side, Brigite Botequim recalls the impressive and unexpected impact of the engagement with the stakeholders of the local Community of Wildfire Innovation

We started with around 42 members in November 2022...We are more than 100 right now. For each innovation action, we were able to bring more participants and stakeholders (...) In all the sessions, we ask them if they want to join the community, and they are glad to! I believe that we are spreading the word about this in the community of innovation.

The larger the group, the bigger the responsibilities. Not only the LL would like to find a way to maintain the community even after the end of the project, but the activities planned for the future are becoming more and more. Plunging into the multifaceted stakeholder engagement process, whether it directly involves the CWI or other groups outside of FIRE-RES, presented its own set of challenges. While it provided valuable insights into the diverse array of participants, facilitated by constructive feedback and reinforcing the awareness about FIRE-RES, it also entailed encountering skepticism toward concepts perceived as overly academic or lacking in immediate practical application.

Additionally, navigating potential discord among stakeholders and addressing their concerns about feeling directed in their actions posed further hurdles. Learning how to communicate clearly and accessibly was a key lesson here. The next steps for implementing adaptive territorial management (as foreseen in the Innovation Actions 2.5 and 2.6), under ISA‘s guidance, will involve a series of focus groups with rural communities in Vale do Sousa, beginning with a new session with the CWI members to present some results and gather feedback. 

Lessons Learnt 

When asked about other surprising learning points, Brigite Botequim recalled the recent successful collaboration between the FIRE-RES and LAMENT projects. This experience brought the small community of Santa Comba Dão to the core of a groundbreaking artistic experimentation, centered on the grief stemming from the aftermath of the 2017 extreme wildfire. It was a lesson on collective resilience, which began with a very humble approach and demonstrated a significant social impact. By opening a window of hope and highlighting the importance of past scars, the outcomes were surprising in all aspects and made everyone reflect on the possibility of continuing something: in Santa Comba Dão, but also in other communities recovering from a wildfire. In June 2024, a performance and a workshop about this project will happen in Brussels in the framework of the exhibition Lament at NaturArchy: Towards a Natural Contract in Brussels. Ultimately, all these impactful outcomes will enrich the Fire Education Platform (Innovation Action 4.3). 

I never saw anyone complaining about whose fault it is. It was impressive. Sometimes, when you return to a place after a wildfire, you see a lot of blame game. In the news, there is always someone to complain about. So, we have a lot to learn from this inspiring collective resilience.

The LL gained valuable insights from the testing of wearable devices for firefighters, an Innovation Action (IA5.7) devised to detect information on their health. Through this initiative, they deepened their understanding of the decision-making structure and who has the responsibility to know about the health of fire crews. Despite the system’s complexity, step by step, the LL found its way through. The prototypes currently under trial have been developed by INESC TEC, who will carry out final testing next year in Vale de Sousa. The outputs of those wearable devices, including the ID geolocation of each individual, will feed a web application addressing fireline estimation, to be developed by ForestWISE.

Another key takeaway concerns the intertwining of national and international levels in the project implementation. For instance, the preparation of two sessions to acquaint the local Community of Wildfire Innovation (CWI) with the FIRE-RES Geo Catch App necessitated navigating pre-existing national fuel models and applications. Much was done to convey the commitment to bring new information and the willingness to contribute to an EU map. Encouragingly, the session attendees were very receptive to the message and contributed to the effort.

The next steps 

Looking ahead to the next year, the Portuguese LL is eager to align the diverse solutions offered with the needs identified by the CWI in one of their first sessions. While they may not have solutions for every challenge, the aim is to facilitate connections and information sharing among CWI members, LLs, OIC solution providers and IA leaders through a series of matchmaking events in Portugal, Catalonia and Bulgaria. The objective is embedded in a dense pipeline of activities.  ForestWISE is organising a workshop in late May 2024, titledShaping Future Fire-Resilient Landscapes and Communities in Portugal in collaboration with CTFC and ISA.

Manifesto of XVIII International Seminars on the Overarching Issues of the European Area – Building Resilient and Sustainable Territories

This summer, the team will return to the Municipality of Lousã for interviews with rural communities to develop mental models, in the context of another Innovation Action (IA 4.2). Next October, the National Firefighting School will carry out fire management training with ForestWISE, the Civil Protection and ISA, as part of the IA 4.1 dedicated to Fire Forums. They will also develop a certification for forest respondents as part of IA 5.8, in May 2024. What’s more, ForestWISE and INESC TEC are also busy with their involvement in the newly launched OIC Acceleration Programme, preparing some webinars targeting the OIC solution providers to showcase success stories and business models.  

Meanwhile, The ENB, ISA, and ForestWISE teams are adapting the “Play with Fire” serious game developed by Wageningen University partners for integration into regional Portuguese Living Lab scholar communities, involving selecting realistic fire triangle images, translating game rules, and tailoring materials for educational purposes.     

In conclusion, the Portuguese Living Lab continues to evolve, embracing lessons learned and forging ahead with determination, with an impact that extends beyond borders, offering inspiration for building fire-resilient landscapes and communities worldwide. 

Author: Beatrice Bellavia (Euromontana)

Contributors: Brigite Botequim (Colab ForestWISE), José Borges (ISA), Verónica Catarino (ENB)