All Aboard! North Sea Conference run-down

After two years of lockdown, the North Sea Conference 2022 was overbooked in no time. And on 23-25 May, North Sea enthusiasts were finally able to meet again.

The conference was held over three days in beautiful Bruges in Flanders. It was jointly hosted by the North Sea Commission,  the Province of West Flanders, and Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship with support from the North Sea Region Programme.

Day 1: Diving for treasures

On 23 May, participants were invited to join a journey into the North Sea Atlantis. A hidden underworld full of treasures produced by our projects!

Project advisors Katerina Kring and Jenny Thomsen facilitated the day. Draped in fishing nets Atlantis style, they took the audience on an undersea adventure scouting for project impacts.

First in line were short dives performed by seven projects covering topics from urban logistics to community energy. And they had prepared to entertain as well as educate. See more in the video clips below!

Snapshots from the project dives. A logistics challenge for the audience, green balloons, TED style talks, and colourful energy eaters were all part of the short but creative interventions.

BEGIN and Carbon Farming also shared their amazing achievements in “double dives” where invited end users told the audience how they benefit long-term from the projects’ legacy.

Ellen Kelder from BEGIN (left image) and Marjon Krol and Jana Roels from Carbon Farming (right) speaking with facilitator Sandra Vandewiele.

Next, two experts shared tips for projects to expand their reach and impact: 1) Giacomo Luciano from DG Regio at the European Commission, who offered advice on how to reach policymakers; and 2) Brussels-based journalist Gareth Harding shared insights about how to engage with the press most effectively.

Giacomo Luciano (left) and Gareth Harding (right) delivered hands-on advice on European policy engagement and publicity, respectively.

Finally, the event put a spotlight on the PARTRIDGE project and their outstanding communication efforts. Consistent messaging and excellent storytelling have led to a high level of visibility for the project.

Left: PARTRIDGE representatives Francis Buner and Paul Stephens receiving recognition for the project’s communication. Right: The PARTRIDGE dive was a live fairy tale including a full-size partridge.

See clips from Day 1:

Video by Shane Woodford

A special dinner

Did you know that the North Sea Region Programme has its 25 year anniversary this year? The Flemish hosts kindly marked the occasion with a festive cake at the opening dinner on 23 May.

This day was also a special one for the North Sea Commission: The presidency passed from Kerstin Brunnström (Gothenburg, Sweden) to Tjisse Selpstra (Province of Groningen in the Netherlands). Nina Knol has taken over as Executive Secretary from Magnus Engelbrektsson. Christian Byrith congratulated the new colleagues in charge and said a big thank you to Ms Brunnström and Mr Engelbrektsson for their excellent collaboration.

The opening dinner was held at the quaint Kapuchin Church in Bruges. Top image from left to right: Magnus Engelbrektsson (North Sea Commission), Christian Byrith (North Sea Region Programme) and Kerstin Brunnström (North Sea Commission).

All aboard: the main conference

On 24 May, 300 people gathered for a lively mix of talks and interactive sessions.

Left: Provicincial Executive Member Jean de Bethune welcomed the audience in an opening speech. Right: Facilitators Liesbet Lefevere (Province of West Flanders) and Christian Byrith (North Sea Region Programme).

Filmmaker Arnout Hauben received plenty of accolades for his breathtaking talk based on his film ”Around the North Sea”. In between amazing clips from the film, he shared a sweeping history of the North Sea, from the times when it was not a sea at all to the Viking era and right through to the present-day marine biodiversity and climate crises. A vivid reminder of the fabulous stories that exist in our very own back yard.

Filmmaker Arnout Hauben blew the audience away with a sweeping tour of the North Sea.

The day also featured three North Sea Region projects – Inn2POWER, BITS, and North Sea Wrecks – presenting their success stories on stage: Buildig capacity for the offshore wind industry, making cycling safe and convenient with intelligent transport systems, and getting to grips with munitions left in the North Sea during the world wars.

The facilitators with Ira Lardinois / Inn2POWER, Ronald Jorna / BITS, and Jens Sternheim / North Sea Wrecks.

Bernard Malherbe of Jan de Nul and professor Carl Devos of the University of Ghent ventured into the future, such as prospects for energy production in the North Sea and the local impact of sea level rise. The talks were packed with food for thought.

Is there hope for turning the North Sea into a green powerhouse? The answer is yes – the technology is there.

The day also offered more interactive sessions including a panel discussion and workshops.

Workshop during the main conference day.

Buzzing halls and corridors

As always at North Sea Conferences, the audience enjoyed networking during the breaks. In addition, many projects had exhibitions where participants could learn about them in fun and engaging ways.

During breaks, people took the opportunity to meet and engage – again or for the first time.

Watch the video below for a live throwback:

Video by Shane Woodford

Day 3: GET READY!

On the third day, it was time to GET READY! This event was designed for applicants in the new programme. Participants learned about all the ins and outs of the new programme and also took the opportunity to network and get in touch with future partners and collaborators, organising meet-ups during breaks.

Left: The GET READY event was dedicated to applicants in the future programme, and there was no lack of detailed questions from the audience. Right: The BLING project took the opportunity to test their blockchain-based Self-Sovereignty Attendancy App on willing participants.

To Whova or not to Whova

Conference evaluations were overwhelmingly positive. Many appreciated the effort to make this event diverse and engaging.

The Whova conference app was a novelty for the North Sea Conference. As many as 338 conferencegoers downloaded the app and the vast majority said they enjoyed it, especially because it allowed for interaction before, during, and after the event. Participants used the app to share more than 1,500 messages (in private or in public).

A heartfelt thanks to all who participated in the conference and hope to see you again next time!

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