Sharing stories about “Europe in My Region”

Photo competition winners with Commissioner Hahn

Winners of the 2013 “Europe in My Region” photo competition with Commissioner Johannes Hahn

It was a pleasure to meet Ourania from Greece, Joseph from Malta, György and Tünde from Hungary during the European Week of Regions and Cities in Brussels.  They are the four lucky winners of the 2013 “Europe in My Region” photo competition.  Ourania, Joseph, György and Tünde came to Brussels on 9 October to collect their prizes from Commissioner Johannes Hahn and to share the stories behind their winning photos.

The EU finances literally millions of projects across Europe.  Most of these projects have all the ingredients to make a great story – interesting characters, an authentic local context and even a bit of drama!  And yet many people are completely unaware that the EU is investing in the area where they live, or places they visit when they travel around Europe.

In the Commission’s DG for Regional and Urban Policy, a lot of our communication efforts are geared towards collecting and spreading project examples.  But the most powerful way of raising the visibility of projects, as well as engaging people in a debate about EU funding, is to let people tell their own stories.

Apprentices from the Fifteen Cornwall Restaurant

Apprentice chefs from Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall Restaurant, which has received support from the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund

That’s why, for example, we organise the annual RegioStars Awards.  These awards allow beneficiaries to explain how they have used EU funding to make a difference in their region.  The finalists competing for the 2014 RegioStars awards, who were also in Brussels during the European Week of Cities and Regions, included Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall Restaurant.  Matthew Thomson from Fifteen Cornwall presented some moving stories of the disadvantaged young people whose lives have been changed by participating in the apprenticeship scheme supported by the EU.

The “Europe in My Region” photo competition, which we organised for the second time this year, is also intended to be an exercise in visual storytelling.  The concept was pretty simple.  The competition was hosted on the Commission’s Facebook Page.  Participants could submit up to three photos showing the EU flag and funding information somewhere in the image.  One winner was then chosen by popular vote, and a further three by an independent jury.

The statistics for the 2013 Europe in My Region photo competition speak for themselves:

  • 867 eligible photos submitted (42% increase on the previous year)
  • 20,000 votes cast in the popular vote (60% increase on the previous year)
  • 118,000 unique visitors to the competition Facebook app
  • 32,000 new likes of the Commission Facebook page

One of the most inspirational examples of storytelling that I have come across recently is the Skype “Stay Together” competition.   This allows ordinary users to share their personal stories about how they use Skype to keep in touch with friends, lovers, family etc….

I think that this model can also work well for communication about many areas of EU policy.  Rather than talking at people, we need to find ways of providing a platform where people can share their stories, and get involved in conversations about what Europe means for them.

Storytelling will be at the centre of a conference that we are organising in December.  Co-organised by the four DGs responsible for the EU’s Structural and Investment Funds (Regional and Urban Policy, Employment and Social Affairs, Agriculture, Maritime and Fisheries), the “Telling the Story” conference will be a unique gathering of more than 500 communication professionals from the European, national and regional levels.

Do you have a story you would like to share about Europe in your region?  Or suggestions of new ways in which we can promote storytelling about the EU?  If so, we would like to hear from you!

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