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Flanders DC is a government funded ‘creativity centre’ in the ancient city of Leuven, near the Belgian capital of Brussels.

During a 5-day period starting on 30th November, 2011, the facility hosted a studio discussion based on a model developed in Helsinki that brought together eight experts from throughout the European Union to meet local stakeholders in the development of the country’s childcare policy, visit community-based services and design a 10-point strategy document to assist the development of the Flemish Child Poverty Action Programme.

In actual fact, the review extended beyond childcare to embrace social welfare, fiscal / tax policy, education, health, social integration of immigrant groups, housing policy and governance in the area of child poverty.

The creativity centre is a special facility that provides comfortable space for groups to come together for intensive discussion with high-tech communication support and all the comforts necessary to support the process of creative debate.

Equilibrium’s chairman, David Bisset, was among the team of experts that included senior advisors to the Flemish and British governments and childcare practitioners from as far afield as Scandinavia and Bulgaria with different professional backgrounds. They provided a variety of perspectives on the best way to meet the needs of very young children (aged 0-3) living in circumstances of poverty.

Over and above having brief but extensive conversations with a variety of service providers and studying government analysis and descriptions of the basic outline of the current plan, the experts were joined during the ‘brainstorming’ phase of their work together, by people from the worlds of art and cutting-edge scientific research who helped to provide innovative, radical and high-impact ideas in a very short period of time.

As far as anyone is aware, this is the first time that the intensive studio method has been used for the sake of policy development in social welfare provision. The initiative had the full support of the Minister for Poverty of Flanders and a government team was constantly available to provide detailed information and support the process.

The five days of intensive work culminated in a presentation given to a mixed audience of stakeholders that included Ingred Lieten, Flemish Minister for Innovation, Public Investment, Media and Poverty Reduction, Magda de Meyer, director of the ministry’s poverty initiative and Julien Van Geertsom, President of the Belgian Federal Public Planning Service for Social Integration.

The findings will be incorporated into a detailed report for government and literature explaining the studio process will be published.

The studio was expertly facilitated by Alain Wouters, a management consultant with whom David discussed the applicability of the studio technique to a variety of aspects of Equilibrium’s work and the development of organizational strategy which is becoming increasingly important as more external demands are made on the small team.

During the visit, David also met with Mr. Van Geertsom to discuss EQ’s participation in a programme that focuses on Belgium’s Roma many of whom originate from SEE.