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On 28 September – 2 October, the University of Turin, which coordinates the SAPIENS Network project, hosted the first SAPIENS Network Advanced Training Course (ATC).

Attendees at the SAPIENS Network Advanced Training Course

ATCs are a crucial part of the SAPIENS Network. They aim to build a new generation of Sustainable Public Procurement (SPP) research specialists through international, interdisciplinary, and intersectoral experience training. ATCs are an essential part of the training programme of SAPIENS Network led by Birmingham's Professor Martin Trybus as Director of Training. Professor Trybus is also the lead supervisor of two of the project's researchers based in Birmingham, Xinyue Xue and Natalia Spataru. Other participants from Birmingham were Dr Henok Asmelash and PhD student Girogio Minelli. 

The theme of the first ATC focused on the Fundamentals of Public Procurement and Sustainability and on developing Soft Skills for Early Stage Researchers (ESRs). The goal was to provide an overview of international, EU-level, and national procurement regimes and investigate the use of public purchasing as leverage in promoting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The four-day training consisted of 3 parts (Procurement Fundamentals, Soft Skills, and ESRs PhD projects presentations), 19 sessions followed by a team-building day. In addition to the SAPIENS lead researchers and 15 ESRs working on sustainability and procurement, the event attracted more than 30 external participants joining in-person and online. The external participants included researchers, procurement officials and practitioners, decision-makers and public officials. SAPIENS Partner Organisations such as ITCILO, Fair Trade, and Eating City and policymakers from the UNEP and EU Commission were amongst the speakers.

The first day of the training covered Fundamentals of Public Procurement and Sustainability. Professor Roberto Caranta, Professor Martin Trybus and Associate Professor Marta Andhov (SAPIENS lead researchers) led the day with presentations focusing on principles of public procurement and procurement methods. The sessions on public procurement regimes under the umbrella of WTO and EU were followed by a case study. The session on the economics of public procurement concentrated on the different stages of procurement and the risks of collusion in the market.The session on achieving SDGs beyond public procurement was much of interest to all the law, economics, and business participants. In addition to training sessions on procurement, speakers from ITCILO, UN Environment, and DG Grow demonstrated the importance of policymaking with the SDGs in mind. The ITCILO’s representative focused on social rights and ILO Convention 94 concerning Labour Clauses in Public Contracts in its session. In comparison, the guest speaker from UNEP focused on SPP in developing countries.  The speaker from DG Grow informed the participants regarding the Commission’s agenda on sustainable development, the Green Deal, and the initiatives to follow.Day 2 focused on Soft Skills for Early-Stage Researchers. Presentations by Fair Trade and Eating City were mainly concerned with engaging with the public and team working to catalyse change in the societies. The rest of the soft skills training was aimed at fostering responsible research and innovation skills through establishing principles and application thereof to the existing problems on the subject.  New SAPIENS researchers were provided with guidance on conducting research ethically and how to address gender in their research. The presentations demonstrated the significance of Open Science and FAIR data in scientific research and project management. Soft Skills training was concluded with a session on digital skills with a focus on social marketing.

Attendees in a rural part of Piedmont

On days 3 and 4, 15 newly appointed ESRs shared their preliminary thought on their PhD projects. SAPIENS lead researchers and external experts, particularly Professor Elisabetta Manunza, provided feedback to the ESRs. These presentations were the first ESR presentations to take place every six months to oversee the development of their research. They are also an effective tool to equip each ESR with necessary communication skills as they will be engaging with the public during their research and share the outcomes of their research. The feedback received during the presentation intends to assist the new researchers in managing scientific research on sustainability and procurement.The first SAPIENS event was not only focused on research substance and skills development. On the last day of the ATC, the SAPIENS team focused on team building. The team visited a rural part of Piedmont, where the team could experience a sustainable ecosystem first-hand where the municipality itself was one of the biggest drivers of sustainability. The mayor himself hosted the SAPIENS team. The team-building activity was a valuable addition to the event to strengthen the communication and cooperation between the lead researchers and the ESRs and build relationships that will help project development.

ATC 1 in Turin was a great start and success for the SAPIENS. The next event is planned to take place 13-14 December in Hasselt, Belgium (also online).