This is the second and concluding part of a post about progress by the European Talent Centre towards a European Talent Network.
- Provided an updated description of the Hungarian model for talent support and its increasingly complex infrastructure.
- Described the origins of the European Talent project and how its scope and objectives have changed since its inception and.
- Outlined the project’s initial advocacy effort within the European Commission.
This second episode describes the evolution of the model for the European Network, continues the history of its advocacy effort and reviews the progress made by the European Centre in Budapest towards achieving its aims.
It concludes with an overall assessment of progress that highlights some key fault lines and weaknesses that, if addressed, would significantly improve the chances of overall success.
Initial Efforts to Design the European Network
A Draft Talent Points Plan
At the 2012 ECHA Conference in Munster, a draft ‘Talent Points Plan’ was circulated which set out proposed criteria for EU Talent Points.
The following entities qualify for inclusion on the EU Talent Map:
- ‘an already existing at least 2 year-old network connected to talent support
- organizations/institutions focusing mainly on talent support: research, development, identification (eg schools, university departments, talent centers, excellence centers etc)
- policy makers on national or international level (ministries, local authorities)
- business corporation with talent management programs (talent identification, corporate responsibility programs, creative climates)
- parent organizations of gifted and talented children.’
But only organisations count as EU Talent Points. Each:
- ‘has a strategy/action plan connected to talent (identification, support, research, carrier planning, etc…)
- is willing to share at least one best/good practice, research results, video
- is willing to share information on talent support (programs, conferences, talent days)
- is open to be visited by other network members
- is open to cooperate
- accepts English as a common language while communicating in the network
- is willing to update the data of home page 2 times/year.’ [sic]
My feedback on this draft urged a more flexible, inclusive approach – similar to what had been proposed earlier – as well as an online consultation of stakeholders to find out what they wanted from the Centre and the wider network.
Curiously, the ‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ publication that was also distributed at the Conference took a somewhat different line, suggesting a more distributed network in which each country has its own Talent Support Centre:
‘The Talent Support Centres of the European countries could serve as regional hubs of this network building a contact structure going beyond their own country, while the core elements of our unique network could be the so-called European Talent Points… European Talent Centres are proposed to be registered by the Committee of the European Council of High Ability… A European Talent Centre should be an organization or a distinct part of a larger organization established for this purpose.’
This is a pronounced shift from the ‘networked hubs’ proposed previously.
The publication goes on to set out ‘proposed requirements for a European Talent Centre’. Each:
- ‘has an expertise of at least one year to coordinate the talent support activity of minimum 10 thousand persons
- has minimum two full-time employees who are dedicated to the tasks listed below
- is able to provide high quality information on theoretical and practical issues of gifted education and talent support
- is able to keep records on the talent support activity of its region including the registration, help and coordination of European Talent Points and making this information available on the web (in the form of a Talent Support Map of the region)
- is willing to cooperate with other European Talent Centres and with ECHA
- is willing and able to coordinate joint actions, international events, Talent Days and other meetings in the field of talent support
- is open to be visited by representatives, experts, talented young people of other European Talent Centres
- is able to help and influence decisions on regional, national and/or European policies concerning the gifted and talented.’
The document also offers an alternative version of the criteria for European Talent Points.
Whereas the draft I began with specified that only organisations could be placed on the EU Talent Map, this version offers a more liberal interpretation, saying that Talent Points may be:
- ‘organizations/institutions focusing mainly on talent support: research, development, identification (e. g: schools, university departments, talent centres, excellence centres, NGOs, etc.)
- talent-related policy makers on national or international level [sic] (ministries, local authorities)
- business corporation with talent management programs (talent identification, corporate responsibility programs, creative climate)
- organizations of gifted and talented people
- organizations of parents of gifted and talented children, or
- umbrella organization (network) of organizations of the above types’
Talent points are to be registered (not accredited) by the appropriate European talent centres, but it appears that the centres would not enjoy discretion in such matters because there is a second set of proposed requirements:
- ‘Has a strategy/action plan connected to talent (identification, support, research, career planning, etc.)
- Is able and willing to share information on its talent support practices and other talent-related matters with other European Talent Points (programs, conferences, Talent Days) including sending the necessary data to a European Talent Centre and sharing at least one best practice/research result on the web
- Is open to cooperate with other European Talent Points including the hosting of visiting representatives, talented young people from other European Talent Points.’
Problems with the Talent Points Plan
‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ stipulates – for no apparent reason – that a European Talent Centre has to be an organisation or part of an organisation established specifically for this purpose. It cannot be subsumed seamlessly into the existing responsibilities of an organisation.
There is no reference to funding to cover the cost of this activity, so that is presumably to be provided, or at least secured, by the organisation in question.
The criteria for European centres seem to be seeking to clone the Budapest Centre. To locate one in every European country – so roughly 50 countries – would be a tall order indeed, requiring a minimum of 100FTE employees.
The impact on the role and responsibilities of the Budapest Centre is not discussed. What would it do in this brave new world, other than to cover Hungary’s contribution to the network?
The only justification for ECHA’s involvement is presumably the reference earlier in ‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’:
‘Stemming from its traditions – and especially due to its consultative status as a non-governmental organization (NGO) at the Council of Europe –ECHA has to stand in the forefront in building a European Talent Support Network; a network of all people involved in talent support.’
ECHA News carries a report of the minutes of an ECHA committee meeting held in April 2013:
‘It was suggested that ECHA should be an accrediting organization for European Talent Centres and Talent Points. In the following discussion it was concluded that (1) it might be possible to establish a special accrediting committee; (2) Talent Centres would decide where Talent Points can be; (3) the proposal for European Talent Centres and European Talent Points criteria would be sent to additional key ECHA members (including National Correspondents) as discussion material. Criteria will be decided later.’
So ECHA would have control of the decision which entities could become European Talent Centres. This is despite the fact that ECHA is an entirely separate membership organisation with no formal responsibility for the EU Talent initiative.
This is not a sensible arrangement.
There is no explanation of why the network itself could not accredit its own members.
Turning back to the proposed requirements for European talent centres, these must be minimum requirements since there would otherwise be no need for an accreditation committee to take decisions.
Presumably the committee might impose its own additional criteria, to distinguish, for example, between two competing proposals for the same region.
The requirement for a year’s experience in relation to ‘co-ordinating’ talent support activity for at least 10,000 people is not explained. What exactly does it mean?
It might have been better to avoid quantitative criteria altogether. Certainly it is questionable whether even the present centre in Budapest meets this description.
And why the attempt to control inputs – the reference to at least two full-time staff – rather than outcomes? Surely the employment of sufficient staff is a matter that should be left to the centre’s discretion entirely.
The broad idea of a distributed network rather than a Budapest-centred network is clearly right, but the reasoning that puts ECHA in a controlling position with regard to the network is out of kilter with that notion, while the criteria themselves are inflexible and unworkable, especially since there is no budget attached to them.
When it comes to the talent points there are clear conflicts between the two versions. The first set of criteria outlined above is the more onerous. They propose an exclusive – rather than illustrative – list of those that can be included on the EU Talent Map.
Additionally they add that existing networks can feature on the map, but only if they are at least two years old! And they stipulate an additional English language requirement and biannual updating of their website homepage.
Only an entity with some serious difficulties could manage to share two sets of different draft criteria – each with its own profound problems – at precisely the same time!
The EU Advocacy Effort Continues
What Became of the Written Declaration?
Written Declarations are designed to stimulate debate. Once submitted by MEPs they are printed in all official EU languages and entered into a register. There is then a three month window in which other MEPs may sign them.
Those attracting signatures from a majority of MEPs are announced by the President in a plenary session of the European Parliament and forwarded for consideration to the bodies named in the text.
Those that do not attract sufficient signatures officially lapse.
The archive of written declarations shows that – despite the revisions outlined above and the best efforts of all those lobbying (including me) – WD 0034/2012 lapsed on 20 February 2013 having attracted 178 signatures. Since there are some 750 MEPs, that represents less than 25% of the total.
A Parliamentary Hearing
As part of this ultimately unsuccessful lobbying effort, the Hungarian MEP who – along with three colleagues – submitted the Written Declaration also hosted a Parliamentary Hearing on the support of talents in the European Union.
The programme lists the speakers as:
- The Hungarian MEP – Kinga Gal – and her fellow signatory Mojka Kleva Kekus of Slovenia.
- Anneli Pauli, a Finn, formerly a Deputy Director General of the European Commission’s Research and Innovation Directorate.
- Laszlo Andor, a Hungarian and EU Commissioner for employment, social affaris and inclusion. (Any contribution he made to the event is not included in the record, so he may or may not have been there.)
- Michael Privot, Director of the European Network Against Racism.
- Franz Monks a former ECHA President and
- Peter Csermely. The current ECHA President and the man behind the EU Talent Centre.
There was no-one from the Commission’s Education Directorate involved.
The record of proceedings makes interesting reading, highlighting the Written Declaration, the economic value of talent development to the EU, the contribution it can make to research and innovation, the scope to support the inclusion of immigrants and minorities and the case for developing the European network.
Pauli is reported as saying that:
‘Talents are the heart of the future EU’s research area, thus they will work hard on it that the Horizon 2020 will offer enough support to them.’ [sic]
Horizon 2020 is the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. There is no explicit home for talent support within the framework of the Horizon 2020 programme, so it remains to be seen how this will materialise in practice.
She also says:
‘…that school education on talents and the creative education in school sciences should be strengthened’ [sic]
This presumably carried rather less authority considering her role – and considering that, as we have seen, the Declaration was framed exclusively in terms of ‘non-formal learning’.
There is little explicit reference to the specifics of the European Talent project other than that:
‘…EU-wide talent-support units are needed, Europren [sic] Talent Points Network, a European Talent Day could be organised, or even a Year of Excellence and Talents could be implemented in the future too.’
We are not told how well attended the hearing was, nor do we have any information about its influence.
Only 13 more MEPs signed the WD between the Hearing and the deadline, and that was that.
An EU Thematic Working Group on Talent Support?
The 2013 publication ‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ puts the best possible spin on the Written Declaration and the associated Hearing.
It then continues:
‘Confirming the importance of WD 34/2012, an EU Thematic Working Group on supporting talent and creativity was initiated by Prof. Péter Csermely. As a starting activity, the EU Thematic Working Group will work out the detailed agenda of discussions and possible EU member state co-operation in the area of talent support. This agenda may include items like:
- Mutual information on measures to promote curricular and extra-curricular forms of talent support, including training for educational professionals to recognise and help talent;
- Consideration of the development of an EU member state talent support network bringing together talent support communities, Talent Points and European Talent Centres in order to facilitate co-operation and the development and dissemination of the best talent support practices in Europe;
- Consideration of celebration of the European Day of Talented;
- Suggestions to the Commission to include talent support as a priority in future European strategies, such as the strategies guiding the European Research Area and the European Social Fund.’
The proposed status of this group is not discussed, so it is unclear whether it will be an expert group under the aegis of the Commission, or an independent group established with funding from Erasmus Plus or another EU programme.
If it is the latter, we will have to wait some time for it to be established; if it is the former, it does not yet feature in the Commission’s Register.
In either case, we are some nine months on from the publication of the document that brought us this news and there is still no indication of whether this group exists, when it will start work or who its membership is/will be.
A European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) Opinion
At about the same time as a draft Written Declaration was circulated in January 2012, the Bureau of the EU’s European Economic and Social Committee was recommending that the Committee proper should undertake a fresh programme of ‘own initiative opinions’ (so the weakest category of NLA).
‘Unleashing the potential of young people with high intellectual abilities in the European Union’
Although the development process was undertaken during 2012, the final opinion was not published until January 2013.
The EESC describes itself thus:
‘The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is a consultative body that gives representatives of Europe’s socio-occupational interest groups and others, a formal platform to express their points of views on EU issues. Its opinions are forwarded to the Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament.’
Its 353 members are nominated by member governments and belong to an employers’ group, a workers’ group or a ‘various interests’ group. There are six sections, one of which is ‘Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship’ (SOC).
EESC opinions are prepared by study groups which typically comprise 12 members including a rapporteur. Study groups may make use of up to four experts.
I cannot trace a relationship between the EESC’s opinion and the European Talent initiative.
The latter’s coverage does not mention any involvement and there is no information on the EU side about who prompted the process.
The focus of the opinion – high intellectual ability – is markedly out of kilter with the broader talent focus of the Talent Network, so it is highly likely that this activity originated elsewhere.
If that is the case then we can reasonably conclude that the European Talent initiative has not fulfilled its original commitment to an NLA.
Diligent online researchers can trace the development of this Opinion from its earliest stages through to eventual publication. There is a database of the key documents and also a list of the EESC members engaged in the process.
As far as I can establish the group relied on a single expert – one Jose Carlos Gibaja Velazquez, who is described as ‘Subdirección General de Centros de Educación Infantil, Primaria y Especial Comunidad de Madrid’.
The link between JCBV and the EESC is explained here (translation into English here). I can find no link between Senor Gibaja and the EU Talent Network.
EESC members of the study group were:
- Pavel Trantina (CZ) – President
- José Isaías Rodriguez Garcia-Caro (Sp) – Rapporteur
- Renate Heinisch (Ger)
- Kinga Joo (Hun)
- Brenda King (UK)
- Beatrice Quin France)
- Christa Schweng (Austria)
- Dana Stechova (CZ)
- Teresa Tsizbierek (Pol)
- Xavier Verboven (Bel)
- Janos Weltner (Hun)
- Philippe de Buck (Bel)
An Early Draft of the Opinion
The earliest version of the Opinion is included an information memo dated 7 January. This also cites the significance of the Europe 2020 Strategy:
‘One of the top priorities of the Europe 2020 Strategy is to promote smart growth, so that knowledge and innovation become the two key drivers of the European economy. In order to reach this goal, it is essential that the European Union take advantage of the potential of the available human capital, particularly of young people with high intellectual capacities, who make up around 3% of the population.’
But it is clearly coming from a different perspective to the EU Talent Centre, which isn’t mentioned.
The ‘gist of the opinion’ at this early stage is as follows:
‘The EESC recommends that the European Commission and the Member States support further studies and research that would tap the potential of gifted children and young people in a wide variety of fields, aiming to facilitate employment and employability within the framework of the EU and, in a context of economic crisis, enhance specialist knowledge and prevent brain drain;
- The Committee recommends that, in the future, greater consideration be given to each Member State’s existing models for and experience in working with highly gifted children, particularly those which benefit all of society, facilitate cohesion, reduce school failure and encourage better education in accordance with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy;
- The Committee proposes improving educational care for children and young people with high abilities, in terms of the following aspects:
– initial and ongoing training of teaching staff regarding the typical characteristics of highly able students, as well as the detection and educational care they need;
– pooling of procedures for the early detection of high intellectual abilities among students in general and in particular among those from disadvantaged social backgrounds;
– designing and implementing educational measures aimed at students with high intellectual abilities;
– incorporating into teacher training the values of humanism, the reality of multiculturalism, the educational use of ICT and, lastly, the encouragement of creativity, innovation and initiative.’
What the Opinion Eventually Recommended
The final version of the Opinion was discussed by the EESC at its meeting on 16 January 2013 and was adopted ‘by 131 votes in favour, none against, with 13 abstentions’.
The analysis contained in the Opinion is by no means uncontentious and a close analysis would generate a long list of reservations. But this would be oblique to the issue under discussion.
The recommendations are as follows (my emboldening):
‘The European Economic and Social Committee is aware that the issue of children and young people with high intellectual abilities has been fairly well researched, as a result of the studies conducted over the last decades and the extensive corpus of specialist scientific literature. However, given the importance of this topic, the EESC recommends that the European Commission and the Member States support further studies and research and adopt suitable measures to cater for diversity among all types of people. These should include programmes that would tap the potential of gifted children and young people in a wide variety of fields. The aims of this action would include facilitating employment and employability within the framework of the EU and, in a context of economic crisis, enhancing specialist knowledge and preventing brain drain to other parts of the world.
The Committee proposes nurturing the development and potential of children and young people with high abilities throughout the various stages and forms of their education, avoiding premature specialisation and encouraging schools to cater for diversity, and exploiting the possibilities of cooperative and non-formal learning.
The Committee recommends fostering education and lifelong learning, bearing in mind that each individual’s intellectual potential is not static but evolves differently throughout the various stages of his or her life.
The Committee recommends that, in the future, greater consideration be given to each Member State’s existing models for and experience in working with highly gifted children, particularly those which benefit all of society, facilitate cohesion, reduce school failure and encourage better education in accordance with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy.
The Committee highlights the need to detect, in the workplace, those workers (particularly young workers) who are able and willing to develop their intellectual capabilities and contribute to innovation, and to give them the opportunity to further their education in the field that best matches their ambitions and centres of interest.
The Committee proposes improving educational care for children and young people with high abilities, in terms of the following aspects:
- initial and ongoing training of teaching staff regarding the typical characteristics of highly able students, as well as the detection and educational care they need;
- pooling of procedures for the early detection of high intellectual abilities among students in general and in particular among those from disadvantaged social backgrounds;
- designing and implementing educational measures aimed at students with high intellectual abilities. These measures should include actions inside and outside ordinary educational establishments;
- incorporating into teacher training the values of humanism, the reality of multiculturalism, the educational use of ICT and, lastly, the encouragement of creativity, innovation and initiative.
Improving the care provided for highly able students should include their emotional education (which is particularly important during adolescence), the acquisition of social skills with a view to facilitating integration and inclusion in society, integration into the labour market, and fostering their teamwork skills.
Schemes and procedures for student exchanges and visits abroad should be tapped into so that gifted students can take part in them, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Opportunities for exchanging information and good practices on detecting and caring for gifted students should be harnessed across the EU Member States.
Entrepreneurship should be fostered among children and young people with high abilities, with a view to encouraging responsibility and solidarity towards society overall.
More than One Opinion?
I have devoted significant attention to this apparently unrelated initiative because it shows that the EU lobbying effort in this field is poorly co-ordinated and pursuing substantively different objectives.
The EU Talent project failed to secure the NLA it was pursuing, but someone else has exploited the same route to influence – and for substantially different purposes.
What is worse, the EU Talent lobby seems to have failed entirely to secure any cross-reference to their efforts, despite there being two Hungarians on the study group. Did they try and fail or didn’t they try at all?
Perhaps fortunately, the Opinion seems to have been as influential as the Written Declaration. One wonders whether the enormous energy and time invested in each of these processes was ultimately worthwhile.
What progress has been made by the European Talent Project?
The Mission Has Changed
The website version of the Centre’s mission is subtly different from the original version discussed earlier in this post
The Centre now seeks:
- ‘to provide talent support an emphasis commensurate with its importance in every European country [same]
- to provide talented youngsters access to the most adequate forms of education in every Member State [same]
- to make Europe attractive for the talented youth [same]
- to create talent-friendly societies in every European country [same]
- to accelerate the sharing of information on the topic [new]
- to create a higher number of more efficient forms of talent support for the talented’ [new]
- to make it easier for social actors interested in talent support to find each other through the European talent support network.’ [new]
The reference to voluntary experts has gone, to be replaced by a call for:
‘…partners – professionals, talents and talent supporters – willing to think and work together.’
‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ offers a different version again.
The mission and role of the Centre have changed very slightly, to reflect the new orthodoxy of multiple European talent centres, describing the Budapest body as ‘the first European Talent Centre’.
Four long-term goals are outlined:
- ‘to give talent support a priority role in the transformation of the sector of education;
- To reduce talent loss to the minimum in Europe,
- To accelerate the sharing of information on the topic by integrating talent support initiatives of the Member States of the EU into a network
- To make it easier for social actors interested in talent support to find each other through the European talent support network.’
It adds some additional short term objectives for good measure:
- ‘As a hub of a European network, try to trigger mechanisms which bring organizations and individuals together to facilitate collaboration, share best practices and resources
- Draw the Talent Support Map of Europe
- Organize conferences for professionals in the region
- Do research on the field of talent support
- Collect and share best practices.’
We have now encountered three different versions of a mission statement for an entity that is less than two years old.
It is not clear whether this represents an evolutionary process within the organisation – which might be more understandable if it were better documented – or a certain slipperiness and opportunistic shifting of position that makes it very difficult for outsiders to get a grip on exactly what the Centre is for.
In typical fashion, the document says that:
‘the activities of the Centre fall into four large groups: advocacy, research, organisation (conferences, meetings, Talent Days), contact-keeping (meeting delegations from all over the world) and sharing information.’
Forgive me, but isn’t that five groups?
We have dealt with advocacy already and unfortunately there is negligible information available about the ‘contact-keeping’ activity undertaken – ie the various delegations that have been met by the staff and what the outcomes have been of those meetings.
That leaves research, organisation and sharing information.
Advisory Board and Partners
Before leaving the Centre’s operations, it is important to note that a three-strong Advisory Board has bee been appointed.
All three are luminaries of ECHA, two of them serving on the current Executive Committee.
There is no explanation of the Board’s role, or how it was chosen, and no published record of its deliberations. It is not clear whether it is intended as a substitute for the advisory group that was originally envisaged, which was to have had much broader membership.
As noted above, there is also a new emphasis on ‘partners’. The full text of the reference on the website says:
‘We are looking for partners – professionals, talents and talent supporters – willing to think and work together. We sincerely hope that the success of the Hungarian example will not stop short at the frontiers of the country, but will soon make its way to European talent support co-operation.’
Four partners are currently listed – ECHA, the Global Centre for Gifted and Talented Children, IGGY and the World Council – but there is no explanation of the status conferred by partnership or the responsibilities expected of partners in return.
Are partners prospective European Talent Centres or do they have a different status? Must partners be talent points or not? We are not told.
This is presumably a reference to the ‘Best Practices’ section of the Budapest Centre’s website, which currently hosts two collections of studies ‘International Horizons of Talent Support Volumes 1 and 2’ and a selection of individual studies (17 at the time of writing).
The quality of this material can best be described as variable. This study of provision in Ireland is relatively unusual, since most of the material is currently devoted to Central and Eastern Europe, but it gives a sense of what to expect.
There has been no effort to date to collect together already-published research and data about provision in different parts of Europe and to make that material openly accessible to readers. That is a major disappointment.
There is nothing in the collection that resembles an independent evaluation of the European Talent Initiative as a whole, or even an evaluation of the Hungarian NTP.
At best one can describe the level and quality of research-related activity as embryonic.
This Table shows what the Centre has achieved to date and what is planned for 2014:
|Conference||Yes (Budapest)||Unofficial (Warsaw)||No||Yes (Budapest)|
|EU Talent Day||Yes||No||No||Yes|
The 2014 Conference is the first official EU-wide event since the 2011 launch conference. The same is true of the 2014 EU Talent Day.
The Polish conference was initially planned for spring 2012, but failed to materialise. By July it was confirmed that there would only be ‘an unofficial follow-up’ in October. My December 2012 post described my personal and ultimately unsuccessful efforts to attend this event and summarised the proceedings.
The 2014 Conference Website insists that it will coincide with the Third EU Talent Day but I can find barely a trace of a Second, except in Estonia, where it was celebrated on 21 March 2012.
This is not a strikingly positive record.
The 2014 Conference website names an organising ‘international scientific committee’ that is heavily biased towards academics (eight of the eleven), ECHA luminaries (five of the eleven) and Hungarians (four of the eleven).
The programme features four academic keynotes about networks and networking.
The remainder involve Slovenia’s education minister, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (a Hungarian who was advertised to be part of the Parliamentary Hearing on the Written Declaration but, if he did attend, apparently made no contribution) and one devoted to the ‘International Talent Competiveness Index’.
I think this must be INSEAD’s Global Talent Competitiveness Index).
INSEAD’s inaugural 2013 Report ranks Hungary 40th of 103 countries on this Index. (The UK is ranked 7th and the US 9th).
There are eight ‘break-up sessions’ [sic]:
- The role of governments and the EU in creation a European Network[sic]
- Digital Networks for Talented Youth
- Social responsibility and organisational climate
- Practice and Ethics of Networking
- Multiple disadvanteged children [sic]
- Parents’ networks in Europe
- Counselling Centers [sic]
- Civil networks for Talent Support
The expected outcome of the event is not specified. There is no scheduled opportunity to discuss the progress made to date by the EU Talent initiative, or the policy and implementation issues flagged up in this post. And there is no information about the mediation of the Conference via social media (though there are now Skype links next to the items in the programme).
Talent Map and Resources
The website features a Resource Center [sic] which includes a database of ‘selected resources’. We are not told on what basis the selection has been made.
The database is built into the website and is not particularly accessible, especially if one compares it with the Hungarian equivalent. Indeed, the Talent Centre website is decidedly clunky by comparison.
The Talent Map is now better populated than it was, though inconsistently so. There are only two entries for Hungary, for example, while Romania has 11. There are only three in the UK and none in Ireland. Neither CTYI nor SNAP is mentioned.
It might have been better to pre-populate the map and then to indicate which entries had been ‘authorised’ by their owners.
From a presentational perspective the map is better than the database, though it should have a full page to itself.
Both the database and the map are still works in progress.
Overall Assessment and Key Issues Arising
In the light of this evidence, what are we to make of the progress achieved towards a European Talent Network over the last four years?
In my judgement:
- The fundamental case for modelling a European Talent Network on the Hungarian National Talent Programme is unproven. The basic design of the NTP may reflect one tradition of consensus on effective practice, but the decision to stop at age 35 is unexplained and idiosyncratic. The full model is extremely costly to implement and relies heavily on EU funding. Even at current levels of funding, it is unlikely to be impacting on more than a relatively small minority of the target population. It is hard to see how it can become financially sustainable in the longer term.
- There is no detailed and convincing rationale for, or description of, how the model is being modified (into ‘Hungary-lite’) for European rollout. It is abundantly clear that this rollout will never attract commensurate funding and, compared with the NTP, it is currently being run ‘on a shoestring’. But, as currently envisaged, the rollout will require significant additional funding and the projected sources of this funding are unspecified. The more expensive the rollout becomes, the more unlikely it is to be financially sustainable. In short, the scalability to Europe of the modified Hungarian talent support model is highly questionable.
- The shape and purpose of the overall European Talent initiative has changed substantively on several occasions during its short lifetime. There is only limited consistency between the goals being pursued now and those originally envisaged. There have been frequent changes to these goals along the way, several of them unexplained. It is not clear whether this is attributable to political opportunism and/or real confusion and disagreement within the initiative over what exactly it is seeking to achieve and how. There are frequently inconsistencies between different sources over exactly how aspects of the rollout are to be implemented. This causes confusion and calls into question the competence of those who are steering the process. Such ‘mission creep’ will radically reduce the chances of success.
- The relationship with ECHA has always been problematic – and remains so. Fundamentally the European Talent Initiative is aiming to achieve what ECHA itself should have achieved, but failed. The suggestion that ECHA be given control over the accreditation of European Talent Centres is misguided. ECHA is a closed membership organisation rather than an open network and cannot be assumed to be representative of all those engaged in talent support throughout Europe. There is no reason why this process could not be managed by the network itself. In the longer term the continued co-existence of the Network and ECHA as separate entities becomes increasingly problematic. But any merger would demand radical reform of ECHA. Despite the injection of new blood into the ECHA Executive, the forces of conservatism within it remain strong and are unlikely to countenance such a radical step.
- The progress achieved by the European Talent Centre during its relatively short existence has been less than impressive. That is partly attributable to the limited funding available and the fact that it is being operated on the margins of the Hungarian NTP. The funding it does attract comes with the expectation that it will be used to advertise the successes of the NTP abroad, so raising the status and profile of the domestic effort. There is a tension between this and the Centre’s principal role, which must be to drive the European rollout.
- The decision to move to a distributed model in which several European Talent Centres develop the network, rather than a centralised model driven by Budapest, is absolutely correct. (I was saying as much back in 2011.) However, the wider implications of this decision do not appear to have been thought through. I detect a worrying tendency to create bureaucracy for the sake of it, rather than focusing on getting things done.
- Meanwhile, the Budapest Centre has made some headway with a Talent Map and a database of resources, but not nearly enough given the staffing and resource devoted to the task. The failure to deliver annual EU Conferences and Talent Days is conspicuous and worrying. Conversely, the effort expended on lobbying within the European Commission has clearly been considerable, though the tangible benefits secured from this exercise are, as yet, negligible.
- For an initiative driven by networking, the quantity and quality of communication is poor. Independent evaluation studies of the Hungarian model do not seem to be available, at least not in English. There should be a fully costed draft specification for the European roll-out which is consulted upon openly and widely. Consultation seems confined currently to ECHA members which is neither inclusive nor representative. No opportunities are provided to challenge the direction of travel pursued by the initiative and its decision-making processes are not transparent. There is no evidence that it is willing to engage with critics or criticism of its preferred approach. The programme for the 2014 Conference does not suggest any marked shift in this respect.
An unkind critic might find sufficient evidence to level an accusation of talent support imperialism, albeit masked by a smokescreen of scientifically justified networkology.
I do not subscribe to that view, at least not yet. But I do conclude that the European Talent effort is faltering badly. It may limp on for several years to come, but it will never achieve its undoubted potential until the issues outlined above are properly and thoroughly addressed.