InterviewFit for the Factory of the Future – Use of communities of practice and co-design to source collective intelligence

13. Februar 2023

An interview with Sabine Hafner-Zimmermann, Senior Project Manager at Steinbeis Europa Zentrum and partner of the FIT4FoF project

What is the reason to participate in the FIT4FoF project?

We at Steinbeis Europa Zentrum were eager to participate in the FIT4FoF project because when we applied for it, the issue of identifying future skills needs for industry was not adequately tackled yet but we realised that it gained a lot in importance both in industry but also in policy discussions. Thus, by participating in this project, we expect to gain additional know-how on future skills in advanced manufacturing and on how to support upskilling at our industry customers effectively.

What do you think is the most interesting aspect of FIT4FoF?

The most interesting aspect in FIT4FoF definitely is the participatory approach to jointly identify future skills needs and suitable upskilling activities involving workers, management and trainers. Also, the practical implementation in highly diverse regional pilot applications is an approach that is new and from which we can learn a lot for our own support activities. Finally, the European aspect of the project is definitely worth mentioning here as especially we at Steinbeis Europa Zentrum are always eager to transfer good practices beyond the local ecosystems and try to enable European stakeholders on a broader scale to take stock of the activities undertaken in those EC-funded projects that we participate in.

Can you briefly describe Steinbeis Europa Zentrum and how you work?

At Steinbeis Europa Zentrum, we support our regional stakeholders and customers with a broad range of innovation management, support and funding activities, especially with view to taking stock of European funding, networking and know-how. Thus, more than 70 highly-skilled and internationally-oriented consultants support regional companies, both SMEs and large ones, universities, public and research organisations and regional ministries to make their activities future-fit and sustainable for the benefit of both our regional economy and society as well as European development and cohesion. To this end, we use the know-how sourced from European projects, regional, national and international stakeholders and networks and match it with the needs of our customers.

What is your opinion about the results obtained in the project on technology trends?

In the project, we are collecting future technology trends for advanced manufacturing to supply the project partners implementing pilot activities with information on how manufacturing will transform in the coming years. What we experienced here was that for the piloting partners and their piloting companies, it is a challenge to incorporate this information into their established activities. Thus, the main aim of this part of the project in my opinion is to raise awareness on changing future developments and to encourage the partners to think about in which way this will affect them and their business. So, in this project, the most relevant information is not the future technology trends per se but rather trying to change the mind-set of the industry partners and incorporate futures thinking into their day-to-day activities.

How do you rate the educational co-design process workshops that you have carried out? How was your experience in them?

At Steinbeis we are not conducting any piloting activities, thus we did not implement any co-design workshops. Still, as I said above already, I think this approach is very relevant and useful to base the identification of upskilling needs and upskilling paths on a broader range of actors inside an organization in contrast to how this is usually done to-date, i.e. management or HR merely suggesting trainings to employees without deeply involving them neither into what nor how to be trained. Here, the profound innovation of the FIT4FoF approach can be seen very clear.

What is the importance of Communities of Practice in a project like FIT4FoF and what benefits do its participants receive?  

The Communities of Practice (CoP)-approach is closely related to the co-design process we are applying in FIT4FoF. Both are highly participatory elements which bring collective intelligence into the project and thus additional know-how which can not easily be sourced otherwise. Thus, the Communities of Practice, i.e. a dedicated group of stakeholders sharing similar interests and working towards a joint pre-defined goal, are an important cornerstone of FIT4FoF, both within the pilot development and implementation and beyond. At the same time, the CoP members also benefit from an increase in personal know-how as well as from the network which develops during CoP participation.

How has COVID affected the industry of Germany? How has your entity dealt with it so far?

Overall, the COVID pandemic has of course induced dramatic changes in basically every aspect of our lives. Nonetheless, industry in Germany so far seems to cope with it fairly well and prospects for this year look quite promising, too. In addition, we have seen an increasing interest in EC-supported funding and collaboration activities from our customers and collaborators. This points towards the fact that increased collaboration and co-development as well as increasing innovation activities are a promising path to sustainability and future economic success which I hope is being embarked on by even more companies in the future. We from Steinbeis Europa Zentrum will support our clients and partners even more active in the future in sourcing the know-how available in Europe thus enabling them to become as innovative and successful as possible, also of course to counter the COVID pandemic.

(Published in 2021 on Fit4FoF project website: "CoP and Co-Design process are elements which bring collective intelligence to the project and additional know-how that cannot easily be sourced otherwise" en Making our Workforce Fit for the Factory of the Future (

Making our Workforce Fit for the Factory of the Future (

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Sabine Hafner-Zimmermann
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Sabine Hafner-Zimmermann

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