How can we measure the impact of investments on the intangible assets of a region? How can we assess if the expected strategic outcomes are accomplished? And where would further investments yield the highest benefit? The Office of the Lower Austrian Government, Department of Kindergartens faced these questions in their long-term vision project to improve the language skills of very young children aged 3-6 in a cross-border network project with Hungary, Slovakia, and Czech Republic. The official name is “Educational Cooperation in the Border Region”, it was funded by INTERREG, details can be found here.
The first of a series of 15 projects started as early as 2011. Over a timeframe of 10 years, the network expanded, additional partners were involved. The original focus on strengthening language skills to literally establish “better cultural understanding” among children from very different backgrounds shifted eventually to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). But the “core” of the project remained remarkable stable: How can kindergarten teachers better share their experiences among each other – not only within a region, but among 14 different ones, with 4 official languages, different legal contexts, and different conceptional ideas on the purpose of a kindergarten? The “product” of their core processes is an intangible one: educating the next generation has a very long-term impact, not only on the individuals, but on the regional mobility, and, ultimately, economic performance measured financially as GDP.
Up to 64 representatives of 4 nations, 14 regions, from kindergartens, administrative experts, universities who educate kindergarten teachers to name only a few, met to identify the crucial capabilities necessary to accomplish their joint long-term task. They identified a set of 11 drivers and put them into categories of Human Capital, Structural Capital, and Relational Capital.
“Intercultural Competence” is one of them and defined as follows:
Under intercultural competence as a part of social and communication competence we summarize the skills to enter into dialogue with each other respectfully, to communicate, to discuss constructively, to promote trust and to enable a pleasant cooperation. This also includes consciously dealing with criticism and conflicts, as well as accepting and promoting ethnic, cultural plurality and respectful interaction with people regardless of their worldview, religion, and culture.
This definition is the first step to establish a shared understanding on an otherwise rather abstract idea. It therefore supports dialog among participants with different mother tongues and different interpretations of concepts.
The next step is the assessment of the status quo of this and other dimensions. Two questions help to differentiate potential interventions later:
- Do we have enough teachers with intercultural competence to accomplish our strategic objectives?
- Is the quality of “intercultural competence” good enough to accomplish our strategic objectives?
These questions help to assess the current situation. Scores between 0 and 100% help to quantify the status. More important are qualitative reasons that justify the assessment. If, for example, one participant argues the details why his or her peers in a certain setting are not yet “good enough”, specific measures to improve this competence could be implemented. It is controlled by a third question, which has a quantitative and a qualitative element:
- Do we manage “intercultural competence” systematically enough to accomplish our strategic objectives?
The questions follow a strict structure, so the results can be compared, even though the drivers might differ substantially.
Results can be broken down for regions and countries and dates – the following chart shows the network status of 2020. The x-axis shows the average values of the three questions above (quantity, quality, and systematic management – QQS). The y-axis shows a similar assessment of relative importance to accomplish the strategic objectives. Fields of prioritized intervention are in the upper left sector with high importance, but not yet sufficient status (low average of QQS). Intercultural competence is coded as HK2 in this chart and represents a strength of the network.