16 months after the decision of the 2014 ECHA General Assembly to support, regulate and guide the formation of the European Talent Support Network the development of this Network became a widely accepted, grass-root self-organization process. The European Talent Support Network now spans more than 25 European countries, and draws interest from all other continents in the world. The Network is a rich source of European cultural diversity, providing a wonderful resource of best practices to apply cutting edge scientific results in the field of high ability and to help highly able people in Europe. The Network started to form excellent joint actions – also involving talented young people from various European countries. After only16 months this progress is rather remarkable. I owe great thanks to all participants in this process, who devoted their time and efforts as volunteers. The Network already proved to be a self-correcting, learning organization, where the help and guidance of ECHA was a key element of success. An important element of continuous self-correction is to avoid bureaucracy, which may arise during the intensified cooperation process. Trust and personal contacts proved to be crucial in network building. Sharing and giving, transparency, serving others, as well as establishing a joint identity, joint service and community feeling were and remain the key values of the European Talent Support Network.
Brief chronology of events after the decision of the 2014 ECHA General Assembly to support, regulate and guide the formation of the European Talent Support Network
1. 18 September 2014: The General Assembly of ECHA accepted the proposal for the Development of a European Talent Support Network with no votes against and 4 abstentions and elected Lianne Hoogeveen as president, Christian Fischer and Margaret Sutherland (2014-2018), Csilla Fuszek and Colm O'Reilly (2014-2016) as members of the ECHA Accreditation Committee by a secret ballot.
2. 20 September 2014: the Accreditation Committee had its first meeting in Ljubljana.
3. 17 October 2014: the Accreditation Committee had its second meeting in Dublin.
4. 3 November 2014: answers to several frequently asked questions on the European Talent Support network were published on the ECHA web-site (http://echa.info/110-frequently-asked-questions-on-the-european-talent-support-network).
5. 11 February 2015: a widely publicized open call for applications to be a European Talent Centre was published on the ECHA web-site (http://echa.info/121-call-for-application-to-be-a-european-talent-centre), and was sent (among others) to all ECHA members.
6. 7 April 2015: 28 applications from 18 European countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey) and even one from Brasil were submitted (http://echa.info/125-large-interest-for-the-establishment-of-a-european-talent-support-network).
7. 14 April 2015: the Accreditation Committee had its third meeting in Nijmegen.
8. 4 July 2015: after a careful evaluation, 15 of these applications (more than half) was judged by the ECHA Accreditation Committee as passing the 70% scoring threshold of the clearly worded selection criteria, which were published at the time of the open call for applications including the scoring sheet of the applications; after notifying the applicants the organization of the Estonian European Talent Centre informed us that in the meantime there was a sudden unfavourable change in the life of this organization, which made them unable to act as a European Talent Centre in the first round of the applications. This is how the final number of European Talent Centres in the first round of the application process became 14 (http://echa.info/129-breaking-news-the-first-14-european-talent-centres; http://echa.info/high-ability-in-europe/#).
9. 29 September 2015: the first 14 European Talent Centres were inaugurated in the Brussels building of the European Parliament (http://echa.info/137-talent-support-map-of-europe-info-on-european-talent-centres-was-published) in the presence of Tibor Navracsics, the EU Commissioner of education, culture, youth and sports, Robert-Jan Smits, the Director General of research & innovation, as well as several members of the European Parliament (Kinga Gál/HU hosting the event, Sean Kelly/IE and Igor Soltes/SL). Representatives of all 14 European Talent Centres had their first meeting electing Lianne Hoogeveen as interim representative of the Network, and Csilla Fuszek as interim coordinator of the Network until 31 December 2016. Centre representatives agreed a.) to continue their discussions on a regular basis; b.) to issue a call for the registration of European Talent Points and on the main guidelines of the registration process; c.) to apply for EU funds in Erasmus+, Creative Europe and Horizon2020 calls; d.) to establish a Youth Committee by delegating one young talented person per Centre; e.) to consider the feasibility of the establishment of a European Talent Portal. Representatives welcomed the European Youth Summit (http://www.youthsummit.eu/) taking place in parallel with the 2018 ECHA Conference in Vienna.
10. 12 November 2015: an open call for the application to become a European Talent Point was published on the ECHA web-site, and was widely publicized (http://echa.info/141-call-for-application-to-be-a-european-talent-point).
11. 31 January 2016: more than 200 applications to become a European Talent Point from more than 20 European countries were received.
12. February 2016: preparation of a joint Erasmus+ application (coordinator Colm O'Reilly), Creative Europe application in 2016 (coordinator Csilla Fuszek), as well as a Horizon2020 application in 2017 (coordinators: Albert Ziegler and Heidrun Stöger) was intensified; preparation of a 2nd call for European Talent Centres (now with the possibility of Associated European Talent Centres) is ongoing, and with coordination of Javier Touron a thinking process started on a potential European Talent Space, which will be a 3D virtual world social network for the highly able people in Europe.
13. 12 February 2016: the Accreditation/Qualification Committee had its fourth meeting in Budapest
14. March 2016: the Qualification Committee will have its fifth meeting in Vienna
15. 15 March 2016: the second call on European Talent Centres will be published
16. 30 April 2016: deadline of the second call on European Talent Centres
17. June 2016: the Qualification Committee will have its sixth meeting in Vienna
18. 30 September 2016: planned deadline of the second call on European Talent Points
19. November 2016: election of the Council of the European Talent Support Network starting to operate from 1 January 2017.
The 16 months of the European Talent Support Network is an age when an infant starts to walk and speak. However, truly understandably, the infant's very first movements and words are not always correct, and often contain slight errors and misunderstandings. This is very natural, and actually very helpful, since it induces self-correction, which is a key ingredient of progress. In the following part I will list 8 misunderstandings about the European Talent Support Network, and will try to formulate a hopefully close-to-consensus version of the related views.
Misunderstanding 1: The Network is an elite club of a few key players declaring themselves to be elite by self-nomination and self-qualification
Four of the first 14 Centres (29%) are indeed from the organizations of the 5 persons forming the committee judging the applications (obviously, these representatives did not take part in the judgement of their own centre). This was expected, since the Committee members were selected from those institutions, which, in fact, were operating as "European Talent Centres" already much before this process. There will be future rounds of applications most probably each coming year, but definitely in 2016. It is possible that quite many of the 13 initial applicants, that were not approved in the first round, will pass the selection threshold in the second round, since in the consultations before, during and after the selection process some centres worked hard to improve their work and/or application further, and made efforts to become qualified as a European Talent Centre. We also know about other organizations from other European countries, which will most probably submit an application in 2016, or later. In January 2016 we received more than 200 European Talent Point applications from 25 European countries. The first 16 months of vigorous growth, the plans for further extensions, the trust, enthusiasm and love how existing Network members welcomed new ones I hope already convinced those, who thought that the European Talent Support Network will be a 'closed elite club' that it is just the opposite of that: a self-organizing, living entity, wanting to help just as many cross-country cooperation within (and even outside) Europe, which is helpful, useful, and which can be organized by the existing capacities.
Misunderstanding 2: The Network is directed from one central headquarter
Different versions of this statement never specify, what is actually this "central headquarter". The European Talent Centre in Budapest? We have 13 more European Talent Centres. Many of them have an equally active role in Network building like the Budapest Centre. ECHA? ECHA does help and guide the formation of the European Talent Support Network and offered help in formulating its regulation at the beginning of the organization process. But this is an initial help, which is needed to use the unique expertise of ECHA members to ensure the high quality and cultural multiplicity of the resulting Network. As the Network grows and gains experience, I guess around its "school age", no direct help will be necessary for its further development. However, these ideas are currently premature, and will be discussed by ECHA and the Network a few years from now. The Network has already several "leaders", like Lianne Hoogeveen, its representative, Csilla Fuszek, Colm O'Reilly, Anna Maria Roncoroni, Heidrun Stöger, Javier Touron and Albert Ziegler organizing key actions of the Network, Christian Fischer and Margaret Sutherland participating in the ECHA Qualification Committee qualifying European Talent Centres (together with 3 other ECHA members listed above) and the 9 representatives of European Talent Centres (Elisabeth Halmer, Mojca Jurisevic, Jana Klagova, Tessa Kieboom, Victor Mueller-Oppliger, Brone Narkeviciene/Leonas Narkevicius, Ugur Sak, Johanna Stahl, Stanislav Zelenda) not mentioned in the above list. This "leader list" now includes the representatives of more than 200 European Talent Points and grows from month to month. During the Network development all European Talent Centres and Points remained independent, and are tied only by their voluntarily accepted cooperative actions. This Network will never be a hierarchical, but will remain a network with many horizontal contacts.
Misunderstanding 3: The Network is a scale-up of the Hungarian Talent Support Network
The European Talent Support Network was established by a completely different process than the Hungarian Network. ECHA, with its traditions of 25 years, high quality membership, multitude of experiences reflecting the cultural diversity of Europe, and, last but not least, solid scientific background gave an unprecedentedly unique help in the formation of the European Talent Support Network. ECHA accepted the network building program in a very democratic process, where the original plans were modified several times (and they are still being modified as practice and experience suggests), which made the structure and forms of the European Network completely different of the Hungarian Network already at the very beginning.
Misunderstanding 4: The Network is only a bureaucratic burden, which gives empty titles to its participants
Why is the participation in the European Talent Support Network different than conferring titles and having administrative ballast? The qualification of European Talent Centres and the registration of European Talent Points increases several benefits of inter-organizational cooperation, such as
Ø exchange of best practices;
Ø increase the number of cross-country research projects in the field;
Ø increase of the stability and robustness of everyday work (due to the increased exchangeability of colleagues in case of maternity/paternity-leave, sickness, personal problems, etc.);
Ø increase of community-feeling giving emotional and structural help for those participating in the network;
Ø increase of the effectiveness of using material resources in a region;
Ø increase of cooperation between talented young people enhancing their creative productivity (e.g. by using peer-support to become more excellent);
Ø extension of the number of gifted/talented people receiving recognition and support;
Ø extension of the number of people (teachers, mentors, parents, experts, scientists or business people) involved in talent support;
Ø creation of better and/or more effective chances to obtain local, corporate social responsibility, national and EU funding;
Ø increase of the visibility of the issues related to giftedness, high ability and talent support leading to a better chance to change related policies;
Ø help the establishment of internationally supported / grounded minimum standards of talent management and talent support programmes in a region, country or (finally) in Europe.
Not titles, but all these options are the real values of the European Talent Support Network. Importantly, the data we need to register European Talent Points are needed to share them with others ensuring cooperation. From European Talent Centres we need somewhat more data but this is to ensure the high quality of these organizations. Please let us know if you find any segments of the forms, which you think are not needed, not necessary or too complicated.
Misunderstanding 5: European Talent Centres are more powerful, more prestigious than European Talent Points
Both European Talent Centres and European Talent Points are equal players of the mutual cooperation in the European Talent Support Network. European Talent Points have all the benefits of the Network (including the support of European Talent Centres). European Talent Centres have some more responsibilities: they organize cooperation in a region, in a country and/or in whole Europe. European Talent Centres do not have "power" or "authority" over any European Talent Point. This was one important reason why a suggestion is made to change the word accreditation to qualification in the acceptance of European Talent Centres not to imply a hierarchically higher position of Centres in the Network than that of Points.
Misunderstanding 6: The Network is requiring conformity of its European Talent Centres and European Talent Points to central guidelines and requirements
In the European Talent Support Network there are no "central guidelines' or other 'requirements' which restrict, modify or re-direct the activities of any European Talent Centres or European Talent Points. Requirements, such as the ability to communicate in English, are only there to ensure efficient cooperation and – mostly in case of European Talent Centres – to guarantee a high quality and reliability of work. Multi-cultural diversity, a great richness of Europe in the field of gifted education, wanted to be preserved and fostered by this process. In fact, the first 14 European Talent Centres were already highly diverse. Their determination to cooperate at the European level is their most important common denominator – besides a high quality work in their own field related to gifted education and talent support.
Misunderstanding 7: The Network is for talented people only and does not serve the gifted or the highly able
There are decade-long debates on the precise meaning, content and differences of the expressions "talented", "gifted" and "highly able" (any many similar expressions used in the field). Though the European Talent Support Network has the word "talent" in its name, its Centres, and Points are supporting a wide range of gifted and highly able people (young and older alike). The Network does not restricts talent to "high achievement", since its members understand that giftedness and high ability have million forms, and exactly the novelty of these million forms is giving Europe those strikingly, disruptively, and astonishingly novel solutions, what the novel challenges of the 21st century require. As it was nicely stated in the 2014 ECHA General Assembly decision: the Network "sees the individual at all different ages and their context irrespective of socio-economic status with interconnections at pre-school, school and university level." The Network will never 'brainwash', 'domesticate' or 'control' gifted individuals, since it highly honours the individuality and freedom of development of gifted people. The Network wants to open new (also Europe-wide and world-wide) dimensions for growth for the highly able, and to prevent any measures, which reduce their possibilities to develop.
Misunderstanding 8: The Network and ECHA became cards in a political game
There is a growing intensity of contacts between ECHA, the European Talent Support Network and the European Parliament, the European Commission, as well as the governments of European countries (particularly those, who serve in the actual EU-presidency trio). These contacts are important to increase the chances of financial help of talent support from the EU and European countries, as well as inclusion of gifted education and talent support-related matters to educational (and many other) policies both at the EU and at the member state level. All these were long-time goals of ECHA, which were also stated in the Articles of ECHA as parts of the aims of the organization. The Network will never sacrifice the rights of gifted and highly able individuals for individual treatment, freedom and special education as a part of a political compromise.
Please note that the alternative explanations of the above misunderstandings were my attempts to formulate a close-to-consensus view in key issues of the European Talent Support Network. These views are based on several discussions with Network members. However, despite of the many discussions, we need to refine them further. Therefore, I ask all readers of this summary to write their criticism, questions, or comments to my email address: csermelynet @ gmail.com. Thank you very much for your views, help and contribution to make the European Talent Support Network even better!
Prof. Peter Csermely
president of ECHA