Thinking outside the box: SEnECA Midterm Conference and Scenario Workshop on 29–31 January 2019 in Almaty

The second inter­na­tional confe­rence of the Horizon 2020 project SEnECA took place in Almaty, Kazakhstan, from 29 to 31 January 2019. The confe­rence comprised high-panel podium discus­sions, an academic policy advice training and a scenario building workshop on EU-Central Asia relations. It was the third event during which the SEnECA consortium members from eleven involved countries could meet in person, discuss the project progress and develop new ideas. The confe­rence was organised by the Central Asia Institute for Strategic Studies (CAISS), a Kazakh think tank based in Almaty. A total of 85 academics, government officials, practi­tioners and students (including SEnECA partners) from Europe and Central Asia parti­ci­pated in the confe­rence elabo­rating on the current state of affairs of EU-Central Asia relations. During the academic advice training, junior and senior resear­chers acquired useful skills on how to improve the “transfer” of research results to the wider public and how to best approach decision-makers.

Another highlight of the confe­rence was the scenario building workshop which served as a thought experiment. Divided into three groups, parti­ci­pants had to identify important drivers for the regional coope­ration in Central Asia and to sketch out three different future scenarios while focusing on those drivers. Parti­ci­pants regarded the following factors as the two most crucial ones: “the (high or low) engagement of external powers in Central Asia” as well as the “(strong or limited) change in the domestic political systems in Central Asia”. Interes­tingly, the three scenario groups came to very different conclu­sions when imagining a strong invol­vement of external powers in the region, which showed the wide range of percep­tions of Russia, China, the US and the EU among Central Asians. Overall, the confe­rence was a great oppor­tunity for resear­chers and stake­holders to meet, to generate more under­standing for each other’s views and to develop common project ideas.