On February 14, 2019, the EU Policy Lab organized the first scoping workshop as part of the project The Future of EU Customs. This project is run by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre – the Commission’s science and knowledge service – for and in partnership with the Commission’s Directorate General for taxation and customs (DG TAXUD). The main objective of this workshop was to create a common understanding of the EU customs ecosystem – actors, infrastructure, regulation and governance, international dimension, money flows – among all stakeholders of EU customs.


For this, we invited 20 stakeholders from the customs’ world – EU institutions, Members States’ customs administrations, Trade & other EU associations – to experience ‘another kind’ of workshop relying on active participation, creativity and visualization. The EU customs ecosystem is very complex. To describe it in enough detail and to spot challenges, opportunities and interconnections in as simple and straightforward manner as possible, we used a ‘canvas’ as visual reasoning tool. This is how the canvas looked like at the beginning of the workshop:


The Canvas was structured in 5 layers, each representing a core aspect of the customs world. Everything that matters to customs found a home:

  1. Actors and stakeholders
  2. Infrastructure
  3. Regulation and governance
  4. External and international issues
  5. Money flows

The workshop process was facilitated by 2-3 foresighters in addition to the designer who designed the canvas). This how the canvas looked like at the end of the workshop:


The exercise went through the following steps:


Step 1. The first part of the day was dedicated to setting the scene and to knowing each other better. At this stage we also presented the visual canvas that would be used to collect all the contributions from the participants.

Step 2. After the introduction, we split the participants into four groups: Member States’ customs administrations, Trade associations, DG TAXUD and other relevant Commission services. We gave each group a small reproduction of the canvas as reference, and we asked them to write on post-its who are the most relevant actors and stakeholders of the EU Customs ecosystem. After a 10-minute group discussion we asked all the groups to share their views in plenary by placing their post-its on the canvas.

We repeated this dynamics five times to cover the five layers of the system that we wanted to look at (see above).


In the end, creativity, trust, collaboration, and visualization worked wonders. We needed a way to keep our minds focused on the core elements of EU customs and come up with a shared understanding of the ecosystem accepted by all stakeholders. This was our EU Customs Canvas.


What I personally like about the Customs Canvas is that it takes a very complex, sometimes sensitive issue and concentrates it into a single, understandable image; a page on which everybody can work together, leading to results that can be easily shared and reinforced. I also like that this kind of exercise gives participants the freedom to think, explore and have conversation no matter the hierarchy. At the end of the day, not only had we identified the core elements of the system to study but, what is equally important, we had established a good working relationship between all participants. This makes it easier for the next workshop, in which we will start working on the scenarios relevant to the future of EU customs.


This blog is the first one of a series of articles to describe the way we work in the EU Policy Lab: a collaborative and experimental space for innovative policy-making. The Future of Customs in the EU project aims at better understanding trends and drivers impacting the customs ecosystem in the EU, and possible paths for how this system could develop by 2040. The project will empower policymakers and stakeholders to engage in strategic reflections and create conditions for an efficient EU Customs ecosystem in the future.

Check our project’s page here and find below the latest updated canvas. 



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