Empowerment of local communities in the Arctic

Large-scale industrial projects often have a huge importance on the vitality of rural communities in remote areas that are rich in natural resources. But these sparsely populated communities usually have limited resources to invest in planning and strategic decision-making.

A new learning platform with tools for local planners and policymakers has been developed to empower small communities with resource-based economies as part of the EU funded REGINA project. Nordregio has been project lead and coordinated the work of both local partners and other research institutes in the Nordic and Arctic Region.

The REGINA project aims to empower small communities with resource-based economies to manage changes due to the introduction – or indeed the demise – of major industries in sparsely populated areas.

It proposes an innovative framework to develop Local Smart Specialisation Strategies (LS3) for small, remote communities with large-scale, resource-based industrial development. Such LS3s will support local authorities in their efforts to maximize the benefits and minimize the vulnerabilities caused by industrial development.
The outcome collected at www.reginaproject.eu can now serve as a learning lab for similar communities in the Nordic Region and the rest of the world.

Learning via networks

The REGINA project has involved a broad range of municipalities as well as a series of knowledge partners from the Nordic Arctic and Northern Scottish regions.

The project has not only developed a new local smart specialization framework, but also tested this in the participating municipalities, providing a unique real-life lab for small resource-based communities.

– This project has given us the opportunity to pool our resources together, to learn from one another and share ideas, and to come up with a flexible framework that can be applied in a variety of local contexts, says Nordregio Senior Research Advisor Ryan Weber, who has acted as project lead.

– Our local partners have not only gained new insights to include in their own decision-making, but also contributed to our platform of knowledge and tools that can guide communities facing similar development situations elsewhere, he adds.

From regional to local

REGINA is an EU Interreg project and the local smart specialization framework developed mirrors the widely used EU concept of smart specialization for larger regions. But in REGINA this has been developed and adapted to suit to the needs of smaller communities.

– Local Smart Specialisation as applied by the REGINA project complements the mainstream practice of European Regional Smart Specialisation strategies. The local approach fits nicely to sparsely populated regions with a large geographical expanse and long distances like the Arctic, says Senior Research Fellow Jukka Teräs from Nordregio, who has been involved in REGINA as a leading expert on smart specialisation.

– The idea is that with the local approach, we can also accommodate the needs of smaller communities outside the main regional centres, he specifies.

A new set of tools

Three new process management tools have grown out of the REGINA project, to better handle some of the key challenges experienced in remote, sparsely populated areas, be they Arctic or elsewhere: changing demographics, land use or other social conflicts, as well as business growth and retainment.

These “tools” are part of a six-step process that local authorities can use as a framework to analyze and increase their preparedness for big socioeconomic change.

The three tools are: a Demographic Foresight Model, a Social Impact Management Plan and a Local Benefit Analysis Toolbox

Demographic changes

Large industrial projects can have significant impact on the population and workforce in small communities, often requiring them to revisit local plans and adapt their services, such as healthcare and education, to match the changing needs.

The REGINA Demographic Foresight Model (DFM) allows local planners to explore the different population scenarios that may arise in relation to resource-based industrial development projects.

You can read interviews with some of the communities involved in developing the tool at http://www.reginaproject.eu/population-forecast/

Social challenges

Likewise, the social impacts of large industrial projects in small communities may occur at different stages and they will also evolve over time. Managing these impacts thus requires long-term planning and dialogue between the industry, community and local population.

The REGINA Social Impact Management Planning (SIMP) is a tool to continuously identify, monitor and react to the social impacts of resource-based industries.
More insights into the social issues at play in many of these change processes can be found at http://www.reginaproject.eu/social-issues/

Business development

Finally, the REGINA Local Benefit Analysis Toolbox (LBAT) helps communities maximise the local benefits from resource-based industrial development. When new industrial projects take shape, local growth can e.g. be achieved by creating businesses in the industry’s supply chain or in complementary sectors, and if an important industry closes down, the key is to diversify the workforce and use local knowledge and skills to create new opportunities.

The REGINA LBAT guides communities through everything from gathering data about the local economy, business and employment to involving the business community in identifying new opportunities.

For more case stories on how this tool has been used, you can go to http://www.reginaproject.eu/business-development/

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