Risk and responsibility in rural regeneration

How can public policy-makers and administrators remain prepared for, and at the same time secure local democracy, in transformative processes towards green growth expectations? The huge challenge in public management is to reach the practical stage of social innovation before the next planning process scatters the human resources. The main objective in public planning is to utilise green policies to benefit the inhabitants. This task has become increasingly demanding in rural districts. To boost regional competitiveness, the continuous challenge of joining forces is difficult in a landscape of vast distances and scarce resources.

An accelerating frontier
A continuing challenge in public planning is to reach the implementation phase before the next planning process begins. This challenge is expanding at a growing rate as the demand for new solutions increases. Digital and technological development is outrunning the local governance capacity to remain prepared when planning for future generations. The pressure to exploit windows of opportunity builds up while a system of parallel processes creates a lack of consensus. The gap between the expectations of national policymakers and the implementation capacity at the local level is apparent. When lengthy decision-making processes result in compromises that make everyone (un)happy, this is not preparing rural districts for the increased demand and growing competitiveness of a green transformation. It is time to innovate the system of governance to allow innovation in the future.

Rural regions in the city’s main frame
In response to the pressing challenge of sustainable growth, Innovation Norway (the government funding for start-ups in Norway) has announced that the world has placed an order upon the Norwegian society. With reference to the U.N.’s 17 sustainability goals, public and private leaders are urged to be innovative in delivering what the world needs. There are new demands in terms of social challenges following globalization, urbanization and digitalization that offer great opportunities for growth and prosperity. Rural districts are part of longterm city development in Norway and the competition to be an attractive rural region is increasing. Dynamic regional transformation demands new methods for cross-disciplinary solutions across geographical boundaries. This transformation might present and release great potential for growth and value change, although challenging ownership across territories of identity raises complex issues embedded in local democracy.

Our human destiny is inextricably linked to the actions
of all other living things. Respecting this principle is the
fundamental challenge in changing the nature of business
(Paul Hawken).

The main task in municipal governance is to provide social services and deliver solutions for the citizens. This responsibility includes planning for future sustainability for the local community. An important element then lies in highlighting the attractiveness for new entrepreneurs and residents. The competition involves not only offering something alternative to urban living, but also in offering something different than the next local community neighbour. However, embarking on a regeneration of rural living to achieve a competitive advantage is not without risk. Regional policymakers and decision-makers must consider the next generation when encouraging co-operation between local governments, businesses and civil society. To be competitive, rural districts are dependent on reaching out to their competitors for co-operation.

Co-operative competitiveness
If everyone is equally good at everything, nobody has a competitive advantage. Innovation in regional development is still dependant on human resources, entrepreneurship, community spirit and joined forces from the bottom up. To elevate innovation in different disciplines to a satisfactory level, regional forces have to power up. Combining the stake of resources and the risk of ownership can lead to solutions and social capital with real impact. How can local and regional facilitators activate platforms for better cross-disciplinary interaction and make sustainable choices simpler for citizens? The city of Oslo has been a good example of a compact city since the 70s. Due to expansion, however, the city is now experiencing a range of growing pains in order to remain economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. The city is now undergoing a transformative process of developing sustainable urban districts, to enhance their green profile, elevate culture and reconnect with nature. The 2015 WWF review of sustainable urban districts present 11 cases of holistic design all results of planning processes, which started in the 1990s. In other words it takes long term planning to regenerate an urban environment and it can very quickly be outdated and costly to reverse. Regardless, it is equally important to zoom out, see the greater Oslo Region connected, and then look at the work in each of the 78 member municipalities. There are several arenas for public, private and civil organisations to interact and generate projects on ground level. Oslo even has a Nordic incubator for social innovation run by the private enterprise SoCentral. Their social innovation business idea is based on their experience with systemic interruption in community planning. They currently have a portfolio of social innovations addressing specific social or environmental needs, all of which economically sustainable. The projects are initiated either by SoCentral, municipalities, entrepreneurs or any socially responsible actor in collaboration with all stake-holders. Considering the rural region of Hadeland as part of the greater region of Oslo city, it offers as an alternative life style choice to urban citizens. This strategic choice alters the scale of competition and makes our regional next door neighbour, Hurdal – the sustainable valley, an asset. The municipality of Hurdal aspires to be a zero-carbon society within 2025 and has embarked on the development of a climate smart city centre, eco village, local supply of wood for construction, local food management and a local sustainability festival. Hadelands long term focus on sustainability has led to village centre developments, piloting projects for innovation, tree building profile, a local food brand and an active start-up scene. County officials go to Hadeland for “climate safaris” to inspect wooden public buildings, visit energy saving homes and experience art in restoral architecture. Hadeland has electrical bicycle rental, a Folks museum conveying development history and Norways only Energy farm targeting the local awareness. Hadeland is now in the process of adopting a new climate plan. The work is organised by the official climate advocate, who initiates citizen contribution through a series of climate workshops. The preconditions present in Hadeland, along with its location, make it well-placed to become a sustainable rural district of Oslo. It all depends what story the community wants to tell in 20 years time.

“In making the world a better place, we should be planning something geographical.” (Neil Smith)

Platform for risk-taking in public management
From a regional perspective, our primary task as connectors in transformative processes is to translate knowledge for policymakers to develop informed long-term plans. Second, there is a demand for sharing resources to power up interdisciplinary co-operation across regional borders. Third, the outcome must be focused on local turnover that engages in people’s everyday lives to generate social innovation. We need new navigation tools to visualise the future value change and utilise the space of possibility to minimise the apparent risk. Sharing ideas for a greater purpose is becoming the new normal in start-up environments across Europe. Local communities might think more like entrepreneurs to prepare for the future and embrace the concept of closer co-operation with their competitors. On the larger scale, the least risky action will be to share the risk of denser competence environments to extract local gain. The opportunity must be grasped to focus the distinctive qualities of a place. The same call for action appeals to the community spirit and civil society to stake their local resources. Local policymakers and decision-makers are urged to focus their resources and join cross-disciplinary forces to investment in the future. It is important for policymakers to make informed decisions, and informed place-making for citizens is a key element. With the local resources at stake, it is important to highlight the potential gain and value change. Risk-taking in an intercommunal context challenges the established operational lines across geographical borders. The different operational levels invoke different sectoral strategies that end up in the same municipal administration causing conflicting priorities of resources. How a community distribute its social resources is as important as how it reallocates its annual budget. The right combination engenders prosperity, but demands more risk-taking. To enhance the potential growth, regions have to scale up and consider the bigger picture, while creating a platform to do so is a challenge left to chance.

Risk-sharing and social innovation
Can local communities implement holistic policies by translating, sharing and utilising knowledge? The rural regions are being challenged to take a strong position in the transformative process of creating sustainable cities. To deliver social, economic and environmentally innovative solutions for future citizens, they are urged to power up and join forces. This means co-operating with their competitors to achieve suitable attractiveness and provide alternatives to the cities in their region. The risk involved demands innovating the system itself and innovation can no longer be left to chance. One of the tools here is connectors that translate knowledge, utilise social solutions and dare to engage in dynamic interaction to satisfy new demands. Another is risk-sharing and social responsibility across geographical boundaries to release the potential for growth, value change and social innovation.

This article is part of Nordregio News #1.2017. Read the entire issue here:

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