Service provision and access to services in Nordic rural areas – secure, trusted and for all ages

Nordic municipal and regional authorities play a central role in delivering key public services in areas, such as, health, education, and social care. Yet, public authorities have faced several challenges, including demographic change caused by an aging population and uneven population development, lack of access to labor force and adequate skills, long periods of austerity after the 2008 financial crisis, and the COVID-19 Pandemic. Public service delivery trends in the Nordics points to the increasing spatial concentration of physical services as well as the increase of web-based and digital solutions.

Based in dialogue with the Nordic thematic group for Green and Inclusive Rural Development, which is a part of the Nordic Co-operation Programme for Regional Development and Planning, the objective of this project is to analyse how essential service needs for different types of societal groups and ruralities can be understood and defined, and how solutions to rural service provision challenges can be organized. It shall also address what role public policies play to ensure that adequate actions are in place for ensuring good rural public or co-created services. Finally, the project shall develop and share valuable input to policymakers and planners at national, regional, local, and cross-border level on safe, secure and trusted service delivery models and partnerships across different Nordic rural and sparsely populated communities.

The project tasks are outlined as following:

Step 1 of the project includes a desk study on what are essential future services for different societal groups in Nordic ruralities. The essential service needs will be compared with existing rural development policies, and perspectives from national and regional experts, to identify prioritisations and policy improvements. This will result in a report on essential services in the Nordic Region.

Step 2 will map Nordic service provision, including methods and tools used for cooperation and involvement of multiple actors in providing services. This step also includes a rural accessibility analysis based on proximity to essential services. The results from the mapping and the accessibility analysis will be utilised to identify case studies as well as what types of governance arrangements and place-based solutions across the Nordic region shall be addressed.

Step 3 will include fieldwork in case studies covering how citizens experience and envision the future of service provision in rural areas, the potential collaborative and partnership models in co-creation of services as well as assessing the case studies’ transferability, policy relevance and implications for Nordic cross-border cooperation.

Step 4 will – based on the desk study, mapping, accessibility analysis, and fieldwork in case studies – develop material for and find rooms to present findings, discuss policy implications, Nordic challenges, enablers and policy implications. The results will be utilized to give policy recommendations in a policy brief.

The project runs 2021-2023 and is funded by NCM / EK-R, Nordic thematic group for green and inclusive rural development 2021-2024.