Resilient regions: An increasing necessity in volatile societies

Local communities and regional authorities are faced with continuous uncertainty. Emerging technologies, economic crises, political changes and environmental disasters can cause shocks and crises challenging the long-term economic development and wellbeing at the local level. A new report from Nordregio focuses on how to become more agile and adaptable in the face of such challenges.

“Resilience” comes from the Latin term “resilire”, to leap back or to rebound, or in a regional development context: to cope with change and continue to develop.

Regions and local communities that face sudden economic downturn or other types of major shocks, whether they come from within or from outside, can either “bounce back” or “bounce forward”; they can try to recover their former strength or use the opportunity to adapt towards new development paths.

Through a series of cases studies, the report “Regional Economic and Social Resilience: an exploratory in-depth study in the Nordic countries” describes examples of both reactions. It looks at what risks Nordic regions are particularly vulnerable to, as well as what the role of regional authorities is and how regions can best prepare for change.

Key findings emphasize the importance of being agile and adapt to changing conditions rather than guarding yourself against them; they also point at the role of people and social networks as crucial factors to successful adaptation.

– Solid and efficient institutions, and financial means are important preconditions for regions to be prepared against unwanted developments and to prevent major shocks. However, this study has shown that trust amongst regional actors, social cohesion and human capital are essential to respond to inevitable threats, says Nordregio Research Fellow Alberto Giacometti, the main author behind the report.

The report also notes a move from the “planning optimism” of the past towards an increased focus on preparing for the unexpected and uncertain.

– This study highlights, that all regions, without exception, are under permanent presence of risks and stress. Therefore, on the long-run, resilience is not as dependent on regions ability to repel shocks, but rather on their flexibility and adaptability to changing conditions, Giacometti adds.

The report points to the strength of the Nordic welfare state, with its broad participation model, public-private partnerships and inclusive decision-making processes, as particularly apt at supporting the formation of resilient regions capable of facing future challenges.

Case studies include Vejle in Denmark, Northern Ostrobothnia in Finland, the Westman Islands in Iceland, Rogaland in Norway and Norrbotten in Sweden; the report also includes a catalogue of risks and recommended responses.