The fifth EPRC webinar of 2023 was held on 14 June (11:00 – 12:00 UK) over Zoom. Alistair Adam Hernández (VISTRA) and Alexandru Brad (Thünen Institute) presented on “InDaLe – Innovative Public Service Provision in Rural Areas: Mutual learning between Germany, Sweden, Austria, and Scotland”.
In many structurally weak and sparsely populated rural regions of Europe, demographic change and unstable local finances are pushing public services to the brink of their feasibility. With this, the quality of life in such places appears to decline – to name just a few examples, schools and doctors’ practices close, while volunteer fire departments struggle to recruit new members.
These challenges are by no means specific to less developed or developing regions. Many rural areas in Germany, for instance, have grappled with the challenge of providing basic public services as a cornerstone for increasing their attractiveness in the long run. Beyond the ongoing struggle to cover operative costs, local and regional authorities have the opportunity to submit bids for funding pilot schemes which test innovative ways of improving, expanding or reorganising public services under their jurisdiction. In spite of their prominence on the political agenda as instruments of place-driven change, pilot projects tend to encounter multiple barriers and obstacles that prevent them from scaling up into mainstream solutions.
Yet the relatively few initiatives that do manage to beat the odds, invite the question: how do they get there? Which factors favour their mainstreaming and what could other places learn from this experience?
The InDaLE research project (InDaLE is the German acronym for Innovative approaches to services of general interest in rural areas – What Germany can learn from the experience of other European countries) has spent the last three years investigating good practices in pursuing innovations in public services in the rural areas of four European countries: Germany, Sweden, Austria and Scotland. The project has analysed a total of 18 projects in:
- Medical and nursing care as a marker for ensuring the quality of life in different life phases in rural areas;
- Fire services and hazard prevention, where the ubiquitous volunteer-based model in Germany and Austria can no longer be taken for granted in regions with high emigration rates and an ageing population;
- Post-school education and training whose effects on regional and rural development in Germany have barely been studied.
The speakers focused on fire services and hazard prevention in this webinar, though also provided some general findings and conclusions from the overall project.
The project team examined the challenges associated with delivering these public services, analysed tried-and-tested solutions, built a database of innovative projects which reached mainstream stats, carried out interviews with key actors and on-site fieldwork (Covid restrictions allowing), and analysed the data with the aim to identify cross-sectoral and trans-national factors which enable projects to go beyond their pilot phase.
Alistair Adam Hernández holds a business degree from the University of La Laguna and a master’s degree in regional development and economic promotion from the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Göttingen. He has experience as a practitioner in rural development and a doctorate in geography on rural community resilience at the University of Vechta. He works currently as an action researcher at the Vechta Institute of Sustainability Transformation in Rural Areas (VISTRA), as well as a freelance consultant and trainer associated with ÖAR GmbH.
Alexandru Brad studied town planning at the University of Sheffield and now works at the Thünen Institute for Rural Studies in Braunschweig. His current research focuses on public services and the impact of climate policies on living conditions in rural areas. He is also in the final stage of obtaining a PhD from Leipzig University with a thesis on territorial cohesion in peripheralised regions.
Future EPRC webinars will delve into sustainability, regional policy and development topics.
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