Demographic change: times of crisis or times of innovation for regional development?

Session organisers:
Angela Jain, Nexus-Institut für Kooperationsmanagement und interdisziplinäre Forschung GmbH, Germany, (jain@nexusinstitut.de)
Martin Schiefelbusch, Nexus-Institut für Kooperationsmanagement und interdisziplinäre Forschung GmbH, Germany, (schiefelbusch@nexusinstitut.de)
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Demographic change is posing a challenge to almost all regions in Europe. Affected regions are confronted with the task of providing and financing public services for a reduced number of users. How do sparsely populated regions of Europe adapt their technical and social infrastructure to the changing demographics?

Regional coordination across local authority boundaries is often a difficult process of negotiation. Frequently it is a question of deciding which public services are to continue to be provided and at which localities, which are to be discontinued or provided in a different form. These decisions, which are not always easy, often have a great impact on individual localities and the entire region. Forward-looking coping strategies not only need to design new solutions for the provision of infrastructure, but also need to improve the general approach of implementation: away from sectoral thinking towards cross-sectoral, inter- and transdisciplinary approaches. According to the German “Programme of Action for the Provision of Regional Public Services” (www.regionale-daseinsvorsorge.de), the adaptation of the technical and social infrastructure functions the best when designed with respect to the following criteria:

  • Interactions between different service sectors are taken into account
  • Broad-based participation to discuss the challenges with a group of people that is as broadly based as possible
  • Longer planning horizon – a timeframe of around 20 years is desirable, which goes way beyond the validity period of many sectoral plans
  • Regional solutions - future adaptation measures need not just to be discussed within a municipality, but solutions are jointly sought for the entire region.

In our session we would like to discuss why the need for adaptation and innovation is mostly seen as problem and loss of quality of life and why not as opportunity, in a positive way. Experiences from the Nordic countries are particularly valuable in this respect, because the low population densities have always required attention to good collaboration and an efficient use of resources.