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05.2 Public Services and Infrastructures: Shifting Roles, Responsibilities and Delivery Approaches in Rural Areas

Thursday, June 29, 2023
11:00 - 12:30


Dr. Jan Matthias Stielike
University of Bonn

Prerequisites of a digital provision of after-school education and potentials for sparsely populated regions


The contribution discusses prerequisites and potentials of a digital provision of after-school education for sparsely populated regions. The Swedish Akademi Norr serves as a case study.

After-school education is highly specialised. To allow provision at reasonable cost, such services are usually provided at few centralised locations. Resulting poor accessibilities are a serious barrier for learners to pursue further education, especially in sparsely populated regions. A digital provision of such services is often regarded a solution.

Akademi Norr provides access to after-school education via videoconferencing systems. Decentralised learning centres ensure face-to-face exchange between learners and allow for the possibility to sit exams nearby. Investigation of the case study is based on theme-centred interviews with key stakeholders.

Akademi Norr was successful because, firstly, the service is suitable for digitalisation in principle and no physical contact is necessary, secondly, the technical implementation in terms of broadband supply and software was unproblematic, thirdly, the digital provision was feasible with regard to legal issues, fourthly, the financing was secured, fifthly, a structure was found with the learning centres that is suitable to support untrained learners, and sixthly, the necessary know-how could be created among teachers and learners. Finally, there was widespread agreement among the stakeholders involved to make the project a success.

The example of Akademi Norr also shows the potential of a digital provision of services for sparsely populated regions. The possibility to partake in courses from remote has led to improved access to educational opportunities and ultimately to a higher quality of life.
Dr. Christoph Mager
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Rural cultural development through flagship infrastructure? The TauberPhilharmonie concert hall and the provision of public services of general interest


If commentators have already stated a profound crisis in the provision of rural social and cultural infrastructures before the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation is even more tense after curfews have resulted in further restrictions on services. To meet these challenges, the German government and most of the federal states have launched policies and temporary funding programmes to strengthen socio-cultural infrastructures especially in rural areas. These schemes usually provide support to promote the most ‘creative ideas’ for a vibrant local culture, to stimulate multi-actor networks and to initiate ‘progressive’ reorganisation of remaining infrastructures. In contrast to such project-based, competitive and impermanent approaches to cultural governance the establishment of new amenities is a rarity. However, as individual examples of concert halls and art museums show, there are recent efforts to offer cultural services through flagship facilities also in rural areas.
Using the example of the TauberPhilharmonie, a 15 million euro concert and event hall that opened in 2019 in the small rural town of Weikersheim in southern Germany, we map and evaluate shifting discourses and networks of establishing and running such infrastructures. Conceptually, we employ notions of embeddedness to scrutinise the spatial and relational anchoring of different actors and networks. Analysing newspaper coverage, policy documents and interviews with stakeholders from regional planning, city administration and cultural work we show how and why cultural infrastructures negotiate between marketization of cultural work and requirements of delivering cultural services of general interest to diverse communities on local and regional scales.
Suzan Christiaanse
Consultant / Postdoc, Erasmus Governance Design Studio,
Placelift | Erasmus University

Facility-Wise: a serious game as co-creative tool for planning rural services


To deal with declining levels of rural facilities and services, the local governments of North-West Fryslân (Netherlands), commissioned the development of a co-creative planning tool. This resulted in the serous game ‘Facility-Wise’, a multi-deployable tool that can be used for participatory planning, co-creation or self-organization of services. This project builds on the knowledge that local facilities can have different individual or communal meanings, and closure can lead to a sense of loss. The negative experiences of facility-decline could possibly be mitigated by giving rural residents a sense of control by involving them in the planning process. In this paper we describe the development of Facility-Wise, and explore if this co-creative planning tool could mitigate negative experiences of facility-decline by building collective self-efficacy. To this end we evaluate the written and visual report of the test-sessions, participant feedback, observation of implementation, and an interview with a practitioner that currently uses the planning tool in the Netherlands. The development of Facility-Wise followed an inductive and design-led approach through a participatory process with local governments, residents, local enterprises and civic, social and fraternal organizations. Six real cases were used for prototyping. The final interactive workshop format can support co-creation for health care, education, sport, cultural or private facilities. A game board leads 6-10 participants through various discussion-elements that help explore scenario’s for development. While more research is needed, this paper showcases the use of a design-led approach to develop a co-creation tool that could support collective self-efficacy in communities that deal with facility-decline.
Annett Steinführer
Thünen Institute of Rural Studies

Shifting responsibilities? On the present and the future of volunteer rural firefighting in different European countries


Rural firefighting is a rarely studied sphere of public services. In many European rural areas, the fire service is run almost exclusively by volunteers. Often, voluntary fire brigades are a taken for granted local service that is called out in both emergency and non-emergency situations. However, population decline and ageing, changing commuting patterns, new expectations related to civic engagement and technological change are prompting fire brigades to adjust their structures in the face of, at the same time, more and often more disastrous emergencies. In Germany, for example, the number of volunteer firefighters has been declining until recently, while the number of interventions has been increasing.
Aiming to guarantee fire protection in the light of these challenges, actors at different levels (from individual fire brigades to national stakeholders) have pursued a wide range of strategies and projects. The partial introduction of full-time firefighters, the initiation of intra-regional co-operations, or an increased attention to fire safety education are but a few examples. These adaptations raise fundamental questions about the redefinition and redistribution of responsibility towards private organisations, citizens or the state in this sphere of public services as well as about its future governance.
In our paper we aim to shed light on the changing nature of rural firefighting in Germany, Austria and Scotland. We will draw on results of the recently completed research project “Innovative Approaches to Services of General Interest in Rural Areas – Learning from the Experiences of Other European Countries for Germany (InDaLE)”.

Session host

Alexandru Brad
Thünen Institute of Rural Studies

Tialda Haartsen
Professor Rural Geography
University of Groningen



Contact for questions about abstracts or registration: groningen@congressbydesign.com 

Contact for questions about the content of the programme: ruralgeo2023@rug.nl