In the framework of the European Week of Regions and Cities, the Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (with regions from northern Sweden, Norway and Finland) and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland organised the workshop “Renaissance for Remote Rurban Regions through Research”. The well balanced panellists offered viewpoints from the European, national and regional level as well as the technical expertise of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECd) due to publish the 2016 Regional Outlook on the development of less densely populated areas. Although Dr José Enrique Garcilazo, Head of Unit, Rural and Regional Development at the OECD did not provide too much insight on the report (released a few hours later and now available), he did share detailed insight on some of the economic specificities low density regions.
A number of lessons can be drawn from the fact that data shows that some remote, low density areas are in fact creating more jobs and are more productive than some densely populated regions. First, the notion of innovation needs to be expanded. Traditionally innovation tends to be reduced to research and development (R&D) in cities. But innovation also happens in rural areas, in other forms and beyond R&D, with equal impact. The OECD stresses the importance of an integrated approach between innovation, human and infrastructure for optimum development and acknowledges that the regional level is the best level to apply that principle. The 2016 Regional Outlook speaks of “rural policy 3.0” where the development goal goes beyond “competitiveness” and aims to deliver a much more trendy “well-being”.
Ms Donna Chisholm, Head of Business Innovation and Growth Sectors, presented the strategic approach adopted by the Scottish Highlands and Islands Enterprise to move the area up the rank of the OECD listings. “We value and work with every single business in our region, providing support and grants for each business to take steps towards innovation”.
Professor Birgitta Bergvall-Kåreborn, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Luleå University of Technology described the different measures and actions set up in Norrbotten (SE). She advocated for regions to put themselves on the forefront of test markets which would bring in state of the art research in regions. She gave the examples of Kiruna, as a test city for developing smart cities and regions in a cold climate; and test labs to improve the construction and operation of test data centres.
Ms Tove Sorensen, Norwegian Centre for e-Health Research, and Head of the WHO Collaboration Centre for Telemedicine and e-Health shared some recent development in the e-health sector with notions of patient empowerment, video conference but also still-imaging conference. She concluded with the message that developing e-health solutions is intended to bring added support to health facilities and is never used as an argument for closing facilities or reducing expenses.
Harri Malinen, Project Manager for Arctic Smartness Excellence, University of Lapland, presented the Lapland Arctic Smart Specialisation Strategy. With five business-driven clusters and fifteen cluster-based project initiatives (e.g. in H2020, Interreg Europa, NPA and Interreg Nord), and having developed the Arctic Smartness model as a brand and methodology, Lapland is intended to be the leading sparsely populated implementer of the S3 strategy in the EU by 2018.