Enhancing societal Transition for Sustainable Regeneration: the case of Madonie Inner Area

Designing Outcome-oriented Performance Regimes to enhance societal transition for inner area regeneration

This is the presentation I gave at the Public Administration Review Symposium on Harnessing the evolutionary advantage of emergent PM regimes: Strengthening accountability for challenges of modern public administration and governance (28th Jan 2022).

In this article, we frame sustainable Inner Area regeneration as complex issue requiring collaborative policies aimed at triggering societal transition process, i.e., changes in dominant public values. In this perspective, regeneration is seen a continuous, rather than a discrete, process. The primary focus for assessing performance governance outcomes is on the inertial changes in a system’s state, rather than on the “leap” from a previous to a new system’s state as implicitly suggested by discrete modernization initiatives.

Conference presentation at the Public Administration Review Symposium 28th Jan 2022.

A synthesis of our paper may give you more insights into our perspective on this issue.

Inner area regeneration as a dynamic and complex issue requiring the use of outcome- oriented performance regimes in collaborative settings

Particularly in the last two decades, the population of cities has been increasing all over the world at a sustained pace. It has been estimated that eight people out of ten will live in urban areas by 2050 (European Commission, 2011). Conversely, “inner areas” are experiencing a demographic decay.

Inner areas combine both urban and rural features, embedding several municipalities where thousands of people reside. Their socio-economic development has been considered as primarily related to policy-makers’ capability to leverage: 1) natural resource endowments, 2) poly-centric networks of small towns distant from large cities and service hubs, and 3) a combination of innovation and tradition. In spite of such common traits, inner areas may portray even significant heterogeneities, both among the municipalities they comprise, and between them in a wider region (Barca, 2014).

Major causes of inner area decline have been found in the loss of job opportunities and the consequential population decay (Istat, 2019; OECD, 2006; Tondo, 2019) due to the lack of mobility infrastructures and modern services (Baldwin & Dixon, 2008; Banister & Berechman, 2001, 2003; Prud’homme, 2004). To cope with such issues, regeneration and integration initiatives have been planned within the European Union (EU) “cohesion policy” framework through which different institutions (e.g., European agencies, member States, local governments, businesses, and non-profit organizations) may pursue economic, social and regional integration1 (Barca, 2009; Begg, 2010; European Commission, 1996; Hooghe, 1996; Hooghe & Marks, 2001).

This study focuses on the regeneration policies for inner areas and their settled communities. Regeneration has been described as “programmes and policies intent to lead to the social, economic and/or community development or rejuvenation of a local area – and particularly where this area has recently suffered significant decline or depopulation” (Osborne et al., 2002a, p. 4).

There has been traditionally a scholarly interest in urban regeneration (Couch, 1990; P. Jones & Evans, 2008; Leary & McCarthy, 2013; Tallon, 2010), while inner area regeneration is still a relatively underexplored topic. This is probably due to the recent adoption of the “inner” term, associated with that of “area regeneration”, particularly in practitioners’ contexts (Barca, 2014).

A neighbor research field to that of “inner areas” is provided by the studies on rural regeneration (Edwards et al., 2000; Osborne et al., 2002a, 2002b; Pemberton, 2019; Shand, 2016; Shucksmith, 2000). They focus on countryside and mountain regions which provide habitats embodying human settlements scattered into a natural environment (Moseley, 2003; Woods, 2005).

The insights emerging from both urban and rural regeneration studies cannot be passively transposed to the field of inner areas. In fact, though such areas combine urban and rural features, they seamlessly blend a poly-centric network of small towns and their countryside into a whole geographic and social context.

The experienced EU Cohesion Policies aimed at regenerating the inner areas of underdeveloped regions (e.g., in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain) has been characterized by a “discrete event” approach primarily focused on infrastructure improvement (e.g., mobility services, communication and information technology) to enhance community quality of life and local area attractiveness (Pemberton, 2019). Though this approach may have enhanced transportation, tourism and social services (Polverari, 2016), it has left a number of unaddressed issues, if we frame regeneration under a “holistic sustainability” perspective. In fact, the relevance of inner area regeneration stems from a natural, cultural, and social standpoint. Sustaining the impact of regeneration policies over time needs to systemically address a multitude of inertial changes involving culture and institutions (Bianchi et al., 2021), which also entails pursuing an integration between innovation and tradition, and among stakeholders’ objectives and aims (Hoyle, 2006, p. 415).

In this perspective, sustainable regeneration entails framing the specific challenges featuring the dynamic complexity of the context which require the use of proper methods enabling policy analysis to enhance societal transition to sustain enduring outcomes. A transition is “a radical, structural change of a societal (sub)system that is the result of a coevolution of economic, cultural, technological, ecological, and institutional developments at different scale levels” (Rotmans & Loorbach, 2009, p. 185).

Implementing inner area regeneration raises complex challenges for policy-makers (Couch, 1990).

A first challenge is the need of involving a plurality of local stakeholders (Murray & Greer, 1997; Osborne et al., 2002b; Pemberton, 2019; Shucksmith, 2000; Warburton, 1998), such as farmers (McManus et al., 2012; Scott, 2004), community development professionals (McArdle, 2012), voluntary and community sector infrastructure bodies (Osborne et al., 2006, p. 235). Since these stakeholders can only affect a bounded portion of the systemic issues at hand (e.g., population decay, house abandonment, economic decline, hydrogeological instability), cross-sector collaboration is needed (Crosby & Bryson, 2010; Head & Alford, 2015; Lægreid & Rykkja, 2014).

To address these issues, the most representative municipalities in the target areas – in terms of population, land size, political power, reputation, etc. – could play a leading role in fostering an interinstitutional collaboration (e.g., through municipal alliances and local development agencies) to enhance policy analysis (Ansell & Gash, 2007a; Crosby & Bryson, 2010). Also, such collaboration could take a multilevel governance shape, involving sub- and supra-national stakeholders (Osborne et al., 2002b; Ray, 2006).

A second challenge is identifying the fields of practice for inner area regeneration. Since inner areas are usually based on traditional industries, (e.g., farming, forestry, and fisheries) with small businesses development bounded by lacking infrastructures (OECD, 2006; Pemberton, 2019), regeneration policies should leverage the vocational features of such context, related to history and tradition, naturalistic attributes, culture, etc. In this context, the cornerstones of inner area regeneration can be provided by policies aimed at innovating local entrepreneurship (e.g., organic agriculture and tourism business), self-employment (e.g., traditional, craftsmanship and online retailers), housing (e.g., affordable houses and second-home), and public service delivery (e.g., transportation, health, and education) (Stockdale, 2006). Also, in order to attract new residents (McManus & Connell, 2014; Stockdale, 2006), territorial marketing may promote the attributes of the place (e.g., the environment, culture, and products) through movies, arts, design, and craftsmanship (Bell & Jayne, 2010).

A third challenge is the need for widening the range of options for project funding and implementation. In this regard, crowdfunding, administrative barter, shared administration, and co- production may attract supplementary funding sources or activate endogenous resources (Cepiku et al., 2019). Such practices would overcome the limited endowments of current regeneration funding schemes for inner areas.

A fourth challenge is the lack of social capital, local rooting, leadership, trust, and skills in the inner area, which may tackle the implementation of plans. For instance, only a narrow scope of organizations may be potentially available to start collaborative partnerships (Edwards et al., 2000; Pemberton, 2019). Also, their institutional limitations may hamper the networking power of local government because of a lack of jurisdiction on specific matters (e.g., health care, environment, and education) that pertain to the regional or national level (Osborne et al., 2004).

To summarize, inner areas may compound the dichotomy of the city and the countryside (Woods, 2010). The regeneration of such areas mixes the “rural idyll” (Pemberton, 2019, p. 99) – as a condition depicting a “problem free” area, needing modernization – with the decay of urban spaces affected by unbalanced growth (e.g., population decay, house abandonment, economic decline, hydrogeological instability). In this context, public sector leaders should play the role of balancing the needs and priorities of “community of place” (i.e., inner area residents) and of “community of interests”, related to all the involved stakeholders (Glynn, 1986; Shucksmith, 2000). This issue can be helpful for framing a multidimensional view of sustainable regeneration for inner areas.

For inner area regeneration, learning forums can provide stakeholders with an ideal setting for sustaining societal transition by sharing and using performance information generated by outcome- oriented routines. By capturing the embedded nature of the governance issues characterizing the described contexts (Moynihan et al., 2011, p. 141), such practices may support leaders in building trust, managing conflict, and outlining consistent policy analysis at both inner area and agency levels.

Hoping that you enjoyed this work and if you are Intersted in, please, drop me a line!

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