Thu 08 Jul 2021

Live Case 6: Intercommunal Cooperation

Since starting our Living Lab work in Spring 2019 we have defined the visualisation of existing innovative examples of the Metropolitan Area of Styria as one of our research aims. By implementing a permanent online database as part of the RMSZR (Regional Management of the Metropolitan Area of Styria) website, we want to increase the awareness of the realisation and relevance of innovative projects referring to the four central themes of the Regional Development Strategy 2020+:

  • Shaping high value living space + integrated quality localities,
  • Promoting civic participation + life-long learning,
  • Securing sensitive use of the environment, landscape and resources and
  • Enabling demand-oriented mobility + intelligent traffic solutions.

The aim is to provide information on the existing examples, to enable knowledge exchange within and beyond the region and to give a strong impetus to municipalities to implement similar intermunicipal projects. Intermunicipal cooperation in the region is supported by the new law on Planning and Development of the Province of Styria and its Regions, which provides a regional budget for projects that are realised by at least two or more municipalities since the year 2018.  Within the framework of this law all mayors of the 52 municipalities – from small municipalities like Stiwoll with 707 inhabitants to large municipalities like the City of Graz with 331,359 inhabitants – can apply for the available regional budget. The budget is drawn from provincial and municipal resources and amounts for the MAS to about 3.5 million Euros per year.

In the virtual project atlas, the various regional projects are identified by colours and assigned along the key topics of the Regional Development Strategy 2020+.

In addition to the projects funded by the regional budget, regional initiatives that were financed by other funding programme like LEADER or EFRA / IWB are also presented in the online database. The respective funding channels are also linked, so that the visitors to the virtual map can get further information about the funding programmes.

The project atlas will be online from June 2021 and freely accessible to all interested parties.  This tool is not only intended to increase the exchange of knowledge within the region and to promote rural-urban linkages, but also to boost international exchange of experiences and cross-border cooperation.

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Mon 16 Nov 2020

Live Case 5: Intercommunal Cooperation and Synergies

At the beginning of our work in the Living Lab, we defined research goals and three types of innovations to be achieved by the end of the ROBUST project. In the Metropolitan Area of Styria (MAS) one of the goals is to identify new municipality tasks and responsibilities following the application of shared economy concepts, as well es mapping innovative examples in the whole region.

In the meanwhile, telephone interviews with 38 of the 52 mayors in the region and online-research form the basis to achieve the objectives set at the beginning. Based on eleven criteria, several good practice examples could be identified in the region.

The interviews highlighted new municipality tasks, as well as challenges to and the potential for collaboration between the rural and urban municipalities in the region. Here we present two initial key findings: (1) The noticeable inbalance between small rural regions and peri-urban or urban areas, and (2) the existing awareness of the mayors for inter-communal cooperation.

Many smaller municipalities feel disadvantaged compared to their larger neighbours. The fear of not being heard or of not being able to assert their own interests is often deeply anchored in these municipalities.

"[There is] this gap that as a small municipality you always have to fight to get public money, for example when expanding the state road. As a small municipality it is harder to get public money than a big municipality. " [Int._13]

“The “clock tower thinking” is no longer there anyway. We will have to work together even more in the GU-Süd [Small Region in the south of Graz], also across the Mur, because the traffic crosses the municipal boundaries, just like the water and the cooperation must be large-scale. The thinking that every municipality needs a middle school and a huge event centre has changed. We have good communication between the municipalities, for example when it comes to schools. But of course, there is still room for improvement.” [Int._17]

Opening of REGIOtim in Köflach, one of our Best Practice Examples @RMSZR 2020

However, despite these imbalances, the interviews showed an increasing shift from "clock tower thinking" to a more integrated approach for regional development. The topics are manifold and can be found in the theme of “Public Infrastructure and Social Services”, such as establishing common social and care infrastructure, implementing mobility concepts and introducing a regional waste management plan.

The concept of sharing resources is an issue that is unconsciously present in some municipalities. However, the topic of home office has never been more relevant than in the times of COVID-19. Therefore, shared offices and establishing co-working spaces will be more and more common in the future.

All results will be presented in the future by means of a "regional travel guide", which presents the project landscape of the metropolitan area. The projects will be presented using the method of storytelling. One may therefore be excited about the regional travel guide, which will be available in both German and English.

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Thu 16 Jul 2020

Live Case 4: Just A 'Kurze Pause' in Styria

For the last couple of months, the Metropolitan Area of Styria Living Lab was set on pause, like all other regions in the ROBUST project, and almost all regions in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic may have limited our physical contact, but it did not stop us from continuing to work on our research agenda for the Living Lab and our Communities of Practice.

In mid-March 2020, Austria imposed its national lockdown and the both the practice and research partners relocated their office into their own homes. While at the beginning of "Home Office", technical challenges - such as dealing with digital communication tools - had to be overcome, but the Living Lab team can now all call themselves professional remote workers.

Conference calls became a weekly habit and the advantages of these technologies were quickly appreciated. At the same time, many conferences and meetings were cancelled. However, this gave the Living Lab, as well as the Communities of Practice, a great opportunity to intensively work on the goals of the Research and Innovation Agendas that were set at the beginning of the project.

The Public Infrastructure and Social Services Community of Practice (which is led by team members from the Living Lab) prepared 23 good practice examples and six short reports. The topics of these examples and reports have a rich diversity and range from multimodal mobility solutions to multilocal living, market failures in rural infrastructure, service hubs, broadband and the importance of cultural infrastructure. These publications can be read and downloaded on the Rural-Urban Publication Library and the Public Infrastructure and Social Services Community of Practice website

The research for the good practice examples in the Metropolitan Area of Styria Living Lab enabled the team to broaden their regional knowledge about these projects. In all elaborated examples, the project lead was contacted to get detailed information on how these innovative concepts were implemented and managed. This exchange with the local project leaders underlined the appreciation of the work within the Living Lab.

Now the five good practice examples on the topics of on-demand and flexible mobility concepts, regional and local food supply, as well as sustainable and social business models can be accessed in English and German on the Regional Management of the Metropolitan Area of Styria website.

Despite all of the technical and thematic achievements in this period, we were all looking forward to a face-to-face meeting, which we were able to do in mid-June in Vienna (of course in compliance with all safety measures). The focus of this meeting was to elaborate and interpret the qualitative data from the Metropolitan Area of Styria municipalities.

This data will provide a basis for a publication on intercommunal cooperation within the region, focusing on the three thematic foci of the Living Lab in the ROBUST project: public infrastructure and social services, new business models, and cultural activities.

Last on the agenda of the meeting, but significantly important was a discussion about the development of the working process within the Living Lab until the end of the project. It was crucial to find ways to further elevate the region’s visibility, its projects, and the individuals behind these innovative concepts, which will be introduced in the next Live Case in Fall 2020.

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Tue 29 Oct 2019

Live Case 3: Focusing on the Region's Future in Styria

How can we further elaborate on the insights we gained within the scope of our previous Live Cases?

On 9 October 2019, we turned the historic Austrian open-air museum, Stübing, into the venue of our multi-stakeholder workshop to tackle this question and create a space for regional cross-sectoral knowledge exchange. The museum is located in the Metropolitan Area of Styria, about 20 minutes from the city of Graz.

The overarching theme of the workshop was “Rural-urban Synergies in the Metropolitan Area of Styria – Future Opportunities and Needs”. The objective of the workshop was to engage stakeholders from different backgrounds and with different expertise in an open dialog to gain an integrated multi-stakeholder perspective on rural-urban interaction and synergies.

Participants included representatives from the public and private sectors, researchers, as well as representatives of NGOs, who got the opportunity to connect with regional actors from different fields of activity and to discuss key issues about the sustainable development of the region.

@ Regionalmanagement Steirischer Zentralraum GmbH

Prior to the discussion forum, we asked all participants to fill out a short profile designed according to the networking method “Analogue Facebook”. To ease the networking among stakeholders, all profiles were collected on a pin board and dispatched after the event.

The participants were then introduced to our three main topics: public infrastructure and social services, new business models and labour markets, and cultural connections. They divided into three groups to engage in lively discussions about success factors and framework conditions of inter-municipal cooperation, possible shared economy projects, and important developments and challenges in the region.

The aim was also to find out how different stakeholders could use their skills and knowledge to jointly tackle those challenges through cooperation and initiatives. Group participants were presented with three specific visions for each of the three main topics to spark the conversation. To further foster the exchange of cross-sectoral knowledge, participants were asked to switch tables after 30 minutes of discussion to work on the two remaining topics.   

The main recurring themes that were discussed included (among others) establishing demand-oriented employment and education opportunities in peripheral regions, creating new business models to preserve traditional cultural heritage, promoting and branding locally produced products, and further developing multi-model mobility approaches, as well as the aspect of supporting a regional identity.  

The workshop enabled new stakeholder groups to be integrated into the process, especially from the cultural sector, research, and public administration, which yielded a multi-perspective approach to the three topics in question.

Our workshop was successful regarding the engagement of new groups of stakeholders and in fostering a network among these groups. This aspect is a crucial factor for future cooperations and initiatives, which build on the synergies between rural, peri-urban and urban areas,” says Dr. Bernd Gassler, CEO of the Regional Management of the Metropolitan Area of Styria.

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Fri 03 May 2019

Live Case 2: Building a Broad Regional Stakeholder Network

As reported in our first Live Case, the exchange with regional stakeholders, like mayors, provincial administrations, and other experts taught us that the scope of responsibility for municipalities has changed a lot in the recent years.

Previously, topics like building construction and settlement regulation were key tasks of municipalities. Nowadays, they are also jointly responsible for complex issues, such as high-quality digital access (fiberglass expansion), smart mobility, and improving other quality of life aspects. Can these new responsibilities in the Metropolitan Area of Styria be better addressed by a shared economy approach and intercommunal cooperation?

To answer this question, we first need to identify shared economy approaches and intercommunal projects in our three ROBUST Communities of Practice: Public Infrastructure and Social Services, New Business Models and Labour Markets, and Cultural Connections.

The overall goal of the in-depth case study is therefore, to visualise the realization and relevance of good practice examples in the Metropolitan Area of Styria in a permanent online database on the Regional Management website. The data collection and presentation should provide information to answer questions like: “What are the innovative hot spots?” or “What ideas can be easily adopted in other municipalities and how?”

Photo: Regional Management Metropolitan Area of Styria

First steps of a promising in-depth case study

The basis of this data collection of good practice examples are criteria, which have been defined by the Living Lab team. Important aspects include inter-municipality, promoting social, ecological and economical sustainability, resource sharing, rural-urban linkages, etc. Altogether, we developed 11 criteria for good practices.

Intensive investigation and an online questionnaire, which will be sent out to all Metropolitan Area of Styria municipalities, will help us identify good practice examples in the region. Further, we are currently using stakeholder mapping to identify new stakeholders in the area of public infrastructure and social services, and new business models and labour markets, as well as cultural connections. The method helps us identify the distinctive roles people play, as well as the number of stakeholders engaged in particular positions. The aim of this mapping is to get an overview, identify new partners to work with, and develop visionary ideas for the region.

In our daily work, the exchange and cooperation with regional stakeholders is vital and we need to nurture these relations and extend our network when dealing with new issues and challenges. A broad network of interdisciplinary stakeholders enables us to expand regional knowledge and to approach experts about different research questions, new cooperation opportunities, and projects.

It should also serve as a basis for pairing professional experts with stakeholders and policy makers. At the moment, we are looking specifically for professional experts in the field of culture. Topic experts can help us  better understand the needs and challenges in various activity areas.

Thus, the question that keeps us busy now is: how can we approach new stakeholders and engage them in our case study process to overcome "barriers" between rural, peri-urban and urban parts of the Living Lab to enable know-how transfer in all directions?

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Wed 30 Jan 2019

Live Case 1: Is the sharing economy the answer to regional challenges in Austria?

How can implementing cooperative approaches enhance rural-urban synergies? And how can the concept of the sharing economy, intercommunal cooperation and balancing approaches support such strategies in the Metropolitan Area of Styria? These are the central questions in the Austrian Living Lab, and to address them, we organised a workshop with political and administrative representatives from the region.

The discussion aimed to explore key strengths and weaknesses of the region and define future challenges for the next five to ten years in the fields of (smart) mobility, (social) infrastructure, economy, and labour markets, as well as living conditions, sustainable natural environment and amenities.

Photo: Regional Management Metropolitan Area of Styria


The intensive exchange with stakeholders taught us that the scope of responsibility for municipalities has changed a lot over recent years. Previously, topics like building construction and settlement regulation were key tasks of municipalities. Nowadays, they are also jointly responsible for complex issues, such as high-quality digital access (fiberglass expansion).

Furthermore, the participants of the workshop stressed the huge impact of the city of Graz on the whole region. On the one hand, the city greatly benefits from immigration because of the higher education institutions, creative jobs and cultural amenities. The rural parts of the region, on the other hand, are often not as easily accessible by public transport as the city and do not benefit in a similar way.


Thus, the sharing economy, intercommunal cooperation and balancing approaches are becoming increasingly important concepts to help cope with regional challenges and improve rural-urban synergies. Starting with the introduction in 2018 of the “Law on Planning and Development of the Province of Styria and its Regions”, which explicitly fosters inter-communal projects, we are already heading in the right direction. Cooperation and civic engagement offer further opportunities to meet challenges and maintain the quality of life in rural areas.


In the coming two years, we aim to implement an online database to visualise the realization and relevance of innovative intercommunal and shared economy projects that will be designed and implemented within the Living Lab. The database will be part of the Regional Management of the Metropolitan Area of Styria’s website.

One project type example published in the database can be found in the east of Graz, in Laßnitzhöhe. “Allerleierei“ is a collaborative project by a hotelier, a vegetable grower and a restaurateur, who created a community meeting place to have lunch or a coffee break, and incidentally shop for local produce and regional products. The three local business partners live their passion and, at the same time, save and share resources by using the retail premises jointly. We expect that demonstrating positive examples like these can be a catalyst for change in our region.

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News about Rural-Urban Europe and the ROBUST project is published regularly in the INFORMED CITIES newsletter.

ROBUST is a European research project involving 24 partners from 11 countries. ROBUST receives funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 727988.

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