New businesses and labour markets in ROBUST

Fri 20 Oct 2017

An interview with Karlheinz Knickel (Policy Research & Consultancy), the leader of ROBUST's Community of Practice on new businesses and labour markets.

What is the most pressing current issue/challenge related to new business models and labour markets (in the context of rural-urban linkages)?

ROBUST is to contribute to the European Commission's thematic research area ‘Rural Renaissance - Fostering innovation and business opportunities’ which is driven by the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy. The specific challenges ROBUST is addressing result from the increasing urbanisation and suburbanisation, which are global phenomena, far-reaching demographic changes, population ageing, and, in some rural areas, depopulation. 

Trends that are happening simultaneously include the wider transformation of rural economies and communities as well as counter-urbanisation processes. The latter can for example be connected with the rise of creative industries and a variety of micro-businesses in peri-urban and rural areas, sometimes also including business relocations. The rapidly advancing digitalisation in key societal areas and automation in industrial production will also have a massive impact on labour markets. Of course, all these trends are more or less connected. They result in new types of rural-urban interactions, new dependencies and new opportunities; and all impact on the development of new businesses and job opportunities. 


What is a misconception about rural and or urban areas regarding this topic?

Many development strategies are still based on the rather static idea of a dichotomy of ‘the urban’ and ‘the rural’. The reality is much more complex: it is multi-dimensional, multi-actor and dynamic. The same applies to the cross-sectoral linkages and socio-economic interrelations between rural, peri-urban and urban spaces. The economic activities across these areas are highly complex and differentiated. 

ROBUST will improve our understanding of how and under which conditions socio-economic relations between urban, peri-urban and rural areas generate synergies that translate into a more balanced and more inclusive socio-economic development. Equally relevant in that respect are the flows of labour and capital between urban, peri-urban and rural areas, with their far-reaching impacts on the distribution of economic activity. ROBUST will show that there is a dynamic continuum along rural–peri-urban–urban trajectories and that this continuum and its dynamic nature need to be the starting point for more future-oriented development planning and policy.


Which ROBUST living labs will be dealing with new business models and labour markets? What are the related activities?

ROBUST will actively involve a wider group of stakeholders including businesses, interest groups and NGOs through focus groups, feedback workshops, and other interactive methods. 11 place-based case studies or Living Labs are pivotal in this. The Living Labs provide a space for collaboration and joint learning function among decision-makers, researchers, citizens, businesses and other stakeholders. 

Interest in this Community of Practice (CoP) has been very high. Four Living Labs have this CoP as their first priority: In Helsinki Municipality we will ask how to govern cross-border rural-urban links of businesses, and how to support and connect innovative urban and rural start-up hubs across the region. The implementation of the European policy for urban consolidation is high on the agenda of decision-makers in the Lisbon Regional Authority. In Gloucestershire we will ask how the expected high levels of growth over the next 15-20 years can be managed with the associated housing development and infrastructure. A key question in Styria Metropolitan Area is how new trends in labour markets, like the rise of knowledge-intensive and creative businesses, can be matched with the very heterogeneous resources of the city-region. A related question is how to most effectively support the self-efficacy of people and businesses. The lack of connectivity between the city and the rural areas is a constant challenge in the area, for example in decisions on the most appropriate location for new companies. For three more Living Labs the CoP has been the second priority: Ljubljana Reg Dev Agency, Ede Municipality, and FrankfurtRheinMain.


Can you name a few current best practices/good examples in this field (in research or, preferably, in practice)?

In ROBUST we will look at economic, environmental and social linkages and dependencies in an integrated way in a wide range of territorial settings. The fact that the ROBUST consortium combines the experience and competences of a wide variety of partner organisations will contribute to achieving a more integrated analysis. The increased integration in turn will ultimately find its expression in concrete opportunities for greater cross-sectoral cooperation and synergies. Through the joint work we will, eventually, be in a position to define what well-established relations and interdependencies and well-working place-based governance arrangements mean in practice, and how precisely that can contribute to share functions and space between urban, peri-urban and rural areas and achieve more balanced and sustainable development overall.

The synergy scanning, mapping and evaluation approach, in particular, will go far beyond previous work in identifying limiting and enabling factors. Our analysis will, on this basis, critically engage with the EU’s smart regional growth policy and will ask how its implementation can become more effective in fostering mutually beneficial relations. Integrated smart specialisation strategies are meant to respond to complex development challenges. The idea is to support the creation of knowledge-based jobs not only in leading research and innovation hubs but also in less developed and rural regions.

A related question is how and under which conditions socio-economic relations between urban, peri-urban and rural areas generate synergies that translate into a more balanced and more inclusive socio-economic development. Information and communication technology changes things, as it allows greater distances between companies, their markets and their employees. Similarly, the development of the circular economy is expected to impact significantly on cities and rural economies, as well as on interrelationships between the two. A big open question is who the service providers of the future are, where they are located and how this impacts on urban-rural relations. Related questions are what these trends might imply practically, which models will be implemented, and what new combinations of skills will be required. Our related analyses, however, are only starting.


What are the main outputs you expect from ROBUST in this thematic area?

ROBUST will help decision-makers in public and private sectors to understand, in concrete and operational terms, how linkages and dependencies between urban and rural activities affect socio-economic developments, and specifically the creation of added value and jobs. SMEs are often seen as the main motor of the economy in terms of job creation, and ROBUST will investigate how they can be more effectively promoted.

Our main assumption is that well-functioning relationships between urban and rural areas can lead to sustainable socio-economic development. Our particular motivation in this thematic area is to be able to foster an increased cross-sectoral cooperation that in turn supports more sustainable, integrated and inclusive forms of development, building on local assets and natural resources, improving adaptive capacities and the resilience to global change.

With regard to policy frameworks, we will pay particular attention to the possibilities of the European Structural and Investment Funds as a key enabler of EU Cohesion Policy, including rural development under the Common Agricultural Policy and the strategic agenda and direction of the next CAP (2021-2027), the Innovation Union, and recent developments on rural-urban partnerships in the context of the Urban Agenda, for example and energy and climate policies.

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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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