Rural policy requires forward-looking, demand-based thinking that will respond both to the individual needs of moving and multi-located Finns as well as global challenges to the environmental, energy and natural resources policies. The upcoming spring elections and the on-going reform of rural financing programmes offer an excellent time window for reforming thinking about the countryside.
The countryside of tomorrow will be formed according to how Finland can recognise and create new demand for the countryside and to respond to it.
“The countryside cannot be saved by saving; instead it will renew itself and succeed by answering future needs. Could it even be that we have already tried to save the countryside half to death?” asked Eeva Hellström, Director of Sitra’s Landmarks Programme, in her keynote speech. Hellström spoke at the “Is countryside needed” seminar organised at the University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu on the 14 Feb 2010.
The countryside could have a much more significant role than currently as a wellspring of Finnish vitality and enabler of sustainable solutions. According to Hellström, this does not happen automatically but requires reform in rural thinking as well as business, development work and policy.
Finns expect the countryside to enable them to control their everyday life, live unhurried and free lives, express themselves and to provide a deeper meaning for their lives. However, this does not necessarily happen through moving to the countryside but multi-locatedness and movement between various locations will lead to creation of new kinds of locality identities and communal roles.
“The change in the way of thinking means that we must predict Finns’ consumer demand. For example, what do the future carbon neutralists, organic urbanites, ethno provincials, people engaging in hobbies at the countryside or agro-pensioners want from the countryside?” asks Hellström.
According to her, there is a growing global demand for local green economy solutions, such as local energy, local food, local tourism as well as local bioeconomy solutions. “Finland as a sparsely populated but highly developed country has excellent opportunities to develop new decentralised business concepts, which could be both profitable and eco-efficient. If we could succeed in this, the rural competence could have significant international demand.
Tomorrow’s spearheading solutions must be created today
Finns’ needs and global opportunities are already recognised at the level of visions but concrete objectives and practical measures are still focused on the needs of the countryside. “In order for changes to occur, the future demand must be raised to the level of current needs in rural policy. What Finnish rural thinking needs are somersaults taking area-oriented thinking closer human-oriented and global thinking,” says Hellström.
Most rural policy documents approach business development with sector basis and supply orientation.
"If the starting point of boosting new business is the limiting of current future visions within the structures of current sectoral thinking and innovation system, the most significant innovation potential is lost already before starting off,” says Hellström.
According to her, the key issue in utilising the innovation potential in the countryside is how rural actors participate in current human-oriented innovation environments, which are open for all and ubiquitous. This is enabled by cross-web services, to which rural and urban people and communities should be encouraged to participate. “The new operating culture can utilise, for example, participative web services and social media solutions. HUB- and Living Lab -type physical innovation points can be spread across Finland, that is to say, in addition to universities and official spaces, to where people naturally meet each other.
Demand-oriented and enabling rural thinking must be strengthened in rural policy. Finland has a special time window to reform its rural thinking this year when the new government is taking its first rural policy steps while the rural financing programmes are being renewed for the next EU financial period.
Eeva Hellström, Director, Landmarks Programme, Sitra, phone +358 50 3512 412
Tuula Tiihonen, Specialist, Strategic Communications, Sitra, phone + 358 40 160 9070
Sitra’s Landmarks Programme recognises future needs and seeks new ways for the countryside to respond to, for example, climate change, mobile lifestyle and accelerating rhythm of life. During the spring 2011, the Programme will seek answers to, for example, the following questions:
- What do people think of the countryside and how do they discuss it?
- What does the countryside mean to modern Finns?
- How does the relationship with the countryside affect the experience of good life?
- What kind of consumer demand will be directed at the countryside in the future?
- What do the Finns think should be done with the countryside?