De Kempenconferentie was organized by the Dutch Rural Network (Netwerk Platteland) in cooperation with Belgium partners. The second international day workshops on several rural themes were held such as entrepreneurship, new markets, public services, governance, strategic networks and knowledge. Hereby some of my own observations. More information can be found the website of the Dutch Rural network.
New alternative food networks can bridge the gap between cities and rural hinterlands and function as an interface between producers and consumers. The challenge is to develop not only new products for existing markets or existing products for new markets, but really new products for new markets.
Private entrepreneurs can play a role as inspiring leaders in rural development, contributing to social networks, mobilizing and inspiring people, introducing new agendas and innovations and bridging the gap with institutions. Social networking and inspiring others are important competences of these entrepreneurs. Needs of entrepreneurial entrepreneurs are: public leadership and administrators who are less afraid administrative failure. There is also a need for coalitions, which means informal networks which are inspiring and productive and create capacity to act.
The workshop on public services described the new markets approach and a case on small-scale energy production in the province of North-Holland. The cases showed that the variety of stakeholders in regional co-operation is broadened, citizens, companies, businesses and governments are involved. Public/private networks in territorial development can be effective. Conditions for effective territorial development are:
- Innovative entrepreneurs, ‘nested’ in social capital.
- A pulling, objective actor which can function as an intermediate organization and facilitator. Help in building business cases is an important task.
- Regional storylines, which can help to connect these initiatives, mobilize new actors and create a basis for joint marketing. Ownership is important, and a relation with private interests.
‘Territorial Metabolism’ is an attempt to reconnect products and services to the region. It is about closed loops of energy, food on the territorial level. This can lead to a re-coupling to places, socially, economically and ecologically.
The workshop on strategic networks showed that there is often a tension between short term private interests and long term. Important for strategic networks is:
- The availability of bricks (networking), cement (involvement) and sand ( communication).
- A sense of urgency, such as unemployment in a region.
- Exchange & learning, e.g. with organisations abroad. The Rural House Plays a role in the connection of networks and up-scaling to other regions.
- The role of new social media which create new networks. It is the instrument for civil society (social movements). Twitter makes knowledge direct and explicit and democrats it. Weblogs such as food log, create new social networks, function as a discussion arena and put new issues on the agenda . E.g. AGCHAT, agricultural chatting, is in a way a decentralized organization in the form of a community.
The plenary, concluding session at the end was a discussion on European policy. The conference showed that there is a large diversity in European, rural regions. Regions are more than economic entities. The challenge is a re-connection of activities to space and place in European regions.