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Lessons learned

Page history last edited by Randolph Preisinger-Kleine 8 years, 6 months ago

 

A huge body of work emphasizes the major role of cities and regions towards knowledge-based societies. While regional development and innovation traditionally was perceived as a function of sectoral and organisational geometries, calling for the creation of requisite variety, during the 90s the introduction of the concept of learning economies in institutional economy marked a paradigmatic change. Different to its predecessor, now the integrative function of local institutions, networks and organisations was seen the main success factor of regional development and innovation. The factors determining economic growth of regions and cities were seen increasingly intangible, like institutions and culture, and increasingly mobile, like capital, codified knowledge, and partly human capital but also that innovation is rather a cyclic and interactive process within networks of many different actors than a linear process, running from invention and commercialisation to market introduction – this time calling for the creation of innovative milieus.

 

However highly integrated learning economies under the condition of a increasingly globalized economy showed significant pitfalls, such as lock-in-effects, functional weaknesses and path dependency. Even the most specialized forms of knowledge are becoming a short–lived resource, due to the accelerating pace of change in the global economy; thus, it is the capacity to learn continuously and adapt to rapidly changing conditions that determines the innovative performance of firms, regions and countries. While in the learning economy the competitive advantage of firms and regions is based on innovations, and innovation processes are seen as social and territorial embedded, interactive learning processes, the learning region is in the position of transcending the contradiction between functional and territorial integration, which in the past made the industrial districts so successful, but at the same time vulnerable to changes in the global capitalist economy. Leaming regions in this respect do not only adapt to new circumstances, like a stronger competition, but also reflect critically on their own institutions and leaming processes – in a double loop understanding.

 

R3L+ in the framework of a two years project has developed a set of instruments, supporting the reflection of learning taking place among stakeholders of Learning Cities and Regions, and the reinforcement of collaborative action, as “a way to envisage how all actors sharing the same local context learn to cooperate with one another in addressing economic and social innovation.” (Nyhan, 2007). During the past decade the concept of Learning Cities and Regions has taken different notions and has been reflected in a broad variety of network approaches. Due to the different departures and path­ways they have developed domain specific knowledge, in the area of social capital building, regarding good governance and institution building, stakeholder collaboration, pub­lic-private partnerships and transversal cooperation. Many of them have a long time experience in building local partnerships, mobilizing local actors, and above all, the implementation of lifelong learning strategies. Moreover, recent research findings make evident, that the regional level also can play an important role towards the implementation of national quality strategies in education and training. For example, in Germany a first pilot study pointed out an urgent need for regional quality cycles, which bring together actors from different areas and levels in order to foster the development of quality on a broader range (Scheib, T., Windelband, L., Spöttl, G., 2009).

 

The diversity of Learning Cities and Regions, rather than a restriction by the R3L+ partnership from the very beginning was perceived a chance to learn from each other and reflect good practice in the light of experience made in different parts of Europe.

 

However, the R3L+ experience also reminds us of the fact, that there can be no one-best-strategy to build local capacities for lifelong learning. Learning Cities and Regions are dynamic and open systems. They function in context, such as local traditions, learning cultures, institutional setups and value systems. Thus, a solution found in one place might remain rather meaningless in another place and innovative solutions might be mainstream elsewhere. By and large the effectivity and im­pact of a good practice might be explained by its fitness for purpose, may this be the achievement of a strategic goal or a solution to a problem, its compliance with the local context, practices and routines in place, and the local conventions determining the “value” of a certain practice.

 

As stated earlier, a core feature of the Learning City and Region is its ability to reflect critically on their own institutions and leaming processes. Thus, even if visions and missions have been signed, networks still create an arena in which different communities of interest, with different access to power and resources, compete for influence. Whether the outcomes of this competition have the potential to increase the satisfaction of network members and customers hardly depends upon a number of criteria, particularly the issue of ‘who gains and who loses’ as a result of working in networks. However important it is for policymakers, managers and practitioners to be pragmatic and make things happen, they must also develop the skills and self discipline to challenge taken for granted assumptions, to get a sense of reality, and to question their own ways of doing things.

 

Certain good practices presented, offer ‘critical’ analysis as a method, to making the Learning City and Region more meaningful, and enable planners, managers and practitioners to become more relaxed about questioning their own assumptions and practices and more confident in drawing critical conclusions from learning experience. Good practices, such as the software “Topic Navigator”, developed within the German “Learning Regions” initiative, offer innovative approaches to in-depth analysis of networks and the building of complex semantic knowledge bases, which in simple conversation cannot be derived. Kaunas Learning City provides a good practice, which uses SWOT analysis to render visible strengths and weaknesses from different ankles of the system: individual, organizational and city.

 

The Scottish case indicates, that the whole of phases of a quality cycle on network level can be effected through a single outcome agreement, which reflects local and national priorities and allows for enhanced interoperability with both, systems and institute level. Good practice, such as planning, evaluation and review templates, are provided with this handbook and can be adopted according to the relevant stages of a quality cycle. At the opposite end, the German good practice makes evident, that a programme format might be the utmost effective way to push forward a policy of lifelong learning, through bringing together and combining multilevel players of the federalist system, while at the same time avoiding the risk of institutional conflict. Because of the constitutional restrictions for a nationwide LLL strategy, the introduction of programmes like “Learning Regions” here is seen a political-practical alternative, rather than a permanent structure.

 

Good practices offered by Limerick City of Learning include a framework and set of templates, supporting the ‘auditing’ of learning initiatives in the city. With the aid of these instruments, different initiatives can be classified, in terms of their sector and the partner responsible for them. Likewise, all research activities and learning needs analysis conducted by the network members are continuously traced with the aid of a template, covering all details relevant for the detection of learning gaps in the area.

 

The Romanian Learning Region has developed permanent structures and mechanisms to monitor learning outcomes and learning needs in the region. All those are linked up with the regional planning process, and results are fed regularly into regional development plans.

 

In Hungary, a Community Foundation Framework was founded, with the goal to create a dynamic for ongoing fundraising and sponsoring, as well as community involvement contributing to direct results (outputs and impacts) from community projects. The Community Foundation tool may be successful not only at generating financial and in-kind resources, but also in supporting community development processes. Creating a transparent mechanism of donating resources and achieving results expands the social space for trust and enhanced community involvement.

 

Quite all R3L+ Learning Cities and Regions have set up internet facilities and maintain internet communities, making various use of web 2.0 services and tools as well. Most partners either have newly developed or adopted existing programme schemes and methods to engage the wider community. Moreover means for information exchange and knowledge sharing have been set up, such as information exchange hubs in Hungary or single contact points in Romania. The good practices describe strategies, as well as processes and structures, forming the baseline for these services.

 

Finally, a good practice provided by the Limerick City of Learning Initiative is dedicated to the reviving of the Learning City. Limerick went through a period in which little activity was taking place. Evidence of activity around the Learning City strategy had all but disappeared. Rea-sons for this wane in interest and activity were analysed, and possibilities for regeneration of the strategy examined, in a review meeting involving all stakeholders Consequently the Limerick Learning City, will further explore pathways to marry Lifelong Learning & The Learning City, to share information and experience, raising issues and challenges, identify common issues/themes for actions and add value to the work of network members and their constituency of learners.

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