Sunday, 23 January, 2022

Grow through Activating Local Potential


8. Train

Trena municipality with Hussei Island in the foreground. Photo: Hans Peter Sørensen / Distriktssenteret

Main challenges: Vulnerable and one-sided private sector with key companies threatened with closure
Main objectives: More diversified economy, stable population and role model for other small municipalities in rural areas and local communities
Local resources: Impressive views, diverse culture, human resources
Main explanations for the success: Using local opportunities through methods and processes for co-creation. Well-prepared and up-to-date municipal plans and good governance, combined with flexibility, dynamism and the ability to adapt the course while working on development projects.

8.1 Local context and challenges

Figure 12 Coat of arms and location of Trena

The municipality of Trena, located on the coast of Helgeland in the county of Nordland, is the third smallest municipality in Norway. Trena has a total of 477 islands and reefs, most of which are very small. Only two of the islands, Sana'a and Hussei, are larger than one square kilometer. The municipality is known for one of the oldest fishing communities in the country. There have been human settlements on the islands of Trena since the Stone Age 9000 years ago.

Happy campers during the music festival in Trena. Photo: Cloud-Main Amsterdam / istock.com

The train has no road connection to the mainland, but there is a car ferry that travels daily and a local ferry that serves a route to the smaller islands. The population of nearly 450 people lives on the islands of Husoy, Sanaa, Selver and Sorsandoy. Hussei is the municipal center and the place where most people live. The population of Trena has been steadily declining since the late 50s to the end of the millennium, but has remained relatively stable and has varied between 450 and 500 inhabitants since 2006. The municipality has a lot of labor immigration within the fishing industry. In the early 90s, most of them came from Sweden. In recent years, most have come from Poland and Lithuania, but there are also immigrants from the Philippines who work in the municipal health sector.

In the period 2009-2018, Trena had the fourth highest employment growth of all municipalities in rural areas in Norway. Traditional fishing has always been key, but since the beginning of 2000 fish processing and fish farming have become increasingly important, while in the last two or three years tourism, construction, transport and wholesale have been growing. The municipality also has small-scale agriculture (sheep breeding). Figure 13 shows the demographic development and the development of the number of jobs in Trena from 2000 to 2019.

Figure 13: Demographic and job development in Trena, 2000-2019

Number of jobs; Population

In 2003, the music festival made Trena famous. Norwegian and international performers attract between 3,000 and 5,000 visitors from all over the world, and in July the population increased tenfold. The festival has become an important source of income for local businesses. The Arctic Circle passes through the islands, and Trena is known for having midnight sun from late May to mid-July.

In 2014, Trena faced a potential crisis as key companies in the fishing industry were threatened with closure. This led to the launch of a large strategic project for long-term development initiated at the local level, which attracted attention on a national scale.

8.2 Activation of local potential - who and what

8.2.1 The role of the municipality

As a result of the crisis in 2014, instead of asking the state and regional authorities for help, the municipality decided to start its completely new and broad development strategy. She realized that Trena needed a more diversified economy, less dependent on the traditional fish industry.

The first step was taken when the municipality of Trena set up a permanent local resource group and hired a municipal development manager. The resource group includes representatives of the municipal administration, local politicians, the district administration and local and regional companies, as well as expertise and experience at the national level. It functions as an advisory board to promote collaboration between industries, sectors and skill sets in the community. This marked the beginning of a long-term development and innovation strategy involving local businesses, residents and the municipality.

As a small municipality with an even smaller municipal administration, working on a long-term strategy is not always a priority. Such was the case with Trena. The second step was, therefore, to develop an updated municipal master plan with a new vision and new goals, areas and strategies. The idea was that an updated strategic plan, on which there was general agreement, was needed as a framework for the work to be started.

Through processes of broad citizen participation, visions and goals were developed for what they wanted to be a Train in 2030. Today, the main goals of the municipal master plan are the following:

  • In 2030, Trena will have a diversified economy and business community
  • In 2030, Trena will have a stable demographics
  • In 2030, Trena will be a role model for smaller municipalities and local communities

In line with these long-term goals, Trena works for the development of its municipality on many fronts and through several projects and initiatives. The common denominator in the whole work is the term "co-creation '.

8.2.2 Creating the future together

Co-creation refers to the active flow of information and ideas between all sectors of society, local government, academia, business, non-profit organizations and citizens, which enables participation, engagement and empowerment in policy development, program creation, improvement of services and dealing with systemic change, with every dimension of society represented from the outset (Jeffries, 2015).

Co-creation methods aim to destroy traditional hierarchies and involve citizens in shaping their environment. Ideally, co-creation leads to greater innovation, better targeting of resources and an increased sense of ownership of development projects and their results. In short, it is a two-way or multi-way approach to problem solving, not a top-down or bottom-up approach.

Today, Trena can show many successful examples of initiatives and activities to preserve and revitalize local diversity, which have been developed through methods and processes of co-creation. For this work, the municipality of Trena was awarded the National Award for Municipal Innovation in 2018 - an award that until then had been won only by the largest municipalities in Norway.

Representatives from Trena together with the State Secretary of the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization after receiving the National Award for Municipal Innovation in 2018. Photo: Difi.no

Our informants in Trena point out as crucial three moments that give the opportunity to work through co-creation. On first place, every resident should be considered as an important resource. Whether it is the mayor, the police chief, the head of a local company, a student at a local school, a guest or someone else, everyone has the resources needed to develop society. This modest approach is highlighted as an important factor in engaging and involving the local community.

Second, do not underestimate the importance of good processes. In Trena, they managed to involve the local community and create a culture of innovation and development.

They did this by organizing regular public meetings, giving ideas and seminars to discuss various topics and develop ideas. To create an intimate and informal atmosphere, the meetings were held in local cafes and restaurants. In the beginning, they created a website to facilitate communication and dialogue throughout the local development work.

Good processes and methods for citizen participation can contribute to better results than started projects, but they are also important for another reason - they build trust. This leads us to the third moment: trust has been key to improving the quality of cooperation and increasing local development capacity. In the introductory chapter of this report, we point out that the local culture of development is the common denominator in rural municipalities, which manage to achieve their own goals and create growth. It is values ​​such as dialogue, strong networks and trust that are behind the success of creating such a culture. Levels of trust affect the quality of cooperation in three ways: When those who cooperate trust each other, 1) they dare to be more open to their shortcomings and needs, 2) they share more information and 3) they are better listeners. In our opinion, Trena is an excellent example in this regard.

8.2.3 Think like Trena

"Think like Trena" is the name of the long-term strategic upgrade of all development projects implemented in Trena. Based on the main objectives of the municipal master plan, the Think Like a Train project started with a strategic meeting, which led to the identification of four main priority areas:

  1. Business and marine resources
  2. Tourism and adventure
  3. Culture and cultural entrepreneurship
  4. Creating places and better planning

In order to make progress on these four fronts, four working groups were set up for each subproject. Significantly broad participation was the new moment compared to what Trena had worked with in the field of development in the past.

An important part of the work was the creation of an organization that would strengthen the competence of the municipal administration in terms of development and at the same time be flexible enough to support the development of bold ideas and innovative solutions.

In Trena they had done their research on how other municipalities have organized their work in the field of local development in the past. The most common formula was to assign much of these responsibilities to a local business garden[20] or development company. The disadvantage of such an organization or structure is that much of the local experience and knowledge disappears if one or two key people in these companies leave their jobs.

In Trena they did not go that way. Instead, they created a more process organization. The rationale was that this type of organization would involve the whole community to a greater extent and would build competence, knowledge and capacity internally in the municipal administration and among the various participants involved in the various subprojects.

Several sub-projects were quickly launched and many of the ideas that the residents worked on during the first meetings have already been implemented. Examples of this are:

  • A start-up company that has succeeded in collecting, drying, storing and preparing seaweed and kelp
  • Hiring the next generation of fishermen
  • Development of local accommodation bases and better solutions for tourists
  • The Trena Festival and the Conquer Trena Winter Festival
  • The new municipal master plan
  • Several products in the field of culture and local food. For example "Artists living where they create" by which performers, writers, architects, chefs, photographers and designers, etc. are invited to the community for activities and innovations. Another example is Trena365 - an architectural project and an innovative year-round place for people to live and have good experiences (see section 8.2.5 below).

8.2.4 Conquer Trena Winter Festival

One of the projects mentioned above is the winter festival Conquer Tren. It started as an idea that arose during one of the early seminars held by "Think Like Trena" in 2015. The authors of the idea wanted to use the success of the festival in Trena, as well as the expertise and experience of the organizers to generate more activities in Trena in winter. Winter in Trena is a weak season for local tourism, but a strong season for winter storms and bad weather. In addition, they wanted to connect with other smaller societies in Norway and Scandinavia working on similar social development issues and create a forum for knowledge sharing.

Train in winter. The text means "Conquer Trena" in Norwegian. Photo: Screenshot from a promotional video for the event.

Since 2015, the conference and the festival have been held four times. Participants share experience, knowledge and inspire each other, and in addition to the professional program with seminars, workshops and lectures on rural development and innovation, participants learn about the local culture and arts, food, history and nature of Trena. The professional program is broadcast and shared online. "Conquer Trena" is not a regular festival or a regular conference, but it has become an important meeting place for people from all over Scandinavia working on rural development and local development.

The event contributed to the creation of local value in Trena in several ways. First, the event provides financial benefits to the local tourism industry during the winter, which is usually a weak season for tourism. Last year, the event was attended by 150 participants from Norway and Svalbard, Sweden, Denmark and Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Every hotel and guest house on the island was sold out and the organizers even had to rent private homes to accommodate all participants. Professional performance is difficult to measure, but professional development, collaboration and exchange of ideas, as well as increased motivation are important. The event also strengthened local participation and proved that it is possible to generate activity in Trena in the winter.

8.2.5 Train 365

Trena shows good results in indicators related to attractiveness, nature, culture and tourism. However, as mentioned in the previous section, the municipality does not have the capacity in terms of accommodation and services. This is the context of "Train 365 " - an architectural project that aims to create an innovative place where people can live and have good experiences.

In particular, it is a public works area, the aim of which is to build a new neighborhood or village with a cultural center, a hotel and houses, a SPA center, a restaurant and food academy, offices, studios and workshops for artists and craftsmen, and museum. The idea is to be used by entrepreneurs, residents and visitors throughout the year. The village will merge with the surrounding nature, and the natural paths and fields around will be open and accessible to all.

Illustration: Vardehaugen Arkitekter

The project may sound ambitious for a small island community, but socio-economic analyzes show that it has the potential to both create jobs and attract new residents. The first stage of construction is financed through public-private cooperation between the municipality, the regional museum, the landowner and private participants in the tourism sector, and the regulations of the land use plan and the zoning plan are underway.

8.3 Results

  • With a mix of spectacular nature and diverse culture, Trena was able to take advantage of the opportunities that arose. At the same time, the municipality has a long-term perspective, which is necessary for the strategic work to be more effective to achieve greater attractiveness.
  • By involving citizens and using resources in the local community, the municipality was able to understand the real needs of the residents and develop good solutions together with those they are called to serve.
  • Several models for innovation and local development have been developed.
  • The municipality has managed to create a large capacity for development.
  • The local community is characterized by a high level of trust, dialogue and cooperation.

The project "Think like Trena" it was recently evaluated by the Norwegian research and consulting company Oxford Research. Their main conclusions are the following:

  • Despite the relatively small budget and only 500 inhabitants, "Think Like a Train" managed to generate a lot of activity and boasts good results that support the main goals of the project, such as more jobs and population growth.
  • The project has a positive contribution to the external image of Trena.
  • The cultural projects attracted a lot of attention and showed the local community and others that Trena has a rich culture.

8.4 Plans for future development

  • Although key fishing companies survived the crisis in 2014, the ongoing struggle for resources continues and business cycles still pose problems for the fishing sectors. The industry must constantly innovate and invest wisely. An example of this is fish farming in onshore systems.
  • The population is declining and aging throughout northern Norway. Retention of citizens and the ability to provide good municipal services will be a top priority.
  • It is crucial to maintain a good ferry connection with the mainland, as well as other modes of transport in Trena. This requires constant lobbying in the district administration (which is responsible for ferry operations)
  • TESTZONE TRAIN is a research project funded by the Norwegian Research Council that explores how the future of sustainable tourism and viable local communities can be shaped and how sustainable tourism can be created. The general idea of ​​the project is to develop and establish a testing laboratory in Trena, where one can experiment with methods and processes for creating the future of sustainable tourism.