Franz Nahrada / Texte /
New Organisational Approaches







Higher Education for Sustainable Regional Development

[Symposium of ENSURE and SUSTAIN in Schloss Seggau, May 17th to 19th, 2000]

Contribution of Franz Nahrada to Session 4

“New organisational approaches to sustainable regional development education”


The author is the founder and promotor of a project called the “Globally Integrated Village Environment” (GIVE). The GIVE project starts with the observation that new technologies are unrevocably changing the pattern of society, even though they were brought forward within this pattern. The enourmous gains in productivity and speed lead to what Alvin Toffler calls “the End of Marketisation”, the fact that the net efficiency of market-oriented economic activities in terms of socioeconomic welfare is declining. The essentials of traditional marketisation - growth, competitiveness, employment - constitute a highly unsustainable environment (“warfare economy”) characterised by increasing social inequality and exclusion, economic wastefulness, political agression and cultural tensions.

The specific aim of the GIVE project in this situation is to draw attention to “Islands Of Sustainability” using the potential of new communication technologies to rebuild resilient and satisfactory human habitat. Such new models of human habitat

- no matter if we call them “fractal city” or “televillage” or “ecocommunity” or something else - should be able to provide solutions to more human needs by local resources and thus do away with the burden that the separation of production and consumption has put on society. The most important feature of such a living environment is the possibility to lower the pressure towards broad participation in increasingly costly market activities and refocus on sophisticated and voluntary activities directed towards quality of life, health, wellbeing and development of human knowledge.

In this context, both social and spatial architecture of society need to undergo drastical changes to benefit rather than suffer from the effects of new technologies. GIVE is studying the interdependencies of various building blocks of this new human habitat, which can be described as a pedestrian-oriented, clustered and diverse communal microcosm of limited size, usually embedded in a rural/natural environment, with at least some space characterized by “virtual urbanity” and shared values among inhabitants, based on a kind of new social contract and fluid continuum between a teleworking and a locally acting population. Teleworking is therefore seen as a catalyst for development of local exchange, production and cultivation, which might take the form of “high-tech-self-providing” (Bergman) rather than production for anonymous markets.

In the seven years of GIVEs theoretical development, more and more importance was given to the place which provides what in this context was called the “virtual urbanity”. The existance of such a “global place”is actually at the core of many successful examples of sustainable regional development, even if not explicitely conceptualised. By no means is the design of such a place or structure a trivial matter: it is at the same time the place where a community finds its identity - often by presenting itself to the outside world -, and the place where inputs and impacts from outside flow into the community. Comparing to merely market & technology-driven concepts like telecenters, much more promising conditions to have such a global place have rather shown up in the transformation of educational institutions. The sharp distinction between workplace, educational place and place of social gathering disappears, in fact each of these functions is increasingly connected to the others and their interplay and combination in spatial and organisational terms might soon become an essential part of succesful regional “development”. The concept of the global place is relevant for either side: work, education and social cohesion.

Identifiable goals for sustainable regional development education Improve the knowledge base neccesary to identify sustainable local resource cycles

If we acknowledge the leverage potentials of proximity and synergy of processes in terms of the reduction of energy use, waste of time and material, transportation and human stress, we must also acknowledge that the discovery and the realisations of these potentials is much more knowledge-intensive than traditional linear-production. The work of forerunners like John Todds “Living machines” has shown that in order to generate a really functioning cycle of resource renewal, we need to increase the number of involved processes. The construction of “Living Systems” leads to increasing complexity on one side, which begets miniaturisation on the other side (Paolo Soleri). The increasing role of automatisation in the shaping of human environments does not reduce the need for human work, but transforms it into integration work. The conditions of every process in short, middle and long terms have to be overviewed. While the number of processes increases in arithmetic scale, the interdependencies between these processes grow in geometric scale.

The maintainance of a knowledge base necessary to manage this increased material complexity exceeds by far the capacities of any local or regional educational system. Therefore they need to tie into networks of support. This may also lead to a changing role of the industrial megacenters of today. Large cities might turn into support hubs for not only their regional environment, but for special types of knowledge needed worldwide. It is with this perspective in mind that GIVE has created the CultH initiative, to show that the role of strong central cultural institutions like museums, libraries and archives is rapidly developing to become providers of digitized content that can be realized in thousands of new forms elsewhere.

A strategic initiative targeted towards the city of Vienna to create a “mothercity cluster” of Universities (Agriculture, Veterinary, Technology), SMEs and NGOs is on the way.
 Strengthen community ties and the ability to find win-win-solutions

The industrialisation and globalisation of economy has left us with a complete destruction of what we could call the “moral economy”, the elements of reciprocity, responsibility and commonality in day to day economic activities. The paradox is that underneath the surface of monadic individualism an intensive
"socialisation" is taking place, transforming the physical and mental structure of our world for good. The amount of mutual dependencies created by the market is enourmous to earlier times, (which explains a good deal of the public paranoia about the Internet).

Therefore, throughout the economic and industrial world, there is an increasing perception that competitiveness is increasingly depending on the ability to form alliances, develop standards, clusters, networks, shared visions. Never before in economic history have global attempts to manage strategic product chains rather than simple products led to comparable megafusions, be it in the media, banking, car, tourist or any other industry.
The same holds true for SMEs and also regions. There is an increasing awareness of interdependency forced by the power of competition, and new cooperation is sought simply as a means of survival. For example, whole regions are selling their touristical offerings "all inclusive".
The goal for regional education systems therefore must be to enable actors to discover the hidden resources that they might constitute for each other, which includes slight behaviour modifications and a new move towards accountability and mutual support. "Taking the wall away between two rooms doubles the size of the house" was the revolutionary discovery of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The same might hold true for the self-perception of actors in a regional environment.

Strengthen entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and diversity as “millieu”

A very crucial goal is to encourage actors to not too much mimick the success of others in their community, so that eventually there is too much supply for one particular resource and, as a result, scarcity of certain others. The decline of regional economic (and ecological !) systems has strong causes in the development of monocultures. Sustainabilty education must therefore encourage its target groups to be different and reinvent themselves, giving practical help and support to new and untried ways which might complement existing processes. This is probably the most difficult part of the story, because available role models are an important factor in development.
 Keep a close link between knowledge building and practical implementation

The amount of global knowledge available is enourmous and sometimes even discouraging. A close link to implementation is not only the best key for the selection of relevant knowledge, but also creates rapid feedback and interaction with knowledge providers and developers. 

What can be done from the organisational level

Becoming a networking entity and multiplying available knowledge base

Networking entities are organisations without clear geographical or spatial boundaries. They are focussed on themes and tasks rather than administrative borders. Often they even distribute production worldwide and share a common cultural backbone. Networking entities can be born by the collaboration of formerly separated institutions that complement each other. For example virtual library system is replacing the old distinction between national libraries, public libraries and scientific libraries in Denmark. Other examples are Green Map, Linux, Gutenberg Project etc.

Transformation of specialised “second wave” institutions to community resources

Second Wave Institutions are specialised institutions as described by Alvyn Toffler as part of the overall hierarchical and specializes scheme of the industrial society. A school for farmers or agricultural engineers, for example. Such schools have problems to survive and can turn into more generalized institutions. A very good example is the transformation of the Edelhof School in Austrias Waldviertel which has grown a regional management structure in its facilities with services to the public it is continuously expanding.

Dedicated networking of actors

 Actors networking is the bottom-up realisation of the advantage of sharing resources and complementing strengths. The Public Library of Saalfelden has turned into a community education centre, by merging the catholic parish library with the railroad trade unions library in the first step.

Revival, reinvention or of integrative institutions ( monastery metaphor)

The old monastery is the ancestor of almost all of our educational institutions. The origin of the monastery is the dedication of a certain area in the spiritual search for perfection and cultivation, which eventually led to an integrative role in the development of the broader agricultural society. The "monastery of the 21st century" is a possible model to apply the vast potential of unused and underused knowledge in the enclosure of microcosmic laboratories with the help of global digital libraries, like the System of Universal Media Searching (SUMS). Regions may fund new types of higher education facilities which function in a similar way. Some interesting proposals and examples

Education and Encounter (Karl Trischler)

 The Association for urban and village renewal of the state of lower Austria has shifted its main focus from physical restauration to education. The Initiative "Education And Encounter" wants to network all existing actors and organisations in the field of educational activities to support joint action, the growth of local knowledge centers and the support of creative innovation by individuals.

The school as the heart of the community (Michael Nader)

 The elementary school Maria Lach in Austrias Wachau/Jauerling Region is conceptualized by its director, Michael Nader, as the "heart of the community". One of the many practical actions taken by this internationally renowed yet tiny school is the continous visit of all the children to one family after the other. "People do hardly talk to each other any more, some are farmers and most others commute, so our task is to reintegrate the community" says Michael Nader, who even received invitations to China to present his model.

Group Learning and sustainability negotiation (Richard Levine)

4.3.1. (This is rather a reference to an unfinished idea:) Author and architect Richard Levine has outlined, that at the core of every successful achievement of sustainability in urban development lies an ongoing process of negotiation. Whilst in traditional city development this negotiation took place as a slow process of response and modification of decisions, the modern city would very much require the help of electronic negotiation technology. The main reasons for this are the speed of development and the complexity of the problems as well as the artificiality and unsustainability of the involved forces. Such a "sustainability negotiation process" would ideally include simulation tools, so the anticipated results of actions and decisions could be experienced and allow constant re-negotiation. This would allow to avoid irreversible mistakes and to find solutions where the pursue of one interest does not harm other existing interests, where there is synergetic potential to create win-win- situations. Sometimes the process might end up with the exclusion of certain interests in a particular local case. The groupware for this process does not yet exist.

The Bootstrap Community (Douglas Engelbart)

Similar to the neomonastic model, Douglas Engelbart has called for the gradual replacement by subject-oriented “bootstrap communities”. A “Bootstrap Community” is constituted by the shared desire to use technological innovation for improving the human condition. Theoreticians from the humanities and social sciences and technicians and Engineers work together, for example in an institution like the “Institute for the Research on Learning” in Palo Alto. By far the most important characteristic of the Bootstrap Community is the equal role of users of technology. Research is always embedded in a problem-solving field trial, and users enjoy unusual degrees of freedom, consulted by theoreticians, to achieve their goals in new ways or redefine them. Theoreticians and Practictioners form, in fact, a community, whose outcome might, as Douglas Engelbart expressed in a private conversation, “be more relevant to society in general than the research of a traditional university”.