Governance challenges in the Attractive Nordic towns

What governance challenges does small and medium sized towns face in local projects to promote sustainability and attractivity?


Norway held the presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2017. The presidency project «Attractive towns. Green redevelopment and competitiveness in Nordic urban regions. Towns that provide a good life for all» lasts from 2017 to 2019. A network of small and medium sized Nordic towns participated in the project and executed their own (single) projects in collaboration with towns in the other countries.

The Centre of Competence on Rural Development was asked to map governance challenges the cities face in their «single projects». This report presents findings from a survey. The focus is mainly on factors that promote execution of the single project, factors that inhibits execution, and strategies the towns use to overcome governance challenges.


Most common obstacle was lack of time, and most common strategy was time management. Most common enabling factors were being able to make fast decision as a medium/small sized town, and good overview over relevant actors to involve.

However, when looking at which factors directly relates to easier execution of the projects, other factors stood out. Execution of the single project was easier when there was any of the following:

  • high degree of trust between involved actors
  • high degree of co-operation between departments in the municipal organisation,
  • if the project was mentioned in the budget and municipal plan

Execution of the project was also somewhat more easy when there was high endorsement of the single project goal amongst the relevant stakeholders, relevant knowledge underpinning the measures, agreed upon indicators to monitor the progress/goal completion of the single project, and when they kept the measures of the single project simple (focus on “low-hanging-fruit”).


Based on these results and the projects leaders’ elaborative comments, we highlight the importance of priority and leadership as a prerequisite to have all departments on board, to have a co-creation mindset, to further be able to persist over time. The use and benefit of local planning documents vary. The planning process is important for develop common goals, which are vital for mobilisation and goal completion, but also for integrating the efforts in the daily work – not as limited projects “on the side”.

National signals help in giving direction and priority. Awareness of the context of conflicting goals – for instance economic goals versus sustainability must be high. There is a need to operationalise what the sustainability means in human scale, in the context of the towns.