Higher Education for Sustainable Regional Development -
Symposium of ENSURE and SUSTAIN in Schloss Seggau, May 17th to 19th,
Contribution of Franz Nahrada to Session 4
“New organisational approaches to sustainable regional development education”
The author is the founder and promoter 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 enormous 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 aggression 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. Thus they help to 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
In this context, both social and spatial architecture of society need to undergo drastic 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. This new habitat 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
existence of such a “global place” is actually at the core of many successful examples of
sustainable regional development, even if not explicitly 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 therefore relevant
for either side: work, education and social cohesion.
Identifiable goals for sustainable regional development education
Improve the knowledge base necessary 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 maintenance 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 enormous 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 behavior
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 “milieu”
A very crucial goal is to encourage actors to not too much mimic 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. Sustainability
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 enormous 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
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 specialized institutions as described by Alvyn Toffler as part
of the overall hierarchical and departmentalized 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 that has grown a regional management
structure in its facilities with services to the public it is continuously expanding.
Building dedicated networking of actors
Actors’ networking is the bottom-up realization of the advantage of sharing resources and
complementing strengths. The Public Library of Saalfelden has turned into a community
education center, by merging the catholic parish library with the railroad trade unions
library in the first step.
Revival or reinvention 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 that
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 restoration to education. The Initiative "Education and
Encounter" wants to network all existing actors and organizations 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 Laach 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 renowned yet tiny school is the
continuos 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)
(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
Practitioners 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”.