Report from the International Gargia-Tana conference 2013 by Tor Arne Gjertsen

 “Cod fishing in millennia versus oil drilling for maximum 50 more years?”

This important question and dilemma with reference to the extraction of renewable and non-renewable natural resources from the Barents Sea was raised by Gunnar Reinholdtsen, from the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature, in his lecture about Norwegian northern development politics at the international Gargia Conference on “Ecology and Sustainable Business and Community Development” in the small rural municipality of Tana.

“Unless the citizens, represented by NGO’s, provide additional views and complimentary information to that of the big industrial companies, the basis for political decisions about local and regional development may be severely biased and cause serious damages to our natural and social environment.” To obtain an ecological balanced and sustainable economic development in Finnmark, not only in relation to the oil and gas exploration and exploitation in the Barents Sea, Reinholdtsen stressed the importance of creating more open, inclusive and democratic conflict and problem solving mechanisms and partnership organizations, with equal participation from public, private and voluntary sector. Social and environmental assessment studies done by independent consultants are in itself no guaranty for this. Our understanding of what is sustainable social and economic development must be based on solid ecosystem thinking.

Ten years of networking for local and regional development in the northern periphery

The Gargia Conference for regional development was established by Finnmark University College (FiUC) in Alta in 2003, as a meeting place and forum for discussion for “academics”, (i.e. faculty members), and “practitioners” from all sectors of society, government, business and voluntary organizations, that were involved in a new R&D-project for local and regional development workshops and partnerships in small, rural municipalities in the region. It was meant as a helping hand to local communities struggling to survive severe social and/or economic situations mainly caused by globalization forces, such as bankruptcy in fishing industries, raising unemployment and out-migration. The growing complexity, dynamics and fragmentation we find all over in modern society, including the communities in the northern periphery, complicated our joint effort. Either government or the market forces were able to handle the crisis that followed the millennium. We needed to find new more efficient ways of decision making and problem solving.

The Gargia conference was not only a meeting place and discussion forum for ‘academics’ and development agents from all sectors of society, it was also an important workshop for the production of new knowledge and capacity building in local and regional development . This function became even more important after FiUC in 2006, on behalf of the University of the Arctic, established a thematic network for local and regional development in the North. One year later we could offer an applied study program in Management of Local and Regional Development, partly based on our experiences with the R&D-project mentioned earlier, to national as well as international students. Partnership agreements that were signed with municipalities involved in the R&D-project, that included on-site training of students as local and regional development agents. To better integrate theory and experience based knowledge in the new course and study programs and build capacity in local and regional development, from 2007 we organized special evaluation and learning workshops in cooperation with municipal authorities and the local business communities, most of them in Tana. From the very beginning we stressed the importance of including educ