On the Margin - an analysis of a cooperation process in four small municipalities in The Lofoten Islands

Dr. Jill Beth Otterlei
Prof. Elisabeth Pettersen

Marginalized municipalities' cooperation projects – Means to generate income?

Our study focuses on two inter-municipal cooperation projects between four marginalized municipalities in Norland County, in the north of Norway. The first project’s objective is to increase the quality and effectiveness of the economic and technical departments within the municipalities. The second project is part of a national competence project, with the objective of enabling the four municipalities to formulate a common plan to attract people with higher education or specialist competencies lacking in the municipalities management. These two projects were combined, and now span the borders of the involved municipalities. A project manager was appointed to run the project for its three year duration.
The motivation for the cooperation is that the four marginalized municipalities have problems financing all services they are required to provide to their inhabitants, and that they have problems recruiting and maintaining qualified middle managers. The quality improvement project was financed by the county government - or the Fylkesmannen i Nordland - as an innovation project. The competence project was financed by the national Ministry of Local Government and Modernization's program to provide increased competence in municipalities.
We find that the municipalities cooperate, but not to the extent that the projects aimed for. Firstly, the cooperation is not marked by innovation, and secondly they have led to little improvement in effectiveness. They have developed a common plan for competence, but this led to little increase in recruitment of middle managers. An important finding is that the common projects focus on nationally defined goals may divert the municipalities' attention away from urgent local needs, thereby accelerating further marginalization. According to theories on democracy and democratic practices, the cooperation will challenge municipal borders and local sovereignty.
The study used a longitudinal approach over the course of the cooperation project, which consisted of participation in meetings, interviews with central participants, as well as document studies.