In a time of increasing globalisation and urbanisation, shrinking peripheral rural areas have become a truly wicked planning problem in many European countries. Although a problem can be easily perceived and measured by various indicators, the precise definition of the problem is problematic. Based on the case of a Danish planning process which was carried out in collaboration with a charitable trust, this paper discusses an emerging strategic planning approach at the municipal level. We use the concept of wicked problems, strategic planning theory and Actor-Network-Theory to study a collaborative, place-based and project-oriented process directed at concrete physical outcomes. We frame strategic planning as a translation process where the interaction between human and non-human actors translates a unique, complex and contested situation into an innovated situation. We find that local physical projects played a major role in this process. First, they acted as a vehicle that assembled planners, politicians and stakeholders to work towards strategic visions across multiple scales. Second and consequently, they stimulated considerable second and third order effects in the form of shared problem-understandings, increased social capital, and follow-up projects initiated beyond the actual planning process. We conclude that local physical projects, when conceived in a collaborative and strategic manner, can contribute to sustainable adaptation to rural shrinkage.
This article is part of a Special Issue Working with wicked problems in socio-ecological systems: More awareness, greater acceptance, and better adaptation