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What is Smart Shrinking in Finland?

Finished 01.03.2021 - 31.05.2022
Karelian Institute, Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies


Main funder

Valtioneuvoston tutkimus- ja selvitystoiminta (VN TEAS)

What is Smart Shrinking in Finland? funder logo


The project is implemented by the University of Eastern Finland’s Spatia – Centre for Regional Research together with Norrum Oy and an international research group. The research is funded by the Finnish government’s analysis, assessment and research activities (VN TEAS).

This research focuses upon the uneven development of different regions that has led to a trend where population growth only occurs in a few urban regions. More than two thirds of the municipalities in continental Finland are losing population. There are complex financial and well-being related factors behind this decrease in population. They are entwined together in complex ways and may lead to a self-perpetuating circle of shrinking.

It is vital that regions and municipalities with a decreasing and aging population are able to find new solutions to secure employment, business operations, services and well-being. Both the national and European Union’s development policies offer measures to which we can apply the smart shrinking perspective, which is based on researched data, a proactive approach and renewal.

The main objective of the research is to provide an overview of how it is possible to learn to manage a change and seek new opportunities in declining and aging regions. The study has four sub-objectives: 1) to formulate a synthesis of Finnish studies on regional differentiation, inequality and smart shrinking and to identify development needs for measuring and determining smart shrinking, 2) to explore the application of the smart shrinking internationally, as examples the Netherlands, Sweden and Scotland , 3) to identify the prerequisites for smart shrinking and seek models and solutions for Finnish society and 4) to present recommendations for smart shrinking at different regional levels and for bringing a new way of thinking to policy preparation and regional decision-making.

It is obvious that the differentiation of regions and municipalities and the need for smart shrinking do not apply to Finland alone, but also to Europe as a whole. Applications of smart shrinking approaches are reviewed on a local, regional and national level, because developing a regionally balanced approach requires unanimity about the prerequisites of smart shrinking, and interpretations of the current situation on all decision-making levels.

The research argues that instilling the smart shrinking approach, highlighting proactivity and adaptation, into Finnish society and decision-making is possible. However, the real challenge is to find a solution to the institutional and contextual limitations for change and policy “lock-in”. Managing this differentiating trend requires a new kind of approach, smart shrinking, where the development potential of regions and municipalities is recognised and allocated to promoting adaptation.


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