Understanding Decision structures and local culture

Update as of September 2013 on Timbre Participation in the European Sociological Association (ESA) Conference in Turin

The largest sociological conference in Europe offered a good opportunity to present some of the results of the sociological research carried out by the Timbre researchers at the study sites in Szprotawa, Ostrava and Hunedoara. The presentation, entitled “Moving beyond Europeanization 
Towards an Understanding of Brownfield Regeneration in Eastern Europe as Emerging Strategic Action Fields”, was delivered as part of the session on “Rationality and Environmental Decision Making.” The latter was itself part of the “Environment and Society” research network.  The aim of the presentation was to highlight the role of the agency of social actors in bringing about changes in the environmental policies of Eastern European countries.

This is, indeed, the aim of the governance Timbre work package on Governance as a whole, that is, to show that the actors involved in decision-making in brownfield regeneration and the contexts in which they act, do need to be taken into account. This argument was broached in the terms of one of the most recent theories of social organization, which is known as Strategic Action Field theory (Fligstein and McAdam 2011, 2012). The argument was well received by the approximately twenty participants in the environmental decision-making session. The next step in our work is to develop the argument further into a full-fledged paper that is to be submitted to a social scientific journal. For further details, please contact the governance/work package 2 contact persons Filip Alexandrescu (filip.alexandrescu@ufz.de) and Alena Bleicher  (alena.bleicher@ufz.de).  


The first slide of the presentation at the conference in Torino

Update as of August 2013 on characteristics in regenerating contaminated sites

Report D2.2: Country and regional characteristics in regenerating contaminated sites – research results from the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Germany

This report has been finalized in August 2013 and is available for download here and together with prior reports on the project website's outcomes area (www.timbre-project.eu/outcomes.html).

In a nutshell, the report can be summarised as follows. The regeneration of brownfields includes two components: the decontamination of sites and their economic, social or cultural redevelopment. The main objective of this work package of the Timbre project’s Work Package 2 (WP2) is to better understand the ways in which actors involved in brownfield regeneration manage to organize their activities and what national and regional factors shape this organization.

For this aim, we collected information regarding the legal, institutional and social frameworks applicable to brownfield regeneration, through expert interviews (2), stakeholder interviews (22) and focus group discussions (3). The data were collected in the three Central and Eastern European countries where the Timbre project is carried out, namely the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania. Additional information collected in previous research projects in Germany has been used to complement the picture of brownfield regeneration in Central and Eastern Europe.

How do we approach the problem of brownfield regeneration?

The regeneration of brownfields takes place through regeneration “projects”. The project concept is useful as it points to actors with diverse competences, who have to achieve certain goals or carry out specific tasks within specific time and cost limits. The research carried out by WP2 has identified a number of driving factors (or drivers) and of barriers, which stimulate or inhibit the unfolding of projects aiming to regeneratre brownfields. Both drivers and barriers tend to occur in three critical areas of a regeneration project: within its institutional context, in the organization of the project team and in the process of accumulating knowledge for regeneration.

What are the results?

In general, the following can be considered as drivers for brownfield regeneration projects:

  • A coherent and stable institutional context. This context assumes coherent laws and regulations on brownfield regeneration (especially relevant in emerging brownfield markets) and comprehensive information available to potential investors. Exemples: the Czech Republic and Germany.
  • Well organized project teams, having a stable core team, with clear and stable goals and with adequate resources.  Exemple: the Geosan Group involved in the decontamination of the Ostrava oil lagoons, the Czech Republic.
  • The project teams take on and use the inputs of diverse experts and stakeholders, which enables the accumulation of the knowledge for the regeneration of the site and of future sites, through the creation, among others, of brownfield databases. Exemple: the Silesioan Voievodship in Poland. 

The barriers working against regeneration projects tend to cluster in the same critical areas as the drivers.

  • The institutional context lacks coherence and stability. An incomplete legal framework, for instance, can work as a barrier when environmental authorities interpret this framework in an inflexible way or when administrative procedures are changed on an ad hoc basis. Exemple: The Romanian legislation on brownfield regeneration and the change in funding rules for a project application in the course of being submitted by the Hunedoara local council (2007).
  • The regeneration of projects does not take off due to the absence of a stable core team with clear objectives, with resources and a time plan. The actors do not manage to establish relationships of (swift) trust based on their professional roles. Exemples: Hunedoara, Romania.
  • The project team marginalizes some of the experts and does not sufficiently take into account the interests of citizen groups, which renders more difficult the search for socially acceptable decontamination methods and delays the implementation of the project. Exemple: the Geosan Group in Ostrava, the Czech Republic.

In conclusion, our sociological research has revealed why in some cases regeneration projects commence and unfold and why in other cases the barriers prove to be overpowering. There are a variety of drivers, on the one hand, and barriers, on the other, and this brief summary has pointed out only some of them. For a more comprehensive discussion, please refer to the complete report. For questions, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Filip Alexandrescu (filip.alexandrescu@ufz.de).

Update as of November 2012: Milestone "Identification of relevant stakeholders on test sites and list of requirements"

At the end of November 2012, the Timbre project has released its milestone report (MS21), with the title “Identification of relevant stakeholders on test sites and list of requirements”. According to the Description of Work (DoW), the social and cultural information developed by the social scientific work package (WP2) is to be used as bottom-up input for other work packages, including the work package that is to develop an integrated web-based tool (WP6). For this reason, the report contains two categories of information, which can be used directly by the web tool developers. First, based on the sociological analysis of actors, we identify and classify the stakeholders of the Timbre sites in Poland and Romania according to the different types of users defined by the web tool developers. These are the so-called power users, end users and visitors. Second, the milestone report offers concrete suggestions for involving stakeholders in the use of the web based tools, via three successive workshops. Overall, this milestone is an instance of useful and productive cooperation between two work packages within the project.

You can download the milestone report here.

Update as of September 2012: Announcing the deliverable "Report on Regional Decision Structures and Key Actors"

At the end of August 2012, Timbre has released its first report dealing with the social and cultural context of the project’s study sites in the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania. Based on an in-depth sociological analysis carried out at the three sites, the report addresses two main questions. First, who are the actors involved in brownfield revitalization and which of their characteristics are important for advancing regeneration processes? Second, which factors support and which factors are detrimental to decision-making in brownfield regeneration, from the points of view of these different actors? The answers are based on a solid empirical basis, including 22 face-to-face interviews and two focus group discussions. Overall, this report provides a comprehensive picture of what experts, decision-makers and other stakeholders can expect when analyzing the present and future of brownfield regeneration at the three sites.

You can download the report here.

Update as of May 2012: WP 2 Activities in Figures

  • Completed data collection for Romania (six interviews with local, regional and national stakeholders and two focus group discussions in Bucharest and Hunedoara, Romania)
  • Completed data collection for  Poland (twelve interviews with local and regional stakeholders)
  • Data collection on-going in the Czech Republic (five interviews with local, regional and national stakeholders carried out so far).

Brief Presentation of WP2 Provisional Research Results at the TIMBRE Sites

All collected interviews and focus group discussions have been audio and/or video recorded, have been transcribed and the information is being analysed using the MaxQda software for qualitative data analysis. The detailed coding and interpretation of the interviews and focus group discussions will form the basis of the analysis of regional decision structures and key actors, which is scheduled for completion by the end of August 2012. These findings will be further developed, in a second round of consultation with local stakeholders, in the form of culturally specific expectations for brownfield revitalization. This will provide a useful input in tailoring the TIMBRE tools to the concrete site contexts in Romania, the Czech Republic and Poland. General information on the three TIMBRE sites discussed below can be found on the “Sites” section of this webpage.

Example of qualitative data analysis of the Hunedoara focus group discussion using MaxQdaExample of qualitative data analysis of the Hunedoara focus group discussion using MaxQda



Hunedoara site before 2005

The Ecosid site in Hunedoara has gone through tremendous changes over the last 13 years since the closure of the Siderurgica plant. Much of the recoverable materials – especially metals – have been sold by unknown actors during the period in which Siderurgica was privatized. Ecosid itself was formed in 2004, at a time when most of the metal had been already sold and the site was covered by the ruins of the former buildings, most of them still standing. The leadership of Ecosid has changed over the years and the current team has taken office in 2009. Both the general director and the executive director have worked for the former Siderurgica plant. In 2005 and then again in 2007 – 2009 Ecosid applied for funding under two projects (“environmental protection and waste management”, respectively “urban regeneration in the former industrial area”), for the whole 138 ha area but none of them was successful. The reasons seem to lie both in financial barriers (lack of funds at the local level in 2005) and in administrative and political barriers (rules which have changed during the project evaluation, thus making the application ineligible). Since 2010, Ecosid applied again for funding for a 20 ha area of its site under the regional operational program but as of April 2012 the funding is still pending. The current Ecosid leadership seems determined to advance the regeneration of the site and has a range of general or more concrete plans to redevelop it. However, the visions regarding the future uses of the site tend to vary along several dimensions. One of these is the question of external help vs. self-help, or as the stakeholders themselves expressed it, “the problem is for someone to actually come and invest” vs. “[Ecosid] internal funds … the company ... can make some works”). Another dimension is that of technical vs. political solutions or, as the stakeholders put it, “We have to find solutions, the solutions are always technical, not [discursive] or political…” vs. “In the absence of political decision, there is nothing”. These and similar topics are part of the local and national decision structures and are likely to shape the outcomes of decisions on brownfield revitalization. Understanding this variability in opinions is important for assessing the prospects of tailoring the TIMBRE tools and approaches to the real cultural context of decision-making in Hunedoara.


The Czech Republic:Ostrava: View of Ostrava Oil Lagoons and Fifejdy housing estate

The case of the Ostrava oil lagoons became known in the media as a controversial case of brownfield revitalization. The mixing of oil products with coal dust and/or calcium and its subsequent burning in remote plants and even in some private homes (in Poland), made headlines in the newspapers and kept the controversy going. According to a professor of the Technical University of Ostrava, the state invested money for the cleaning of the lagoons, but failed with controlling the cleaning process. NGOs representatives are very critical of the way the cleaning was handled. What the companies processing the oil products call “fuel” is called by the NGOs “hazardous waste”. The NGOs also point out that there are non-incinerating methods for the decontamination of persistent organic polluters (found in the oil lagoons) available even within the Czech Republic, but these have not been used. The lagoons are owned by the state, via the Diamo state company, not by the city of Ostrava, and the other part is owned by private persons. However, the city tries to buy the areas around the lagoons to have some influence on what will happen in that area in the future. Even if it is not the owner of the lagoons, the city is the target of criticism: “when some problems appear in these lagoons, local people blame the city” (interview with an Ostrava city official). The regional office of the Moravian-Silesian region, on the other hand, is not directly involved in brownfield revitalization and it identifies as the main actors in the revitalization of the lagoons the state and the Diamo state company.


Poland:Szprotawa: Main petrol station area (ruins)

In the case of the former air base in Szprotawa, the main decision maker is the community – political body and administrative body. The person of the major plays a central role. The main objective of the community is to sell the area of the former airbase to investors; the most important criterion is the number of workplaces created by the investment. Apart from this, there is no clear idea or strategy on which kind of business shall be attracted. Tourism by the community is not perceived as a branch with importance for economic development. Local initiatives such as the associations for the preservation of cultural heritage and for the protection of the environment in the area are not recognized by the community – these are seen as temporary uses. With regard to contamination, the community endorses the standpoint that this is not a critical issue for further development. Remediation was carried out and until no other data appear, the area cannot be seen as brownfield. From this point of view, the findings of TIMBRE will likely be of great importance for the community. The community sees the missing infrastructure as the main obstacle. Beyond that, only the advantages of the area were mentioned: available place, the collaboration with the special economic zone Walbzych, and the proximity to the German border. Local actors see the community itself as the main obstacle: they talk and make plans but do not act and, as a result, do not achieve much. Based on discussions with Polish stakeholders, it was decided that the following would be useful for Szprotawa: organizing a workshop to develop a realistic scenario for future uses of the site, inviting and bringing to the table all relevant actors – community as well as local initiatives and local entrepreneurs. This would ensure a wider recognition of the usefulness of the TIMBRE web-based tool and a successful demonstration of the tool (a computer-based approach stimulates discussion and engages many actors). For local actors it is important to be able to realistically assess the feasibility of different scenarios. Furthermore, it would be helpful if the potential of the developed scenario would be assessed. TIMBRE could provide support with the success metrics tool now under construction. The role of WP2 in this planned workshop will be one of mediation.


Next Activities in WP2

The priorities for WP2 researchers are the completion of data collection in the Czech Republic by carrying out three additional interviews and one focus group discussion. Once collected, these data will be analysed in MaxQda alongside the other interviews and focus group discussions from Romania and Poland. The aim is to construct a comprehensive picture of key actors and decision structures across all three sites in Hunedoara, Szprotawa and Ostrava. The key insights from the report will be made available after August 2012.