ABSTRACT: Citizen’s many roles in rural development in Sorsele, Västerbotten
The research project analyzes the dynamics of a citizen dialogue process in the municipality of Sorsele (2016-2018), which was initiated after a referendum against a wind power park. Since the – for the municipality – unexpected setback of the referendum in 2016, the municipality has taken measurements and put together a project group and is rethinking the process of citizen dialogue and external communication for developing a more visionary master plan. The project gives special attention to how the citizens perceive, take on and handle multiple and overlapping roles (as planners, politicians, engaged citizens, entrepreneurs, relatives, etc.). The research aims at contributing to knowledge about deliberation processes in citizen dialogues and inquires how citizens experience and enact agency to gain influence on planning in rural areas in the North of Sweden.
Empirical material was collected together with a research group within the Decode project (see the common project: Sorsele. Medborgardialog på landsbygden), research was conducted by following the municipality’s discussions with citizens in informal, and formal and legally prescribed meetings (samrådsmöten); through participation in informal municipal activities such as workshops for reaching out to groups which are seldom included in citizen dialogues, like school children (January 2018); as well as through qualitative “inter-views” (Forester, 2005) with civil servants, citizens, civic actors engaged in associations and interest groups, entrepreneurs belonging to various communities (Sami, nybyggare, nysvenskar) and refugees (May 2018), and through continuous conversations with and “collaborative inquiry” (Arora-Jonsson, 2008) together with civil servants of the municipality.
From this material, some important theme threads that engage citizens in the Northern rural areas were identified as: 1) citizen’s trust in municipal, regional and national leadership; 2) uneven economic development on the national scale and the development of particular rural economies (where the majority of citizens survive on several occupations simultaneously such as subsistence economy (hunting, fishing, collecting berries and mushrooms), seasonal jobs (car testing), project employments at the municipality in EU projects, and seasonal entrepreneurship on a small scale (nature tourism); and 3) the various existing forms of citizen organizations and the influence they may have on municipal decision-making.
For understanding rural development in Sweden, I argue, it is necessary to take a longer time perspective from the 1950s welfare state politics based on the redistribution of resources, to recent protests, i.e. against the closing of health facilities and the occupation of the hospital in Sollefteå, (the longest occupation in Sweden ever) to last years publication of the government-commissioned landscape report “För Sveriges landsbygder – en sammanhållen politik för arbete, hållbar tillväxt och väfärd” (2017) and the radically new directions for rural development. For contextualizing the three themes, the rapport includes a timeline which visualizes governmental programs and citizen initiatives in Sweden’s rural North, from postwar welfare state politics to todays austerity measurements, which will show their effects and relate the programs and initiatives to current issues.
A research report will be published in Swedish in Decode’s report series. The research findings, analysis, discussions and conclusions shall be relevant not only to researchers concerned with rural development and municipalities in the North of Sweden but to everyone we interviewed and interacted with in Sorsele. The research results shall also be developed into a peer-reviewed article in English to be published in an international scientific journal. The project will be presented at Decodes concluding symposium, on the 21st of November 2018.
 During spring 2017, studies in Sorsele were conducted through interviews with civil servants and representatives of associations (March), and participation in four 'återkopplingsmöte' / feedback meetings following up the initial dialogues in 2016, in several villages (Sorsele 25/4, Ammarnäs 27/4, Blattnicksele 2/5 and Gargnäs 4/5). In autumn 2017, a number of individual interviews were made (october), and in january 2018, we participated in two of four 'samrådsmöte' / the official consultation meetings, a workshop, and conducted interviews with entrepreneurs and citizens.