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Extracting Stores of Knowledge

Mar 20, 2007 / Michael Gleich
The future belongs to those who help to shape it. And in the Alps countless initiatives involving thousands of activists are working to do just that. Yet most of them are unaware of the fact that elsewhere other people are working away on exactly the same problems as they are. This is precisely where the Future in the Alps Project launched by CIPRA, the International Commission for the Protection of the Alps, comes into play. It is all about collating practical experience throughout the Alps, classifying it and making it available to those who need it.
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Image caption:
Ein Jahr lang waren mehr als 40 Wissenschaftler, Planerinnen und Praktiker in den Alpen unterwegs, um das Wissen zu sechs Themenkomplexen zusammen zu tragen. Resultat der Kooperation ist eine einzigartige Studie, die eine Übersicht über Planungen, Politische Handlungsstrategien und Projekte in den Alpen liefert. © CIPRA International
The first such scene is the Valle Varaita in the Piedmont. Here a group of young people is trying to win the mayor and the local councillors over to the idea of a multifunctional community centre. They want to re-open a kindergarten which closed down three years ago. And a grocery store and the cultural association are to be given a new home at the centre. But what is the best way of going about it? Perhaps neighbouring communities experiencing a similar situation would like to take part? And are there not any national or European subsidy funds available to tap into? Many of these questions already have answers.
The second scene is Kobarid, in Slovenia's Soca Valley. It is a region in which forestry plays a significant role. At present the timber is exported abroad to be processed. "But why don't we process the timber ourselves?" say local entrepreneurs. It would create jobs, lead to new businesses, and perhaps even new industries. Fewer inhabitants would be forced to commute, and perhaps more young people would be tempted to remain in the community. Are there any instances elsewhere in the Alps of similar independently managed value-added chains? Who does one need to talk to in order to find out which approaches are the most likely to succeed?
The good news is that there are answers to all these questions. They consist of the wealth of experience which has already been gained elsewhere. Unfortunately hardly anyone knows just how much people in the Alps actually know. And this is precisely what CIPRA's Future in the Alps Project is all about. Extracting stores of knowledge, systemising them, and making them available to all those with an interest in the matter. Above all, it is about showcasing successful projects and making the valuable practical experience available to others.

Learning from the experience of others across borders
CIPRA had to overcome a number of obstacles for this ambitious project. After all, the wealth of knowledge for shaping the future is scattered across seven countries. Language barriers prevent the flow of information, and legal and administrative systems differ from one country to the next. And yet, given the common issues and challenges, it makes sense to transfer know-how: agriculture and forestry, tourism and skiing, transport and climate change, preserving cultural and biological diversity. No matter how much the projects may differ and how little the experience gained can be replicated one to one, others can learn from it and gain inspiration.
"We want to encourage people in the Alps to take their future into their own hands," says CIPRA co-ordinator Wolfgang Pfefferkorn. Too many projects fail because they do not have the knowledge they need to be implemented. The Future in the Alps Project wants to help remedy that situation, which is why it is focusing on six key topic areas:
o Regional Value Added: How can local and regional resources be used more effectively to set up value-added chains?
o Governance Capacity: How can individuals and communities be strengthened, particularly in disadvantaged regions?
o Protected Areas: How can they contribute both to preserving the biodiversity and to the regional value added?
o Mobility: What solutions are there in terms of mobility for tourism, leisure and community mobility?
o New Forms of Decision Making: How can new forms of decision making be used to achieve better results when it comes to negotiating the demands of regional development in line with sustainable development?
o Policies and Instruments: How can policies and instruments be adapted so that they contribute more effectively to sustainable development and help to get good ideas implement well?

Experts showcase examples of good practice
For a whole year six international teams travelled the Alps to collate the wealth of knowledge available on these issues. This co-operation venture between more than 40 scientists, planners and practitioners has resulted in a unique study which for the first time provides an overview of the plans, policies and projects that exist in the Alps. The comprehensive reports by these teams of experts are featured on the following pages. The individual reports can also be downloaded from the internet (see Facts & Figures).
An important part of the research phase, known as alpKnowhow, consisted of the search for exemplary projects. Such projects had to be particularly well organised, successful and inspirational. The search for these instances of best practice led to a competition held throughout the Alps in summer 2005 for which projects were submitted for each of the six topic areas. The best project in each category received prize money of €25,000. The response was huge, with 572 projects competing. The winners included the Holzbaukunst Bregenzerwald in Austria, the landscape park in Slovenia's Logar Valley, which is run by local managers as part of an independent company, and the Werfenweng Municipality, also in Austria, with its activities on the subject of sustainable mobility.
"We need to actively approach potential users, and offer them our help and the findings we have," says CIPRA Director Andreas Götz. That's why alpKnowhow is accompanied by other elements. For instance CIPRA has made all the collated material available to the relevant target groups under the heading of alpService: for the benefit of regional players and multipliers such as mayors, councillors, officials, entrepreneurs, members of NGOs, planners, regional management agencies and LEADER action groups. Beside the internet database CIPRA is also organising a series of workshops in the Alpine countries to promote the personal transfer of know-how and provide an opportunity for people to learn from one another, with field trips and by working together in small groups. One of the main printed media used to make these stores of knowledge available will be the Third Alpine Report, a volume written in non-scientific language to be published in 2007. The alpPerformance part of the project is designed to allow players to put the knowledge gained from alpKnowhow into practice. For this, CIPRA will be accompanying selected pilot projects like the winners of the 2005 competition and carrying out independent implementation projects.