Rural transformation process - Welcome Region Northern Emsvalley
City/Region : Northern Emsvalley/Nördliches Emstal , Germany

The Welcome Region Northern Emsvalley welcomes people from all over the world, refugees, migrant workers, but also migrants within Germany, who want to live and work in the region. In a social transformation process, responsible mayors, the emsländischer Heimatbund association and actors of civil society have initiated systemic and structural changes in four fields of action: politics/administration, art/culture, economy/work, civil society/participation/digitalisation. In these fields projects and processes are developed and implemented in six areas relevant to social inclusion: legal issues, e.g. the right to work and housing, language, labour market integration, families, social cohesion, public relations and methods necessary for transformation.

Agendas addressed
Social inclusion and integrationLocal economies and employment
Pathways followed
  • Ensure equal access to municipal services
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Nurture a sharing economy
  • Wisely select and apply smart technologies
  • Guarantee equal access to information & digital services
  • Prepare policies for socio-cultural changes due to innovation
Steering group at one of several participatory integration events in the region

The Northern Emsvalley (5 communities in Emsland district, 310.000 inhabitants) shows diversified mix of industries (10.000 enterprises, up to 49 employees within machine, engine, vehicle/ship, food, oil/gas industry) competiting for skilled workers nationwide. Demographically it is aging, young people are migrating. In consequence social networks show gaps, which endangers social cohesion even considering the influx of refugees (2015) and migrant workers. Previous positive experiences with the integration of late repatriates motivated municipalities to finance extensive measures, e.g. full-time caretakers for refugees or employment opportunities. The improvement of the regional adaptability of companies, society and municipalities to transformation requirements of a sustainable, future-oriented region was the aim. The implementation was carried out using structurally and organisational change and action mechanisms for sustainable development with state funding to enable the region to recognise and analyse simple or complex impulses for change and thus increase its own ability to adapt, stabilise and develop.

In Action
Mayor Willerding presents the navigation folder to the labour market integration working group

Integration issues arose under the new influx of refugees (2015/2016). Integration, creation of an inclusive region should successfully put value on abilities of all inhabitants for the regional benefit and its ability to structure/organise itself to face future challenges.

Core steering group (Ministry of Agriculture, regional development authority, regional change agent, steering group-spokesperson [all mayors, their representatives, core steering group], process-supporting office) jointly developed impulses on the theoretical foundation of „theory U“, agile process rules, changemanagement methods.. In 15 meetings since 2017 they worked on attitudes towards the challenges, existing obstacles within themselves, procedures, project ideas and prototypes.

The Main Result was the visionWelcome Region Northern Emstal’. Corporate identity, Interviews, Involvement of Migrants, companies, other actors, local politicians, a deficit-systemic analysis/Image led to development of project ideas and prototypes.

An analogue-digital “Agil Network Northern Emstal (ANNET) aimed at integration, exchange, networking of civil society actors, broad collaboration, co-working and digital qualification. ANNET is an interface to municipal and political structures. Five analogue rooms for meetings and collaborative work were set up and connected by an internet platform. Public relation spreading information.

The Involvement of the creative scene on the issue ‘Welcome Region’ were developed in a workshop with different stakeholder of each community under Commission of two Land-Art artists  at Launch with local steering groups, mayors, community staff (>100 people), Nov. 2019: development of ideas, steps (design thinking). Five local events (March to June 2020) with civil society actors as result were postponed to 2021 due to Covid-19.

Networking/meetings with business/labour representatives (job centres, employment agency, employers' associations, companies, local authorities, district representatives, people working with refugees, integration helpers from local authorities, steering group) developed activities, i.e. a survey with local companies (subject of skilled workers, immigration, challenges, wishes), a SWOT-analysis, the development of solutions like tasks, responsibilities, measures.

Implementation of municipal action by  information for the managers of all offices/departments of the municipalities and a joint event to describe status and develop solutions like extensive tasks, ideas, project approaches (from ‘welcome app’ to qualification measures or neighbourhood development for social inclusion).

Current activities are meetings of the Core- and steering groups to stabilize the process and discussing appropriate structures, e.g. linking with LEADER, cooperation with other district municipalities, cross-border cooperation with the Netherlands.

The actual goal is new perspective to transfer knowledge gained from the rural change process to other fields of transformation, e.g. digitalisation, sustainability, climate change.

Land-Art Event 2019_If we supporting one another we can stand long time at one leg

Agil Network Nothern EmsTal (ANNET) is our analogue-digital interface between political, community, economy actors and civil society (Karl-Heinz Weber, ex-mayor of Lathen and speaker of steering group).

  • Three out of five rooms are already widely accepted
  • locals more difficult to reach
  • more than 40 active persons
  • Further structuring by an individual steering group with intersection to the central steering group
  • a regional exchange platform
  • regional and local project groups.


Involvement of Creative scene on the issue „Welcome Region“ was implemented with close connection to an art school, connection of space, local identity and welcome region, creativity and culture. Approx. 200 actors are involved. In all communities, places where the works of Land-Art are to be placed were identified, dates were already fixed, but had to be postponed due to Covid-19 to 2021.


Networking/Meetings with business/labour representatives

  • Good examples gave decisive impulses for their solution.
  • Application to and meeting with Ministry of Economic Affairs for the implementation of a starting guide (1-2 persons acting as an interface between companies, immigrants and authorities) together with the trade association
  • introduction of a “navigation folder” (manual and digital) for immigrants and job seekers, which contains all relevant questions and documents (while ensuring data protection). It represents a type of specification sheet with subsidies and requirements.  A traffic light system created clarity for all parties involved at first glance (job seekers, authorities, companies).


Implementation of municipal action to start the structural, systemic change in the community administration. 60 managers of municipalities developed together regional and local ideas. Nov. 2020 will be the next meeting (evaluation of action, exchange, next steps).

Further processes are connected with the rural transformation process: e.g. process and project for the promotion of volunteerism.


Stakeholders and residents network on many issues to overcome challenges and develop projects in an agile, flexible way. The approaches learned in the transformation process towards a ‘welcome region’ can be transferred to other fields of action. Particularly outstanding here is the ability to act in uncertain situations, with the risk of making mistakes. This approach requires courage and cohesion as well as good communication within the region and beyond its borders (horizontally and vertically). This enables the region to respond more quickly to challenges.

Anticipatory action was built up through the transformation process by discussing MEGA-trends, their effects. The region is prepared when the number of refugees increases again. The change of perspective consists in the fact that people are not "lured" into the region as workers, but that the region has developed a participatory and qualitative concept of living and working together that is equally attractive for locals and immigrants.

Different levels (local/ministry), networks (e.g. economy/municipalities/education), cooperations have been connected and intensified significantly (county/municipalities/economy/honorary office/ civil society/creative scene), d started taking the complex reality into account through agility and flexibility.

It is to be expected that jobs can be increasingly filled by people with a migration background/refugees who find better living and housing conditions. The navigation folder and the start guides will help to ensure the better coordinated matching of job seekers and employers, which will contribute to the overall quality of life, as the shortage of skilled workers will be reduced and living conditions improved.

The local population is involved via ANNET, LandArt, other activities into the development of the welcome region. Digital qualification via ANNET gives the region a great advantage in intra- and supra-regional communication.

As our region is still in its infancy, we cannot give any concrete figures yet.

Challenges and lessons learned
  • Development of common stance
  • willingness to take responsibility, common vision failed at the beginning because mayors felt unsure about presenting the theoretical approach.
  • They issued uncertainties about involving the broad population at the beginning.
  • Until today refugees/migrants not regularly part of steering group


  • Support of the ministry, financially/ideologically promoted the process.
  • process constantly moved between requirements of new and limits of existing system.
  • External support, appropriate resources, support from higher authorities, regional change agent, sufficient time, courage to fail are helpful and necessary.
  • the common vision acted as beacon for all actors


ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability
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