The Westerkwartier’s regional development Co-operative
Organisation : Gebiedscoöperatie Westerkwartier , Netherlands

Through the formulation of a regional development agenda, regional change has started. A change that strengthens the economic, ecological and social possibilities of our region and increases it’s resilience. A change that opens doors for a multi-perspective approach. An approach in which citizens, local companies, local government, the educational system and local research institutes work together towards new innovative solutions for local problems. An approach that leads inevitably to intersectoral, and thus innovative, solutions, while forming new intersectoral relationships, a change in responsibilities, the creation of new business (and business models).

Agendas addressed
Urban mobilityBiodiversityClimate change
Public spaceHousingSocial inclusion and integration
Local economies and employment
Pathways followed
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Nurture a sharing economy
  • Capitalise on local economy and production
  • Create and close local value chains
  • Apply innovative financing approaches
  • Implement sustainable procurement principles
  • Pursue a shift towards a circular economy
  • Guarantee equal access to information & digital services
  • Support open data standards

The region ‘het Westerkwartier’ is situated in the north of the Netherlands. It is an agricultural area. Large scale agricultural processing capacity is found outside the region while small scale capacity has slowly disappeared. Small and medium scale businesses and industry are found in the bigger villages. Het Westerkwartier consists of 41 villages. The biggest village has around 11.000 inhabitants, the smallest has less than 100. Het Westerkwartier is close to Groningen city, with all it’s accessory facilities, such as a university and different schools for technical and professional education.

Het Westerkwartier has to deal with countryside phenomena such as disappearing local transportation systems, decreasing medical facilities, closing of primary schools and shops, decreasing job possibilities and of course an ageing population.

In Action

The Gebiedscoöperatie Westerkwartier was founded in December 2014 by several organisations with agricultural roots in het Westerkwartier. These organisations took responsibility for strengthening the region and its resilience. A ‘gebiedscoöperatie’ is a regional co-operative driven by the aim of regional development. A ‘gebiedscoöperatie’ is a new concept in co-operative thinking in which the co-operative is organized around multiple purposes, in multiple sectors with multiple stakeholders, which also change depending on the needed development.

The first step in the process of change in a regional co-operative is the joint formulation of a regional agenda. This agenda provides the contours for the development of projects. In this process we are guided by the following principles:

  • the urgency to work towards solutions - projects need to be felt by different companies,organisations and groups and in het Westerkwartier
  • we choose a multi-perspective and multi-sectoral approach by creating communities of learning based on a diverse stakeholder mix
  • because of the shared commitment to contribute to the solution/project a community of learning is started that evolves and combines into a community of practices. We invest in building these communities and manage interests.
  • in the solutions/projects we think in sustainability. That means that in some solutions/projects we think in voluntary contributions and in others we work towards the creation of new business models (different economics as the basis for continuity)
  • we include the philosophy of an inclusive society in the development of our projects and new businesses
  • in the projects/businesses local companies, local government, educational and research institutions and citizens work together. There is always a prominent place for students to contribute to or to learn from the developments or projects. Students can be ‘lubricants’ in transition. We call our office, our innovation hub. It is a physical place where people from all the different backgrounds meet.

The results of our regional co-operative Gebiedscoöperatie Westerkwartier:


Because of the businesses, co-operatives and projects that are created under the flag of the Gebiedscoöperatie Westerkwartier the attention for the Gebiedscoöperatie and its possibilities is increasing, resulting in:

  • Attention from schools in creating new, practical, innovative and contemporary opportunities for learning and teaching: 3 schools provide brainpower to the region, over the years more than 400 students have contributed to the Gebiedscoöperatie Westerkwartier
  • Attention from regional organisations/companies: producers, processors and (large scale) consumers work together in realizing new companies like the KredietUnie, the Natuurvleescoöperatie, SWO, het Fruit café, the Foodfactory and the creation of new regional co-operatives like ‘de Gebiedscoöperatie Zuid Oost Groningen’, more than 100 involved organisations/companies
  • Attention from the local government through delegating civil servants and a local councillor to the activities of the Gebiedscoöperatie Westerkwartier
  • Attention from the local communities in rethinking their role from end-user or consumer into decision makers and producer; rethinking topics such as local energy management, local transportation, local health care, biodiversity.

The approach of the Gebiedscoöperatie Westerkwartier, looking for intersectoral solutions, and thus crossing the borders between government, civil society, companies and the educational and research systems, finds increasing support and copying.

Challenges and lessons learned

The Gebiedscoöperatie Westerkwartier faces two challenges. The first challenge is the quest for a business model for a regional co-operative. A model that gives room to changing partnerships; that comprises short term planning of subsidies and insecurity of having subsidies granted while at the same time providing stability for long term planning and flexibility needed for community and regional development.

The second challenge concerns the transition from a learning community to community of practice. It is the transformation from talking about solutions into actual action: facilitating the process of overcoming personal interests and acting on newly formulated common interests.



ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability
European Secretariat

Leopoldring 3
79098 Freiburg

Tel.: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 0
Fax: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 19



Legal Notice / Impressum


Data Protection Policy / Datenschutzerklärung