Pillars of the Regional Science Academy

long-term activity fields

The idea of a Regional Science Academy has spurred a wealth of new plans and actions by various enthusiastic participants that could meaningfully be addressed and put in operation by motivated members. From the great variety of proposals and enthusiastic ideas, we have composed four long-term activity fields from which a diversity of concrete actions plans can be derived in the form of four work packages for these key actions. These activity fields are:
Think-tank activities refer to forward-looking and pro-active scholarly reflections on the foundations of and future directions for regional science, be it theoretical, methodological or policy-oriented.
As a first trial, various tentative ideas were already derived from a so-called brain-shaker experiment(1).
Examples of issues to be addressed are:
• What are the prolegomena of spatial theory?
• Is the role of space in regional science a passive or an active one?
• How does space play a role (opportunity-creating or friction-creating) in a multidisciplinary orientation of regional science?
• Is there a need for designing a ‘science for cities’?
• Which megatrends in the spatial sciences can be identified that have a direct bearing on future research and policy challenges (using e.g. scenario or imaging techniques) and how can knowledge gaps be distilled from foresight experiments?
• Which are the critical grand challenges for our global space-economy which have profound urban and regional implications in the future (e,g., a post-urban society)?
• What are the long-term consequences of the continued urbanization and the dissolution of the traditional urban-rural dichotomy? Are we moving towards a posturban world?
• How do new findings from other disciplines (e.g., behavioural economics, experimental psychology, evolutionary sociology, network analysis, business management) impact on the regional science future?
• Has regional science a relevance for global debates on international trade, foreign migration, economic recession, emerging economies, human health, international peace, climate change policy and the like?

A careful scoping of all such open future issues on the principles of regional science, its broader societal relevance and its contribution to policy and smart governance would be needed. Such a systematic scoping experiment may lay the foundation for a catalytic and progressive development in auto-revitalizing regional science theory, methodology and policy with a view to the future.

Regional science needs a solid cognitive underpinning of the human capital embodied in its scholars. In many cases, regional scientists borrow their intellectual toolboxes from other disciplines, such as economics, geography, transportation science, architecture, political science.

There is not such a thing as a ‘standard’ regional scientist. For the sake of visibility, recognition, job profiling and future strength of regional science, serious attention might be given to the educational and training aspects of regional science.

For example, what may we expect from a master course on location theory or geographic information systems or even more ambitiously, regional theory. The latter issue would certainly need a special interest group.
It would be highly desirable to create a portfolio of requirements or desiderata for either individual courses (both bachelor and post-graduate, both minor and major) which may be seen as cornerstones of a regional science education programme. Designing such a roadmap could be initiated with an inventory of different educational and training programmes worldwide. This might then lead to a consensual discussion on expectations regarding relevant courses, including teaching material, textbooks, etc. This would strengthen and highlight the essence of regional science as a scientific mode.

A second strand in the category of Education and Training Activities would be the organization of pedagogical Summer Institutes and the like on dedicated themes in regional science, where the ingredients of such a course might be somewhat standardized so as to comply with international standards for scientific curricula. It may also be possible to develop digitally available curricula, e.g. as video or televideo presentations. Here we may build on existing and new initiatives.

Another issue which deserves profound attention is the issue of recognition and certification of Master Degrees based on the content analysis of their courses (interdisciplinary regional diagnosis, regional and urban economics, spatial econometrics, regional and urban modelling, geo-science information, policy design and evaluation). This may be related to a discussion and appraisal of papers presented by master students in regional science sections or of supranational and world meetings.

One might envisage the publication of free on-line textbooks, with the support of the sections, translated into main languages (English, French, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, …), at interdisciplinary regional diagnosis, regional and urban economics, spatial econometrics, regional and urban modelling, or policy design and evaluation. Another related idea is to offer students the opportunity to receive a Certificate in Regional Science, whose requirements would be approved by the Regional Science Academy. To attain the certificate, the students concerned would have to complete a prescribed number of courses – perhaps 5 or 6. These courses would cover the fundamentals of regional science in the areas of theory, methods, and practice/application. Each of these could be a track within a given curriculum. </p

There are a number of ways in which the curriculum could be structured, e.g. with one option requiring students to take 2 courses in each of the aforementioned tracks. These courses would be chosen from a catalogue of approved courses. The courses in the catalogue would originate from universities across the world. This would provide students with the opportunity to take courses from prominent regional scientists from various universities around the world. Or they could take all courses from one university if enough were offered. The option to take courses from multiple institutions would allow students where regional science is less prominent to complete the certificate. For example, at the University of Toledo one might only have one or two courses that would qualify as certified courses in the catalogue. Thus, a student there could take these one or two courses and then enrol in courses at another institution, (on site and/or on line) to complete the certificate. could take all courses from one university if there were enough offered. The option to take courses from multiple institutions would allow students where regional science is less prominent to complete the certificate. For example, at the University of Toledo one might only have one or two courses that would qualify as certified courses in the catalogue. Thus a student there could take these one or two courses and then enroll in courses at another institution, (on site and/or on line) to complete the certificate.

Clearly, to achieve these goals it will be necessary to establish a set of nodes in a world-wide educational network that can offer hosting, training, and research opportunities. This also calls for prominent committed teachers who would help establish the Academy, nurture its future development and champion new initiatives worldwide. There are of course logistical barriers to this idea – e.g. students paying for travel, housing, and tuition costs at other institutions, etc. There would need to be a Curriculum Committee of sorts to oversee the Certificate – both to approve new courses that want to be added to the catalogue, and to certify that a student has completed the requirements for the certificate. Perhaps, a graduation ceremony could be organised at the ERSA and NARSC, AMERICAS or PRSCO meetings where students are presented with certificates. In this line of thinking, there is already a tentative list of Regional Science Schools4 where the education of regional science is taking place.

Training younger researchers with an international accredited programme will improve the social value added and the academic recognition of the field, while in the long term it may lead to an increase of resources for education and research; this should improve the amount of resources to fund the education of people from/in developing countries.

Clearly, there are many opportunities for educational cooperation among different institutions, through training programmes, sandwich programmes, and the like. Thus there is much scope for organised educational regional science initiatives, based on a distributed network structure.

The development of many sciences today is centred on large information systems and data warehousing platforms (e.g. in physics, biology, climatology, bio-medical sciences, etc.). It seems promising for the future of regional science to shift from the analysis of ad hoc databases to more structured and coherent databases, to be shared with many spatial scientists world-wide. Both open-access standardised data collection and sharing are critical for collective progress in a given field of scientific research.

This would enhance international cooperation and joint agenda setting. Such a plan would call for an ambitious initiative. The Regional Science Academy might act as a catalyst to design the principles of such an international cooperation initiative, to define standards, and to specify the organisational modalities. In many sciences nowadays, data infrastructures are nowadays the integrating and connecting mechanism for novel theory development and original research initiatives (e.g. in the area of physics, through CERN).

It is foreseeable, that ‘large spatial data’ and ‘data-driven theory’ will become one of the new pathways in future regional science research. An exploration of such an untapped potential for regional science might be promising and might also help to pave the roadway forwards to more harmonised replication studies. Later on, the actual execution and implementation of research may be handed over to other professional bodies (e.g. RSAI).

The regional science field is vast. The activities of the Regional Science Academy should in particular address issues that set the agenda, and less its actual execution. The implementation step can be handed over to the field of existing organisations. This also ensures harmonious cooperation based on symbiosis.

The development of regional science depends on many initiatives to be taken on a voluntary basis by individual scholars. In addition to the abovementioned action lines, one might think of other initiatives such as:
• The strategies for better knowledge dissemination (e.g. e-platforms);
• The inclusion of regional science as one of the descriptors in the OECD database;
• The development of transformative ideas (e.g. scenarios) on the new spatial structure of our planet;
• The enhancement of liaisons with international bodies (World Bank, UN, OECD, EU, NGOs, etc.);
• The formulation of a ‘code of conduct’ for regional science research.