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Resumé af Anelis Blagoeva Philbrows speciale

Specialetitel: Understanding Sustainable Tourism (Practices) Through Governance Perspective Spanning Structural Holes with Closed for Maintenance – Open for Voluntourism.


Over the last few years, and prior to the global Covid 19 pandemic, the Faroe Islands has experienced dramatic increase in the number of visitors, which has led to tourism becoming the second largest industry after the main fishing and seafood industry. This has brought both opportunities and challenges for the country. On the one hand, tourism has created new possibilities for economic gain and socio-cultural exchange between residents and visitors. It has helped create new jobs and sources of income and has supported the livelihood of local citizens and families in remote islands. However, it has also brought challenges such as crowding in certain areas, damage to the natural environment, disturbance to the livelihood of residents and to bird populations, accidents in the mountains, costly rescue operations, and disputes over rights and regulation for walking in the outfields. These challenges have led to conflicts and often uncoordinated and sporadic actions in managing tourism in the country and has raised questions such as: How do we develop tourism in the Faroes, so the benefits outweigh the negative impacts? How are environmental preservation, societal welfare, and economic stability considered when developing tourism? Are tourism activities executed with sustainability in mind?

The thesis seeks to answer the research question:

How can governance structures help promote sustainable tourism (practices) in the Faroe Islands?

Theoretical Perspectives

The theories and concepts which form the theoretical foundation for the thesis are sustainable development and sustainable tourism, wicked problems, post-normal science, and network governance theory.

Sustainable development is described as the organizing principle for meeting human development goals while simultaneously sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services upon which the economy and society depends. The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) defines sustainable tourism as, "Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities".

Developing and managing sustainable tourism where economic growth is balanced with environmental preservation and socio-cultural considerations is characterized with complexity and many uncertainties. While administrative borders are delineated, societal problems are characterized by their cross-scale nature; they span time, geographical space, and administrative jurisdictions (Calrsson and Sandstróm, 2008, p. 34). Operating within their individual departments, specialized problem solving creates externalities (or negative side effects, from the problem solver’s own perspective) that create additional problems for departments working within their own speciality development (Huppé, Creech and Knoblauch, 2012, p. 5). For example, a farmer, that fences off his farmland and introduces an entry fee, creates a problem of extra cost for hikers and for tourist offices arranging trips to that particular sight. Rittel and Webber (1997, p. 160) define problems of social policy as ‘wicked’ problems, synonymous to "‘vicious’ (like a circle) or ‘tricky’ (like a leprechaun).” Wicked problems are difficult to define, elusive, and never solved, but just re-solved in a satisfactory or good enough manner. I argue that developing and managing sustainable tourism in the Faroes is a ´wicked´ problem and it needs to be recognized as such to forge and implement appropriate governance mechanisms. How are these ‘wicked’ problems addressed?

In every age, science is shaped around its leading problems, and it evolves with them; today, science is trying to cope with many uncertainties, in knowledge and ethics, and with conflicting purposes in policy issues of risk and the environment (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1993, p. 754). The authors call this ‘post-normal’ science (PNS) and argue that this is the appropriate science for today. It focuses on ‘quality’ rather than ‘truth’ and makes values explicit. In post-normal science, the principle of the plurality of legitimate perspectives on any problem and the maintenance of ‘quality’ leads to a focus on mutual respect and learning, open dialogue between all those affected (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 2008). The thesis argues that network governance, as a post-normal science approach is better suited than the traditional, hierarchical approach to address the complex and inter-related or ‘wicked’ problem of sustainable tourism management.

Governance is a process by which policy is produced within multi-actor structures beyond a formal hierarchy (Carlson and Sandström, 2008). Solving policy problems in complex adaptive systems requires the involvement of interdependent actors distributed across multiple scales, sectors, domains, and levels of society, many of which are located outside governments (Kooiman, 1993, 2003). Networks are described as social structures made up by actors, which are connected via a multitude of links (e.g., in the form of information flows, exchanges of goods, legal relations, etc) (Carlson and Sandström, 2008, p. 34). In contrast to state rule and competitive market regulation network governance allows for actors with different backgrounds and experiences to contribute with complementary skills and resources to the solution of intricate problems. Because they span socioeconomic, political, and cultural differences, networks can transform what might otherwise degenerate into counterproductive confrontations across public, private, and civil society sectors into constructive, collaborative relationships (Reinicke & Deng, 2000). There are diverse tourism stakeholders in the Faroes, from both public and private sector who have different views, interests, and approaches, leading sometimes to disputes and confrontation, and (based on my observation) to sporadic and uncoordinated initiatives. It was therefore appropriate to consider network governance approach to tourism development and management, as a possible tool to create partnerships between different stakeholders and enable them to engage in dialogue, exchange knowledge and perspectives, and come to a shared vision and a common goal. As Huppé, Creech and Knoblauch (2012, p. 10) describe it, whereas sustainable development provides the framing of the governance problem, network governance provides a solving process for reflexive governance development.

Governance networks have different structurers and configurations which affect its performance. The evaluation of network performance is connected to the concept of social capital, which is described as “the stock of active connections among people: the trust, mutual understanding and shared values and behaviours that bind the members of human networks and communities and make cooperative action possible” (Cohen & Prusak, 2001, p. 4). Considering the two main aspects of social capital -- relationships (or networks) and resources, it is argued that networks with many and strong connections (i.e., regular interaction and accurate information flow) between the different actors, are considered rich in social capital, because they foster communication, collaboration, and better outcomes (Carlson and Sandström, 2008, p. 40). If a network has week connections or they are missing altogether, i.e., the network has structural holes, then the information diffusion is impeded. Another defining feature of a governance network is its heterogeneity, or diversity of actors referring to qualitative attributes such as background, resources, skills, values, etc. The heterogeneity of the network allows it to span structural holes and establish cross-scale linkages between different actors representing different groups, skills, level of competency and knowledge system, and are therefore better able to access, exchange and mobilize resources (Carlson and Sandström, 2008, p. 44-45). Therefore, it is suggested that a well- functioning network governance, or co-management system is both heterogenic and centrally integrated.


Methodological foundation

The research design and methods are inspired by Flyvbjerg’s phronetic social science, based on Aristotel’s concept of phronesis, interpreted as prudence or practical common sense. It is an approach, which also resonates with personal convictions of the importance of becoming engaged and learning by practice. Flyvbjerg (2016, p. 223) points out that “virtuosity and true expertise, are reached only via a person’s own experiences as practitioner of the relevant skills”. Some concrete methodological guidelines developed by Flyvbjerg (2001, p.132 – 139), that I have used are:

  • getting closer to reality
  • studying cases and context, which are at heart of phronetic research
  • focusing on value
  • using narrative
  • emphasizing little things-- searching for the Great within the Small and the other way around.

To understand and analyse public perceptions, discourse, and practices related to tourism in the Faroes, I have searched relevant media sites such as: portal.fo, kvf.fo, local.fo, as well as social media, newspapers, and public documents. This helped me identify relevant tourism related actors, such as Visit Faroe Islands (VFI), visitor centres, municipalities, landowners and/or farmers, entrepreneurs, creative sector, the environmental agency, the university, as well as gain initial understating of the complexity of developing and managing sustainable tourism.

To familiarise myself with existing research and knowledge on the issue, I read tourism related textbooks, searched academic literature and public reports using search terms in different combinations such as: sustainable tourism, responsible tourism, eco-tourism, slow tourism, governance and tourism, tourism management, common pool resources, nature- based tourism, etc. using mainly Google Scholar and Ecosia, as well as You Tube and Ted talks. This also helped me identify tourism related theories and concepts (deductive codes), which I use to organize data collection and analysis. Concepts that I identified and used to develop a deductive conceptual framework are wicked problems; sustainable tourism; environmental, socio-cultural, and economic sustainability; responsibility and shared values; dialogue and co-operation; networks and co-management.

To gain practical wisdom and understanding (phronesis), I have engaged in many and diverse tourism related events in the period February 2017 - April 2020 and have kept field notes. During my practice learning at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, spring semester 2017, I joined the deliberations of a cross-sector working group developing a strategy for Sustainable Tourism. I became a member of the University (Fróskaparsetur) team, which organized the Green Growth Dialogue (GGD) on Responsible Tourism held 23 -25 May 2018 in Torshavn, attended by nearly 300 participants. I attended regional events and meetings regarding tourism development organized by Sunda Kommuna, Visit Runavík (VR) and Visit Klaksvík (VK). To experience tourism from a visitor’s perspective, I went on a few hiking and boat trips. This included a trip to the northern-most island of Fugloy, where a local farmer was preparing for the arrival of 45-50 visitors the next day. I also participated in the Arctic Circle Assembly in October 2017, in Reykjavik, where I attended and took notes of side sessions on tourism in the Arctic Region. In April 2018, in Tórshavn, I took part in the Arctic Circle Forum on Sustainable Tourism. The field observations and notes of all these events are used in the analysis and for general interpretation and understanding of tourism development in the Faroes and the Nordic region. To set the islands within a bigger context and to identify tourism trends and management strategies in the Nordic counties that might be relevant to the Faroes, I have used two reports of the Nordic Council of Ministers To get ‘closer to reality’ and experience tourism as a host, I helped a friend host a home- hospitality initiative (Heimablídni) for a small group of tourists. Searching for the ‘great’ within the ‘small’, I participated as a volunteer, in the Closed for Maintenance: Open for

Voluntourism project on 26-27 April 2019. Working side by side with foreign visitors and local organizers, making a path and steps to Klakkur (near Klaksvík) allowed me to experience the project as a participant, gaining practical knowledge and insight of the work and the management of the project. I decided to use Closed for Maintenance (CFM) as a case study, because it was referred to (by VFI and the media) as an example of sustainable tourism, and wanted to investigate if that would be really the case, and if yes, how so? It also represented a real-life, contemporary ‘bounded system’ defined and described within certain parameters like time and place (Creswell and Poth, 2018, p. 96-97). Within the Case Study qualitative approach, the methods were: participatory observation, naturally occurring and guided conversations, field work and notes, and 3 semi-structured and deliberately open-ended interviews guided by themes identified in my preliminary literature search.

Because the pilot project CFM 2019 was considered a great success, VFI decided to repeat the event in April 2020. I signed up to participate again, this time at a maintenance site in Funningur. Having discovered that my experiences in Klakkur did not completely coincide with media reports with regards to the sustainability of the project, I thought it would be relevant to investigate how the planning and execution (management) of CFM 2020 might be different to that of CFM 2019?

I have used a holistic analysis of the entire case, focusing on themes identified from the literature (deductive codes) and emerging from the case (inductive codes). The case study is also interpreted and analysed through network governance perspective, identifying stakeholders and network characteristics, and seeking to understand the main research question of how governance structures help promote sustainable tourism (practices).

Because of the global Covid pandemic, the CFM 2020 was postponed, and I was only able to consider in this thesis the preparation stage of the event. It gave, however, strong indications to shifts in the planning and implementation of the project with regards to sustainability and network governance structures.

Analysis and conclusion

Like the other Nordic counties, tourism in the Faroes is mostly nature based (NB). It attracts visitors with its beautiful and unique landscape, peace, and tranquillity; possibility for birdwatching and fishing; adventurous boat-trips and mountain-hikes. In line with the Nordic tradition of free access to nature, the Faroese have not question much in the past their right or tradition to walk freely in nature. However, the growing number of tourists, has spurred new discussion about presumed freedom to roam, public rights of access, and rights of landowners and farmers. While some tourism related actors (like VFI and other tourism organizations and entrepreneurs) support the idea to walk freely in nature with consideration for nature, animals and the livelihood of farmers/landowners, others (like some farmers or landowners in the examples of Saksun and Mykines) have introduced restrictions in the form of fences and entrance fees. In the case with Mykines, local landowners built a path through the puffin grounds in Lamba, where people ‘have always walked’, to keep tourists on a single path instead of walking everywhere and wearing down the whole area. This however introduces other problems --it makes it possible for more people to walk through their grounds causing more disturbance to the birds. As discussed above, this is characteristic of wicked problems, and such examples of un-coordinated and unintegrated approach to managing tourism in different localities indicate that tourism development and management in the Faroe Islands has not been recognized as a wicked problem.

Initially, the increasing number of tourists in the Faroes generated public concern and discussions about over-tourism. Fears were expressed that the Faroes would follow in the footsteps of Iceland. However, based on my participatory observations in the Arctic Circle Forum (May, 2018), the Green Growth Dialogue (May, 2018), the Arctic Circle Assembly (October 2017) where VFI was represented, it may be concluded that there is expressed consideration for the number of tourists visiting the Faroes, as well as sustainability. This was expressed in their (VFI) public communication, strategy, participation in Ramsar meetings and work for new legislation regarding environmental protection, and in their initiative Closed for Maintenance – Open for Voluntourism.

During the days of the project, 10 popular tourist sites were closed for regular visitors and open only for 105 international tourists-volunteers who had come to the Faroes to do some maintenance work at these sites. They were provided with free food and accommodation for the duration of the project in return for their work. They covered travel expense themselves. The maintenance work involved making paths and steps, putting up signs and fences, re- building cairns. The project attracted much media attention and was generally considered a success and an example of sustainable tourism. However, there were certain discrepancies between the media reports and my observations as a participant. Considering the case study through a sustainability perspective, the following observations and conclusions were made:

  • The involvement of local volunteers in CFM 2019 was not a priority for VFI, although they had stated that local volunteers could join. Two-three weeks before the project, coordinators were asked to find and involve more Faroese volunteers (key informant #1, 10.05.2019). Local participation was better incorporated for CFM 2020, with 40 places reserved for them. Local citizens and Runavík municipality were involved in the planning of the project from the very beginning. That meant better use of local knowledge and input in the project, and a better cultural exchange, while in CFM 2019 I observed a certain disconnect between the locals down-town and the voluntourists working on their mountain site in Klakkur. One of the cultural/traditional activities planned for the voluntourists in Funningur, the Faroese dance evening, was a naturally occurring event (part of the Cultural week in the area) making the experience more genuine and real than the more arranged cultural entertainment in CFM 2019.
  • Environmental considerations were also better incorporated in CFM 2020: to use a) materials such as stones and rocks from the actual site as much as possible, b) local food ingredients for the meals, c) to use none-plastic and none-single-use cutlery, d) to leave the maintenance site cleared from building materials and tools. Coordinators were asked to incorporate in their planning work considerations for the UN SDG #12 and #15.

Although the analysis is taking each aspect of sustainability separately according to the classical approach to sustainability, it can be easily observed how they overlap and how one cannot be considered in isolation from the others. For example, an economic aspect (housing people in local homes, rather than a hotel) also has socio-cultural implications, which shows the need of a more integrated consideration of sustainability.

Both CFM 2019 and CFM 2020 are examples of co-management governance system where both public and private actors are involved in the planning and implementation of the project. However, the structure and configuration of the governance network differed in the two cases, suggesting a better-performing one in CFM 2020. It:

  • Included more and diverse actors, contributing to its heterogeneity. This resulted in better access to resources, more linkages, and better capacity to span over structural holes.
  • For example, the local farmer connected with other local people who could help with arranging practicalities for the project.
  • Involved more local people both in the decision-making process and the actual project, which ensured stronger links and legitimacy of the project.
  • Integrated better different perspectives, knowledge systems and skills (local, expert, and scientific).
  • Involved the municipalities to a higher degree, which created stronger links between the different levels in the network – local, regional, and central.
  • Had more regular and direct information flow, which allowed better collaboration, sharing of goals, and building trust. For example, planning meetings between VFI, local farmers/landowners, and the Tourist Offices, which are agencies of the municipalities.

The change in network configuration for CFM, exemplifies the evolving and dynamic character of network governance systems, in our case starting with a more centrally integrated network in CFM 2019 and moving towards higher heterogeneity by involving other stakeholders in CFM 2020. The performance of the co-management system also depends on the extent to which actors share responsibilities, values and norms, and engage in dialogue.

Implications and relevance for other Nordic countries

Considering the similarities among the countries of the Danish Kingdom and (West) Nordic Region, CFM could easily serve as an example of sustainable tourism practice, implemented with consideration for the local context.

The CFM case study illustrates the importance of involving diverse actors representing different knowledge systems (including local people) in the process of managing tourism in a destination, who collaborate and form co-management systems based on mutual trust and respect, shared responsibilities and values, openness to learning, and appreciation of different perspectives.

Sustainable Tourism Council (like the one in Iceland or inspired by the idea of the Planning Council in Alborg, discussed by Flyvbjerg (2001, p. 160) maybe established to facilitate and advise tourism development in the Faroes (the Danish Kingdom) and countries of the region. Further research using stakeholder analysis could help identify stakeholder categories, ensure key groups are included, and specify representatives that are well connected and respected with the groups they will represent.

Co-management as network governance approach could be used to address other ‘wicked’ problems of social policy related to sustainability, environmental justice, public health and wellbeing, management of CPRs and others. As the example of CFM illustrates, network governance as a post-normal science approach to resolving problems is more adaptive and dynamic, and thus better suited to respond to ever changing and evolving conditions of our complex reality.

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Senest opdateret 25. november 2021