Students:Case study methodology

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Content and goals

In contrast to the e-learning modules of the ISPoS program, the Summer School focused on the local problems of a specific region where the huge impacts of supra-regional industries are visible. The program capitalized on the opportunities to see and experience the situation in the Ore Mountains: a Czech – German border region which suffers from (unregulated) mining industry, air pollution from lignite power plants and chemical factories, and above all bears the history of the Sudetenland with all its attached stigmas relating to the forced migration of its inhabitants. We met local people and points of interest, explored and described the current situation and tried to find solutions through the exploration of the actor analysis method practical applied to the local circumstances.

Ustí Region

The burden of history & alienation from the landscape

In former times, the Usti region was comprised to a large extent by a sizeable part of the German Sudetenland, much of which ran along the southern, western and northern borderlands between Germany and the Czechoslovakia and populated predominantly by ethnic Germans. The area was occupied by the Nazi regime and put under military administration following the 1938 Munich Agreement. Transportation of the local Jewish population to concentration camps and the expulsion of the much of the ethnic Czech population into the Czech and Moravian Protectorate followed. The Nazis then unashamedly exploited the natural resources and established industries of the Usti region without concern for maintenance (it was a vital area for the manufacture of synthetic fuel from the local coal deposits to drive the Nazi war machine).

At the end of the war, most Sudeten Germans were in turn expelled from the region by the re-established Czechoslovak government, leaving large swathes of the land virtually uninhabited. New immigrants to the region from Czech, Slovak, Romany and Ukrainian populations had no connection to the land or its history, and some of the initial waves of immigrants were simply seeking to strip private and public buildings of property and return to where they originally came from. An ensuing ‘deGermanisation’ campaign in favour of all things Czech led to the further destruction of German monuments and housing stock and the obliteration of valuable artefacts and records.

The sudden disappearance of centuries of German culture and nearly all the German inhabitants, plus the arrival of a wholly new population with no roots to the area contributed to irreparable damage to both the human landscape and natural environment. This alienation to the land was further exacerbated by the drawing of the Iron Curtain around the newly communist post-war states in the Central and Eastern Europe; the borderlands in the Usti region effectively became out-of-bounds or suffered from a lack of investment for many decades as a result. Allied to this neglect of the region was the communist regime’s desire to fuel large-scale industrial expansion by massively exploiting the lignite reserves in the North Bohemian coal basis. Extraction of the coal required the wholesale demolition of entire villages and towns; the regime knew that it could rely on the acquiescence of a local population that had no connection to the land and was reliant on the work provided by this type of exploitation. Even the entire former royal city of Most was systematically bulldozed from the late 1060s to the early 1980s to extract the coal beneath it and rebuilt along non-anaesthetic socialist utilitarian lines.

Even the new democratic era has not greatly benefited the Usti region in comparison to other parts of the Czech Republic, as the area remains relatively neglected in terms of non-industrial infrastructural investment. And while the latest generation has started to feel more at home in the region, this is again threatened by the real possibility that the mining limits imposed by the first post-communist government will soon be lifted in order to keep fuelling the Czech Republic’s stock of coal-fired power stations and heating plants for decades to come.

Over-reliance on heavy industry and mining

Although it would be a mistake to characterise the entire Usti region as one based solely on heavy industry – it also contains highly fertile agricultural areas, as well as successful glass and textile industries - nevertheless, lignite mining has been a mainstay of the Usti economy for many decades and continues to be to this day. The Czechoslovak Army Mine between Most and Litvinov is one of the largest coal mines in the country. The Czech Republic’s energy strategy is so reliant upon the Usti region’s coal to drive its economy that serious consideration is being given to lifting the limits on mining areas originally imposed in 1991 that would lead to the further destruction of the natural landscape and local ecosystems, and require the demolition of further towns and villages, particularly Horní Jiřetín and Černice. It would also endanger important cultural monuments such at the famous Jezeří Chateau located on the foot hills of the Ore Mountains just above the Czechoslovak Army Mine; needless-to-say, this would wreak havoc on the fragile sense of community that has been established there in more recent times.

Accompanying the mining industry is the location of the highest concentration of coal-fired power stations and heating plants in the Czech Republic. As noted above, the biggest Czech oil refinery is located in Záluží u Mostu (the site of the Nazi regime’s synthetic fuel manufacturing plant during the war), and there is a large chemical industry based in the region (manufacture of epoxy, chloride, sodium hydroxide, hydrogen, paint, synthetic gems, etc).

The mining or chemical companies Czech Coal, Severočeské doly, Chemopetrol are the biggest employers in the region. To give some indication of the importance of heavy industry to the region in terms of employment, figures issued by the Czech Statistics Office show that earnings on the sale of products and services of an industrial nature per employee was the highest in the Usti region in all the Czech Republic in 2011 (CZK 6,001 compared to the Czech average of CZK 3,710).

Damage to environmental and human health

Industrial activity in the past had and still does have a negative impact on the quality of the local environment. The large-scale development of open cast mining has significantly damaged the natural face of the region and which has only been restored to some extent through hugely expensive recultivation work, while local ecosystems have been altered beyond repair, such as the rechanneling of the Bilina river. Acid rain has in the past caused massive damage to the local forest cover, particularly in the Ore Mountains. There are also well-known emissions problems in the region stemming from the concentration of heavy industry. There has, however, been a considerable improvement over the last decade, which can be documented through a lowering in emissions, although despite this fact the region is still seen as having the most damaged environment in the country. The region gives high priority to the measurement of emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides as a result.

Under the communist regime, respiratory infections and deaths from respiratory ailments were extremely common, and it was the custom to send children away from the region during the worst occurrences of air pollution in the winter months, or keep them inside in the house. Today the situation has improved, but the Usti region still has one of the highest mortality rates in the Czech Republic (10.7 mortalities per 1,000 inhabitants), and the highest number of miscarriages per 100 births (46.5). While there is no conclusive scientific evidence to link these statistics to environmental pollution in the region, a recent study by the Charles University Environment Center on the external costs of expanding mining operations by lifting the current limits and burning the resulting coal indicated that the cost to human health would be enormous in terms of new cases of bronchitis, increasing hospitalisation rates for heart and respiratory disease, and a general relative decrease in life span.

High unemployment & low levels of higher education attainment

According to the latest Czech Statistics Office data as at 31 March 2012, the unemployment rate in the Usti region is the highest in the country at 13.67% (compared to the Czech average of 8.91%). The city of Most has the third worst unemployment rate in the country of 16%. While the region had the fifth highest average monthly wage in the Czech Republic in 2011 of CZK 25,938 (cf. the Czech average of CZK 26,276) it also recorded the third lowest growth in wages in 2011 of 1.7% (cf. 3.2%).

According to the latest census figures, the Usti region recorded its second biggest increase in educational achievement over the last decade (2.4%) in people with a university education: 7.8% of the population (cf. 12.4% for the whole Czech Republic). However, in comparison with all other Czech regions, this places it in second last position only. There is only one public university in the Usti region: UJEP. Lack of engagement and social exclusion

At 55.66%, participation in the last parliamentary elections in the Usti region was the second lowest in the country (cf. 62.6%). This situation is repeated in all forms of elections; at the last municipal elections in 2010, the turnout was again the second lowest at 42.5% (cf. national average of 48.5%). While there is general disillusionment with the political system across the Czech Republic, it is perhaps more strongly felt in the Usti region where there have been a number corruption scandals involving prominent politicians, not the least of which surrounds the sale of the Most Coal Company many billions of crowns less than its actual value and hence a loss of revenue to national, regional, district and municipal coffers.

In addition, there is a relatively large Romany population resident in the Usti region, but concentrated in certain area with poor social facilities and decaying infrastructure, such as the Chanov district of Most city, purpose-built as a segregated Romany district under the former regime, or smallish towns like Janov, Varnsdorf and Šluknov where large numbers of Romany have only recently been relocated from other parts of the Czech Republic. Unemployment rates among these communities are very high and they are consequently dependent on social benefits. Tensions with the local Czech population regularly spark confrontations between the two communities, and recently clashes in the latter two towns have required national police intervention.

A perception of neglect by central government and the likely lifting of coal mining limits may be exacerbating a sense of helplessness, disillusionment and disengagement. A number of NGOs operate in the region to encourage more active public participation and engagement in local issues, but as with the rest of the Czech Republic and aggravated by its troubled recent history, the sense of community-mindedness and civil society remains weak.

Underdeveloped tourism potential

Despite a number of outstanding natural features, such as the Ore Mountains and the Central Bohemian Uplands, and many historical buildings and heritage sites, the negative public perception of the Usti region remains so strong that it is the least visited region in the Czech Republic. According to the Czech Statistics Office, the Usti region’s share of overall visitors to the Czech Republic is 2.4%, the lowest of all regions.

Problem and hypothesis

With regard to our initial experience of the region (preparation and realization of the first Summer School in 2011) we posed the hypothesis that the source of the most pressing regional problems, including the social, economic and environmental pillars are sustainable development, are the distorted relationships of those living in the area: a dysfunctional social structure that provides fertile ground for resource exploitation rather than for living. There is evidence from history – the pre-war expulsion of Czechs by the occupying Germans from 1938 and the post-war tit-for-tat expulsion of the German population and the invasion of opportunist “gold diggers” caused enormous degradation of the whole region. Consequently, following the post-war period there appeared to be no room for the re-establishment of civic structures, while the ideologically-based regional strategy aimed at the development of the heavy industry base for whole communist block at any price was opposed by virtually no-one. The tradition of unscrupulous exploitation is still relevant today as the area lacks points of reference for the development of new, place-based relationships within the community – the social and built history of the region has disappeared in the mining pits and artificially “reconstructed” nature provides few emotional incentives that would form the basis for the development of a feeling for home. (Although if we look at the wider region more closely, its beauty is quickly revealed.)

Research question

Sustainable development of regional strategies in general aim to capitalize on regional resources (natural, cultural) and to manage them in a sustainable way to develop their potential while simultaneously preserving them for future generations. But when the economy of the region is fully oriented towards “big projects” based on the blinkered exploitation of “enormous natural resource abundance”, and regional strategies do not support small-scaled innovation and initiatives (which makes hostages of the local inhabitants), then something needed to be substantially changed. The combined inertia of national/regional government policy and the shareholder-profit-driven ethos of privatised mining companies has created little room for innovative thinking and alternative visions. Clearly local people should be empowered to rid themselves of their economic dependence on big companies, but also form a new relationship to the locality and to feel a responsibility for its future and for future generations. For researchers, this situation provides an opportunity to analyse which actors might be sources of conflict and which create vital bonds or networks with other social groups as well as being 'in touch' with the regional heritage (history, tradition, the natural landscape, the built environment, etc.).

Based on these considerations, we identified the main research question for 2012: How is social capital formed? Who contributes to it and how? We then also explored how this social capital might be (or is) contributing to the sustainable development of the region, what are the main processes involved, and who plays a role in them.

Related case study

The other aim was to develop a case study focused on the relationships of different interest groups (or actors) that play a role in the brown coal mining conflict. We made a basis for that – students described the situation “objectively” – and we used resources describing the local history, culture, environment etc. Our aim was to let the local actors contribute to it from their subjective point of view, i.e. their own interests with regard to the mining issue were included.

Framework for exploration

An analysis of the regional situation and its sustainable development opportunities from the point of view of regional actors, from a social capital perspective, and within the historical and contemporary context.

I. Context: introduction of the regional situation with its historical issues and current problems

II. Framing: guiding concepts in a regional context (social capital, relationship to place, EU and global driving forces) Introduce the concept of social capital (SC)

1. Definition

  • What does it mean in the local context?

2. Define environmental and economic capital & interrelationships

  • What do these concepts mean in the local context?
  • How have they manifested in history and now?

Place-based principles in the regional context 3. Definition

  • Define roles within different cooperation networks, spheres (education,…) and describe relationships to social etc. capital

New networks and relationships (EU, global networks)

III. Identification of boundary objects: case studies of regional situations with a future perspective (and the hidden role of social capital)

1. Case study writing and important aspects from an analytical point of view

IV. Hypothesis: the SD concept and regional strategies include three pillars and interrelationships: economic, environmental, and social. The role of SC is underestimated as this is mainly “process oriented” (consists in relationships between elements of the system, not product oriented etc.). SC has played a role in history and its destruction caused huge environmental and economic problems. SC is one of the driving forces of development and close attention should accordingly be paid to it. Should be shown in our case.

Method of work: Specification of the research perspective – social capital – within the region (object of the study -> tackled as a system) and its development strategies;

Research question: How is the SC perspective manifested in the research area, is it supported in development strategies? 1. Analysis of existing regional development principles (ZÚR) from an SC perspective 2. Analysis of potential regional development strategies from an SC perspective based on case studies and a SWOT analysis made by actors

V. Analytical methods, we are going to use this – methodological introduction

1. Case study writing (input by actors exploited, and how to supplement the knowledge base) & analysis (how it works in research and what different viewpoints are revealed)

2. Interviews – goal: obtain objective information on the situation  critically assess info from other actors and describe the role of an actor within the context of cooperation, public debate and the regional situation

3. SWOT – perspectives by different actors

4. Comparative study: comparison of two countries, analysis of influence of different actors other than in CR (mining companies) on regional development options.

5. Actor analysis

6. Mind mapping – stakeholder maps with relationships between actors (different graphical expression)

7. Interaction analysis – analysis of relationships and interactions in the mind map

8. System analysis of social relations (place is one of the elements of the system)

  • Structural
  • From the viewpoint of relations between elements and processes

9. Reframing workshop: 3 perspectives applied on the case study and mind maps. Relevant projects and scenarios outlined.

10. Scenario analysis – introductory steps

VI. Students’ work – STEPS:

1. Collaborative work I: identify actors in the network, think about the system of relationships

  • experiences from e-learning

Identify important aspects of the network from the point of view of SC (trust etc.) 2. Group work I (GW I) – stakeholder mapping workshop: forming of actor groups, role-playing one of the actors + creation of a "knowledge base" for the role of actor:

  • Draw a map of actors, analyse and identify uncertainties to be explored
  • Mental mapping of the situation – relationships within the group (one of the actors) to other actors
  • Interrelationships of other actors

3. Group and Collaborative work II – case study writing:

  • How to interview real actors
  • Case study writing on behalf of an interest group, with input of the interviews of real actors

4. Group work II (GW II) – comparative study of relationships on the German side of the border Actor analysis focused on important aspects from the SC perspective (trust, relation to the place, etc.)

  • Actor analysis methodology revisited – SC focus
  • Analysis of the mental maps made by other “actors” in GW I
  • Start with analysing of the input produced by real actors
  • Comparison with the German situation

5. Collaborative work III – actor analysis of the stakeholder map produced: Put together results made by “actors”: students’ groups

  • Relationships between stakeholder maps produced by students in groups, combining stakeholders maps into one
  • Analysis of actors’ relationships, based on concept of ‘vital interests’ (see below)
  • Analysis of actors’ relationships, based on concept of ‘superstructure options’ (see below)
  • Find common interests and conflicts in scenarios made by different actors (from SWOT analyses)

6. Group work III – reframing workshop: Identification of potential regional projects

VII. Outcomes:

1. Case study (boundary object): general (objective) description and viewpoints by individual actors.

2. Reframing: the region as a system of social relations – structural analysis, processes.

3. Analytical work: AA & mind maps of social relations. Perspective: aspects of SC (social capital) such as trust,…

4. Analytical results – a kind of study???: answer to the research questions: what is the role of social capital in the sustainable development of the region, how is SC included in the regional development strategies, what should a regional development strategy look like if SC was one of the leading principles in it?

5. Potential regional projects identified and discussed with regional stakeholders

6. Public presentation and discussion – received feedback on the work by real actors.


ZIMMERMANN, A., MAENNLING, C. (2007) Mainstreaming participation. Multi-stakeholder management: Tools for Stakeholder Analysis: 10 building blocks for designing participatory systems of cooperation. Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH, Eschborn.

Multi-Stakeholder Engagement Processes. A UNDP Capacity Development Resource (2006). Conference Paper, United Nations Development Programme

Harmonising Collaborative Planning (2005). University of Osnabrueck, Institute of Environmental Systems Research, Germany. ISBN 3-00-016970/9.