1. Agency in city and regional development
Markku Sotarauta (, Tampere University, Urban and Regional Studies Group 

Increasing polarisation between economically successful and non-core regions accompanied by climate change call for novel strategies promoting structural changes in regions. The contemporary challenges call for a better understanding of what actors do to ensure strategic adaptation to the changes, securing a balanced future for their regions and cities. 

The dominant theories and models have for long advanced mainly structural explanations, and, until recently, questions related to agency have remained in the shadows. The session's main objective is to advance understanding of the role of agency in the economic, social, and environmental transformation by welcoming papers addressing theoretical and methodological development-related questions and empirical papers shedding light on agency in the city and regional development. 


2. COVID19 impact on tourism industry 

Anne Roosipõld <> Tartu University Pärnu college

The session brings together tourism industry representatives, including national, state, and local government leaders; tourist destination and industry leaders; tourism researchers, academics and students mainly from  the Baltic Sea Region.

While COVID-19 is impacting all industries, the tourism and hospitality sector has experienced the highest impact to date due to severe travel restrictions, major event cancellations and overall risk aversion to travel internationally and domestically. The closure of tourism activities has had a significant impact on the entire service sector, as well as on other areas of activity, the development of destinations and the quality of life of local populations. The crisis has affected the essence of tourism. Before the crisis, flights, ships and cruises prevailed everyday tourism, whereas now nature tourism, sustainable (green) and hobby tourism are popular. A sustainable green turn in tourism is a challenge for the future of the industry.

The session is expected to present issues related to the restoration of tourism and future changes, challenges and opportunities in planning and promoting the competitiveness of regional tourism, tourist destinations and tourism businesses in a sustainable way. 

Visit Pärnu

Photo: Visit Pärnu/Priit Loog


3. Diversification and regional structural change
Lars Mewes (,  Institute of Economic and Cultural Geography, Leibniz University Hanover  
Jason Deegan & Tom Broeke (, University of Stavanger, Business School

Regional economic systems are not static, but exist under continuous pressure to adapt to changing demand patterns, new technological developments, or large external shocks. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put regional economies under unprecedented pressure. To avoid regional stagnation/decline and to sustain future development, it requires collective (dynamic) capabilities to adapt to system changes – not only, but specifically in times of crisis. A large body of research has focused on the mechanisms and processes of regional structural change. Concepts such as path creation, regional (cognitive) lock-in, or regional branching describe how regions diversify into new activities over longer time periods thereby contributing to our understanding of regional development. Many of these concepts rely on the notion of (technological) trajectories and path dependency: A certain outcome of interest (e.g., the emergence of a new activity in a region) results from a sequence of events occurring along a path until the outcome is eventually observed. For example, regional branching conceptualizes the emergence of new activities out of existing capabilities in regions. Following back the path enhances our understanding of how regions respond to crises or develop new growth paths. However, empirical research often decouples the theoretical concepts from the empirical operationalization by focusing on the outcome rather than on the path and by treating, for example, regional diversification as a binary event consisting of entries and exits only. Although such an approach has greatly enhanced our understanding of regional change (by providing evidence for the regional branching hypothesis, for example), its abilities to identify mechanisms and agents of change is limited.

This session calls for papers that develop new empirical concepts to analyze reginal structural change including phenomena such as regional diversification, path creation, lock-in, or resilience We highly encourage research from various disciplines that might address the following questions:

  • In case of new activities, what was the benefit for the regional innovation system? Are new activities always good? How long do they sustain?  
  • What efforts where necessary to establish a new path and where does it come from? Which actors were involved and when?  
  • How do regions climb the ladder of development over longer time periods? 
  • In case of exits, is the underlying knowledge simply gone? Was it part of a larger decline process observable across a multitude of different products, technologies, or sectors?  
  • Where are the origins of regional lock-ins? Is it possible to systematically measure and predict them? 
    Lars Mewes
    Lars Mewes

4. Mixed session: Education and social inequalities in the post-Covid era
Chair: Donatas Burneika 


5. Exploring the Geographies of Responsible Innovation 
Svein Gunnar Sjøtun & Marte C. W. Solheim (

The emergence of various normative currents has become prevalent in contemporary innovation studies and policy. One example of a normative approach gaining attention in European research and policy circles, is ‘Responsible Research and Innovation’ (RRI) (Stilgoe et al., 2013; Owen et al., 2012). While this framework has brought more attention to how innovation should be practiced in more ethical, inclusive and sustainable ways, it has concomitantly been conceptualized as being an/a ‘ideal, strategy, discourse and discipline’ (Koops, 2015), leaving it difficult to operationalize ontologically, epistemologically and methodologically. Moreover, a focus on the contextual underpinnings of responsible innovation is needed, e.g. how responsibility should be practiced or performed in real-world settings (Jakobsen et al. 2019, Coenen and Morgan, 2020, Thapa et al. 2019). This begs the question of how responsible innovation plays out in different geographies, namely how different places and spaces influence (culturally, socio-politically, economically etc.) situated responsible innovation processes and outcomes.

 Potential topics could include (but are not limited to):

- How different regional contexts stimulate and hamper sustainable transitions and responsible innovation

- How responsible innovation should/could be practiced or performed in real-life settings

- Sustainability transitions case(s) reflecting responsible innovation

- Responsible innovation in previously understudied sectors

- Diversity and inclusion in creating responsible, sustainable solutions, and contextual factors affecting this association

Marte C.W. Solheim
Marte C.W. Solheim


6. SMART-city solutions for smaller places

Kadri Leetmaa
Kadri Leetmaa

Kadri Leetmaa (, University of Tartu   

The ‘smart city’ debate has expanded exponentially in recent decades, both in research and in the strategies of localities. Even though the ‘smart city’ is a rather overexploited concept, that in turn is dominated by the lessons learned from the largest cities in the world, it has not prevented localities around the world to follow the ‘smart city’ as a leitmotif on contemporary urban and local development. The excessive ‘urban policy mobilities’ in knowledge transfer even leads to the situation where rural areas present themselves as ‘smart cities’. This session calls for a more responsible and independent research on ’smart rurality’ and ’smartification in non-urban contexts’, incl. exploring the aspects of power and agency of rural smartification and understanding the links between smartification and new layers of regional inequality. Both more theoretical papers as well as inspiring empirical studies that help to avoid uncritical ‘smart city’ research layouts and instead contribute to the new conceptualization of smartification in non-urban contexts are welcome in the session.


7. What is the future of sustainable mobilities in (post)-covid times? 
Tauri Tuvikene (, Tallinn University

COVID-19 has put sustainable mobilities at the cross-road. While people move less in general under the lockdown conditions and there are trends suggesting an upsurge of cycling or walking with a number of cities around Europe taking the opportunity to give street space for cyclists, private cars have also increased their image as safe bubbles to withdraw from the perceived dangers of public transport and other shared public spaces of urban mobility. Moreover, funding models of public transport infrastructures are under immense pressure from the diminished ridership, particularly in systems reliant on the income from user fares, although less so in models that are funded by the state or municipality as is the case in Tallinn, Estonia.

This session seeks to map the ongoing challenges for sustainable mobility in the Baltic Sea Region and intends to focus particularly on two themes (1) the changes of public transport systems (image and funding concerns as well as good practices to overcome these challenges) (2) the potential revival of automobility (if not in actual mobility practice then potentially discursively) and how this is challenged or overcome in different cities.