Economic crisis and social learning for the provision of public services in two Spanish municipalities

Castan Broto, Vanesa and Dewberry, Emma (2016). Economic crisis and social learning for the provision of public services in two Spanish municipalities. Journal of Cleaner Production, 112(4) pp. 3018–3027.



Economic crises pose challenges for the provision of public services but may also open up opportunities for social learning about how to achieve a sustainable society. The main research question addressed in this paper is: can economic crises catalyse social learning for a sustainable society? The hypothesis of the paper is that social learning emerges in association with the reduction of consumption levels that follows degrowth or with the reconfiguration of infrastructure management practices and sustainable innovation that could lead to a transition to sustainability. Following this, we empirically examine whether the crisis has led to social learning about the sustainable provision of public services in two similar municipalities in the north of Spain after the economic crisis of 2008. We develop an interpretative analysis of individual experiences of learning from the crisis using a set of qualitative interviews with individuals who were involved in key decisions about public service delivery during or immediately after the crisis. The analysis suggests that there has been a broader cultural change, which is challenging institutional models of regional development, that there has been a drive towards greater resource efficiency and that some opportunities have opened for entrepreneurs to develop sustainable innovations. The findings support the view that the crisis may have fostered learning responses that could lead to either degrowth or a sustainable transition.

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