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Global Learning City/Region Networks and the PALLACE project

Norman Longworth
Vice-President, World Initiative on Lifelong Learning

‘A Learning Community is a City, Town or Region which mobilises all its resources in every sector to develop and enrich all its human potential for the fostering of personal growth, the maintenance of social cohesion, and the creation of prosperity.’
Towards a European Learning Society (TELS)

The concept of the ‘Learning City’ has been with us for some time. It should not be confused with the more technologically oriented idea of the ‘smart city’ since, although technology has an important part to play, there are many more facets to the construction of a learning society in cities, towns and regions. The European Round Table of Industrialists, representing the 42 largest European Corporations, remarked:

‘The Information Society...must be completed and matched by a Learning Society, if we do not want to fall into an over-informed world and a valueless culture based on ‘zapping’ and ‘patchwork’ superficiality.‘ (ERT/CRE: Moving towards a Learning Society)

The debate has focused principally on the changes that municipalities and regions will need to make in order to improve their own learning performance. This was particularly highlighted in the study of 80 European cities and towns made by the author in the year 2000 and the ‘Learning Cities Audit Tool’ created to gather that information.

However what follows describes an extension of that concept to explore not only how learning communities can help each other to enrich their human potential, but also how they can contribute to the development of greater understanding between creeds, cultures, races and nations.

‘Imagine, if you will, a system of linked learning cities and regions around the globe, each one using the power of modern information and communication tools to make meaningful contact with each other

  • School to school to open up the minds and understanding of young people
  • University to University in joint research and teaching to help communities grow
  • College to College to allow adults of all ages to make contact with each other
  • Business to business to develop trade and commerce
  • Hospital to hospital to exchange knowledge, techniques and people
  • Person to person to break down the stereotypes and build an awareness of other cultures, creeds and customs


And so on – museum to museum, library to library, administration to administration

Imagine that these links include both the developed and the developing world so that say Brisbane, Seattle, Southampton, Shanghai and Kabul, to pick 5 at random, form one Learning Cities ring among a hundred similar networks…….

Imagine that one tenth of the money used to develop military solutions to human and social problems were to be spent on people and tools to make more than 100 of these rings work effectively…..

Imagine that such links had started ten years ago….. What difference might it have made to today’s world?

Isn’t this one of the key challenges to us in the Learning Cities movement? Isn’t this a worthy objective?’

OK – so it’s a stupid, hopelessly idealistic, idea, BUT..

Imagine the advantages…..

  • Thousands more people and organisations contributing to the solution of social, cultural, environmental, political and economic problems
  • A giant leap in mutual understanding and a tranformation of mind-sets through greater communication between people and organisations
  • Profitable economic, trade and technical development through contact between business and industry
  • Active interaction and involvement, and a huge increase in available resource through the mobilisation of the goodwill, talents, skills, experience and creativity between cities and regions
  • Fewer refugees – developing problems can be anticipated and addressed through cooperation between the cities
  • It’s sustainable – because it’s so much more dispersed. Governments and NGOs are no longer the only initiators of aid to the underdeveloped. Action is now shared with the cities and, through them, the people.
  • organisations and institutions in the city/region have a real world-class focus and raison d’être
  • Again three major advantages – understanding – understanding – understanding leading to solution - solution - solution

What an opportunity to make a real difference!

Where is it happening?

We can find the beginnings of such a movement in the European Commission’s Pallace project (Promoting Active Lifelong Learning in Australasia, Canada, China and Europe). This pioneering project establishes multilateral links between cities, creeds, cultures and countries to facilitate the building of a new learning and understanding world.

In its two-year time span, PALLACE will link stakeholders - schools, adult education colleges, cultural services departments, elected representatives and community builders - in

  • the Adelaide and Brisbane regions of Australia
  • the Auckland region of New Zealand,
  • the city of Beijing in China,
  • Edmonton in Canada,
  • Espoo in Finland,
  • Edinburgh in Scotland
  • Sannois in France

The objective is to stimulate these stakeholders to develop greater knowledge, experience and practice in helping themselves and each other to understand the nature of the learning city and their own role in helping it to grow. It arises from work on learning cities, towns and regions carried out in Europe, notably the highly successful European Commission’s TELS (Towards a European Learning Society) survey of Lifelong Learning practice in 80 cities, and the rapidly increasing Learning Community activity in Australia, Canada, China and New Zealand.

The interaction between these partners will be at many levels of the learning city, engaging a variety of individual stakeholder groups in collaborative pilot activities, and increasing knowledge of their roles in learning city and region development. Each partner runs a separate sub-project, as follows:

The sub-projects

  • Global schools networks are not new, but the network which South Australia is putting together is the first to involve children, teachers and parents in debate about the learning city and what schools can do to help create it. There is a huge add-on value to this in that it not only creates heightened awareness of what a learning city can be but also potentially mobilises hundreds of people to contribute to it. This of course will require some creative management and the development of tools such as questionnaires to help increase understanding but its beauty is that the answers are coming from the future citizens themselves, and not being imposed upon them by others.
  • Similarly the Adult Education project led by Papakura/Auckland will link students and staff in Adult Education colleges in debate about what such an institution and its people can do to help transform their own city into a learning city. Here again there is the possibility of new resource, not only in the development of new insights among the participants, but also in the ways in which they will use those insights in a practical way. In both these projects the outcomes can be used by others to expand the number of people actively engaged in building the learning city and greatly accelerate the developmental process.
  • Such an outcome is written into the Cultural Services project led by the City of Espoo, one the world’s foremost learning cities. Here the objective is to engage museums, libraries and galleries in debate about their own contribution to the development of lifelong learning in the city. The result will be an attractively presented portable display which any city can use to explain what a learning city is, the place of the arts and education in it, and what the citizen can do to further it. The sub-project will also assess public response to the display, inviting the opinion of citizens and encouraging them to be specific about what their own engagement might be. Awareness, insight, mobilisation, involvement.
  • A Learning City needs Leadership and that is the theme of CEFEL’s project for elected representatives. CEFEL is the French national organisation for the training of councillors at town and city level. Alain Bournazel, its President, will organise links between councillors in one or two French cities and those in the involved partner cities to debate the nature of the learning city and to decide the strategies they would want to put into place to help create it. He will make use of questionnaires and the results of previous learning city surveys such as TELS, and bring the objectives and activities of the PALLACE project to their attention. We should also gain some insight into language and culture differences in this sub-project.
  • Two projects address the issues of establishing learning communities within a city or region, but they very different from each other. The City of Beijing is establishing a lifelong learning centre in a suburb of a million people. It wants to explore creative and innovative ways of bringing together the different sectors – schools, adult education, business and industry, community organisations, the city and district administrations – into one huge facility that will promote and deliver lifelong learning. We can all learn from, and contribute to, this ambitious programme, which should tell us much about how people can be persuaded to become active lifelong learning citizens. We can also learn much about language and culture differences.
  • The Queensland project is of a different nature. South and West of Brisbane there is being created a ‘Learning Corridor’ a scheme to encourage greater community involvement in Lifelong Learning and community activities. The four suburbs involved are different from each other in social composition, age, existing facilities and income, but they have the promotion and improvement of community life as a common aim. Here the two major universities, UQ and QUT, are combining (another first for PALLACE?) to help build lifelong learning structures into community life in the corridor, in places  using public/private investment companies. Many cities will be interested in the results of this.
  • Finally, but definitely not leastly, a learning city will use technology creatively in many different ways. Our Albertan partner is therefore addressing the needs and contributions of the technology providers in the city – how they can improve the learning infrastructure and its performance in the schools, the colleges, business and industry and higher education. Out of this will come a seminar for technology providers in your own city.

So we have seven projects which are pushing back the frontiers of what we know about, and how we build, the learning city. The insights and perceptions to be gained from running, interacting and participating in these projects will be many and various. The value they will add will be priceless.

Professor Longworth is the author of

‘Making Lifelong Learning Work – Learning Cities for a Learning Century’
‘ifelong Learning – New Vision, New Implications, New Roles’
‘Lifelong Learning in Action – Transforming 21st Century Education’

‘Learning Cities, Learning Regions, Learning Communities – Lifelong Learning and Local Government’