Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Regional Studies

The Development of Learning Regions in New Zealand: The "6-I" Framework

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Regional Studies

The Development of Learning Regions in New Zealand: The "6-I" Framework

Article excerpt


The relationship between telecommunications infrastructure and economic growth is well established, though the exact nature of that relationship is still under investigation (Adams, 2005; National Selection Committee, 2004; Parker, 2000). With the exception of a few cynics (Howell, 2006) there is a widespread belief that the introduction of high speed, affordable broadband will bring economic benefits, the "build it and they will come" approach (Kelly, Gray, & Minges, 2003; Zilber, Schneider, & Djwa, 2005). There is no doubt that information and communication technology (ICT) does have a contribution to make to regional development, both in remote rural regions and in more centrally located urban regions. In order to investigate how best to achieve the full value of ICT the concept of the "Learning Region" was adapted for this study.

The term learning region was first coined by academic authors (Florida, 1995; Morgan, 1997; Storper, 1995) working in the fields of innovation studies and economic geography. The concept of the "Learning Region" is ambiguous and found in a variety of different contexts. There is no single definition of a learning region, however, a common strand in the literature is that such regions have an explicit commitment to placing innovation and learning at the core of development (Larsen, 1999). A learning region will generally consist of a network of inter-firm relationships, supported by social capital and trust, and kept dynamic by a continuous process of interactive learning. A learning region will remain economically successful over a significant period of time, and will be able to successfully adapt to changed circumstances. ICTs have the potential to make an important contribution in each of these areas.

This research sets out to establish the role that ICTs play in the development of learning regions. The location for this research is regional New Zealand; as a remotely located country with a low population density New Zealand stands to gain great benefits from the effective utilisation of ICTs. In order to obtain a broad understanding of the contribution that ICTs make across the country two contrasting regions were selected; the rural region of Southland and the urban region of Wellington.

In order to assess to what extent these regions could be classified as learning regions, a model of an 'ideal" learning region was developed. The sociologist Max Weber (1978) developed the concept of the "ideal type" and argued that it was impossible for any scientific system to replicate reality. Therefore, whether it was explicit or not, all science involved selection as well as abstraction. Concepts need to be selected. However, if the concepts selected are too general their distinctive features may be left out, and if one particular example is used, it is difficult to compare it with other phenomena. In contrast, the ideal type constructs certain elements of reality into a logically precise conception. For this research, the concept of the ideal type was used to build a framework highlighting six features that an "ideal" learning region would possess. This framework was used as basis for organising and analysing the data collected. The two regions were then evaluated using the framework.


In order to construct an ideal type of learning region common terms and themes were identified in a number of articles that covered the concept of the learning region. The results were combined to identify five key characteristics of learning regions. Twenty three key references (1) which discussed learning regions in some depth were selected for analysis. Keywords that were used to describe the features of learning regions were identified, and the number of times they occurred across the different references was tallied up. Terms that were used in one article only were discarded and the remaining 22 terms were ranked according to the number of references, which mentioned them. …

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