Grass Root Involvement in a Mega Program

Managing and Working in Project Society


By Tomas Blomquist, Nils Wåhlin and Rolf A. Lundin

Stockholm, Sweden


For several years, the European Union has annually appointed a city in Europe to be the European Capital of Culture. Lately two different cities have in fact been chosen for each year in order to promote the development in the regions of the EU member states. For 2014 the cities were Riga in Latvia and Umeå in northern Sweden. Cities apply for the title by presenting a preliminary plan for how they are to prove that they deserve the honor to be the European Capital of Culture and the plans are scrutinized by EU officials visiting the city applicants in the competition. It is not only an honor to be selected, but the cities chosen will also receive financial resources from the union in order to carry through efforts related to the title.

The two cities used different approaches to select activities to prove themselves worthy of the nomination. In Riga, the politicians in charge chose a set of activities with which Riga should demonstrate that they were devoted to culture and worthy of the selection. A top-down procedure was used, almost of a mega project type (cf. Van Marrewijk, 2015), where decisions about activities and resources were made by the city top government handing over the concrete work and the responsibilities to cultural administrators working for the city government.

The Umeå approach selected was almost the opposite, i.e. more of a bottom-up character where the initial step was to invite individuals from citizens-at-large, associations, companies, etcetera to submit suggestions for activities to prove the city worthy of the culture title. The effort received a lot of publicity with the help of local newspapers, TV programs and the like. A main idea revolves around the notion of co-creation; how to involve as many citizens as possible in different activities and projects. Co-creation became an important criterion for making choices between projects to be included in the program.

The range of various projects suggested to be potential parts of the program for the year was impressive and the question “what is culture” was debated a lot with an open mindset. To mention just one suggestion to demonstrate the open attitude: “How have birds moving south during the winter period changed their migrating behavior in terms of routes and time resulting from climate changes?” An interesting project, but it had an inherent difficulty – it was not evidently related to culture. But instead of rejecting the project it was used as a project for place-marketing. Birds normally return to the same location year after year and in that way the birds showed the way to the European Capital of Culture.

Cities in the neighborhood of Umeå were also activated in various ways promoting cultural events to take place in the year of 2014. The effort was conceived as one promoting the northern region of the country. There were also efforts to combine activities with Riga, but the outcome from the collaborative effort between the two cities was meager.

The Sami Ingredient

One of the key special reasons for Umeå winning the competition between cities was the connection to the indigenous people living in the northern parts of Norway, Finland, Russia and Sweden in an area called Sapmi. Umeå is a part of Sapmi and the Sami people is a part of the northern community as one of few indigenous people in Europe. Traditionally the life of the Sami people (who move around with the reindeers as a way of their cattle raising) is circulating around how reindeers have to be taken care of to preserve the need for nourishment. In order to follow the movement of reindeers, the Sami people are dividing the year in eight different seasons.


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Editor’s note: This is article is one in a series based on the book Managing and Working in Project Society by Rolf A. Lundin, Niklas Arvidsson, Tim Brady, Eskil Ekstedt, Christophe Midler and Jörg Sydow, published by Cambridge University Press in 2015.  The book won the PMI David I. Cleland Project Management Literature Award in 2016.


About the Authors

Tomas Blomquist, PhD

Umeå School of Business and Economics
Umeå, Sweden


Tomas Blomquist
is a professor in Business Administration at Umeå University. He is the director of research at the department and the research profile leader for the business school’s research profile on Projects, Innovation and Networks. He is currently involved in work on behavioral aspects of coaching in business incubation and inter-organizational aspects of business development around digitalization and IoT. Tomas has previously done research with mixed methods research and his work is published in several international journals including Business Horizons, Business Strategy and the Environment, Industrial Marketing Management, Harvard Business Review, and Project Management Journal and International Journal of Project Management. His latest publication in International Journal of Project Management develops a self-efficacy scale for project management. A six-item self-efficacy scale that predicts project management performance and might be used for selection and hiring of project managers.


Nils Wåhlin, PhD

Umeå School of Business and Economics
Umeå, Sweden


Nils Wåhlin
is Associate Professor in Business Administration at Umeå School of Business and Economics, Umeå University. His research focuses on management and organization studies in general with a special interest for practices of organizing and strategizing. He is currently doing studies on European Capitals of Culture and published recently a co-authored book with the title Urban Strategies for Culture-Driven Growth. Co-creating a European Capital of Culture on Edward Elgar Publishing. He can be contacted at [email protected].

Rolf Lundin, PhD

Jönköping International Business School
Jönköping, Sweden


Rolf A Lundin
is a professor (em.) of Business Administration at the Jönköping International Business School (JIBS) and a Courtesy Professor-in-Residence at the Umeå School of Business and Economics (USBE).  He received his PhD in 1973 at the University of Chicago (now the Booth Business School) in Management Science.  He has been a full professor since 1978, first at the business school of the University of Umeå (in northern Sweden), where he was also the founding dean of that school.  In 2001 he was recruited to dean JIBS.  He stepped down as dean in 2007.  Since then he has been affiliated with the Media Management and Transformation Center.  He has several publications in the management of projects and temporary organization area and is currently serving on the board for the PMI Global Accreditation Center which is working with accreditation of project management educational programs around the world.  His current research focus is on the use of projects in media industries.

Prof Lundin is the lead author of the monograph Managing and Working in Project Society: Institutional Challenges of Temporary Organizations, published in 2015 by Cambridge University Press and winning the 2016 PMI Book of the Year award.  Rolf is active in the Swedish Project Academy. He can be contacted at [email protected].

To view other works by Prof Lundin, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/rolf-a-lundin/