↑ Return to BUTTON

Description of the project

The main project idea started at the Brainflow meeting in Hengelo, in March 2010. Although the need was recognized for clear indicators on attractiveness, many participants felt that it was important to develop an in-depth evidence-based approach to policy design that would account for difference between regional settings and problems. It was also felt that this would require the input of a broad spectrum of competencies and a strong involvement of regional policy-makers as well as other local partners engaged in regional economic development and labour issues. So the idea was born to develop a project aiming at delivering a sound understanding of the problem of outmigration of highly educated people in our regions towards the larger metropolitan centres of Europe and the impacts of measures to counteract this process.

The partner choice is based on a double need. First, to cover a range of regional settings and problems, from areas far from conurbations (e.g. Eastern Norway, Navarra) to areas at the edge of conurbations (Eastern Netherlands, peripheral areas of NRW). Second, to cover a broad spectrum of organisational, reflective, and communicative competencies, serving, in particular, the bridging of knowledge creation and translation with policy making. So institutes were chosen with
Strong, and broad reflective capacities combined with deep local engagement (UT, RU)
Specific capacities in working with local policy and societal actors aiming at policy learning (Institute for Work and Technology, Nasursa)
High expertise in policy implementation and foresight (ENRI)
High expertise in the translation of regional economic data in policy strategies (BakBasel)

The ultimate aim of the project is to foster regional development by maintaining or incrementing the share of highly educated people, by increasing the attractiveness of the region as a place to live and work.
Four major types of attraction will be stressed in this project:

  • Retention of (under)graduates from local educational institutions (especially but not exclusively higher education) by active labour market and housing & amenities policies (amongst others)
  • Attraction of graduates from elsewhere by active labour market, housing & amenities policies and the facilitation of (long-distance) commuting, supported by place-marketing
  • As a specific form of the latter: encouraging re-migration of local citizens who moved out to study and work elsewhere.
  • Attraction of undergraduates by the establishment of graduate education institutions (like outposts from established university course)

The subproject has five main objectives.

  • To create awareness of, and gain insight into the processes which lead to the mobility, attraction and retention of highly educated workers in their particular region and of the trends currently affecting the regional development.
  • To acquire and exchange knowledge amongst regional policy makers of general approaches and specific mechanisms targeting the attraction and retention of highly educated workers.
  • To tailor regional policies, marketing practices and tools geared to enhancing attractiveness and retention, in light of the circumstances and ambitions of participating regions.
  • To develop an “attractiveness policy tool” on the web, that can be applied both by the participating regions and other regions in Europe.
  • To deliver a sustainable communication structure able to continue the delivery of policy advice and reflection after the project’s lifetime.

The steps in the BUTTON project

  • Review of attraction and retention
    • concept and factors of attractiveness, drawing on the baseline project
    • regional analysis and factsheets (partner regions)
    • debating regional problems and policy scope with
  • Policy review
    • policy inventory, drivers and efficiencies (general evidence)
    • Knowledge exchange through International Network of Expertise
  • Policy development and integration
    • Policy development and integration (partner regions)
    • Consultation with regional stakeholders (CoPs)
    • Drafting and discussion of regional strategies
  • Toolkit
    • Development of a toolkit with policy options

This project aims to address the threat of shortage of highly educated people, taking this diversity into account but also recognizing that there are important common issues and opportunities for learning between regions. It will focus on several key issues.

  • The first issue is strengthening awareness amongst politicians, employers and society about the multiple aspect s of the problem and associated remedies. How should the imperative role of the highly educated, be understood in general, and in the context of specific localities?
  • The second issue relates to knowledge building about the different reasons behind in and out migration of highly educated workers, and the way they apply to different regions. Only a good common and local understanding of these processes can lead to successful policies.
  • A third issue relates to the actual policy interventions that can be carried out, or that can be improved upon, in light of the four major types of attractiveness identified above. Many regions have implemented certain actions and policies to increase place attractiveness, but this generally happens in an ad-hoc manner, that lack integration in a coherent strategic frame. This should be based on a clear idea on what kinds of place attraction are pursued.
  • As part of our focus on policy integration and strategy making, we will also look at the role of place-marketing. Place-marketing has become an important policy both to increase and to promote place attractiveness. We want to look at how these campaigns look. This bears upon many policy domains, such as housing, education, innovation, spatial planning, culture, etc.


  • Problem awareness and understanding amongst regional stakeholders.
  • In-depth knowledge of policy approaches and measures and their basic ‘working conditions’
  • Evidence-based regional policy approaches and strategy formulations
  • Transferable methodology of policy development and integration; improved approaches to policy integration and instrumentalisation, resulting in modernisation of policy-making