Country Estates Finding New Business Models

Country Estates in The Netherlands often have a hard time surviving. Estate owners focus mainly in conserving the landscape and the traditional income it generates. Traditional income sources such as wood production, farmland lease and government funding are decreasing. However, there is a growing interest from the part of the public in these estates. Citizens highly appreciate estates for recreation and their natural biodiversity is also a crucial part of the so-called Dutch ecological infrastructure. For these reasons, the province of Noord-Brabant decided to support estate owners in finding new ways to generate sustainable income.

Doing, not just talking
This province had previously organised meetings with estate owners to discuss what new income models would be possible. These meetings were not effective as they did not result in concrete and actionable ideas or plans. The Dutch Design Week offered the right context and “buzz” to try a new approach – driven by design methods. This province invited STBY to take a design thinking and co-creation approach to this problem with a wide range of stakeholders from country estates.

Three estates were selected by this province to serve as pilots for finding new business models that could leverage their traditional identities and values. STBY did research at the estates, interviewing owners and administrators but also other stakeholders like visitors, occupants and local companies.

Co-creation with estate stakeholders, designers and entrepreneurs
Through these visits and desk research, STBY gathered a wide range of information and stories. This information served to design visual materials for a workshop. Among such materials, STBY developed short films to communicate the overall atmosphere and key facts of the estate, a profile poster of the estate and an overview of current activities in a stakeholder map.

The co-creation workshop involved estate’s stakeholders, designers, investors, people form local government and entrepreneurs. The visual materials served as inspiration and source of insights so new business models could be imagined and developed.

Creating connections between stakeholders
One of the goals of the workshop was to connect the estate owners with people who can help them develop and implement business ideas. By the end of the workshop the estate owners had many business ideas but also the personal connections that will allow the implementation of such models.  Connections between people from different fields are a natural result of co-creation workshops. Business connections are forged in the enthusiasm, energy and collaborative activities inherent to co-creation workshops based on visual materials.

A design approach leads to concrete ideas
At the end of the workshop estate owners had feasible business ideas that could leverage the identity of Country Estates in creating economic value. They also had the business connections necessary to implement such ideas. This design approach lead to concrete and valuable business models because it made the discussion easier while grounding it in the complex reality of the problem at hand. The participants and the province were surprised with the impact of the design approach and impressed by the amount of ideas, inspiration and change it generated.

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