Focus on Isère: Implementation of a departmental public policy

How did the scheme originate?

The scheme to promote third places was launched in April 2019 by Jean-Pierre Barbier – the President of the Department, under the impetus of two vice-presidents – Annick Merle and Pierre Gimel. An initial decision in principle declared Isère’s commitment to third party locations within the scope of its “territorial solidarity” and “innovation” competencies.

This decision illustrates the desire to set up a true policy of supporting third places alongside the Air Climate Energy plan and the Superfast Fibre Broadband (Très Haut Débit) plan, to develop an effective meshing of the territory.

Firmly believing that third places can, thanks to the pooling of means and resources, revitalise rural areas, the Department has set up a team of two in charge of the project: Isabelle Pissard, principal engineer, who holds degrees in Territorial Development from the Grenoble Alpes and Economic Development from Aix en Provence University and Arthur Feinberg, an environmental engineer who is doing a PhD in Sociology on studies and modelling of citizen participation mechanisms.

What were the steps in creating the scheme?

  • September 2019: an action plan was drawn up with a study phase which included mapping the existing third places and their types, which was linked to the work being done by the AUEG [1].
  • The 2020 was spent on a large amount of work in the field and consultations with people in charge of third places, and the sketching out of a plan for the networking, in particular with: La Cocotte, la Bonne Fabrique du Sappey, le tiers-lieu numérique de Saint-Marcellin Fabrique de territoire, La jolie colo Fabrique de territoire, Luzin Fabrique de territoire, etc.
  • February 2021: the Departmental scheme was unanimously passed in a council vote, covering three areas: support for project sponsors, funding through a call for projects, the setting up of third places across the Department.

What are the aims?

The main aim is to create a coherent network of 40 third places in Isère, outside of the urban areas. Isère extends from the Massif des Ecrins to the banks of the Rhône, and encompasses mountains, medium-altitude mountain areas and plains and is influenced by the metropolitan areas of Grenoble and Lyon. The scheme has been designed to take account of local realities and has three main objectives:

  • To develop remote working as it offers a response to the environmental challenge of reducing CO2 emissions as well as that of making the territory more attractive;
  • To support the digital transition;
  • To promote innovation.

To do this, the Department has decided to mobilise considerable dedicated funding and has therefore given the green light to a €10m programme and approved €1m that can be committed until the end of 2023.

There are also plans to facilitate the emergence of new local public interest services, such as new mobility possibilities in low-density areas, telehealth or services that encourage the diversification of activities in the mountain areas.  

This is all facilitated by informal interactions with the departments in charge of other public policies, in particular the Departmental directorates in charge of Superfast Fibre Broadband, digital inclusion, social innovation, European funds and aid for municipalities, and of course with the Territorial centres (Maisons de territoire), which know their local contexts very well.

What points have you found that require vigilance?

The concept of third places is still quite unfamiliar to many people, both in the public sphere and in the private sphere.

Our role is to acculturate, support and work to overcome misconceptions.

This involves many meetings with councillors at municipal and intermunicipal level, communication (e.g. the monthly “Isère Magazine” did a double-page spread on “Developing third places, why, for whom and to do what?”) An awareness-raising information brochure was also sent out to all the municipalities and intermunicipal authorities in Isère.

New concept, new forms of collaboration. It has to be accepted that the projects need a long time to mature, they need to be custom built, and this is being made possible by the strong political will on the part of the Department.

What will this project bring to your territory?

We like the idea that the third place is the “new village square”.

To quote Raphaël Besson: “Third places can be seen as nerve centres for (re-)activating the resources of rural territories and anchoring new forms of innovation and development.” Third places allow, by offering innovative approaches to co-construction, mutualisation and participation, and facilitated by digital technologies, a genuine revitalisation of local areas.

In a context of growing, even exponential demand, working from home and the growing attractiveness of small towns and country life for new working populations and digital nomads,

the construction a true network of third places is an attractiveness issue for Isère.

Finally, the Department is acting as the guarantor of a coherent interconnection of these third places by facilitating networking between project sponsors, alerting them of any competing projects, encouraging complementarity and setting up a dialogue between project sponsors and local authorities.

What is the Department’s strategy in terms of support for third places?

The Department decides on the level of support it will give a project based on a series of indicators. These concern the activities, the target audiences, the quality of the coworking, the hosting facilities and organisation, the economic balance, etc. An ad hoc committee has been set up, consisting of elected representatives and technicians, which is tasked with analysing whether the project is admissible, its degree of maturity and the investments to be taken into account.

As far as networking is concerned, an organisation based on coordination is also under construction. This will allow us to better raise the awareness of public and private stakeholders to the advantages offered by third places. The resources provided by the Department will be made available to a support organisation, which will be responsible for managing and running the programme of actions put together with the third places, and for ensuring it is line with the orientations set by the government, which is providing funding through its “Nouveaux lieux, Nouveaux liens” (New Places, New Links) policy. All the third places in Isère, whether or not they are selected in the Department’s call for projects, are invited to join this Coordination scheme.

To take things further, do you have any advice you can give to public service workers

  • One quote that is worth keeping mind is “A third place is not decreed, it reveals itself”. An excellent way of putting it, taken from a writer I can’t bring to mind at the moment, but I’m sure it will come to me.
  • A budgetary and financial tool: the programme authorisation – even if it requires some managerial effort – because it allows a multi-annual approach to be taken
  • A good legal practice: sticking to the rules on aid to businesses
  • A door to knock on for some good advice: France Tiers Lieux, of course!
  • A website to browse: La Compagnie des Tiers Lieux, La Coopérative des Tiers-Lieux, Movilab
  • A third place to visit: that depends on the type of project you are proposing, so let’s say, the next one to be inaugurated!


A scheme set up by Isère Departmental Council aims to foster an exemplary approach to the construction of the projects, in the interests of the third places. It involves a constant dialogue with municipalities and intermunicipal bodies, with the aim of creating a network covering the Department. It offers the means to achieve optimum projects, which meet the needs of inhabitants, associations and the professional world. Finally, it encourages innovation in rural settings, taking account of specific local situations.

Reflecting the dynamics at work in each third place, which will be constantly evolving thanks to the interactions it generates, the Department is endeavouring to foster interaction between its partners, Universities, local authorities, chambers of commerce and similar bodies and organisations of professionals and experts, to enrich its vision and to multiply opportunities for leverage.

Jean-Pierre Barbier, President of the Department of Isère
Annick Merle, Vice-President


[1] Grenoble University-Business Alliance (Alliance Université Entreprise de Grenoble), a Grenoble-based think tank.


Links to the Department of Isère call for projects:

Key figures

  • 2023 objectives: to reveal 40 third places in rural areas of the territory 10 agreements signed so far
  • €10M and an authorisation to commit €1M by the end of 2023

Isabelle Pissard

Chargée de mission à la direction générale de l’attractivité du département de l’Isère