Public policy in support of third places in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region

After 10 years working on the subject, how would you define a third place?

It’s an open, shared, collaborative working space and more if the participants click, as Antoine Burret might say. It is a new form of work organisation, one that is agile, mobile, changing.

How did the Region’s policy on third places come about?

In 2011, following an audit of the digital challenges facing the territory, several subjects appeared: how to work differently, healthcare and digital technology (e-health and e-inclusion, how digital technology can be a vector for facilitating access to healthcare through telehealth), culture & digital: how digital technology can revitalise the cultural heritage, grouping of cooperation projects involving economic actors in the territories thanks to digital technology).

The advent of digital technology has been a good opportunity to get different actors working together in the territories, in order to escape the silo effect between different trades and professions and work in a much more cross-cutting way..

In 2011, an article that appeared in the regional newspaper Sud Ouest on the creation of a coworking space called the “Arrêt Minute” in Pommerol (thank you, Sud Ouest!) was picked up at the Region and led to a meeting with Lucile Aigron, the founder. This meeting led to an exploration of third places as the professional version of “flatshares”, providing a stimulating and fulfilling atmosphere to work in. At about the same time, Eugénie met Marie-Laure Cuvelier, who had just set up the Node, a digital coworking space in Bordeaux and who had another project in the pipeline, as she wanted to create a coworking space at Le Temple in Médoc.

« Thanks to the networking between these actors and peer-to-peer contacts led up to draw up a first proposal for a CEI on third places and then also a proposal to support the creation of a network of third places called “Travailler autrement en Aquitaine” (Working differently in Aquitaine). »

These were the early stages of what would later become a SCIC (public interest cooperative): the third places cooperative now has over two hundred members. This was also the beginning of the Nouvelle Aquitaine authority’s public policy on third places, which would later become pillars in the structuring of third places in this region, with Marie-Laure Cuvelier, general secretary of the France tiers-lieux association, Lucile Aigron, Director of the Coop des tiers-lieux and Eugénie Michardière at the Nouvelle Aquitaine regional authority.

Can you talk to us about public policy in support of third places in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region?

In 2012, the Region launched two CEIs, which have gradually expanded, to take in, for example, the recognition of shared workshops and fablabs in the most recent CEI and the recognition of hybrid activities. The aim of creating a network to cover the territory has also developed as the CEI have constructed the sector. The two CEIs:

  1. one CEI aimed at encouraging experiments with the introduction of remote working in SMEs and intermediate-sized companies
  2. one third places CEI whose aim was to cover the territory with a network of 300 third places by the end of 2021 (290 so far) so that every citizen in Nouvelle Aquitaine could find a shared work space within 20 minutes of their home. A CEI that has widened its scope, but still applies selective criteria

The Nouvelle Aquitaine regional authority wants to support “working and training in new ways” in third places: the aim of the CEI is therefore encompass the entire world of work. So a third place must meet these five criteria:

  1. be open to all
  2. flexibility and accessibility of the offer
  3. people on site to welcome users
  4. digital access
  5. mobilisation and involvement of users

In 2021, the public actions in favour of third places over the last ten years were subjected to an assessment. In particular this assessment showed that the region’s support at the project inception stage is decisive for third places: most of the projects would not get off the ground without the technical and financial aid of the Region.

What do you think is the key to the success of this public policy?

Today, it works well in the region, because there is a historic coupling of a regional authority, which possesses political, financial and technical means, and a network which can keep it informed of needs and experiences on the ground: they feed each other through project reviews to share opinions and viewpoints with a view to improving public policy. Our exchanges are based on a relationship of trust than goes back 10 years. Support for the regional network of third places in a partnership-based approach is supported alongside the CEIs. This support started by building up the emerging network so that it could support the creation of the territorial network, monitor developments in the sector and contribute to resource building.

Focus on the public-private partnership:

The minuses
Public procurement contracting was a bad idea as it was too rigid to launch partnerships, everything was “sliced up”, which does not fit in at all with the nature of the subject, which is constantly changing. Having to firmly establish everything at the outset to draw up a public procurement contract is in total contradiction with what we are trying to achieve with the emergence of a network and our partnership.

The pluses
The setting up of a three-year partnership programme for 2018-2020 (extended by one year in 2021 to see out the crisis). The cooperative has successfully developed a hybrid business model: subsidies account for just under half of its income. It has managed to develop services and enjoys national recognition, in particular due to the training of facilitators, which is recognised by the RNCP (National Directory of Vocational Certification) is being exported across the country. At the same time, the coop is launching a pooled training catalogue which can meet the needs of third places that are not training organisations themselves. The coop also provides support to key accounts through services managing change to new forms of territorial cooperation to create third places within the sociological meaning of the term.

What points have you identified that require vigilance?

  • The professional challenge in support: third place projects are developed over long periods (from 6 months to 2 years between the idea and the application for accreditation). Time is a strength recognised by those involved, but it is time spent by people (going out into the field, providing support and project engineering). The Region also provides facilitation (peer-to-peer) services to local authorities for their partnerships with third places.
  • Issues around governance, which are linked to the shared management mode that applies to third places: this is very people-centred and therefore subject to change, and there is a real issue around ensuring support over the lifespan of the third place to ensure it is sustainable long term. A certain agility is necessary to keep a collective going and conflicts can be defused by collective actions. That leads to a need for professionalisation through the post of facilitator.
  • The risk of third places being spread too thin: post-crisis, they are offering numerous services so that they can stay open and serve many different local needs. This raises an issue to do with strategic support, on which we have brought in France Active to help them to set their priorities and stabilise the varied business models.
  • The ability to federate other departments in the local authority to arrive at a consistent strategy and actions in favour of third places: to have a single door opening the way to cross-functional interaction. For example, to create links between the SSE and agriculture for food-producing third places. We are seeing a political awakening to the need to avoid third places straying too far from their initial mission.

What is the main issue for the future?

The issue of premises is essential: this is why we encourage public-private partnerships so that local authorities can provide premises in unoccupied or under-occupied public buildings, at moderate rents, as part of partnership agreements. Rent is the “thorn in the side” of the third place business model. For example, the DATAR, the body in charge of territorial development in the region provides local authorities with support to carry out work to renovate and bring premises up to standard if, and only if, the project is eligible for the third places CEI. That is to say that the project is built around a collective, a service offering and a business model to ensure that it is not just an empty shell.

How do you think this public policy will be followed up?

  • A continuation of the development of the third place cooperative business model
  • A proposal for a new strategy to support third places. This proposal which is awaiting the go-ahead, could see a new CEI introduced for 3 years from spring 2022, following the assessment of the public policy.

What are the other sources of funding and project engineering support identified, on top of that provided by the Region?

France Active (DLA) has been mobilised upstream and especially downstream to identify areas of strategic activity and consolidate the business models. The regional SSE incubators to support creation. The Coopérative des Tiers-Lieux with a mission on peer-to-peer support and knowledge pooling.

Can you recommend any good practices for supporting third places?

  • Facilitating relations with local authorities
  • Organising advisory opinions at national and decentralised government level (Prefectures) and with the Departments
  • Supporting urban authorities to take over responsibility for deployment in the territories
  • Being in contact with the elected representative sponsoring the project (for example, plan a project review)
  • Take care to ensure the technical/political coupling works
  • Having an in-house, territorial and cross-functional team to take care of the finer details

Do you have a tip that you could share on the methodology front?

Yes, the three meetings rule:

  1. The in-person meeting at the inception of the project: meet the collective and the partners, examine the financing plan, etc.
  2. The steering committee meeting mid-way the funding process to carry out an intermediate review and see what areas need to be adjusted
  3. The final ASSESSMENT meeting where you review the indicators proposed in the agreement (qualitative and quantitative) and draw up the prospects for development

And examples of partnership agreements between local authorities and third places for the provision of low-rent premises (see document enclosed).


AMI = Call for expressions of interest

RNCP = National Register of Vocational Certification

Key figures

  • The aim of territorial networking is achieved when there is one third place for 18,000 inhabitants – double the French average
  • 98% of third places also offer other types of services activities, which may include cultural or digital facilitation, community cafés, learning spaces, etc. depending on the needs in the local areas
  • 52% of third places funded and supported by the Nouvelle Aquitaine regional authority are in rural areas
  • 90% survival rate, i.e. projects still operating
  • 60% of third places are still uncertain of their economic model
  • €9.6m spent on third places since 2016, including: - the third places CEI: €1.4m/year since 2016 - support for the regional network run by the Coopérative des Tiers-Lieux: approx. €140K per year


Tiers-lieux… et plus si affinités by Antoine Burret, Fyp Editions

Eugénie Michardière

Chargée de mission tiers-lieux, inclusion numérique, e-santé à la Délégation Numérique de la Région Nouvelle-Aquitaine