Executive summary

Oslo after the pandemic:
Recovery, Resolve and Renewed Ambition

Oslo as a region is enduring the profound Covid-19 shock within a much longer 20 year context of expanding population and economic change, during which its regional character and identity is becoming more clear and compelling. The pandemic’s impacts and scars on health, jobs and wellbeing in Oslo have been severe, and the clock may be now counting even faster to a post fossil fuel world. Yet the longer term building blocks the region has been putting in place now provide the basis for renewed optimism about Oslo’s place in the world in the 2020s.

The world’s attention is returning to the prospects of cities and a revised model for how cities succeed is coming into view. In a context where many regions are enveloped in doubts about their business base or their political stability after Covid-19, the relative confidence and trust in Oslo's ability to bounce back post-Covid in fact appears to be high. 

More of the world is looking to Oslo

The data from hundreds of studies reviewed for the 2021 State of the City point to a bigger visibility jump for Oslo than ever before. This reflects growing confidence among overseas residents, a reputation for resilience among investors, and enthusiasm among entrepreneurs, visitors and residents alike for Oslo’s combination of high social trust and global leadership ambition in the areas of sustainability and wellbeing.

The Oslo performance
spidergram in 2021

This spidergram captures the overall picture of how Oslo is performing in the wider world of cities. 

The dark blue line shows Oslo's objective performance in each of the 10 themes, compared to the other 50 cities in its wider peer group. In light blue are the areas where there is also data on perceptions about Oslo. Where the dark blue score is higher than the light blue, it means Oslo is actually performing better than it is perceived to be. When it is the opposite it means Oslo's reputation is greater than its real performance. 

This year Oslo rates an impressive 9/10 (2nd decile) or better in half of the 10 core themes. The main areas where other cities are ahead are for business environment and innovation ecosystem, while there are perception gaps about what Oslo's spaces and places have to offer. These trends are explored in this report.

Source: The Business of Cities Research. Decile scores (1-10, peer average 5.5) calculated according to an ELO algorithm that computes Oslo’s aggregate position across all benchmarks in each theme, relative to the average among its peer group (see Methodology for full details).

The advantage to build upon

Oslo’s economy is well placed to adapt to the Covid-adjusted future. It has a larger workforce that is ‘remote work friendly’, a skills base that is more flexible to work disruption, as well as the lifestyle and environment ingredients that are more in demand among entrepreneurs and talent: superior air quality, more gender fairness, and some potential to make the '15-minute city' come true across the region.

Oslo’s specialisations have also been accelerated by the pandemic. As the region continues to diversify, it is more often recognised as a leader globally in sectors ranging from EVs and green finance, to software engineering and disruptive technologies, and from cleantech to fintech. Oslo is also fast becoming a home for start-ups and foundational technologies capable of disrupting whole industries. These can be built on further.

Bouncing back decisively

Oslo has the chance to heal the scars of the pandemic and emerge stronger if it:

  • Re-establishes a compelling offer and story to talent. The region can gain more of the benefit of the doubt when attracting talent if it communicates Oslo’s wellbeing edge and the path the region is pursuing to build back better. Given the effect of the pandemic on work patterns, Oslo will have to show to entrepreneurs and growth companies that it can provide a more flexible, agile and mixed-use city centre, a fantastic regional lifestyle and mobility, and more affordable spaces, if it is to provide a compelling offer. Articulating Oslo’s advantages confidently, and correcting any misperceptions that Oslo is not ready for the new mantras of flexibility, will be required.
  • Proves to the world Oslo is ready for the hybrid future this means being able to fully harness digital tools to better serve the region’s flexible future of work and lifestyle, while also celebrating the magic of place. Oslo will need to ensure more ultra-fast digital connections at home and at work and all the places in between. The region can use digital platforms to ensure that more buildings are used to their potential, 24/7, so they are safe and healthy but also easily adapted to serve many uses (work, events, culture).  Oslo will have to show it can embrace the use of data for better services and a better region, and that it can animate more quality places to spend time in.

The world already perceives Oslo’s to be a competent, cooperative and well-run region, and admires its bold moves to preserve planetary health, and its high social capital. This is the time for the region’s edges in leading sectors, niches and districts to come to the fore. 

The risk of missed opportunity

If Oslo does not continue to communicate the scale of appetite and transformation the region is on, the region may become too narrowly associated with its resident and sustainability brand. Other cities and regions will be more successful at attracting the interest of innovators, expertise, scaling businesses and forward-thinking investors.

Oslo’s attraction to residents outweighs
its familiarity to other audiences in 2021

Source: The Business of Cities Research. Percentile scores (0-1.0, peer average 0.5) calculated according to an ELO algorithm that computes Oslo’s aggregate position across all benchmarks that relate to each audience, relative to the average among its peer group (see Methodology for full details).

The war for talent and for broad-based appeal requires Oslo not only to uphold its famous advantages of liveability, green living, and social equality. It also means staying true to its innovation promise – in the way it promotes flexible uses, facilities and pop-ups that provide for enriched and meaningful experiences and a more seamless urban lifestyle. 

In particular, the 2020-21 data suggests that Oslo’s challenges will be mainly around:
Supporting more innovative firms to reach global scale, and making more entrepreneurs, innovators and start-up founders aware of what Oslo’s innovation economy has to offer in terms of advanced industries, training and value for money.
In particular, the 2020-21 data suggests that Oslo’s challenges will be mainly around:
Protecting the region’s hard-won social cohesion model, and showing that it is possible to achieve growth and global reach while at the same time staying a world leader for fairness, inclusion and social democracy.
In particular, the 2020-21 data suggests that Oslo’s challenges will be mainly around:
Using digital to develop Oslo as a platform. The region can make it easier for residents to access information and services online, solve problems, and ensure more people participate in a flexible and digitally connected economy. 
In particular, the 2020-21 data suggests that Oslo’s challenges will be mainly around:
Showing sustainability leadership across the full spectrum. Oslo has become a global leader for EVs, e-mobility and green finance. But protection of carbon sinks, green buildings, and the circular economy, are all areas where other cities are making faster strides. 
In particular, the 2020-21 data suggests that Oslo’s challenges will be mainly around:
Making Oslo’s cultural variety more visible and tangible. More residents are happy with the cultural offer. But this has not yet spilled over to visitor and global perceptions, which will need powerful reminders after Covid-19.

Championing the future

This moment therefore calls for the region to co-ordinate government, investors, entrepreneurs, residents and civic leaders even more closely. There are many agendas Oslo should consider prioritising:

1.

A convening and organising story for the Oslo region’s innovation platform that confidently maps the superb places and spaces that make up the region, explains why and how Oslo companies are succeeding, and shouts about the region’s special successes.

2.

Communicating the plan ahead, and the big adjustments after Covid (land use, mobility, work, people) the Oslo region is prepared for and embracing.

3.

A more targeted focus on the specialist talent, experts and enablers that will enable certain sectors to go to the next level.

4.

Using its green credentials to also communicate its commitment to wellbeing, fairness, gender inclusion, community and social cohesion.

5.

Creating more platforms for civic innovation and citizen co-creation, including to use data for public goals, and to expand and enrich the notion of what it means to be a citizen and ‘member’ of the Oslo community.

6.

Redefining and fully integrating the proposition about Oslo’s leisure, culture and family-friendly mix at the wider region scale.

7.

Making the most of Oslo’s flagships – its innovation district, signature buildings, key companies and bold initiatives.

Above all, Oslo needs to keep going with its long-term transition into one of the world’s most innovative, specialised and resilient cities. The art of success for a city on this journey is in perseverance, and willingness to operate in new ways to reflect the new circumstances in which the region finds itself.