Designing and implementing policy for rural and northern regions has long been a contentious issue, particularly since the challenges are variable and complex. The remote locations, smaller populations, and place-based identities of these regions create unique challenges when compared with urban centres. While rural regions and urban centres remain interdependent through their labour needs, food production, resource development, energy demands, and pressures of climate change, too often urban-based policy decision-makers ignore or misconstrue rural challenges, conditions, opportunities, and aspirations. In effect, the prosperity of urban centres and the potential of rural and northern regions are reduced by policies insensitive to the social and economic well-being of the latter. This is even more important as the North grows in strategic importance.
Some studies have addressed this tension, yet much more is required to ensure that policy-makers are cognizant of the characteristics of rural and northern places. The Rural Policy Learning Commons (RPLC) is designed to meet this challenge by networking international scholars with policy-makers and citizens in a manner that will nurture future generations of policy analysts and practitioners. We will add to existing research knowledge, increase opportunities for partners to exchange insights, build a cohort of highly qualified policy analysts, mobilize this knowledge to the wider population, and increase our capacity to develop appropriate policy for rural and northern conditions.
Our partnership rests on many years of collaboration among researchers, policy-makers, practitioners, and citizens within the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF), the Rural Development Institute (RDI), and the International Comparative Rural Policy Studies program (ICRPS). CRRF has been holding annual conferences and workshops since 1988, initiating research, and engaging with policy-makers regarding the conditions in rural and northern Canada (http://crrf.ca). In concert with CRRF, RDI has been conducting community-focused research, meeting with regional leaders, and publishing rural-relevant materials (http://www.brandonu.ca/rdi/). ICRPS has organized annual two-week Institutes since 2004 – where about 30 graduate students and practitioners meet with about 20 faculty members from 12 trans-Atlantic partner institutions to study the challenges of rural policy and explore options for improvement (http://icrps.org).
The RPLC builds on these activities by adding research, exchanges, institutes, policy fora, distance learning activities, publications, a digital information hub, and social media (e.g. webinars, blogs) to generate new policy insights and strengthen comparative research collaboration among faculty, students, practitioners, and policy-makers. Research and policy activities within the RPLC will be guided by critically examining and advancing comparative policy analyses as applied to pressing rural and northern policy challenges and opportunities such as human capital and migration, natural resource development, governance, and infrastructure and services.
The RPLC incorporates an iterative and cumulative design where lessons learned regarding rural policy insights, methods, design, and implementation are opened to further scrutiny. It integrates academic participants with rural policy practitioners and community stakeholders to exchange expertise and experiences that cross disciplinary, organizational, and sectoral lines. Adopting an “active policy entrepreneurship” approach (Stone 2001) we use collaboration to critically evaluate policy alternatives, expand the tools available to policy-analysts, and prepare policy-makers for a world where rural-urban interdependence is the norm.
For further details see selections from our original proposal to SSHRC via this link.