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Rural Research Day 2015: What can we learn about collaboration and regional economic development?

This is the fourth article by guest blogger Brittany Bruce

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Brittany’s series is based on her Masters’ thesis research on collaboration and economic development in two regions.  Her articles can be found here. Today’s post focuses on OMAFRA’s Rural Research 2015 which focused on Evaluating Regional Economic Development Initiatives.  Brittany’s thesis was part of the several presentations. .

On May 8, 2015, Rural Research Day was once again held at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. This year’s event was different from previous years as it only featured one project: EREDI. EREDI, short for Evaluating Regional Economic Development Initiatives, is a multi-year project funded through the OMAFRA-University of Guelph Partnership, the University of Waterloo, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I have been a part of the project for the past two and a half years.

Rural Research Day 2015 marked the first time all of the case study and synthesis data was presented together. As someone who has been involved in wrapping up the project, it was nice to see how everything fit (or didn’t fit) together.

For the uninitiated,

“the EREDI project explored processes of collaboration and regional economic development in 12 case regions across the United States and Canada. The research team interviewed 193 stakeholders across 185 organizations in the case regions, from 2012 to 2014.”

TABLE 1- EREDI REGIONS 

REAP Blog EREDI REGIONS Table 1Over the course of the half-day event, each of the student researchers presented their cases, including things they felt were unique to their regions.  Project lead investigators Dr. John Devlin from the University of Guelph and Dr. Tara Vinodrai from the University of Waterloo presented our key themes and policy lessons, and project overview, respectively. All of these presentations are available online via OMAFRA here. For more information on the EREDI project, please visit the EREDI project website.

As I am a biased source on this topic, I cannot say whether or not the participants got what they wanted from the day. From my own perspective however, I was asked some really great questions about my case regions, and was able to talk about a topic I am deeply passionate about.

Multi-ethnic Group Of Students

One general question from the audience took me by surprise, however, and was one I had never considered:

“Should we be collaborating? What is the reason we are advocating collaboration?”

This is a normative question. The EREDI research project focuses on why people have been (or have not been) collaborating, what has and what has not worked for collaboration. But, at least in my own thesis, I did not spend any amount of time writing about ‘should we’ collaborate. It was assumed you either are collaborating or you are not. This question can be expanded upon as such:

…”are we pushing collaboration because we are seeing positive results in cases of collaboration and regional development? Or are we pushing collaboration because we need to?”

Put simply, is collaboration a good option? Or is it our only option?

The EREDI cases revealed three reasons why collaboration in regional development is occurring. This list is not exhaustive and covers only some of the situations brought up during Rural Research Day.

  1. Regions/organizations are being told to collaborate by higher level governments (as a way to access provincial or state funding)
  2. Regions/organizations have to collaborate due to lack of resources or some sort of crisis/emergency situation
  3. Regions/organizations want to collaborate due to a history of collaboration, or some other unifying characteristic.

So should we advocate for collaboration as the answer to organizational and geographic region issues? The answer is, maybe. The EREDI project has highlighted “successful” examples of regional collaboration, as well as less successful examples. (“Success” in collaboration is not straight-forward, and is a topic best left for another blog post).

The policy lessons we presented at the end of Rural Research Day are perhaps most interesting to a wider range of audiences than the specifics of any one case region. As I am a very visual learner, I have chosen to present our key themes and findings in a chart below. Because we were presenting to an audience with a strong component of civil servants, the recommendations we make are those most achievable by various levels of government.

TABLE 2 – EREDI FLOWCHART 

REAP Blog EREDI FLOWCHART Table 2Examples

Resources: There were differences across the EREDI case regions in terms of the where the decision-making power lay in terms of funding access and allocation.

  • The North Country and TechBelt regions are mandated to collaborate in order to be able to access provincial and state levels funds.
  • The Vancouver Island region was endowed with a Trust of $50million, but was able to make decisions themselves on how to spend it.
  • The Research Triangle region was funded from the state, and the state also determined how that money was to be allocated.

As you can see, there is a diversity of structures in place when it comes to how resources should be managed.

Questions:

Do you think your organization could learn from the EREDI policy lessons?

Is your region experiencing a barrier to collaboration that the EREDI project did not address?                      

We would love to know!

 

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