Recognizing change, recognizing rural
Part 2 of a write-up on Sullivan, L., Ryser, L., & Halseth, G. (2014). Recognizing change, recognizing rural: The new rural economy and towards a new model of rural service, The Journal of Rural and Community Development, 9(4), 219-245.
In this second piece profiling the recent article by Sullivan, Ryser, and Halseth, I focus on their conclusions and the new model they propose for rural services. Given that their work is based on extensive background in this area of research that includes numerous rural communities across Canada, their ideas have considerable merit and should be seen as widely applicable to rural communities in Ontario.
In the words of the authors:
“Services are vital elements in rural and small town places.” (p.235)
The authors continue:
“Services meet both public and individual needs, enhance quality-of-life for residents, and assist in attracting and retaining residents and economic activity in the community. Services help build capacity within communities by providing opportunities for residents to gather and interact (engaging cohesively), and for social capital to accumulate from such patterns of interaction. As communities work through constant change and pressure,…Investment in community (civil society), physical, economic and business infrastructure, and human (people, familiarity) infrastructure is needed to nurture community capacity, resiliency, and renewal.” (p.235)
Sullivan, Ryser and Halseth propose that a new model of rural services should consist of five components (text below is quoted from the article):
- investment in social capital, by strategically investing in stable organizational structures, training and skills development, the renewal of relationships, and the renewal of mandates for service providers and voluntary groups, community capacity is developed, business and industry are recruited and retained, and residents are supported.
- supporting regional connections. Supporting a regional sense of community as a foundation for the investment in social capital should be integrated in senior government policies on services provision.
- recognizing flexible place-based solutions. Senior governments must recognize place-based differences and provide flexible and appropriate to-down public policy supports. Small places have a different context that affects how residents access supports, as well as how community responses to address service needs copare to groups operating in urban settings. Key to these differences are the definitional foundations for rural and small town places – distance and small population numbers
- recognizing the importance of supporting communication and technology, both to reduce travel time and costs, and to support professional development and practices of rural and small town service providers. Electronic sharing of information has reduced the need for people to commute for services, such as having blood tests before surgery. Electronic infrastructure has also facilitated rural residents’ access to higher order services in distant centres.
- updating approaches to service delivery, namely the importance of collaborative approaches to smart service delivery (including co-location, co-management etc.). While strategic investments in policies and programs are critical to foster collaboration develop smart infrastructure, it is equally important that organizations allocate staff who have the responsibility and resources to routinely support that collaboration to develop and co-manage smart infrastructure.
In conclusion, the authors demonstrate the importance of social ties at the local level and argue that governments should work to foster community participation and input. These have a reinforcing and mutually beneficial relationship with service provision. The NRE project research can enhance our knowledge of the importance of services, the critical need for change in the approach to services provision, and the vision for how best to support and provide services in rural and small town places.
Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator