The New Rural Economy is an emergent reality. Its shape, future, opportunities, and vulnerabilities are not evident in any one of its parts. Rural Canada is no longer mainly a place to farm or extract resources. It is a diverse value-adding economy and environmental trust organized as communities. In addition to creating jobs, exports, and wealth, the New Rural Economy is increasingly viewed as part of the Canadian patrimony: a multiple-use asset to protect and value, of common interest to all Canadians. We need to understand these changes in order to anticipate problems, and to seize opportunities as they emerge. The complexity of the changes requires a collaborative and comprehensive approach to learning.
The New Rural Economy Research Program was a partnership initiative of the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation. It brought together policy analysts, local leaders, researchers, the business community, and municipal and non-government agencies to formulate and to address vital rural issues. It addressed a wide variety of questions to produce short-term and long-term results over its life-span. It was conducted at the national level with historical and statistical data analysis, and at the local level with case studies involving community and household surveys. Products of the program included:
- information about the status and functioning of the NRE;
- analysis and synthesis of information for a better understanding of changes in rural and remote Canada;
- learning forums (workshops, exchanges, conferences, etc.) to discuss and debate opportunities, options, and choices that include the interests of all rural Canadians and stakeholders;
- insightful, documented recommendations for long run rural business performance, inclusive development, and public policy; and
- informed questions on new issues, unimaginable in the present, but requiring timely answers for the future.
CRRF aims to provide a stream of concrete, practical answers to questions raised by partner investors. Each investor in the NRE got to ask their own hard questions and gain access to the answers to others' questions.
The NRE Project remains important to Rural Stakeholders. Rural economic and social developments have become more complex. Stakeholders such as public utilities, railways, forest and mining companies, food processors, co-ops, municipalities, voluntary associations, and churches are finding that the issues they face go far beyond their immediate concerns. It is therefore crucial to take a broad view: to understand the relationships among global changes, economic sectors, rural enterprises and institutions, communities, and the full range of actors in rural Canada. The NRE Project has provided the means whereby these relationships can be examined. It was designed to answer such questions as:
- How can rural enterprises effectively operate in global markets and still improve the rural ecological and social environment?
- What training is most effective for rural people?
- To what extent can new telecommunications technologies be used to improve productive capacity?
- What forms of health, education, justice, and social service delivery will better serve rural people?
- What new rural/urban arrangements can be made which will protect farmland, reduce problems of urban waste disposal, and care for forests and countryside?
- What new forms of rural settlements are emerging?
- What are the opportunities for rural municipalities as they face new responsibilities?
- What can lagging regions learn from leading ones?
- Did we do anything right in the past to improve the well-being of rural Canadians?
Rural Stakeholders remain important to the NRE Project. The NRE Project was grounded in the principle of investor-managed collaboration among researchers, partners, and rural people. As partners, stakeholders brought experience, intelligence, networks, resources, and services to the table. By questioning, discussing, and challenging, they steered the NRE Project in relevant and useful directions. As a result, core projects were modified or formulated as new initiatives. In all cases, the analysis included a strong comparative element to take advantage of the synergy this generates.
Stakeholders participated in the NRE Project in three primary ways. First, as partners in the core research of the NRE, they influenced its direction and had full access to the results. Some Stakeholders preferred to establish one or more focused initiatives which were integrated into the core projects. This second type of participation was for projects which partially meet the CRRF principles of collaboration and comparison. If they were unable to meet these conditions, they were considered as allied research, with specifically negotiated terms of access to NRE data and resources.