Theme: Communications

Communication and knowledge transfer are key elements of the new economy. They are also critical to rural capacity since they reduce the relatively high transaction costs that disadvantage rural economies and provide the infrastructure that structures social cohesion and exclusion. In order to function effectively in the new economy, communication capacity must be developed, both with respect to physical infrastructure as well as the skills and social organization it requires (James, 1994). Access to the Internet, for example, has emerged as an important tool for expanding markets, accessing bureaucratic resources, building common-interest networks, and even maintaining family relations (Phipps, 2000). The federal government’s commitment to the CAP and broadband access programs acknowledges this point (Halseth and Arnold, 1997).

The promise of communication technology is highly conditioned by local circumstances, however (Einsiedel and Innes, 2000). Our NRE research shows how access to national and regional communication tools is only weakly related to the leading or lagging status of rural sites. On the other hand, access to (and sometimes control of) local communication tools is related to both capacity and the leading status of the field sites (Bruce et al., 1999). While Internet usage in rural locations continues to climb, there is still a rural/non-rural gap in its adoption and some evidence that the majority of uses are social rather than economic (Bruce and Gadsden, 1999; Birdsall, 2000; Reddick et al., 2000; Halseth, 2001). Policy objectives favoring economic growth, therefore, might be better served by programs that transform social uses to market-based ones rather than focus on business uses alone.

This theme team built on these insights in two general ways. First, using available data, they tested several hypotheses regarding the characteristics of Internet users (at individual and site levels), the role of traditional media for individual and local capacity, and the types of uses made of all communication tools. By using the NRE sampling frame, this team was also able to examine how both new and old forms of communication are related to more global changes in the new economy. The primary objectives of this work was to identify the extent to which various communications tools were integrated into types of capacity, analyze how they have changed under the new economy, and assess their relative value for different types of capacity.

Second, the theme team explored the nature and extent of communication innovation in rural areas (Nair and White, 1994). This involved working with selected field sites to initiate and develop various communication projects. These involved the introduction or building of skills or facilities related to community radio, virtual town hall meetings, newsletters, local cable TV, CD-ROMs, or web sites. Using Industry Canada’s Special Events radio license, for example, a community-based group could broadcast on FM for about a month. The team monitored the processes by which this occured, the challenges and strategies entailed, and the impacts on local governance, services, economic, and social relations. Sites were selected to ensure strategic comparisons by economic, social, and policy contexts.

David Bruce David Bruce

Team Leader: David Bruce
Director, Rural and Small Town Programme, Mount Allison University

Number and level of students who worked with this team

  • Graduate students: 3
  • Undergraduate students: 6


Brief description of research activities undertaken (to Sept 2003)

Communications Inventory (led by David Bruce and Anna Woodrow)

  • data collection instrument prepared and distributed to all researchers
  • data collected by site researchers over the summer
  • data entry performed by Carla Stevens
  • data analysis plans to be discussed at September 2 conference call Theme meeting

Technology Mediated Learning Project (led by David Bruce and Anna Woodrow)

  • project action plan prepared by David Bruce
  • background discussion paper prepared by Lindsay Lyghtle
  • testing of various on-line communications technologies completed
  • participant assessment forms and post-participation evaluation forms completed
  • assembly of contact names and information from each site nearing completion

Traditional Media (led by Doug Ramsay and Anna Woodrow)

  • action plan prepared by Doug Ramsay

Communication Strategies (led by Doug Ramsay, Ivan Emke & Derek Wilkinson)

  • action plan prepared by Doug Ramsay and Ivan Emke

Documents (selected)


The NRE project was organized into four major themes—with teams of researchers who specialized in each topic. A Central Team, working out of NRE Headquarters located at Concordia University in Montréal, coordinated the activities of the entire project, as well as conducted research of a broader nature. 

Explore the four major themes relevant to rual society:

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