1. Rural Research: Information, Statistics, & Knowledge (Rural R:ISK)
  2. Free Range International Knowledge Partnership: 2019-2020

Rural Research: Information, Statistics, & Knowledge (Rural R:ISK)

The Rural Research: Information, Statistics, Knowledge (Rural R:ISK) project is an international, inter-disciplinary venture that will expand on a framework for rural knowledge exchange. Our project is centred on harnessing rural information (insight derived from local thinking), statistics (rural-based small-area indicators), and knowledge (synthesis of evidence) for evidence-based local policy and program development. Activities will include evidence exchange with knowledge users, transfer of knowledge between international sites, presentation of outcomes on a common digital portal, participation in organized virtual workshops and events, and creation of interactive learning materials.

In 2022-2023, Rural R:ISK will support international virtual workshops, development of community-driven interactive data portals, creation an interactive knowledge brief series, and conversion of these activity outputs into two open-access learning modules. Workshops topics will include rural evidence dissemination, harnessing local data for big impacts, assessing evidence beyond academia, and powering maps for local decision-making. We will work with community partners to develop interactive data and mapping portals on community-driven topics. We will also work with multiple national and international locales to publish interactive knowledge briefs that combine local data and knowledge with academic evidence.

Outputs of this project are focussed on interactive, digital products developed via community-engaged methods rather than traditional static documents. Significantly, we will package workshop materials alongside use of the data portals and knowledge outputs into two open-access learning modules geared towards senior undergraduate and graduate students as well as working professionals. Our current digital platform, www.rural-data.comwill be used as the primary vehicle for these outputs.

Rural R:ISK is supported by multiple universities including Carleton University, Umeå University (Sweden), Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, University of the Arctic in Tromsø (Norway), CQ University (Australia), and University of Salzburg (Austria). Activities are supported by community partners in each of these regions and significant funding for this project has already been committed by Carleton University and other partners.

Matching funds are requested from SSHRC for management of outreach activities, production of workshop materials, development of interactive mapping portals, and publication of interactive knowledge briefs. The proposed activities have grown from our extensive past collaboration through the SSHRC-supported Free Range International Knowledge Partnership. Given the past successes of prior knowledge exchange activities and research, the Rural R:ISK program has a high probability of success.

Benefits of these activities to local partners include informing public policies and practice in rural communities with directed evidence and improved targeting of public services. Benefits within academia include the movement from static knowledge output to dynamic knowledge exchange tools, strengthening of methods for integrating local data with local knowledge, improved links between theories and practice. Outputs of this project will include virtual workshops and training materials, rural data portals, and production of local evidence materials. These materials will be openly accessible and will be promoted for use by other rural communities, students of rural social science, and relevant decision-makers.

Free Range International Knowledge Partnership: 2019-2020

The Free Range International Knowledge Partnership (FREE RANGE) is an international collaboration of institutes and researchers who have made community-level rural research a priority. Since 2018, FREE RANGE has supported over 50 scholars for a range of activities including attending international workshops; conducting field research; and contributing to academic publications. Scholars, research mentors and community partners have worked collaboratively on a variety of projects and produced a range of knowledge outputs related to their academic goals.

FREE RANGE aims to:

  • Facilitate international knowledge exchange on the wellbeing of rural communities;
  • ‘Breed better students’ through field-based interchange and collegial support;
  • Develop innovative approaches to ‘wicked’ problems facing rural communities; and,
  • Enhance international research partnerships.

A cornerstone of our activities is the provision of FREE RANGE bursaries for undergraduate, post-graduate, and other scholars to join collaborative research teams examining some of the issues affecting the health and wellbeing of small rural communities in our partner countries. 

FREE RANGE scholars contribute to research design, data collection and analysis, report writing, and community engagement. FREE RANGE scholars have the opportunity to visit rural communities in partner countries, to present their research at academic and community workshops and conferences, to receive mentorship from project leaders, engage in research fieldwork, and contribute to academic publications. FREE RANGE can support students for four weeks or four years, with individualised research plans and supervision from some of the world’s leading rural researchers. FREE RANGE welcomes scholars from any discipline or profession, as long as they demonstrate a commitment to the program’s aims and objectives.

Past Themes:

Conceptualizing Rural Systems

Over the past years our research has examined several types of rural ‘systems’ including health, education, housing, economy and agriculture. Our findings across multiple contexts and locations have found that the reality of what constitutes a “system” in small communities is often at odds with what regional policy-makers and planners intend. For example, access to the health system is often thought to be directed through a primary care provider; however, in many places where health professionals are scarce, individuals access health in a myriad of ways. This project examines “systems” at a community-level and compare (qualitatively and quantitatively) how systems can best be designed to meet the needs of rural communities. Some of the systems being studied include health systems (eHealth, youth health), economic systems (farming, tourism, resource extractive industries), and education/ knowledge systems.

 Demographic Change in Small Villages

Since at least the 1950s there has been academic and other commentary anticipating the ‘disappearance’ of small country towns in places like Australia, Sweden, Austria and Canada – and the smaller and more isolated the village, the more vulnerable it is seen to be. The commentary has been predicated on declining rural industries, centralising of public and other services and youth out-migration among other things. In essence, small towns and villages were not expected to have the ability to cope with the economic, social and demographic pressures of contemporary life in high income countries. Nevertheless, the ’village’ remains an important part of human settlement right across the sparsely populated parts of these countries, and some villages appear to be thriving demographically, economically, and/or socially. This theme takes a critical look at the potential futures of small rural towns and villages in our partner countries. At the centre of the project is the construction of a computer simulation model which examines how villages respond demographically to economic, social, political and environmental changes.

Local Adaptations to Climate Change

Many of the rural communities of interest to FREE RANGE scholars (relatively small, relatively isolated, often experiencing population loss, somewhat disconnected from post-productive industries like tourism) are particularly susceptible to impacts from climate change. In Australia, for example, communities at the margins of viable agricultural districts are finding it increasingly difficult to support agricultural activities. In Sweden, variability in snowfall and the emerging threat of heatwaves and forest fires is disrupting traditional livelihoods (reindeer herding). In all partner countries, climate change means that people living in, working in, and visiting rural areas need to adapt to rapidly changing environmental conditions. This theme examines how that adaptation is taking place within the context of human settlement (linked to the Demographic Change theme); delivery of, and access to, services (related to the Rural Systems theme); and processes of economic development and innovation (with specific attention to agriculture, tourism and resource extractive industries).