Reversing the decline of Europe’s rural regions
Over the course of the past 25 years, people have been migrating to cities in pursuit of better jobs and increased opportunities – a trend that shows no signs of slowing. According to the European Spatial Planning Observation Network, Europe’s rural population will decrease by 8 million people by 2050. The EU’s rural population is also getting greyer, with nine out of 10 farmers now aged 55 years or older. “Depopulation, land abandonment and the loss of biodiversity are just some of the challenges affecting rural areas,” says Pavel Šimek, a researcher in the Faculty of Economics and Management at the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague. According to Šimek, addressing these challenges requires a local vision for growth and development. It also requires increased capabilities at the local level to ensure that appropriate policy measures are implemented, both on time and in accordance with the agreed upon vision for rural development. The EU-funded PoliRural (Future Oriented Collaborative Policy Development for Rural Areas and People) project is working to address both aspects. And to do so, it relies on modern ICT tools and ‘Foresight’, an approach to policymaking that considers future eventualities, scenarios and outcomes. “PoliRural is based on the execution of regional Foresight exercises across Europe’s rural regions, where success has been defined as the implementation of locally co-designed policy measures aligned with a local vision,” explains Patrick Crehan, a management consultant at CKA, one of the project’s 36 partners.
An innovative toolbox
With the goal of making rural places and professions more attractive for the people who already live there and to potential newcomers, the PoliRural team delivered an innovative and effective approach to rural policy co-design based on regional Foresight. “Our approach stands out in its ability to provide decision-makers with evidence on how current policies are performing and what impact new measures might have,” remarks Šimek, who serves as the project coordinator. Specifically, the PoliRural approach includes the use of advanced policy simulation, focused training sessions on Foresight, taking a mission-oriented approach to decision-making, and using cutting-edge tools for text mining and system dynamics modelling. “Together, these tools provide policymakers with an innovative toolbox for increasing the attractiveness of their region or territory,” says Pavel Kogut, a researcher at project partner 21c Consultancy.
Demonstrating its effectiveness
To demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach to decision-making, the project worked directly with 12 rural communities, involving local policymakers, farmers and the agro-industry. In Slovakia, for example, the team used the PoliRural toolbox to develop a strategy for increasing the attractiveness of the country’s rural areas by 2040. This process involved multiple rounds of discussions with various stakeholders, who ultimately endorsed the initiative in the Slovak Parliament. The resulting Rural Doctrine is expected to be enshrined in Slovak constitutional law, thus ensuring its long-term stability and continuity, along with a clear strategic direction for Slovak rural areas. “This shows how the project can contribute to creating a deeper understanding of the real challenges faced by Europe’s rural regions – an understanding that is essential to the implementation of effective, long-term solutions,” concludes Crehan.
PoliRural, rural regions, rural population, farmers, depopulation, land abandonment, rural development, Foresight, ICT, policymaking, agro-industry, social innovation