European Commission logo
English English
CORDIS - EU research results

Programme Category


Article available in the following languages:


Grasping rural diversity and strengthening evidence for tailored policies enhancing the contribution of rural communities to ecological, digital and social transitions


The EU aims to lead just digital, economic and ecological transitions that will leave no one behind. Close to one third of EU citizens live in rural areas, which represent 83% of the EU territory and supply the whole of society with essential goods and services. These broad figures hide a variety of situations, challenges and opportunities regarding the aforementioned transitions that the current evidence base insufficiently captures.

The design of positive governance frameworks and policy interventions for rural communities is hampered by i) the lack of conceptual frameworks that properly grasp the role of rural areas and communities in sustainable development and sustainability transitions; ii) a lack of data on several aspects at the right geographic scale, in particular on climate and environment performance and on social challenges, quality of life and well-being. The lack of data at the right geographical scale (local in many cases) is hampered by the technical and economic difficulties of finer data collection.

Proposals should explore innovative and out-of-the box ways to describe and characterise rural areas or various forms or degrees of rurality in multi-dimensional ways, screening a wide range of possible (including new) data sources going beyond conventional indicators such as population density and settlement configuration. They should analyse national and other definitions and approaches and engage with stakeholders to understand their perspectives on rurality. Proposals should define and describe functional linkages between various localities and territories and explore and develop ways to apply functional geography approaches to rural areas (e.g. developing the concept of functional rural area), learning from past work[[Such as ROBUST ( and COASTAL ( under Horizon 2020 and projects funded under the ESPON programme]] and failures on such approaches. Trade-offs in selected approaches should be analysed in regional and national contexts highlighting geographical differences.

Proposals should screen and benchmark the performance and cost efficiency (infrastructure needs, ease and frequency of updates etc.) of data collection methods and technologies including new ones (e.g. digital technologies, geolocation and geospatial techniques, crowd sourcing, citizen science) that could be used to collect the necessary rural data at the local level across a majority of EU Member States and Associated Countries in Europe, at affordable costs and select viable options for testing these options. They should strengthen rural evidence and rural data collection, documentation and access, in particular in the environmental, climate and social fields by generating data and designing, testing and implementing methods to:

  • calculate climate and environmental indicators for rural communities, including rural dwellers and secondary-homers;
  • upgrade socio-economic (including culture) assessment, analysis, monitoring and evaluation tools (stats, indicators, including the measurement of well-being, quality of life and attractiveness including gender and age differences);
  • assess resilience to major threats, with particular emphasis on resilience and vulnerability factors under the COVID-19 pandemic.

This should result in enriched, upgraded and regularly updated platforms, data and indicators mapping, describing and monitoring economic (including sectors, jobs and income), social (including quality of life and well-being) and environmental (including climate mitigation and adaptation and energy) characteristics of rural areas and communities at sub-regional, local or functional levels, contributing to relevant actions of the long-term vision for rural areas in this domain. The analysis carried out should help to grasp the diversity and specificity of rural places in the EU and Associated Countries, their inter-relations, their preparedness for transitions, major shocks and megatrends, their capacity to take advantage of these trends in adaptive and resilient ways.

Proposals should benchmark climate and environmental policies and existing frameworks to describe and measure well-being, quality of life and attractiveness, assess their relevance for rural areas and communities and make recommendations for adapting these frameworks. They should in particular propose innovative schemes to reach climate neutrality by 2050 while taking advantage of the ecological transition and preserving ecosystems (nature-based solutions), landscapes etc. Finally, they should support rural proofing[[Rural proofing means to ‘systematically review other macro and sectoral policies through a rural lens, considering potential and actual impacts and implications on rural jobs and growth and development prospects, social well-being, and the environmental quality of rural areas and communities’, Cork 2.0 Declaration, A better life in rural areas.]] by developing tools completing those already existing on territorial impacts (e.g. under the EU Better Regulation[[Better regulation tool #33 on territorial impacts:]]), to assess the impact of EU policies and programmes on rural areas and communities.

Proposals must implement the multi-actor approach, bringing together from the start multiple types of scientific expertise in both hard sciences (e.g. climate, energy, and environment) and social sciences and humanities (e.g. geography, sociology, behavioural sciences, policy, foresight) together with a variety of rural community representatives. This topic should involve the effective contribution of SSH disciplines. Projects outputs should be scalable at least to the EU as a whole, hence they should be developed using data from a representative diversity of rural contexts across the EU. Proposals should strengthen evidence on rural areas and communities in a multi-dimensional way (proposals focused on one particular sector -e.g. primary production- or dimension of sustainability would not be considered as addressing the challenge appropriately). Proposals should engage with both national authorities and rural communities on their understanding of rurality and on project developments. Proposals should foresee a task to work jointly with other projects funded under this topic and with the European Commission, its common agricultural policy[[]] networks[[Currently ENRD and EIP-AGRI ( to be replaced by the networks to be funded under the future CAP:]] and other relevant networks (e.g.: future Farm Sustainability Data Network (FSDN)[[Commission Communication ‘A farm to fork strategy’ (in particular section 3.2)]]) and projects (including research projects[[; projects funded under HORIZON-CL6-2021-GOVERNANCE-01-13 ""Modelling land use and land management in the context of climate change""]]) contributing to building rural evidence.

The possible participation of the JRC in the project will consist of connecting project activities to on-going work on integrated territorial strategies and or various domains mentioned in the topic to ensure complementarities and synergies, in particular advising on the data collection methods to be tested and on filling-in data gaps at high spatial granularity (NUTS3, LAU or grid levels). The contribution is framed on the context of the Knowledge Centre for Territorial Policies.