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Future Oriented Collaborative Policy Development for Rural Areas and People

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - PoliRural (Future Oriented Collaborative Policy Development for Rural Areas and People)

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2021-12-01 do 2022-09-30

PoliRural is a policy co-design exercise that leveraged multi-stakeholder collaboration (policy, rural community, industry, research), digital tools (SDM, GIS, text analytics) and foresight to make rural areas more attractive. The approach was implemented in 12 regions in the EU, Israel and North Macedonia. The aim was to deliver actionable insight that rural stakeholders could use to develop a vision of the future and how to get there (action plan).

As a result of the project, 12 PoliRural regions now better understand which factors are driving local change and how best to cope with it using available policy instruments and funding mechanisms. The work on PoliRural helped to crystallise requirements for boosting rural attractiveness in each pilot region and to align regional action plans with key EU missions and objectives expressed in the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas. Conducting foresight over 40 months was not easy, not least because many regions and their stakeholders had never participated in a foresight exercise before. Nevertheless, all 12 pilots managed to complete the adopted foresight framework, with the following conclusions as main lessons learned:
1. The Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas provides a useful anchor point for aligning regional visions
2. Foresight can provide an effective approach to policy development
3. Implementing foresight is challenging and requires a lot of commitment, preparation, and capacity building
4. Digital tools can improve the quality of insight, but their acceptance requires a lot of effort and good-quality data
5. There is a strong need for technical support for local administration
6. Foresight helped to inject optimism in a deeply rooted pessimism present in some rural communities
7. Expect stakeholder engagement to be a long and laborious process
9. Political instability (e.g. snap elections) is a force to be reckoned with, as it can undermine the sustainability
10. Issues such as lack of time and skills can undermine uptake
Throughout the project, PoliRural pilots conducted various activities (e.g. needs gathering, drivers analysis, policy evaluation, deep dives, future outlooks, and inventory of funding sources) that contributed to the production of the foresight package. This three-piece document comprises the vision, action plan and roadmap. The vision explains where the region wants to be at some landing point in the future. The action plan outlines a mix of measures needed to address policy challenges and ultimately achieve the vision. The roadmap explains how the measures will be implemented (timeline), who is responsible for the implementation and monitoring, and where the funding will come from. All the packages are incorporated into Regional Action Plans.

Pilots have been facilitating adoption by organising conferences, seminars, and roundtables with members of their regional panels to present the results of their work. It is the intention of all pilots to translate their foresight package (which is currently available in English) into the national language to facilitate further take-up of results. In addition, some of the regional stakeholders will ensure the continuity of the package by monitoring its implementation as part of the Monitoring Committee (MC), as described in the next section.

Stakeholders are members of the rural community or those living outside the rural area but have a stake in the region’s future. Since the beginning of the project, the twelve PoliRural pilots have engaged over 500 individuals in different project activities, from issues analysis, needs gathering and policy evaluation to developing the foresight package and testing a customized system dynamic model. These stakeholders are highly diverse, e.g. policymakers, industry, farmers, researchers, and community workers. More than half are female.

The work started by PoliRural in the twelve regions is expected to continue well into the future. Some stakeholders from every foresight panel will join MC, overseeing the implementation of Regional Action Plans post-project.

The Policy Options Explorer (POE) allows users to simulate the impact of policy options on regional performance indicators. Using the tool, PoliRural pilots could see how different future strategies will play out in their region. Pilots and MC will use POE to track regional performance indicators. There are also two forthcoming publications about POE in the Regional Studies Association and in a scientific journal. Plus, a consultancy package that offers training, customisation and integration.

The Rural Attractiveness Explorer (RAE) helps to assess the impact of different policy options on the rural attractiveness of PoliRural pilot regions. RAE exploitation is included in the same package as POE.

DIH acts as a general knowledge repository for the project, providing information on foresight and links to various technical tools and apps, e.g. maps of rural attractiveness. The source code of DIH is available on GitHub.

Semantic Explorer, or Semex, is a text analytics tool that helps people make informed decisions while working with large amounts of information under time constraints. Pilots will use Semex to examine new policy documents and sentiments toward them. Semex is also used in two other projects: I-Change and Cities2030.

These results are educational and prepared to help external stakeholders enhance their knowledge of rural challenges and solutions by learning from PoliRural’s experience. They include training webinars, guides to deep dives (on Covid-19, CAP Reform, Green Deal), Toolbox and practice abstracts, which cover main PoliRural themes. All these are published on the website and YouTube, with some also available on Zenodo.
The concept of rural attractiveness is central to the project. Initially, the ambition was to develop an all-encompassing definition that could be applied horizontally across the 12 pilots. However, it soon became clear that such an attempt is ill-suited for capturing regional specificities. No two rural areas are the same. We observed that concepts of rural attractiveness differ significantly from region to region and are conditioned by developmental priorities such as the desire to attract investors, entrepreneurs, or tourists. Thus, what is understood as rural attractiveness may depend on where, when, and by whom attractiveness is determined.

Another important change concerns thinking about new entrants. PoliRural believes that rural economies should be economically diverse, incorporating diverse activities that extend far beyond agricultural production. Rural areas that want to attract new entrants are encouraged to think about them broadly, considering not only new entrants to agriculture (classic interpretation) but to the wider rural economy. These new entrants or newcomers can be involved in tourism, energy, manufacturing, services, carbon farming and circular economy activities that share their supply chains with urban areas.

Different policy measures will be needed depending on who the region wants to attract/retain. However, selecting an optimal policy mix is easier said than done. To address this challenge, PoliRural has built various digital tools (see above) to enhance their understanding of complex interactions within rural systems and how they might evolve under different policy scenarios.
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