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Networks’ role in providing rural vitality

Networks’ role in providing rural vitality

9 March 2022

NICRE’s empirical work

The roles networks may play in providing rural vitality was examined in NICRE’s ‘Resilient Rural’ reading group, writes Aimee Morse, Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins and Janet Dwyer at the Countryside and Community Research Institute. The session reflected NICRE’s empirical work on how networks operate and their part in business growth and development.

The role of knowledge exchange in producing innovative ideas was central to our discussion. Innovation is often broader and less technical than imagined; one ‘lightbulb’ moment can transform a business. These ideas are often the result of cross-pollination and their effects emphasise the importance of valuing knowledge exchange networks and opportunities.

Input from other industries - which might seem to have nothing to offer a particular sector - can also lead to improved productivity and lower costs. For example, we heard about how a rural food SME was able to make efficiency gains in their packing warehouse thanks to hearing about an approach used in the airline industry. Funding and facilitating such knowledge exchange opportunities is essential to growing networks which contribute to social and economic development.

Within a business, awareness, engagement, and a sense of ownership encourage staff to engage in process improvements. When enabled to ask what they can try, staff can contribute to real improvements. In another example, a business decided to share its energy bills with staff – ‘just one thing’ as we encourage in our net zero campaign of the same name - that thereby encouraged many creative responses to energy efficiency. Can the culture within a wider network also support these opportunities for enabling and exchange?

Inward and outward investment

The potential value of ‘outward investment’ for rural enterprises was another key issue that the group agreed requires more investigation. Inward investment is commonly lauded for bringing growth and delivering higher-value jobs into a region. However, this is not without risks since multinational businesses can (and do!) close local production sites to suit their changing needs. What if rural businesses had the opportunity to grow by acquisition or collaboration, capitalising on their local networks for their development and ‘borrowing’ new scale or scope?

The session highlighted how networks are dynamic, often fluid and overlapping, which also poses particular challenges for methods seeking to capture or analyse them. We will address this issue during a workshop at this year’s RGS-IBG Conference; consider joining us to discuss resilient methods for rural research – to find out more contact Aimee on aimeemorse@connect.glos.ac.uk

Our next ‘Resilient Rural’ reading group is on Friday 11 March where we’ll discuss social capital and resilience and hear from Thomas Slijper at Wageningen University about it in Dutch arable farming. Register your place. It takes place 11am-12.30pm.

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