Rural communities are often limited in their capacity to collect data, access resources and conduct research to inform their decision and policy making (Caldwell 2010). At the same time, there is increasing interest from funders, governments and researchers in aligning the activities of researchers with the policy goals and priorities of communities (Caldwell 2010; Beattie and Annis 2008; Langille, Munro, Romanow, Lyons, Bull and William 2008). As a result, the Alberta Centre for Sustainable Rural Communities (ACSRC) conducted a prioritization exercise in order to identify policy-relevant areas of research concern for rural Alberta.
The goal of this exercise was to discover what research question(s), if answered, would substantially advance the policies and management strategies for the sustainability and development of rural Albertan communities. In addition to generating a list of relevant, feasible and implementable rural research questions, this project was also intended to:
- identify potential gaps and innovations in public policy that could support rural sustainability in the face of demographic/social change, economic stressors or ecological variation;
- contribute to “horizon scanning” (Sutherland and Woodroof 2009; Sutherland et al. 2010; 2011) – the systematic search for potential threats and opportunities within these communities;
- increase communication, interaction and potential collaboration between governmental, non-governmental and research communities and practitioners; as well as, increase the exposure and knowledge base of the research community to the policy and research priorities; while also, generating and communicating the policy and research priorities of different levels and branches of government in Canada; and
- foster targeted research (Nutley 2007) to influence policy or practice related to:
- rural community and development;
- rural community capacity;
- rural sustainability (environmental, economic, social and cultural); and
- rural resilience (the ability of a community respond to, of limit the effects of, both exogenous and endogenous stressors such as demographic change, climate change, economic crises or environmental variability).
This method has been used to create priority research questions in the UK, Canada, Australia and United States. It is not designed to be a way for researchers to write policy, instead, it is designed to identify priority research areas (Sutherland et al. 2011). This would allow for researchers to conduct research that they know would directly relate to the concerns or needs of policy makers. These exercises also allow for greater collaboration to occur between policy makers, researchers and other stakeholders, with the end results of hopefully creating more effective policy.
Alberta's Priority Rural Policy Research Questions - Report