By Anne-Mette Hjallager (University of South Denmark, Esbjerg)
The web structure of the Rural Power Pack The RPP is structured along the “RPP triangle”, which constitutes and governs the method of the PRR part of the Vital Rural Area website. The corners are the following:
- The case corner, where inspiring and illustrative cases from partners and others are presented. This is where the “formats” are enclosed. First, the focus will be on the experiences of the projects from the project partners. Later stage cases from other actors, involved in the same types of rural development projects may be included. The cases and project experiences will focus on the work package themes: SMEs, regional branding, and service issues.
- The toolbox corner, which offers checklists, tests etc. for those who want to work with rural development and the CAA approach. The tools should be based on scientific knowledge and on practical evidence, and they should be straightforward to use for actors. The tools will cover SME issues, regional branding and services.
- The policy corner which contain distinctive elements of policy frameworks and policy initiatives. This is a reference for intervention philosophy of the Vital Rural Area. It links up with EU, OECD and other key policy documents and explains the content.
The entries in all corners will be written so that they can stand alone. As illustrated in the figure below the webpage will be supplied with “power links” which interlink the three corners. The links will allow the user to jump between types of resources, and see the connections clearly. Links between the SME, branding and services sections will also be provided, where relevant.
The Rural Power Pack web structure Purpose of the toolbox The tool box contains scientifically and practically consolidated instruments to improve the innovative work for the development in rural areas. Where applicable the tools address issues in the fields SME development, branding and services. The tools should be helpful particularly in situations where there is a bottom-up approach to the processes. Tools should address the situations faced by elected managers and key persons, as well as local people and enterprises participating in the empowerment activities. Accordingly, the toolbox should be a means of inspiration for local action groups, community organizations, public authorities, and others. The tools should be applicable in many types of situations. The toolbox is like a “supermarket” where the users can take the ingredients from the shelves and add them to their own reality so as to be able to improve processes and outcomes. The tools are open sources that have derived from practice in VRA, and from other similar rural development processes in other regions. The tools can stand alone – they are not specifically linked to VRA. They can be improved and developed further forever. Elaborations and improvements could be progressed after the end of the VRA in a new project framework.
Types of tools The toolbox shall be a web-place where rural bodies and organizations can seek help in their development processes. However, there are many types of situations and stages in a development process where a toolbox can come in handy. We suggest organizing the tools in the following categories:
- Rural creativity tools. Tools that help to get ideas and inspiration and to challenge “conventional wisdom”
- Rural diagnosis tools. Tools that assist to identify and analyze problems and challenges in a rural area
- Rural process tools. Tools that suggest methods to organize processes in ways that lead to results and empowerment
- Quality assessment tools. Tools that help to achieve a critical view on proposals and ideas and to assess the feasibility
- Rural knowledge transfer tools. Tools help to assess the possibility for dissemination of information.
In the following there will be a further specification of the possible tools in each category further there will be one example from each category. Rural creativity tools In all organizations it is easy to get stuck in habitual thinking and conventional wisdom. That also accounts for rural development processes. There is a need to introduce tools that address the rural situation and offer the local people new ways to explore their own creativity. These tools help to get ideas and inspiration. After the inspirational phase there might come other phases of prioritizing and studying the feasibility, but creativity tools is all about getting as many ideas as possible in systematic ways.
- Mobility morphology. Setting up a morphology grid and get new ideas to make rural services mobile and flexible.
- Six Thinking Hats. This tool is well developed way to developing ideas by using different ways of thinking and intelligence. Can be used for example to develop the ingredients in a village school. (The Innovation House, Vejen, has equipment in the meeting room to support creativity processes.)
- Reversing rural weaknesses to strengths. Ways of asking questions that will change the perspective of difficult rural problems.
- Increasing the innovative capacity of children and youth. Integrating rural innovation in teaching activities.
- Mindmapping tool for collaborative project inventions. Mindmapping is a well-known tool appreciated by many, and it can be used as a means to get ideas and to relate ideas to each other.
- Fibernet design ladder. Think model that force the user to consider ICT as decisive for new rural services. Moving from replacing services and obtaining economies of scale to creating new services.
- Etc, etc.
Rural diagnosis tools These tools help to dig into the nature of rural problems and challenges and to investigate their nature, extent and consequences in greater detail. Diagnosis comes before remedies and repair work. Consensus about the diagnosis in rural area is a good foundation for further progress and action. Diagnoses tools may be the following:
- Rural SWOT analysis. Analysing the local business situation. Strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats by a SWOT model. (Used in Vejen)
- Village/landscape photo walks. Analysing the physical appearance of places by joint village walks and subsequent collaborative processes coached by architects and planners. (Used in the “Ugly places” project).
- Rural development indicators. Checklist of all thinkable indicators (quantifiable and non-quantifiable) that can be illustrate the situation and potentials of a rural area.
- Interactive problem rating tool. List of questions about the community that add up to a numerical rating of the community and an indication of the most important area of intervention.
- Social and human capital. Suggestion of how to assess the extent of social capital and human capital in rural areas for the purpose of activation.
- Rural carbon footprint measurement tool. Tool to prepare rural areas to be aware of possibilities to create a better resource economy and to brand themselves as sustainable.
- Venn diagramming. A way to map the importance of local institutions and key persons and the linkage between them and the local people. The tool can be use to create a view of where linkages are too weak, and to identify fractions/cliques etc.
- Etc, etc.
Rural process tools In this category we suggest methods to organize processes in ways that lead to results and empowerment in rural areas. These tools are about involving the community and the creation of joint feeling of vision, progression and action.
- The empowerment staircase. A way to illustrate how a community empowerment progresses trough different stages, for example: Building hope that a different, better future is possible. Creating a vision of a better future and a strategy for achieving it. Turning the strategy into a concrete workplan with measurable objectives. Finding resources to implement parts of the workplan. Achieving initial successes that build confidence and relieve the most pressing needs. Refocusing actions to achieve long-term, sustainable goals. Revising the strategic plan to reflect changed conditions and experience from past projects. Leveraging additional funding for new sources. Building community capacity to plan, manage projects, and evaluate outcomes.
- Café seminars as rural participation tools. Ways to create a free communication on critical problems and challenges and to establish networks.
- Rural leadership tips. Important guidelines for people to work as volunteer social entrepreneurs in rural communities. For example about adaption, involvement, passion, joyfulness, empathy, celebration etc.
- Rural branding process. How specify the needed steps to develop the branding based on local people’s own perceptions of the area. (This has been done in the Belgium case)
- Collaborative Agreement Approach template. Specification of who are involved, the purpose of the collaboration, who does what, the completion, who manages, term of leaving the collaboration etc.
- Code of conducts. How to communicate, inform, behave, for example in connection with the arrangement of local events, festivals etc.
- Rural business plan instruments. Easy to operate business plan templates for rural types of enterprises and entrepreneurs, for example in B&B, rural shops, rural service provision etc.
- Etc, etc.
Quality assessment tools These are tools that help to achieve a critical view on proposals and ideas and to assess the feasibility of development activities in the local area.
- Monitoring the community branding. How to use Google analysis to understand the position of the community in the media.
- Life quality survey instrument. A survey instrument – for example web-based on the community website – that can monitor the satisfaction with the community and the activities and plans for its development.
- Private and public service accessibility monitoring instrument. A tool to follow the development of services – opening hours, distances, availability etc.
- Rural projects checklist. A control tool that ensures a high quality and success rate for development projects presented to financing bodies. Key points such as consistency, commitment, clear milestones, co-financing, workable time schedules, etc.
Rural knowledge transfer tools Tools help to assess the possibility for dissemination of information. Knowledge transfer takes place at different levels. First there will be an internal knowledge transfer in the community. Second, a knowledge transfer across places in the same country. Third, a cross-national knowledge transfer. Examples of tools:
- Participatory learning in village boards and LAGs. Methods to use the experience of individuals in learning and development processes, and how to encourage learning from the others in a variety of settings.
- Organising webinars. Distance may be an obstacle to meetings and to and knowledge disemminaton in rural areas. Webinars can be an answer for those spread information and yet maintaining the feeling of being part of a social setting.
- E-learning in SME-settings. Tools that will increase the speed of learning where local business are isolated and not able to achieve a fast supply of new competences (the e-learning project in DE and NL projects)
- Using social media to spread information. International project partners can get a quick access to supplementary information and inspiration by use of Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin etc. (This has been used in VRA).
- Etc, etc
Example of a Rural Creativity Tool Purpose of the tool: This creativity tool shall stimulate the user to see ideas in fields that are normally not considered. The tool shall help to break routine assessments and force additional reflection. It is about breaking rules that do not work in rural settings. The ideas may be discarded later, but at this stage, but here is about getting as many new ideas as possible. Area of use: Morphology is a method that can be exploited in relation with many issues. The condition is that the problem can be described on two sets of distinctive attributes that can be combined. Here is applied on rural services and the intention come up with inventive thoughts about mobility of rural public or private services. Process: The method is best applied in a small working group of 4-8 people. First step is discuss and to make an initial sketch of the content of the axes. The axes may be revised during the process if necessary. Second step is to go systematically and without ambiguities through all fields in the matrix and carefully reflect on any possibility that might be hidden here. Points and reflections are written into the matrix. Third step is to take out possibilities that the group finds interesting and worthwhile a closer investigation.
Example of a rural diagnosis tool Interactive problem rating tool Purpose of the tool: The tool shall systematically address the problems of a rural area and help the community reach a joint understanding of the needs for interventions. The rating tool takes the temperature on specific issues, and can be of assistance for the priority of action. Area of use: The tool can be part of a strategic process in LAGs, in city councils or in other communities. The model and the questions can be amended to address particularities of the local area. With many respondents, the ratings may get a high weight in strategy processes. With fewer respondents, the results can be indicative, and yet useful starting points for discussions. Process: The questions are assessed by the managers of the process in order ensure a local relevance and adaptability. The questions are disseminated to respondents, either in electronic forms or on paper. The respondents enter their answers and make an individual calculation of problem significance. Responses are collected and averages are and variation is calculated and presented to relevant audiences.
Example of a rural process tools Café seminars Purpose of the tool: Café seminars are about creating a dialogue in an informal framework where participants can test points of view, experiences, and where they can develop ideas and visions. The atmosphere of a café seminar is relaxed with time for everybody to express themselves, but it is a guided process that which ensures that the results of the communication is documented and processed further. The purpose of the café seminar is to get a deeper and joint understanding of the topic or problem that is on the agenda. The café seminar will raise new insights and bind the participants together in the creation of answers and solutions. A café seminar can be the start of a longer process with subsequent steps, for example working groups. Café seminars seldom come up with specific strategies, recommendations or actions, but they create a foundation and a joint understanding of importance for further processes. Area of use: The tool can be used widely in rural development processes. The topic might be for example: the use of fibernet services, sports activities and health issues in the village, local beautification, increasing migration etc. The topics can also be broader, for example about creating inputs for regional or national Rural Development Programs. The method is particularly appropriate in areas where there are not “correct” answers, and where developments are needed. It is also of importance that the topics are felt important for the daily of the participants. The café may be targeted to specific groups for example young people or entrepreneurs, but often is an advantage to ensure a broader participation in order to stimulate relationships across segments and groups in the area. Process: A café seminar is best performed in an authentic café environment with small tables with room for five people at each table. The atmosphere is light and friendly, and there is room to listen and to get into a deeper dialogue. The assumption is that everybody has something to contribute and that there might be relations between them that are not properly exploited. There is potential insight, and through the process, this insight is to be excavated. The actors in the café are the following: Roles
- Project manager: The project manager has the main responsibility of the total process from the planning to the reporting
- Planning group: The project manager in cooperation with key village actors. The group is responsible for the collection of materials and documentation. A journalist may be connected as well so as to ensure publication in local media or on the village web.
- Participants: The participants (preferably between 25 and 100 of them) are to be invited for their insights and competences, and they are to be motivated to participate by a personal contact.
- Café host: The host is managing the process during the seminar, and he/she will ensure that the contributions and be delivered. The host is responsible for the creation of a relaxed and creative atmosphere
A cafe seminar typically has duration of one day – at least 6-7 hours and a maximum of 10 hours. The duration is important for participants to be able to ensure a deeper learning process. The organisation of the room is as a cafe with small tables, table covers, flowers etc. Remedies such as paper sheets (big and small), pens etc have to be available. There must be refreshments such as fruit, coffee etc. The seminar will start with an introduction, which can inspire the work and create a joint understanding. After this presentation the work in the groups is to start. The work is undertaken in several sessions, where the participants are to debate questions raised by the host. The participants are to document or illustrate their debates for example on bigger pieces of paper or as powerpoints on a laptop. After each session one person will remain at the table, while the other will be distributed to other tables. The new round starts by the table manager presenting the discussion to the new guests and a debate is initiated. After this intervention and exchange of experience, the original groups will reassemble. They will process with the next round of questions raised by the cafe host. The questions are linked logically together so that the debate with progress to cover the relevant issues of the seminar. In the final session, all results will be exhibited on the walls, and the participants circulate to see the other groups’ results. All results are collected and edited into a final report. The journalist or another person might be invited to document the process for example in pictures or as films. The participants can be interviewed to give their opinions about the ”energy” or the progress as they see it. This type of information can be edited for the village website or as a seminar poster. All documentation shall be available for the participants and possibly also for a wider audience. The specific results of the seminar will be included in further processes. Indirect results may be that participants enhance their networks in the village, an effect that may be beneficial for the development process in the longer term and for the implementation of projects.
Example of Quality assessment tools Rural project application checklist Purpose of the tool: Funding of activities is a major issue in rural area. Continuously, communities and actors have to apply for funds and support, if they want to start new project and test new alleys of development. Funding is available from different type of sources such as Rural development programmes, private funds, public authorities etc. Writing applications becomes a skill for many people, but there is a need for tools to check the quality of applications, as there often a considerable competitions for funds. Area of use: This tool is to be used before and during the application phase. It is meant to help the applicants to assess the possibility of success and to target and ensure the quality of the application. There is a wide area of use, and the checklist can become handy for those who apply for funds for festivals and events as well as for rural business who look for capital for expansions. Process: The applicant and those who write up the application might choose to have the checklist can at hand at all times, and to make a tick off the box at any during the writing process. Stop the application process, if your project is not likely to be funded.
Example on a Knowledge transfer tool Purpose of the tool Distance may be an obstacle to meetings and to and knowledge dissemination in rural areas. Webinars are flexible and cost-efficient. Webinars can be an answer for those spread information and yet for the participants and the knowledge disseminators maintaining the feeling of being part of a social setting. Webinars are good built bridges, where participants already know each other or when they are addressing topics of keen interest and deep prior knowledge. Areas of use The topics for webinars are in principle unlimited. Webinars can be appropriate supplements to outreach and advisory services for rural business and agricultural holdings. They can be about the dissemination of results of community development processes. The webinars can link groups and villages together for the planning of joints events and they can contribute to the illuminating of rural resources. Training sessions for youth or health care information for elderly can also be held by webinars. Some webinars may supplement transnational knowledge transfer. Webinar possibilities may be available for those who cannot travel to the live events, and yet they can be electronically present and participating. Process There are several ways to organize webinars. Some seminars are simulated life events and the performed synchronously. They are planned and announced as other seminars, for example on relevant websites. Participants need to register ahead of time in order to reserve a space and obtain instructions for how to join the program on the scheduled day and time. They are asked to keep the email confirmation handy because they will need the information it provides at the time of the program. The registration form might request some basic information about the participants, and give them the opportunity to answer some questions to help the presenters prepare for the needs and expectations of the audience. To join the webinar the participants should connect to the relevant webpage, and they will ”enter the seminar room”. At the time of the webinar, speakers give their presentations, also with the use of powerpoints, video or other means of presentation. This software gives the participants the ability to see and listen to the presenters' slides on his/her own computer, plus any highlighting or drawing the presenter might do during the presentation. There are possibilities for the audience to ask questions and get answers, either during o rafter the session. Some systems have chatboxes, where comments and discussions can be performed simultaneously. The written or oral process may be recorded and made visible for the partipants and user who want to consult the webinar at later stage. A webinar may also be held asynchronously. They are placed on the internet and the participants can use the material whenever convenient, and they can upload comments, pictures, videos or whatever response is relevant in the particular situation. Multiple versions of software for webinars are available, some of them as open source. The software can organize communication with participants, ensure the process of presentation and feedback and capture the seminar for later retrieval on the organizer’s webpage. Webinars can be extensive and open with many participants or they may be closed with fewer participants with special invitation. Some organization provide list of previous and coming seminars on their website. The webinars are considered a way to communicate, but also a mode of retrieval of activities.