In PoliRural Newsletter #1, the use of strategic Foresight by regions as part of their policy development process was introduced. In Newsletter #7, one of the tools provided by the project to the leadership teams of the 12 regional Foresight exercises to support their work with local stakeholders was presented. Namely, the STEEPV Inventory of Drivers of Change.’ This inventory was intended to help the leaders of regional Foresight initiatives more thoroughly prepare for a Drivers’ Analysis exercise, that would serve as an input to the development of a vision for the future development of the region, and the identification of challenges that must be addressed to achieve that vision.

In this article another one of those tools is introduced, the ‘Guide to Deep Dives on the Regional Impact of COVID 19’ (available here). The ‘Deep Dive’ is one of the standard techniques used in strategy exercises. When used in Foresight, it is employed using a highly participative approach. In the context of the 12 POLIRURAL Foresight exercises, the role of the deep dives is to help a diverse group of stakeholders achieve a much better shared understanding of the challenges to be addressed to achieve the emerging ‘vision’ for regional growth and development. As is the case for all kinds of group work, a good result depends on good preparation. Without adequate preparation the ‘deep’ dive will go very deep into the issue, no one will learn anything new, no insights will be created, and the final output is unlikely to yield more than general observations or have a significant impact on the action plan and roadmap.

Arguably, the most significant challenge that every region must now face, is to recover from the disruption caused by COVID 19, learn whatever ‘lessons’ it has to provide, and ensure that the region will be better prepared for the next major disruption. To underline this last point, the guide makes reference the fact that climate change, a growing world population and pressure on natural resources, have created conditions for the emergence of pandemics, affecting not only human populations but populations of plants, animals, insects, and fish on which we depend for food. However, these are not the only disruptions that rural regions may need to prepare for.

The illustration above is borrowed from UNILEVER’s strategic response to the pandemic. It summarizes a key result of its own strategic reflection on potential future disruptions for which it needs to prepare. The rural regions involved in the POLIRURAL project would be wise to heed the example of UNILEVER and consider how it should prepare for and respond to such crises. A deep dive on the local impact of COVID is a good place for them to do this. It is no accident that other guides in the series will address ‘climate change’ with a focus on the green deal, and ‘biodiversity collapse’ with a guide to deep dives on the new EU biodiversity strategy.

The guide to deep dives on the regional impact of COVID 19 provides relevant background for the exercise and reminds users of how the pandemic accelerated a number of trends that were already well established and underway before the pandemic. Some of these are decidedly positive in the sense that they indicate features that make rural regions attractive to certain groups, indicating trends on which one might build to diversify rural economies and raise the overall level of prosperity.

For the most part, however, the guide consists of detailed methodological notes on how to conduct the dive. It also includes lists of leading questions that can be used to motivate discussions about the impact of COVID, enabling well-informed discussions on what has changed in the regional economy and in the organization of living and working. All of this sets the scene for a discussion on what changes are likely to prove permanent, and on which one can act, and what ones are likely to prove ephemeral.

Some of regions have already carried out their deep dives on the regional impact of COVID, and summaries of the insights gained can be found in the Compendium. This is the first of the series of guides to deep dives.

  • The ‘Guide to Deep Dives on the Regional Impact of COVID19’ can be downloaded here;
  • The latest update of the ‘Compendium of PoliRural Pilots’, with descriptions of intermediate results from each of these initiatives, including results of the COVID deep dives is available here;
  • General information on the 12 Foresight initiatives is available here.

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