Rural Planning with the help of System Dynamics Modelling

Could complex simulation be of help to rural planning and development? PoliRural thinks yes, and is testing the use of System Dynamics Modelling (SDM) as one of the building blocks in the project. This will be showcased and the Innovation Hub. The strength of the SDM approach is that it allows the planner or decision maker to consider the rural area as a system, and see the implications of specific actions or policies both on the whole and on for specific indicators. However, the use of SDM presents is not a single-sided blessing, as with all new technology it brings new challenges to tackle. To mention a couple: to be useful and relevant, a model needs a quite complex structure but at the same time it has to be understandable for the users, not giving the impression everything is decided in a black box; and the need of a user-friendly interface.

The solution proposed by PoliRural deals with these challenges by defining: 

  • Several levels of different users, including model authors, model executors, model viewers and system integrators;
  • A general qualitative model, the ‘PoliRural Base Qualitative Model’. This model will allow any rural area to introduce local quantitative and qualitative data and be run, without the need for any other modelling software. The model aims to provide output that will support foresight analysis for the rural area and will also allow testing policy actions and draw scenarios;
  • The possibility to enrich the model locally is present through the ‘Local Customized Model(s)’, to get more accurate results and interpretations of local conditions and perspectives. In this case a revision of the model takes place (to refine calibration, modify variables or relations, or even introduce new modules). This process incorporates experts’ work as well as a public layer for consultation;
  • A public database of local dynamics, fed from the Local Customized Model and expressed either in causal loop diagrams or a more structured way. This will allow comparing regions best practices and identifying general dynamics and trends in rural development;
  • Finally, in order to bring SDM into the reach of planners and decision makers, PoliRural will experiment with integration of SDM functionality in mainstream decision support systems such as geoportals and other systems currently feeding planning and strategy processes in rural areas. A pathway for collaboration between SDM professionals and people who merely wish to tweak or execute existing models is also proposed;

(for further details on the above, interested readers may find more information in the deliverable 3.3. System Dynamics Tool Technical Specifications, available here).

These pieces together with a well-established workflow will allow the development of a learning community combining local and general experts. But it will also stimulate the production of relevant knowledge to be integrated in iterated versions of the model. A good example could be made around the CAP. For a given rural area, examples of relevant questions about CAP could be, is it going to increase agricultural jobs? Is going to make farming more attractive to young people and newcomers? Is going to improve natural capital so that tourism can be improved?

Kick start of the Slovak Vision for more Attractive Rural Areas

In the representative premises of the National Council of the Slovak republic at Bratislava Castle was held on 22nd September 2020 the 17 annual “Rural Day”. This traditional event was organized by the Rural Parliament in Slovakia under the auspices of the Chairperson of the Slovak National Parliament Mr Boris Kollár and in cooperation with the Parliamentary Committee for Agriculture and Environment. The Ministry of Agriculture of the Slovak republic was represented by its state secretary Mr Fecko. All Slovak partners of the PoliRural project participated with the presentation of the project with a special focus on its current foresight activity aimed at developing the common vision for more attractive rural areas in participative and inclusive way. Representatives of different national and local media were present as well. The members of the parliament, as well as the government representative, promised to actively engage themselves and participate in the process of elaboration of a new vision for the rural areas. Following the event, meetings are already scheduled to continue in the discussions.

Participants acknowledged that the problem remains that Slovak countryside is losing its traditional form, its agriculture has declined significantly in recent years, Slovakia has lost its food self-sufficiency, young people refuse to work in primary agricultural production and go to cities or abroad, and ownership relations with land are still unresolved. There are a lot of unresolved issues, and it will really be necessary to tackle them gradually together. Even at this time, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is necessary to discuss rural problems even more than ever before, to point out the negative effects of the pandemic for rural areas and to propose current solutions.

It will really be necessary to take real action to remedy the shortcomings that have arisen. We need our municipalities and the entire agricultural sector to have the same conditions and state aid and support as they have in the developed countries of the European Union. It will be very important to pay more attention to the issues of agriculture, nature protection and securing a sufficient amount of food from our own production. After all, these are vital tasks and would deserve a higher social award, as is common abroad. There are many accumulated problems. One could begin to address this with special support for the youth to make it attractive for them to work in agriculture and with the active promotion of agriculture. Rural areas without agriculture are not rural. The Slovak ancestors lived for many centuries mainly from agricultural production, and it is a shame of losing the food self-sufficiency today. It is only recently that the widespread corona crisis has shown how important it is to be self-sufficient and not be dependent on basic food imports.

PoliRural pilot Monaghan releases the “Monaghan Migrant Integration Strategy and Action Plan 2020-2023”

PoliRural pilot Monaghan, located in Ireland, has launched the “Monaghan Migrant Integration Strategy and Action Plan 2020-2023”, a very important tool to implement the work carried out in the pilot.

The three-year strategy, commissioned by Monaghan Integrated Development and undertaken by KW Research and Associates, sets out Monaghan Local Community Development Committee’s plan to ensure the integration of all those who live in county Monaghan. The vision for Monaghan is one that celebrates the diversity of our communities. A county where everyone who lives, works and visits are valued, respected and supported to fully participate and contribute to their communities. We aim to achieve this goal through collaboration, interagency working and promoting values of equality, dignity and inclusion.

The Action Plan has six goals (Language Skills; Access to public services; Education and training; Employment and business training; Wider community integration and acceptance; Housing and Accommodation) and will implement 38 diverse and important actions in the pilot.

You can find more about this plan here.

COVID-19 INSPIRE Hackathon 2020 enters its final stage!

COVID-19 INSPIRE Hackathon 2020 aiming to develop and share agri-food economy solutions to balance the imperatives of the present with the demands of the future goes after two-month hacking into the final stage scheduled at 19th November at 12:30 PM CET!

In the COVID-19 INSPIRE Hackathon hackers have addressed the following topics:

  • Facilitate access to data and services for an easier digital innovation in the agri-food sectors;
  • Educating individuals from other sectors for being able to support agri-food businesses in the crisis;
  • Forecasting of regional food supplies, deviations and/or shortages;
  • Mobilising agricultural workforce for harvesting;
  • Regional matching of offer and demand for fresh produce in decentralised settings.

In the session, you can get an overview of the Hackathon results:

  • COVID19 and agriculture;
  • Results from 13 different challenges;
  • Rewards ceremony and celebration.

If you are interested in participating in this session, register now here!

Digitalisation Driven Economy in the Galilee Periphery

Innovation activity in Israel is concentrated predominantly in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and does not exhaust the resources of innovation in the periphery. The PoliRural team in the north is leading a strategy to promote implementing a most advance digitalisation system in the Galilee. It will create an innovation-driven economy in the periphery, which will benefit both the regional economy and the entire national innovation system.

The focus on digitalisation was the output of several meetings of the PoliRural team, where SWOT analysis and reviewing the difficulties in the economic development of the Galilee region performed. This initiative seeks to examine the possibility that this implementation idea will bring back young people and their families to the periphery – not only about establish startup companies but also regarding the upgrading of the regional innovation system. The infrastructure needed proposes a practical agenda with a dual goal: optimal use of the innovation resources that will be reallocated to the Galilee generating innovative local SMEs, and innovation-inclined economic growth throughout the region in industries, precision agriculture, tourism, health system, education and more. We believe in a plan of action that will benefit both the Israeli innovation system and areas in the geographical periphery. However, this requires implementable solutions that consider the market forces acting on national innovation systems, which adapted for the Galilee peripheral region.

When examining the geographical distribution of the various economic sectors in Israel, we must distinguish between results that are the consequence of economic forces at work in Israel and wishful thinking. The premise we must accept is that high-tech companies tend to concentrate in certain geographical areas, frequently in urban metropolises. It assumes that the companies inspire each other with technological knowledge, exchange skilled human capital, and attract investors. The trend has grown over the past decade, for reasons that include increasing technical complexity necessitating greater collaboration, and because of the increasing attraction of workers to vibrant urban areas. 

The other side of the coin is that the area in which they concentrated became a place where most young families are not enjoying, and they would prefer the rural area, green and quite. Since the COVID-19 crises emphasised more than ever the ability to work from a distance, those young people could benefit from the Galilee developed infrastructure, which will accelerate growth and high-quality employment. As the Galilee region will develop, it will become a powerful magnet, attracting most of the “talent”, investors and entrepreneurs. It will also invite researchers (to MIGAL and other incubators and accelerators in the region) who will support this SMES and accelerate the regional development, serving as economic growth engines. The main discussions at the Galilee team are how to recruit the funds to begin the process, and it is clear that we have to implement the PPP scheme – involving private investors as well as the Israeli government.

The use of Semantic Explorer in PoliRural

Semantic Explorer (Semex.io) is a text mining tool (TM) based on cutting edge technology capable of extracting information from unstructured data and display the results on clear graphical and textual outputs. It has been designed with the objective of providing support to researchers involved in Foresight, System Dynamics Modelling and Policy Evaluation by reducing the cognitive load related to tasks that are essential to policy processes. Thus, specific solutions have been developed for this purpose.

The portal is the gateway to a large library of more than 2700 documents related to European rural areas. Sources have been gathered by PoliRural Pilots organizations ensuring a high level of expertise in rural related topics and wide geographical representation (12 Pilots in different parts of Europe). The scientific articles, technical reports and policy related documents collected relate to the needs of PoliRural areas as well as to the local, regional, national and European policies.

In semex.io users can access and process information following different approaches that are summarized on the top menu of the frontend application. It is possible to consult the Library´s contents by browsing Sources and selecting those that one is interested in. Users can work on a single source or on a selection of articles that can be gathered in the Curated Reading List. The tool analyses the text and provides various results such as text summary, topic extraction, most relevant Named Entities, sentiment analysis, geographical parsing etc…. Very soon there will be the possibility of visualizing, out of a large corpus of text such one or more articles, the most recurrent topics or key words through custom scattered plots based on word2vec technique.

It is also possible to access sources through a fuzzy search which includes the possibility of Boolean logic search as for instance ´depopulation´ AND ´rural areas´. Through the Topic option users can explore the GEMET thesaurus and discover relations between topics associated with the rural issues. Topics are automatically connected to Library’s sources and are displayed on the dedicated panel along the text. For data analysts who wish to dig deeper into the data a specific dashboard has been set in Kibana and is accessible for registered users.

All these functionalities have been developed following intense communication with researchers involved in the PoliRural project. The aim is to provide support to researchers and policy-makers in tasks related to policy processes by providing automatized analysis of large corpus of text. The next few months will be dedicated to test the tool and collect feedback with the objective of further tailoring solutions, replicable also for users outside of the PoliRural consortium.

Exploring current situation of rural attractiveness in 12 PoliRural pilot regions

During the first project year, 12 PoliRural regional pilots have focused on exploring the current situation of rural attractiveness in each pilot region as the first step of the foresight process. Pilots have defined their mission statement and created pilot fiches to describe the regions and expected results (available here https://polirural.eu/pilots/). Regional stakeholder panels comprising policy actors, rural populations, newcomers and experts have been set to all 12 pilot regions to support PoliRural experts in regional foresight projects. So far about 350 stakeholders have taken part to the work of the panels.

In needs gathering assignment the goal was to recognize regional needs related to rural attractiveness. An online survey was conducted in all pilot regions (n=1296). Needs gathering in pilot regions included four phases: literature study about rural attractiveness, mass survey to stakeholder groups and general population, SWOT analyses to summaries the findings of literature study and survey. The SWOT results were discussed with regional stakeholder panels to define the list of needs and factors of rural attractiveness and finally clustering of pilot regions based on common needs rather than geography.

More than 80 needs where identified in this exercise. However, it was possible to reach to a common understanding of the most important needs with a total number of 32 needs. Important themes to develop were good internet connectivity (broadband) to enable digitization, employment possibilities in rural areas, the rural-urban mobility and the provision of public services and finally sustainability and environmental aspects. Based on the results, PoliRural researchers have clustered the 12 pilot regions into 4 different categories: Quality of life; Social capital; Cultural appeal; and Natural capital.

Once the needs were recognized, each pilot selected 5-10 most relevant needs for policy mapping exercise. The purpose of Needs-Policy Mapping task was to match the rural needs against current policies and public or private strategies. Because political and legal framework conditions vary in the pilot regions, the policy mix was based on a brief consideration of the respective governance structures related to rural policy and rural development. During the process 115 regional needs were matched against about 180 policy measures.

Needs gathering and policy mapping tasks were done in close collaboration with regional stakeholder panels. Due to COVID19 pandemic face-to-face meetings and workshops with stakeholders were replaced with online solutions. The reports of Needs gathering and Needs-Policy Mapping is published in PoliRural web page (available here https://polirural.eu/resources/reports/).

PoliRural Slovak Pilot organized a project meeting to analyse the project recent results

On 28th July 2020, PoliRural Slovak Pilot (Slovakia region) organized a project meeting to analyse the project recent results and discuss future steps. In this meeting, OZ Vidiecky Parlament na Slovensku was present.

Slovakia is the only pilot region covering the territory of a whole country thus providing a unique opportunity to use the outcomes of the project for both the regional and national policies. The vision of this PoliRural pilot is to increase the attractiveness of the region, well-being of the existing rural population and attract newcomers, while not affecting the symbiosis between city and rural areas, by introducing policies reflecting the needs of local entrepreneurs and demand of local population, safeguarding the environment and biodiversity at the same time.

European Commission releases the Roadmap for the Adoption of a Communication on the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas

On July 2020, the European Commission released a Roadmap for the Adoption of the Communication on the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas. The European Commission aims to create a debate on the future of rural areas and the role they have to play in our society.

This initiative will set out a vision for the future of rural areas by 2040 and gather views covering challenges such as:

  • Demographic change;
  • Connectivity;
  • Low income levels;
  • Limited access to services.

 

It will also explore innovative, inclusive and sustainable solutions in the light of climate and digital transformation and the COVID-19 crisis.

 

You can find more about this initiative here.

PoliRural Slovak Regional Panel organized a webinar to discuss results and future steps

On 10th June 2020, all Slovak pilot partners of the PoliRural project jointly organized a webinar intended for Regional Panel Members. The main objective was to provide a description of objectives of the PoliRural project, present the available outcomes and make a space for discussion and exchange of views. The different ways of participation of panel members was emphasized as being of crucial importance for the successful implementation of the project. The uniqueness of the Slovak pilot, as the only one covering the territory of the whole country, was highlighted. The panel members appreciated the valuable inputs and contributions of the project for increasing the attractiveness of the Slovak rural areas for life, work and investments.