Report examines what works in rural innovation

December 05, 2019

Turning good intentions into actions is part of the motivation behind a recent report from the Community Strategies Group (CSG) of the Aspen Institute. The report, Rural Development Hubs: Strengthening America’s Rural Innovation Infrastructure, focuses on actions that could build capacity to advance rural community and economic development to improve equity, health and prosperity for future generations. Identifying those that are working to “do development differently” in rural America, the report draws on the wisdom of leaders from 43 rural intermediaries, and includes recommendations on creating stronger rural development systems.

The CSG report authors have termed such intermediaries Rural Development Hubs, saying they are the “main players advancing an asset-based, wealth-building, approach to rural community and economic development in this country.” The report promotes the idea that such hubs are the “critical models for advancing comprehensive economic development strategies in rural places.” The report notes that investment in rural people and places is essential for a thriving, equitable nation, and its key findings include the regional aspect of the work hubs do, leading employment sectors (and it’s not agriculture), and brain gain in some rural places. It also points to missing pieces, such as pipelines and marketplaces that connect investors to America’s rural development opportunities and the structure of government programs and funding formulas that place rural America at a disadvantage.

The report presents 10 routes for strengthening rural development, and has sorted the routes into three main categories: shifting mindsets; constructing or revising systems and policies; and building capacity. Recommendations that are part of the 10 routes include investing in rural America; increasing rural cultural competency; trusting the know-how of rural development hubs and building mutual understanding; reimagining what “impact” means in rural contexts; designing policies and programs with rural implementation in mind; creating pipelines and marketplaces that connect investors to America’s rural development; and, more.

In a “bonus route” outlined in the report, complete with additional recommendations, the authors make the point that currently there is not a cohesive framework or theory of change that frames the goals and organizes current understanding about what works in rural America.

“With bottom-up knowledge, good science, smart policy, national expertise, and a cadre of committed leaders at hand, we can create a development framework truly fit for rural America. The task is gargantuan — that’s why we offer this as a ‘bonus‘ approach — but the time to build the vision and field is now.”

The full report is available here.

rural, innovation, policy recommendations, economic development