A month ago I wrote about the Rural Voices Network and the efforts to to understand why and how people participate in the common life of their communities. With all but one of the public forums now behind them they have published the list of questions on which these forums were based at their On Line Forum. Unfortunately these are not publicly viewable unless one registers and logs on (something which I urge rural ontarian's interested in community building to do), however in the interests of creating a little more response to this initiative than currently seems to be the case I have published those questions and my responses to them below.
Not you typical response I would suggest, are you more involved or have a differing opinion? Why not register and have your say. Or, of you prefer let us know your thoughts in my comments section!
Important note:- Since writing this piece the questionnaire has been removed from the forum, no response has been received from RVN as to why this is so or if it will be reinstated. Never-the-less I will publish it here along with my intended responses for the readers interest.
UPDATE:- I am pleased to report that the forum questions are now posted in a publicly viewable area of the forum at http://ruralvoicesnetwork.ca/forum/questions/
- WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS PUBLIC FORUM?
I am deeply concerned with the viability of rural communities, family farms and other rural enterprises across Ontario & Canada.
- WHAT ARE TWO DIFFERENT WAYS YOU ARE ENGAGED IN YOUR COMMUNITY?
Almost none physically, I try (mostly unsuccessfully) to keep up with local issues and maintain a blog about local & rural issues.
- Imagine you are in an empty room, and the closer you stand to the middle represents more active participation in your community. Standing by the outer periphery represents less active participation. Your can also move around the room if you choose. WHERE WOULD YOU STAND TO REPRESENT YOUR CURRENT LEVEL OF PARTICIPATION, AND WHY?
I have my back against the wall, most probably near the corner! Why? Lack of alternate methods of participation.
- Now move to where your desired level of participation is, given all limits of your current circumstances were removed. WHERE ARE YOU STANDING AND WHY?
About half way towards the center of the room with occasional forays to the center..
- WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO BE INVOLVED IN THE COMMON LIFE OF YOUR COMMUNITY?
Maintaining local services both governmental and commercial, protecting the rural lifestyle, protecting land use & stopping misuse.
- WHAT ENABLES YOU TO BE ENGAGED IN THE COMMON LIFE OF YOUR COMMUNITY?
WHAT BARRIERS PREVENT YOU FROM BEING ENGAGED IN THE COMMON LIFE OF YOUR COMMUNITY?
Enabled by knowledge of local issues via radio, newspaper, mailed flyer or internet.
Barriers many, include-
No local newspaper (or news sheet) reporting council or social meetings or issues
Minimal local information available via internet
High speed internet either unavailable or very expensive in many rural areas.
Minimal feedback mechanisms except by travel to meetings.
Reluctance to travel to meetings, particularly evenings and nights.
Few means to communicate easily with other residents on common issues.
Personal reluctance to leave our rural 'retreat' for anything less than really good reasons.
NOTE (Armchair critic? But does that make my input less valid to the community? Catch 22 – you cannot be involved in the community if you do not know what is going on and you cannot know what is going on unless you are involved with the community!)
7. Identify an issue, enabler/barrier, or theme that is affecting your community and/or interests you personally.
WHAT DO YOU THINK COULD BE DONE TO MAKE A POSITIVE DIFFERENCE/CHANGE?
Not being one to join clubs, socialize outside of close friend and family or attend meetings it is difficult to even hear about things or organizations that may increase my participation. As one who obtains 90% of his information either via local radio (from city 25 miles away) or the internet (very little LOCAL information available) I feel communication is the key to involvement in rural areas (particularly outside of settlements or villages) where one rarely meets other than ones close neighbors informally. I strongly believe that rural communities can be brought much closer and lively discussions, notice of social and community meetings, local governance issues etc can be greatly enhanced by the increased use of internet tools. The use of a local web site / forum / blog / public space where residents can both read and opine about local issues would in my opinion then foster more face to face meetings, be they formal at one of the ever decreasing 'parish halls' or informal at local residences. Many citizens seen reluctant to embrace this method of communications, why is that?
In my view we need a common platform 'one stop' web site for both individual communities and rural communities in general where communities and rural individuals can interact without the need to travel (in this riding) 50km or more to attend meetings of interest.
Unfortunately this project in and of itself is demonstrating all to well the difficulties of communicating with rural citizens, with a google news search turning up but one news item on the recent public forums and with the online forum seeing but 2 or 3 citizens participating thus far. This is hardly unexpected but is a great disappointment to me, I do hope that the mail out survey which this initial process is intended to produce receives more attention.