A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Womens Institute releases Rural Voices Report.

Regular readers will know that I have been supportive of the WI's RVN project and have written both here, on their forum and directly to them about how an on line rural forum would benefit rural communities, and suggested what form it could or should take. I have been waiting to see the results of their survey since it completion in May and SOME results have now been released in the form of a Management Report.

Unfortunately said report is not very forthcoming and only details the top 5 responses in a limited number of areas of interest. We are told that a “Detailed Report” is available, however upon inquiry we were told that “The only information being released at this time is the promised Management Report and the poster.” and that “Any additional details are not being released as they will be used to assist with sourcing  additional grants.”  Huh? I am not sure how withholding data from a pubic survey of 'rural stakeholders” from those self same “stakeholders” can enhance a future grant application.

They also say that “ the budget limited quantitative and qualitative analysis in all areas and on all variables”. I understand that such limitations may preclude academic and scholarly “analysis” but as one who distrusts such “analysis” without seeing the raw data from which is was drawn I feel that perhaps this whole process and report is focused far too much on possible grants for some academic to analyze the results rather than sharing with those who participated and those who could use the data to move forward with practical initiatives. Let us “analyze” the results for ourselves!

One thing does become clear from the report and that is that the survey is biased by the type of respondent, this is no fault of the project creators, any such 'survey' is biased. An on line survey such as the one at the end of this article is biased towards those that are on line and are inclined to answer such things, in this case it was biased towards members of the WI and those already involved in their community and thus were aware of the project or were sent a survey by mail. This resulted in a predominance of older ladies responding (hardly a surprise give that it is a Women's Institute project) which is one of the few pieces of hard data shared in the report. This obviously affects the results. 

As readers will know if they have read my previous posts about this I was mainly interested and highly supportive of the stated goal of creating a “Web portal designed to foster a living ‘Rural Voices Network’ to facilitate community engagement and collaboration through online forums.” The survey was, in part, to determine how viable this goal was and how to proceed with it. I do not see the lack of funding as a major impediment to moving forward with such a 'portal' using volunteers to do both the initial installation and the subsequent moderation, although deciding upon the format and the software may be much more of a challenge. There is little or nothing said regarding this item, which to my mind is one of the major keys to rural communication and thus enabling discussion and 'engagement' in the community. There is an “existing web portal for further online engagement of rural citizens” on the RVN site but it is less than stellar and far less user friendly and functional than what I had in mind.

I will not go into the few results they have published, you can read the report for yourselves. I do note however that “As with the lack of information, younger residents rated a lack of communication networks as being more of a barrier than did older residents.” and it is the younger folks who we have to engage! I will however comment upon some of the conclusions made. The featured recommendations highlighted here are small extracts of the full text.

Recommendation #1:
In order to communicate with rural people, stakeholders and policy-makers may need to reduce their reliance on buzzwords and jargon.

Agreed, however it is not a matter of talking down to “rural people” but more a problem with academics and consultants using flowery language to justify their work when simple and concise language is usually far more precise.

Recommendation #2:
This data holds knowledge that could potentially lead to better-informed policy. Carefully planned analysis of this data, aligned with the goals of the RVN project, may provide insights to the current situation of rural residents.....

By all means 'analyze' the data but do not 'spin' it to “align with the goals of the RVN project”. Let others also see and use the raw data and detailed report and make their own conclusions.

Recommendation #3:
..... continued engagement with those individuals, organizations and communities that have made connections with the RVN project should be ensured by encouraging the continuation of the conversation


Recommendation #4:
More and stronger connections need to be made:.........
A means of facilitating these types of connections and fostering potential relationships – through a workshop or conference, for example – should be investigated.

Whilst 'workshops or conferences' may be useful they are limited by location, who is invited, who can attend and similar factors. An ON LINE forum is much wider in its availability and is a continuous process. Both are reliant upon interested citizens being aware of them so that they can make those 'connections'.

Recommendation #5:
Although this knowledge is valuable to have, in order for it to have real worth, this knowledge should be acted upon. The RVN project committee should find a method and means by which this information can be put into productive use. The implementation of this knowledge may take any of a number of forms ranging from a simple dissemination of the information to developing a series of public forums.

The single biggest 'action' that the RVN can take to make productive use of the knowledge gained through this project is to SHARE it. The same limitations that apply to conferences also apply to public forums.

Having waited for some time to see if the results of this survey would shed any light upon how well an on line forum would be received, but not being a recipient of any information in that regard, I now will move on and be seeking to create such a web presence privately. Build it and they will come will be my mantra. We MUST get a dialog going, even as I write I learn of more rural communities being gutted of their schools and inundated with industrial wind farms to feed the urban appetite for “clean” power. Neither of which rural resident have ANY control over!

Anyone, individual or rural organization interested in helping should contact me ASAP.

Please visit and fill out the survey I created to try and get a better idea of rural online availability and use.. Just 6 questions and results WILL be shared. Click here to see the survey.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Don - this is most informative!

Another point to be added to the value of sharing the data is the project's objective of empowering rural communities and citizens through the research process, and with the outcomes. The way to viable action is indeed by having the tools to be able to problem-solve and take action! In this scenario the tools are the data and the promise of information-sharing.

Please note that on the RVN website Q&A 8/9 stipulate the following:

What is the purpose of the Final Report?
The Final Report is intended to inform stakeholders of research findings from the Literature Review, Online/Public Forum Report, and Survey analysis to influence political and community development policy, and program delivery.
An RVN Community Poster/Bulletin will be made available to all participants and rural organizations to highlight the ‘unified voice’ or rural citizens. As a summary of the report, the RVN Community Poster will empower rural citizens to have an active voice, by promoting how organizations and municipalities can collaborate to better support citizens to participate in their communities.

Unfortunately, both documents fall short of the aforementioned ‘purpose’. Thank you for taking the initiative in a call for action, transparency and information-sharing. Look forward to the results from your survey.

Cheers to rural Ontario, and rural citizens who shared their ‘voice’ in the project.
Citizen for Collaboration