My first CRRF Conference

Reflections and takeaways on rural policy

By: Adams Abdul Salam

November 9, 2018

The 2018 Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF) conference under the theme “Health and Shared Prosperity” was held in Saskatoon. This was my first conference as a new Rural Policy Assistant at the Rural Policy Learning Commons (RPLC). It was exciting and full of amazing speakers with varied ideas, stories, and perspectives about rural communities. The conference comprised of plenary sessions, boardroom presentations, panel presentations, and concurrent sessions.

After four days of insightful presentations and discussions, my main takeaways from the conference were from the various policy capacity-building sessions. Panel members and presenters shared their unique expertise and ideas about rural policy during these discussions.

IDENTIFYING COMPETENCIES FOR RURAL POLICY PRACTITIONERS

The first session on policy was presented by Dr. Gary McNeely https://www.brandonu.ca/rdi/person/gary-mcneely/ from the Rural Development Institute at Brandon University. Dr. McNeely talked about identifying competencies for rural policy practitioners through curriculum mapping. According to McNeely, acquiring a degree in public policy program does not qualify one to be a rural policy analyst/expert. McNeely argued that “acquiring competency in rural policy also requires coursework centered on rural policy.” This conclusion is based on an examination of 22 Canadian Master of Public Policy (MPP) and Master of Public Administration (MPA) programs and the learning outcomes presented at the 2015 International Comparative Rural Policy Studies (ICRPS) summer institute. The examination per McNeely, revealed a lack of policy training focused on rural issues. Hence, the need to align course-learning outcomes with degree-program competencies if we are to identify skills for rural policy practitioners.

This session was very enlightening for me as the presenter highlighted the various ways in which we could identify competencies for rural policy practitioners and how this could enhance rural policy.

THE NORTHWEST SASKATCHEWAN POLICY UNIT

Next on policy capacity was a panel discussion led by Mr. Razak Abu https://www.usask.ca/water/about/profiles/student-members.php from the Johnson Shoyama School of Public Policy at University of Saskatchewan. The deputy mayor of Île-à-la-Crosse (a village in northwest Saskatchewan) was another panel member. This session centered on a policy capacity-building project in the northwest region of Saskatchewan. This project is a partnership between the University of Saskatchewan and the community of Île-à-la-Crosse led by the Office of the Mayor. The partnership fosters the relationship between research, policy, and practice. It has produced a policy unit (the Northwest Saskatchewan Policy Unit) through which researchers and policy experts from University of Saskatchewan will coordinate with the Office of the Mayor and other community stakeholders to help build the policy-making capacities of locals. This presentation highlighted the importance of partnerships between researchers and policy makers at the local level.

BEYOND SERENDIPITY

After the above session, I was hoping for further insights on how scholars can go beyond hope, thoughts, and prayers in creating a path that connects research to policy and practice. Luckily, the sessions on the following day were equally exciting. Presenters addressed my concerns and experts answered the following questions:

(a) how can we connect research, policy, and practice?

(b) how can we foster engagement between researchers, communities, and policy makers? and;

© how could researchers and research institutions make their information accessible to communities and policy makers?

HOW CAN WE CONNECT RESEARCH, POLICY, AND PRACTICE?

This was an issue that most presenters on policy discussed. The importance of connecting research with policy and practice is crucial, in that a policy that is not grounded in evidence may not achieve the desired outcomes. Experts digested this issue and made the following recommendations:

· “Take down the bricks and walls” as indicated by Peter Smith in his presentation- make connections and establish networks with researchers and policy makers.

· Begin a dialogue with policy makers and community partners through workshops, webinars, etc.

· “Get on the dance floor” with key community stakeholders in policy- while on the dance floor, your research questions must pass the mother-in-law test.

· Get the community and policy makers to think about research by demonstrating research credibility and community viability.

A power point presentation by Peter Smith of the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity

A power point presentation by Peter Smith of the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity

We may not have all the answers we require when we’re starting out. However, the follow-up phone calls and emails may provide the necessary avenue for researchers to engage and network with policy makers and community partners.

HOW DO WE FOSTER SUCH ENGAGEMENTS?

Developing continuous engagement among researchers, policy makers, and communities is critical to connecting research with policy and practice. This relationship, as noted by experts in the conference, could be enhanced if researchers are:

· Present and active in the communities to ensure easy access and contact;

· Neutral and open in their relationship with community members, as this will help develop trust among stakeholders;

· Specific with what they want to accomplish with their research; and

· “Delightful,” as Dr. Ryan Gibson noted in one of his presentations.

HOW DO WE MAKE POLICY RESEARCH AND DELIVERABLES ACCESSIBLE?

This was another important question that attracted the attention of experts in many of the sessions. Some participants bemoaned the lack of access to research results.

Per the various presentations, these concerns could be addressed if researchers were to take an inventory of data sources and update them regularly to meet the demands of users (i.e. community members and policy makers). The experts further suggested that a repository of policy sources could be created to give easy access to these users. Researchers should also identify networks with similar research interests and monitor them regularly to improve the dissemination of research finding to users.

CRRF sponsors

MY TOP 3 TAKEAWAYS ON RURAL POLICY

The sessions on rural policy were great. I gamed a lot of insight to policy. However, my top 3 takeaways from the sessions were the following:

· Develop a network of people within your area of interest, for instance, through workshops or even a dance.

· Influencing policy is extremely difficult at the political level. Try to find people who develop programs and gain influence at this level.

· Recognize that rural development policies are more than just agricultural policy: there should be a shift from sectorial to place-based policy.

The conference was a tremendous success for me. It provided me the rare opportunity of meeting and networking with scholars from different backgrounds who are passionate about rural areas. Through CRRF 2018, I have gained unique knowledge and perspectives on rural issues (opportunities and challenges).

I look forward to building a strong partnership with CRRF through my new role as RPLC Rural Policy Assistant. It was a pleasure being at the conference!