Taking advantage of aging in rural communities

By Mikaël Akimowicz

February 10, 2018

Prof. Skinner from Trent University recently shared some results concerning the sustainability of rural communities. Interestingly, he used the lens of social dynamics to frame his analysis. In the context of rural exodus, rural communities are confronted with issues such as youth retention, skills availability, and population aging.

Prof. Skinner shed light more particularly on the aging of rural communities in Canada and defended that aging can generate new opportunities for rural communities.

In rural communities, youth out-migration, aging in place, and retiree in-migration contribute to a quick aging of the population. In this context, he stated that community support is essential for the sustainability of communities.

Image from Pixabay

This support can, for instance, be achieved through volunteering, which, despite obvious drawbacks, is one of the opportunities he can foresee for aging rural communities. He illustrated this with the program Meals on wheels, which consists of home-delivered meals for seniors.

For Skinner, voluntarism needs to be taken into account at three complementary levels for more effectiveness: the policy level (in order to improve health services and social care), the community level (in order to create vibrant places where seniors are integrated), and the individual level (in order to meet the specific needs of each individual).

Of course, he also highlighted the risks associated with voluntarism in aging communities: communities are endowed with uneven capacities for voluntarism, older volunteers are usually more vulnerable and have specific needs, and seniors who cannot participate in volunteering can feel excluded from the social life of the community.

Image from Pixabay

Can the Manitoba Rural Broadband project contribute to this debate? Can digital technologies contribute to mitigate these risks? This is our ambition. The first assessment realized in 2017 with the E-Index questionnaire aimed to draw a picture of the infrastructure available in communities, their usage, their affordability, and the skills associated.

This picture, which does not completely describe the situation of each community, is then completed with the Pathways analysis during which we are going to carry out focus groups, with seniors and youths, and interviews, with business owners and representatives. This qualitative information will help us

i) understand how infrastructure, affordability, usage, and skills levels support or slow down the implementation of projects within the community, and

ii) eventually improve the E-Index tool, or at least design recommendations for improvement.

In the end, all this information will provide community decision-makers with relevant information to drive the future investments connected with digital technologies, be it in infrastructure or skills. Your testimonies are therefore very important. We are looking forward meeting with you and discuss about digital technologies.

See you soon.

Read more about the Manitoba Rural Broadband project here.

To view more RDI Webinars, check out our Webinar and Speaker series.

Further Reading:

Skinner, M., & Hanlon, N. (Eds.). (2015). Ageing resource communities: New frontiers of rural population change, community development and voluntarism (Vol. 56). Routledge

Skinner, M. W., Andrews, G. J., & Cutchin, M. P. (Eds.). (2017). Geographical Gerontology: Perspectives, Concepts, Approaches. Routledge.