Lead: S. Ashleigh Weeden, PhD Student (2017-present)

Innovation has become a central public policy concern, evidenced by the proliferation of ‘innovation agendas’ across all jurisdictions, including Canada. So much so that in 2016, the Government of Canada began work on a new national ‘Innovation Agenda’ with the following proposition: “Innovation is a Canadian value. It’s in our nature, and now more than ever, it will create jobs, drive growth and improve the lives of all Canadians. It’s how we make our living, compete and provide solutions to the world. We have the talent, the drive, the dedication and the opportunity to succeed. So, what’s next?” However, as every public consultation on the Innovation Agenda took place in a major city and produced initiatives with names like ‘the Smart Cities Challenge,’ it seems like ‘what’s next’ is a national innovation conversation so steeped in unquestioned urbanism that it fails to even acknowledge, let alone include, rural Canadians.

While some research on innovation in rural regions exists, it often encounters difficulties in applying generally accepted, urban-centered notions of innovation systems, indicating opportunities for reconsidering innovation systems through an explicitly rural, place-based lens. Further, rural communities differ not only from urban communities, but from each other. Rural policy is often conflated with agricultural or extractive-industry/sectoral policy, which fails to account for diverse notions of rurality and obscures or ignores broader issues in modern rural community development. As communities of all types become increasingly responsible for their own development, provincial and national policies can become barriers to rural community innovation if the diverse and specific place-based contexts, needs and aspirations of different types of rural communities are not recognized, as the lower the population density, the more likely it becomes that key determinants of innovation and community development are specific to the people who live and work in a given region. This doctoral research project will use a comparative case study approach (drawing from cases in Scandinavia, New Zealand, and Scotland) to investigate the complex relationships at play in place-based rural innovation systems. This research will provide grounded, illustrative narratives and address gaps in current place-based development and innovation systems-based scholarship, providing a timely contribution to socio-technical systems studies while addressing current policy concerns about the changing nature of rural landscapes and innovation both around the world and here in Canada.

Key Research Questions:

  • How do place-based innovation systems operate in rural communities?
    • What is the the influence of spatial, relational, and structural dimensions in the development of place-based rural innovation systems?
    • What is the influence of infrastructure investments (particularly the social and economic impact of broadband infrastructure)?
    • What is the influence of provincial/state and national policy frameworks on rural community capacity to develop place-based innovation systems.
  • How do place, policies, and people influence the ability of rural communities to leverage innovation ecosystems and seize their digital destinies?
  • What can Canada learn from international examples of innovation ecosystems done right?
  • How do we integrate rural communities into an Innovation Agenda that includes and inspires all Canadians?

Check back for further updates on this research initiative as it develops or contact Ashleigh at weedens@uoguelph.ca

Project Resources