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 people.

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. In the wake of global restructuring and the neo-liberalization of public policy, communities of all types are increasingly responsible for their own development. Rural communities differ not only from urban communities, but from each other. Further, rural policy is often conflated with agricultural or natural resource policy. If innovation agendas fail to account for diverse notions of rurality and the full spectrum of what happens in rural places, they will fail to address broader issues in rural community development. National and sub-national policies can become barriers to local innovation if they are not place-sensitive, as the lower the population density, the more likely it becomes that key determinants of innovation and community development are specific to spatial and relational qualities of a given region.

This doctoral research project will produce a comparative case study investigation of rural communities in Scotland and Canada to provide insights into 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 national, sub-national and regional/local policy frameworks on rural community capacity to develop place-based innovation systems?

Additional areas of interest include:

  • How do place, policies, and people influence the ability of rural communities to engage in foresight and future-oriented planning (does ‘innovation’ planning facilitate this)?
  • How do we engage in more nuanced place-based policy for rural development?
  • How do we shift from ‘problem solving’ to ‘asset based’ place based rural development that highlights place-based innovation?
  • What are the governance challenges and opportunities for place-based policy foresight and program implementation?

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

Project Resources