Ashleigh Weeden is a rural futurist and PhD Candidate in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development in the Ontario Agricultural College at the University of Guelph. Her work is focused on investigating place-based rural innovation systems, community capacity building, and public policy renewal. (To participate in this research initiative, please visit: https://bit.ly/WeedenPHD2021Screening)
A proud graduate of both the University of Guelph (B.A. Honours in International Development) and the University of Victoria (MPA), Ashleigh spent the better part of a decade working in local and regional development and gained recognition as an award-winning rural innovator prior to returning to academia.
A long-time advocate for community engagement, open government, and meaningful applied technological innovation, Ashleigh’s work leading Grey County’s Connected County Initiative directly contributed to the County receiving recognition as one of the Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2017 by the Intelligent Community Forum and the top achiever in its population category in the 2018 ‘By the Numbers’ report from the ICF. Notably, as part of this initiative, Ashleigh created Grey County’s successful ‘Ag 4.0’ initiative, working at the intersection of her passions and talents to generate community conversations about the future of rural communities in the digital economy. Ashleigh also provided strategic communications and community engagement support for the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) Initiative for several years, including supporting Indigenous engagement in the project. SWIFT is the largest publicly funded regional broadband project in Canada to date, serving more than 3.5 million people by building #broadbandforeveryone in Southwestern Ontario, Caledon, and Niagara Region. During the Fall 2019 term, she served as a Visiting Researcher at Scotland’s Rural College in Edinburgh, supported by a Rural Policy Learning Commons Research & Exchange Mobility Grant.
Ashleigh has spent her career leading and collaborating with progressive governments and engaged citizens to bridge the divide between decision makers and their communities and create meaningful, collaborative change. Her work advocating for people-centred public service and connectivity-driven innovation in rural communities can be read in publications like the Torontoist, The Conversation, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, Policy Options, Canadian Government Executive, and Municipal World. She has provided expert commentary to Buzzfeed News, the CBC, CTV News, the Ryerson Review of Journalism, and many local and community-based media outlets.
Ashleigh coordinates the Building the Future: Rural Infrastructure & Regional Economic Development initiative, contributes to the Making a Difference research project, and is has completed a Mitacs Accelerate Internship supported by Bruce Power, the Town and Saugeen Shores, and the University of Guelph which is the basis for the Getting to Work research initiative. She is currently serving as Editor and Project Coordinator for the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation’s Rural Insight Series on COVID-19 as well as serving as an expert advisor on rural broadband policy on projects lead by Dr. Sarah-Patricia Breen, the Regional Innovation Chair at Selkrik College. You can learn more about Ashleigh’s doctoral research on place-based rural innovation by clicking here, or by visiting the Place-Based Rural Innovation Systems project tab.