Through efforts of the NIFA Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDCs), the land-grant system's capacity to address critical needs of rural people and places is being significantly advanced through research, professional development, and partnerships.
Each of the RRDCs is building the scientific knowledge base to underpin education and extension programs in rural and community development. Selected examples follow. Link to each Center's Web site to find research reports and information briefs, and you can add your name to their consortia of participating scholars and link to more opportunities that support research.
- Health and food security research: The Southern Rural Development Center (SRDC), in partnership with USDA's Economic Research Service, funds research through its competitive Food Assistance Research Small Grants Program. Population health and food security are one of the SRDC's priority areas.
- Measuring and understanding rurality and rural diversity: SRDC also partnered with USDA's Economic Research Service to organize a research workshop, Measuring Rural Diversity Conference, in Washington, DC , November 21-22, 2002. National and international participants shared scientific methods for measuring social and economic diversity in rural places, including new methods to examine socio-demographic features of rural America, measure economic activity in non-metro areas, explore economic distress, and create sub-county and place-based typologies. Ways to apply new information technologies to rural analysis were presented.
- Understanding community-led change and economic development: “Comprehensive Community Initiatives: Evaluating Multi-Level Collaboration for Systems Change” represents work under way through the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development (NCRCRD) and its partners to develop a model of community-led community and economic development. The research also contributes to program evaluation methodology and theory. See the NCRCRD Web site for Rural Development News, Volume 26, Number 3, 2003.
- Land-use research and policy issues: Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development (NERCRD) is leading efforts to develop a regional and national research and education strategy on land-use issues, meeting a compelling need for research-based, community-level public policy education on land use. Its Rural Development Paper Series and Land-Use/Sprawl Briefing Room include research reports and policy briefs on land-use trends and issues, farmland at the urban fringe, farmland preservation, land-use conflicts, housing construction, seasonal housing, and e-government resources for land-use management. All are available on the NERCRD Web site.
- Fiscal crises facing state governments: Western Rural Development Center (WRDC) released research findings in 2003 of a comparative study of the fiscal situation for 13 western states. Examining causes and consequences of current budget difficulties, the research points to longer-term factors that help explain how a mild recession is affecting state budgets. It also reviews coping strategies. The report is available on the WRDC Web site.
The RRDCs support professional development opportunities and educational programs to ensure high-quality, relevant, and timely technical assistance capacity and outreach for rural and community development.
- Core to advanced community and economic development skills: In recent years, the Southern Rural Development Center (SRDC) has emerged as the major vehicle for training state and county extension faculty in the South on how to incorporate community development principles in their primary extension programs areas of responsibility. “Creating Vibrant Communities in the South: Training Resources for Building Community Development Skills" describes recent activities in its multiyear professional development portfolio.
- Native American business owners and e-commerce: The North Central Regional Center for Rural Development (NCRCRD) has completed an assessment of technical assistance and training needs of Native American business owners to help them participate in e-commerce. Through learning circles at four reservations across the country, NCRCRD worked with tribal colleges, cooperative extension, tribal small business centers, and local nonprofit organizations to identify and recommend culturally appropriate assistance and training.
- Bridging the digital divide for businesses, local governments, and nonprofits: The Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development (NERCRD) hosted a regional workshop on bridging the digital divide to offer a hands-on, in-depth professional development opportunity for those who help small business owners, local government officials, nonprofit managers, and community leaders use information tools effectively. Proceedings from “Information Technology Regional Workshop on Bridging the Digital Divide” are available on the NERCRD Web site. To further develop information technology capacity, NERCRD published “GIS and Your Community,” with examples of how small and rural communities and local government can and do use GIS applications, including tax mapping, land management, policy and fire systems, water conservation, utility planning, transportation analysis, demographic analysis, and infrastructure mapping. This information is also available online.
The RRDCs have a long record of working partnerships with public and private entities toward common goals. In recent years, work with partners has expanded, promising sustainable rural and community development programs despite a period of fiscal austerity and scarce resources. Annual reports from each center are posted on their Web sites and detail partnerships that are leveraging NIFA support for the RRDCs. Selected examples follow.
- Mid-South Delta Regional Revitalization: The Mid-South Delta Region faces economic, social, political, and environmental challenges that span many years—limited population and economic expansion, low educational attainment, a limited pool of skilled workers, high rates of poverty, and low community capacity to address priority issues of importance to the welfare of the area. The Southern Rural Development Center works with several partners on projects toward revitalization for the region's economy and communities.
- Master Farmer education and growing economic opportunities— With seed money from NIFA, SRDC began work in 2003 with extension directors and program leaders in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi to expand Louisiana's successful Master te Initiative—Following a May 2003 conference on the Mid-South Delta, SRDC, the Foundation for the Mid-South, and the directors of extension in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas began strategic discussions on how to align programs for a unique public-private partnership in the region. Partners are preparing Memoranda of Understanding for shared work in 2004 on economic and community development, leadership development, youth development.
- Walton Family Foundation Initiative Evaluation—SRDC began work in fall 2003 with the Walton Family Foundation on strategies to development appropriate measurement and assessment tools for the Foundation's programs in Arkansas and Mississippi.
- Mississippi Delta trends analysis—SRDC works with the Mississippi State University Remote Sensing Unit and Delta Data Center to collect, analyze, and generate information to guide the activities and investments of leaders, organizations, and citizens in an 18-county region in the Mississippi Delta. In 2004, SRDC will prepare a series of Delta briefs to highlight key trends and their implications for the region.
- Theory, models, and measures of integrated, holistic, collaborative community change: The North Central Regional Center for Rural Development works with the National Rural Funders Collaborative, the Benedum Foundation, the West Virginia Collaborative, the Northwest Areas Foundation, Heartland Center, and international partners toward theoretical advances in understanding community-driven and regional development and toward a new vocabulary and methodology for monitoring community investments. Early results of the work are published in diverse forms, including through the NCRCRD Web site. Two examples follow:
- Jim Richardson, Executive Director, National Rural Funders Collaborative, and Cornelia Butler Flora, NCRCRD Director, presented their research, Building Funder-NGO Collaboration: Building a Theory of Social Change, at the 2003 Community Development Society Annual Meeting.
- NCRCRD's newsletter includes Comprehensive Community Initiatives: Evaluating Multi-Level Collaboration for Systems Change.