Involving Rural Stakeholders in the Implementation of Rural Development Policies

In 2015, Dr Maura Farrell, Dr Marie Mahon and Dr John McDonagh, from the Discipline of Geography formed a four-partner consortium that made a successful bid to run Ireland’s National Rural Network (NRN) on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), and the Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD). Since forming the NRN partnership, the team in NUI Galway has expanded to include, Dr Therese Conway, Dr Shane Conway, Dr Aisling Murtagh and Dr Teresa Hooks.  The NRN acts as the dissemination and support network for Ireland’s Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2014-2020 on behalf of these two departments. Its primary aim is to increase the involvement of rural stakeholders in the implementation of rural development policies, while fostering innovation in agriculture, food production, forestry and rural area development.  The NUI Galway team is responsible for managing the NRN’s activities on four areas of the RDP including; The LEADER Programme, European Innovation Partnership for Agriculture Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI), Farm Viability and Competitiveness, and Smart Villages. 

Through its expertise, initiative, professional approach and a record of successfully meeting objectives, the NUIG team has developed high levels of trust and respect with numerous rural development and agricultural organisations, both nationally and internationally.  These include EU National Rural Network organisations, the EU Commission, The European Network for Rural Development; and nationally, all Local Action Groups delivering the LEADER Programme, as well as organisations such as Teagasc, Macra na Feirme and Ireland’s farming bodies.  Such collaborations have resulted in the NUI Galway team becoming increasingly instrumental in proposing and promoting activities and events that have enhanced shared learning in the network and community benefits from Ireland’s Rural Development Programme. 

Nationally and internationally, the NUI Galway team has been highly commended for their visualisation approach to community engagement, especially the LEADER and EIP-AGRI Story Boards, which have enhanced public engagement in rural issues and funding opportunities.  The team have reached large rural audiences through other mechanisms, including, the formation of a series of rural stakeholder groups; topic-specific workshops and public meetings that draw together Government Departments, NGOs and community representatives; a series of newsletters, and publications of successful EIP-AGRI projects, both in English and as Gaeilge. 

Working on the NRN project has provided a unique opportunity for NUIG to become centrally involved in promoting rural issues at everyday societal and policy levels.  At every juncture, the team at NUI Galway have raised public awareness about the importance of the rural to economic, social, cultural and political life at national and EU levels. Conventional academic research achieves levels of insight and impact through tightly-focused objectives and deliverables; however, a rural network develops using relationships to achieve objectives and goals in a decentralised, collaborative way, promoting innovative and adaptive ideas and initiatives. Complementing our rural research activity, the NUI Galway team, identified the NRN as a perfect medium to maintain involvement and influence over rural change and development for the betterment of rural communities and localities.