New research techniques reach out to rural areas

The CCRI has a long pedigree of using traditional research methods within social sciences and collectively has decades of experience within its team.

Over the past few months, we have been exploring a set of new research techniques and asking people to help us with their development. For several years we have been discussing the opportunities that such methods could bring and the difference they could bring in helping us inform decision makers, but largely this has been in the realm of ‘wouldn’t it be good if……’

Now we have broken through a barrier, made possible by the spread of rural broadband (I am not suggesting that it is adequate, but it works for some people in some areas) and the advent of the smartphone as a technology that is now in the hands of a majority of adults. Along with this has been a demographic shift  as we see more and more older people adopting ICT as part of their everyday lives. These changes mean that rather than just asking questions of technologically literate people, we can access a sample of individuals who represent the population as a whole.

These new ways of collecting data are important for rural communities as in a society where online opinion and communication, it is critical that rural areas are not left out. As recent initiatives about ensuring that rural voices are heard and the future of agriculture post-EU have shown, it is critical that the rural voice is heard loud and clear.

There are three CCRI related projects that are changing how we are thinking about the online and the rural.

1.The RSN sponsored Rural Panel Survey

We have had more than 2000 people take part in this survey, more than 1200 offer to join the panel, and the number of respondents keeps growing as more and more people hear about it. As this develops in the future, it will give us the opportunity to ask people about the experience of life in rural areas and their opinions in a straightforward way, so that the RSN and its partners can reflect these directly to decision makers. In turn, this depends on the email lists, twitter feeds and Facebook pages that link various rural people together, so rather than a quick flash of completions it has been a slow burn of people hearing about and responding to our call as they wish to have their say. Social media has enabled (for better and worse) many more people to have their say.

2.Local food app

This EU sponsored project is looking at developing a smartphone app about the provision of local food and helping people get access to it. While most of us now use phone apps on a daily basis, they depend on a constant stream of data to ensure that they respond to requests and have the information that people need to make decisions. This development has been informed by an online survey  and Marco Della Gala, our Marie Curie fellowship scholar who leads the project, who has been out at farmers’ markets asking people about their needs and wants before settling down to create the actual app. I’m not going to pretend that I understand the technicalities of what he is doing but in the CCRI we catch glimpses of a smartphone app taking shape. As soon as it is available for testing and comment, we will let you know.

3. Evaluating the use of 3D landscape visualisation technology (Google Earth) for enhancing and improving participation in Natural Flood Management (NFM)

This is the research project run by Kate Smith, who is doing her Masters by Research Degree with us. This project is exploring the role of 3D landscape visualisations in improving decision making about flood management. That sounds like a blizzard of technical terms, but when you give it a try, the experience is far more user-friendly. You can access the survey at – please follow the instructions to download the file and view the interactive Google Earth tour.

You can help shape the way in which research takes its new form by contributing to any or all of these projects.