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Developing rural services

Part 2
Implementing local services in rural areas


2.1 Identifying supply and demand


The implementation of local services in a
rural area requires an analysis of the trend
in the demand and prospects for services in
the area as a whole. This first step aims to
identify existing gaps between supply and
demand, which is the starting point for defining
the objectives and a strategy for an area project.

Both supply of and demand for services and the gaps between the two can be analysed from four complementary viewpoints:

  • in terms of distance;
  • in terms of adaptability;
  • in terms of quality;
  • in terms of price.


2.1.1 Analysing real and potential demand

Demand for local services depends firstly on the general behaviour and lifestyles that are to be found everywhere and that change with the passing of time. For example, it is now completely natural to be in contact with the outside world via the television and telephone and yet fifty years ago, this link with the outside world was mostly via writing and reading, e.g. newspapers and letters. Certain particularities may exist as a result of the income levels and the cultural identity of a rural area.

As a result, the identification of demand in a rural area consists, above all, of determining the lifestyles. These are the references for the people of the area in question and to which the inhabitants of the area remain attached. For instance, in many rural areas, the existence of a pub in an area is an expression of the pubís importance as a social and meeting place. Attachment to a village school or local pharmacist are other examples of social reference.

It is important to take account of the changes in terms of perception of needs and of constraints and opportunities that result from more general changes that were briefly analysed earlier in this guide.

Consideration of these factors leads to the identification of priorities, which are to a certain extent expressed and explicit. One way of making them more explicit is by giving the people concerned an opportunity to confront their needs. This could be conducted via a participatory analysis (village audit) or classic interviews exercises, or by using existing services to detect new needs, such as information and host structures, etc.

An analysis of these priorities leads to the analysis of the demand from four angles already mentioned above i.e. distance, adaptability, quality and price.

a) Analysing demand in terms of distance

Demand is relatively exacting in terms of distance according to the type of service, frequency of use and availability of transport. In some cases, the proximity of a service is indispensable for meeting the demand; in others, a certain distance to be travelled by the user becomes an acceptable condition.

More than the distance itself, the criteria to be considered are the time spent in travelling and the possibility to access several services in the same place. In this way, as a result of their lifestyles, consumers regard the geographical concentration of services as being very important.

b) Analysing demand in terms of adaptability

Several elements are involved in the demand for the adaptability of a service:

  • the periodic or irregular nature of demand, for instance, the need for access to a library can be monthly or bi-monthly, the purchase of meat can be weekly, etc.;

  • demands in terms of timetables.

Demand in terms of adaptability is linked to the trends of modern life and emerge from the needs of one parent families, working women, young people in search of social integration, etc.

The demand for adaptability is not always an obvious matter and can be expressed in the form of an unspecified general demand. Some people may, for example, ask for a full-time day nursery in a village and yet this need can be met by a nursery that opens only on market days. Demand should, therefore, be interpreted with a view to identifying the relevant level of adaptability.

Furthermore, situations of isolation can generate particular demands in terms of adaptability, such as the grouping together of information, linkages with other people or institutions, organisation of means of transport on demand, etc.

c) Analysing demand in terms of quality

Demand in terms of quality comes in two types, i.e.:

  • the technical quality of a service, established according to recognised standards and accepted by the communities on the basis of comparisons with the outside world and

  • the human qualities of a service, that is, everything relating to the relationships between those concerned, the type of welcome the user receives, the customisation of the service, etc.

d) Analysing demand in terms of price

Demand for services may be more or less solvent: even when it is relatively explicit, consumers may not always be able to fully afford a service. In this regard, the question of price, conditions and quality of the service arises.

e) Analysing real and potential demand

An analysis of the demand of services available does not only concern the inhabitants of the area but also people that are potentially interested in the area, e.g. tourists, people on short stay, new residents, etc. Tourist information services can play a role in identifying this type of demand.

This is the case with South Pembrokeshire (Wales, United Kingdom), where simple questionnaires are distributed to tourists in pubs, shops, etc., places that also play the role of information centres.

The questionnaires serve to identify the service needs of people passing through the area. This approach facilitates the development of adequate responses by local operators, in an area whose development depends heavily on tourism.


2.1.2 Analysing real and potential supply

Similarly to demand, the supply of services in a rural area can be analysed at four levels.

a) Analysing supply in terms of distance

An initial approach could consist of identifying the existing supply in terms of proximity i.e.:

Which services are still being provided locally?

Which services have been centralised? Where and for what reason?

What are the threats to the services still provided locally?

Which services have disappeared and for what reasons? How has it been compensated for?

Which services have moved closer to the service centres as a result of new technologies, mobility of services or other reasons?

What local distribution policies have been put in place to improve the quality of the life in the area as a whole?

The question arises also with regard to the accessibility of these different types of services, and as such, to the provision of existing collective transport. How many people are cut off from a service because they do not have appropriate transport services?

b) Analysing supply in terms of adaptability

How flexible is the service vis-ŗ-vis particular types of demand? For instance, are different types of services being grouped together within the same structure? Do multi-service providers exist?

How has service provision evolved in terms of adaptability? What are the examples of the evolution? What are the prevailing trends in the area: adaptability of services to new (demographic, economic, etc.) demands or rather discontinuation/concentration?

c) Analysing supply in terms of quality

To what extent do consumers participate in developing the services provided? How are their demands taken into consideration?

Which quality characteristics do local services have in comparison with those in nearby towns? In some cases, this question arises in terms of competition between a local service and a more concentrated one. For example, parents often prefer to send their children to schools farther away because they provide a higher quality education than the local school.

In other cases, the question occurs in terms of complementarity between a local service and a centralised service, making it possible to obtain a higher quality of life. For instance, a local medical service and a town hospital can work together in mutual complementarity.

d) Analysing supply in terms of price

At what prices are the different types of services sold in the area?

Who are the main competitors? In what way can the difference in price between what is paid locally and what is paid in town for the same service compensate for the cost of travel to town?

The price competitiveness of a service depends largely on the combination of resources that the service uses, i.e. public resources, voluntary work, existing infrastructure, etc. Which mechanisms or policies ensure, at the local level, an optimal combination of available resources, e.g., the participation of users, consultation between suppliers, etc.?

In short, the provision of services follows different trends depending on the type of supplier as the table below demonstrates.


Analysing supply according to type of supplier
Supplier Public sector Private sector Not-for-profit sector
Distance Decentralised in the past, the service now tends to follow a profitability and concentration approach. Centralisation of services aimed at the achievement of a sufficient critical mass for an economic balance. For certain services, voluntary resources and associations make it possible to maintain services at the local level.
Adaptability Rigidity of structures Special nature of the service reproducing the urban model. Nevertheless, there is search for adaptability when the decision- making capacity is closer to the area. Mobility of certain services (especially mobile traders and weekly markets; and occasionally mobile banks). Greater adaptability, personalisation and consideration of particular demands.
Quality Search for a standard quality. New mechanisms for taking consumers' demands into account. Quality can remain low in monopolistic situations or where there are no mechanisms through which consumers can exert pressure. Adaptation to quality standards, but even more to diversification as a result of competition. Lack of involvement of users. The growing precariousness of job security with negative repercussions on the quality of services. Extremely variable quality depending on the level of recognition, available resources, etc. More than the structure, quality depends on the level of personal involvement of those providing the service. Effort to involve suppliers and consumers.
Price Standard prices or free of charge services. The price varies according to the level of income of the consumer. Subject to competition. The closer services are to scattered populations the more expensive they are. Free services or services priced according to the consumer's level of income. These services are mainly aimed at palliating deficits.


2.1.3 Identifying the gaps between supply and demand

Following the same logic as the one used in the analysis of demand and supply, the gaps between supply and demand can appear in four ways:

  • in terms of distance: there is a gap when the service sought by the consumer is to be found at a distance beyond the acceptable limit for the consumer due to the cost, time involved in travelling or lack of access to adequate means of transport. In general, the geographical distribution of services does not respond to consumer expectations.

  • in terms of adaptability: there is a gap if service provision is not capable of meeting the needs of the users in terms of the diversity of proposed services, modalities made available, timetables, rigidity in the design and use of the structure or a specialised approach (the only response to a scarcely populated area is the discontinuation of the service);

  • in terms of quality: there is a gap when there is no adaptation to the content of the service, when the opinion of consumers is not taken into consideration and when a scattered demand makes it impossible to provide a service of acceptable quality;

  • in terms of cost: gaps in terms of price appear when the prices are incompatible with the purchasing power of consumers, e.g. disadvantaged social groups.

Identifying the gaps between the supply and demand of services requires consultation of the inhabitants through surveys, participatory analyses, an office to receive complaints, etc. Here also, the establishment of an order of priority is particularly important for identifying the elements that are decisive in maintaining people or for attracting newcomers.


    Quality-distance and intensity-distance relationships: two conclusions

    • Quality-distance
      In a similar way to products (in the agri-food or tourism sectors for example), services are subject to a quality-distance analysis by the consumer. If the quality of the service is low, its proximity is not a determining factor of demand, even if access to the service does not involve travel.

    • Intensity-distance
      The intensity of using a service (on a daily, periodic or exceptional basis) is also a factor determining demand. For services used only exceptionally, e.g. obtaining a building licence, passport, etc., the consumer is inclined to travel longer distances, whereas for the services linked to everyday life, proximity is an important factor. Thanks to appropriate technologies, however, certain exceptionally used services can be supplied locally, thus improving the quality of life of rural dwellers.

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