[ Index ]
Developing rural services
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
- 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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
- 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
- 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.