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Dynamics of rural areas

Contract nr: FAIR-CT98-4162
Project nr: 4162
Project type: SC
Starting date: 01/09/1999
Duration: 24 months
Total cost: 842,717 EUR
EC Contribution: 736,906 EUR
Scientific Officer: Muriel HUYBRECHTS
Research topic: Development of rural areas
Acronym: DORA

The differentiated nature of rural areas was recognised in the paper on the future of rural society (EC, 1988), in the Cork Declaration (EC, 1996), and in the "First Report on Economic and Social Cohesion" (EC, 1996). The DORA project seeks to improve our understanding of the factors underlying and explaining the persistent differences in economic performance between rural localities. A better understanding of these factors is a key element in devising practical strategies and programmes for sustainable rural development. Unique in the DORA project is the fact that National Steering Groups in each country, made up of practitioners and policy-makers, will guide the research. Among other things, this will ensure that the results are fed directly into policy-making and practice.

The core research question is:
Why do rural areas in apparently similar economic, social and environmental circumstances have markedly different performances over relatively long periods of time?

The objectives of the proposed research are:
1. to identify and measure the significant economic changes taking place in different types of rural area;
2. to develop from the literature on regional convergence and divergence a set of explanatory variables which can be measured directy or indirectly in rural areas at NUTS 3 or below, dealing with both 'tangible' and 'less tangible' factors, and to generate hypotheses which link these factors to the economic performance of the study areas;
3. to explain the differences between 'well performing' and 'less well performing' rural economic performance over time by analysis of these 'tangible' and 'less tangible' factors;
4. to assess the ways in which contextual factors (national, regional) influence processes of differentiation in development trajectories through comparative analysis;
5. hence, to improve our understanding of the factors underlying differential performance of rural areas in contemporary western Europe, and their relative importance in different contexts;
6. to provide improved guidance for strategic programming of public intervention in different types of rural area and for policy and practice in general;
7. to propose new data for the analysis of rural development processes at local levels which can be applied at EU level, and transfer experience in the methods of collecting such data in different countries, contexts and statistical levels.

This project addresses Area 4.6 of the call (Rural Development), in particular Area 4.6.2, focusing on the changes under way in rural areas in Europe. It involves an analysis of the `tangible' and `less tangible' factors underlying the differential development of rural areas in Europe, using eight pairs of study areas chosen from two contrasting regions selected from within four countries - Germany, Greece, Sweden and Scotland. The two regions have been selected according to three criteria - GDP, policy programme status and degree of rurality (according to OECD criteria). The pairs of study areas within each region have been selected according to contrasting economic performance measured by a range of statistical indicators (including population change, migration trends, employment change, and business start-up rates) over a 10- to15-year period. One study area in the regional pair `performs well' according to these indicators whilst the other `performs less well'.
The basic hypothesis of DORA is that the differential development of rural areas with access to similar resources can be explained by a combination of `tangible' and `less tangible' factors and the way in which these interact in specific national, regional and local contexts. These factors not only define different opportunities and constraints for local development, but also illustrate how effective the local and regional system is in tapping resources and opportunities and improving constraints. The factors to be analysed in DORA have been drawn from several disciplines including economics, economic and social geography, and anthropology. The five `tangible' factors include natural resource endowment and quality, human resources, infrastructure, and economic structures, whilst the five `less tangible' factors include institutions, market performance, networks, community and culture, and quality of life. Whilst `tangible' factors are important in accounting for differential performance, we believe that it is the `less tangible' factors that determine how, and how well, `tangible' factors are put to use for local economic development.

Current situation:
The DORA partners have chosen their regions and study areas (Figure 1) and are currently collecting information from the public records on the `tangible' factors. Information is also being collected for the context study to ensure that the analysis of the differential performance of the study areas is put in regional, national and European contexts, particularly with regard to institutions and policies. The first National Steering Group meeting has been held recently by each national team.
The teams are also working on finalising the research methodology, to ensure comparability between the countries, but also allowing some flexibility for the strengths and experiences of the researchers in each national team. In recognition of the inter-disciplinary nature of the project, and of the research teams involved, we are anticipating using both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Fieldwork for the project is expected to begin in spring 2000 and will probably continue for the remainder of the year, including some time for analysis. 2001 will be spent doing further analysis and writing national and international reports. In addition to further Steering Group Meetings, a final meeting will be held at the end of the project in September in Brussels, to ensure that results are fully discussed with external experts, policy-makers and practitioners at EU, national and regional levels.

Figure 1: Regions and study areas

Highlands & Islands
Dumfries & Galloway
Norra Norrland
South-east Sweden
Sterea Ellada (Plain area)

Thessaly/ Peloponnisos (Mountain area)
"Well performing" study area
Orkney Islands
Annandale & Eskdale
Storuman, Sorsele & Lycksele
Kinda, Boxholm, Odeshog, Ydre & Aneby
"Less well performing" study area
Luechow Dannenburg
Overkalix Pajala & Gallivare
Hultsfred & Vetlanda


The Arkleton Centre for Rural Development Research
University of Aberdeen
St. Mary's
Elphinstone Road
UK-AB24 3UF Aberdeen
Tel.: +44 1224 272 352/ 273 901
Fax: +44 1224 272 331

  • Helmut SCHRADER
    FAL Braunschweig
    Bundesallee 50
    D-38116 Braunschweig
    Tel.: +49 5315 967 06
    Fax: +49 5315 963 22

  • Lars-Olof PERSSON
    Nordic Centre for Spatial Development
    Box 1658
    S-111 86 Stockholm
    Tel.: +46 8 46 35 434
    Fax: +46 8 46 35 401

    Agricultural University of Athens
    Department of Agricultural Economics
    Iera Odos 75
    GR-11855 Athens
    Tel.: +30 1 529 47 71
    Fax: +30 1 529 47 64
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