How much do you know about countryside issues? It’s all about fox hunting, rich farmers and idyllic holiday spots, right? Wrong. Whilst this is the image many of us may hold, the British and Irish countryside are undergoing profound social, economic and environmental changes – but city dwellers (i.e. the majority of the population) hardly ever get to hear about the real issues: unemployment, poverty, fragmentation of communities, social deprivation, obsolete skills, isolation… The list could go on.
This is partly because the countryside is marginal to many political interests, partly because the media only latch on to issues once they spill into conflict, and partly because these issues are mediated, managed and ‘represented’ by a range of public bodies – many of which have a vested interest in presenting issues in ways that suit them.
In other words, the voice of real people in the countryside is hardly ever heard. It is against this background that the Carnegie Commission for Rural Community Development was established in March 2004, as part of the Carnegie UK Trust established in 1913 by world-renowned philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Chaired by Lord (David) Steel of Aikwood, the Rural Commission works to examine and promote ways in which rural residents across the United Kingdom and Ireland can be empowered to shape and influence change, creating strong and sustainable communities. Its main activities are to:
- Identify, analyse and advocate for more effective public policies and programmes that strengthen the voice and sustainability of rural communities.
- Facilitate the wide exchange of ideas between policy makers and people living and working in rural communities.
- Work with partner organisations to maximise the resource available for rural community development.
The combination of action research, community empowerment and connected conversations required by the Commission was a perfect match to our interests and passion. Working closely with the Commission, and in partnership with David Wilcox, we recently implemented the first phase of the Commission’s online strategy.
The Commission’s website, which combines an intuitive content management system with a flexible weblog engine based on Movable Type, was launched at the Commission’s first Rural Convention in Cardiff on 31 March 2005 as is already being used as an essential communication and networking tool, linking the Action Research Programme with a range of countryside stakeholders.
Over time, the Commission aims to expand on these initial capabilities, allowing local communities to set up their own online groups, and supporting these with a range of physical capacity building events. We look forward to assisting the Commission further in the adoption of appropriate online social networking tools and techniques.
Carnegie Rural Commission:
Using public weblogs to help coordinate distributed project activity