Network Definitions and Diversity
Rural networks and networking
Networks and networking are widely recognised and adopted as key tools for supporting and promoting sustainable rural development. There are many different types of rural network driven by a great variety of goals and objectives which are improving the well-being, capacity and resilience of rural communities around the world by informing, inspiring and empowering local people on a daily basis.
All rural networks are built upon a “web of interactions” consisting of ‘nodes’ and ‘linkages’ where i) the ‘nodes’ are the rural actors and stakeholders (individuals / organisations) that form the membership of the network, and ii) the ‘linkages’ are the connections / relationships that exist between them. Some linkages will be strong, others will be weak.
By encouraging and promoting interaction between different rural actors and stakeholders, rural networks facilitate and encourage learning, innovation and the building of capacity (human and social capital) based on the experience of others in the network.
There is no single definition of what a ‘network’ means in the context of rural development. Rural networks commonly vary in terms of:
- their focus (i.e. geographical reach, specific rural focus and specialist areas of expertise);
- the nature of the work that they engage in (i.e. practical advice, support and lobbying functions);
- the nature of their members (i.e. individuals, communities, practitioners, organisations etc.);
- their membership structure (i.e. formal or informal membership), and;
- their reliance on private / public funding to cover operational costs.
In the United Kingdom and Ireland alone, a recent study (Miller, M. & Wallace, J. (2012): Rural Development Networks, A Mapping Exercise’, CarnegieUK Trust) counted a total of 232 local, national and trans- / inter-national rural development networks. The same study identified that the most important reasons for local people to access these rural networks were to:
- Receive advice and information;
- Share local learning and experiences;
- Develop creative ways to solve local problems and needs;
- Identify sources of funding.
Overall, the research found that “…involvement with rural networks provided users with a feeling of confidence when tackling a range of issues within their community”.