Newsletter No 1 March 2011

Tools for understanding and discussing future development options: Mapping, modeling and visualizing European rural dynamics.


Derek van Berkel

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a highly influential policy mechanism in rural areas of the EU constituting nearly half of the EU budget (55 billion). In the Netherlands alone approximately 950 million Euros are directed to farming businesses annually, complementing the majority of farmer incomes, and making rural livelihoods interdependent with the CAP. 

Significant changes to current subsidization and subsidy structure are now being debated with pressure for increased liberalization as started in previous rounds of CAP reforms being considered for CAP 2013. Three subsidy scenarios have been considered by the European commission, all include less funding for agricultural production and perhaps more funds for broader rural development (CAP2020). This is expected to cause changes like increased agricultural intensification, as well as land abandonment or waning functionality for some rural regions (EURURALIS). Foresight into how these policy changes could influence the diversity of rural regions would help inform policymakers’ development interventions for sustaining societal relevant rural functionalities while helping rural stakeholders in anticipating changing demands and pressures felt in their communities.

My PhD study has mostly focused on these questions of future rural change associated with CAP reform. The research investigates different methods for deliberating about development options for rural regions while considering regionally distinct capacities. It hypothesized that by illuminating some of the assets and constraints through mapping territorial capital and by using exploratory scenario and modeled simulation to initiate stakeholder discussions regarding rural processes, more insight can be gained for future efficient development pathways.  The research began with an EU-wide mapping assessment of rural ‘territorial capital’ for the continuation or development of intensive agriculture, off-farm employment, rural tourism, nature conservation and multifunctionality. To capture the finer nuances of such development determinants, local investigations were done. At local scales, we use tools like scenario storylines, photo-realistic visualisations and an agent-based model for simulating possible futures. This was thought to provoke rural stakeholder dialogues in stakeholder workshops for obtaining greater insights into development capacities. Throughout the work a special focus has been placed on the spatial heterogeneity of such development factors.  A short review of the different methods is given below. 

An assessment of development options in the EU was made by collecting spatial data of the territorial capital for different rural functions relevant to EU society. These layers were weighted according to their positive (assets) or negative (constraints) influence for development. For example rural tourism was assessed by overlaying maps of beaches, annual temperature and coastline to indicate sun, sand and sea tourism. This was also done for nature (beautiful landscape, tourism attraction etc.) and winter tourism (snow, topography). Finally, all these different tourism demands were combined and multiplied by a factor of regional symbolic capital (specialty products, rural development initiatives) to indicate where rural tourism might be competitive (figure 1).  A similar exercise was completed for the other rural options, for example conservation (rare species and habitat with few human pressures) as can be seen in figure 2. Such an assessment, while data intensive, provides policymakers with a highly targeted approach to considerations of rural development projects by identifying where competitive areas are located and perhaps more importantly where under-competitive regions might be targeted with policy interventions. Of course future demands and processes (e.g. more retirees, changing infrastructure and climate change) will undoubtedly influence the dynamics of these development options, with some development trajectories less reversible than others (i.e., intensive agriculture).  Regardless, the maps indicate a window of opportunity for development and an opportunity to open up discussions about regional competitiveness. (Van Berkel & Verburg, 2011)

space 1a

Local scale studies of the PhD research have focused on creating stakeholder dialogues discussing different development options based on regional capacities. The first investigation tested the use of exploratory scenarios and photo-realistic images for discussing different development options in the Northern Portuguese Parish of Castro Laboreiro.  Regional actors were interviewed to assess their wishes for the future and rural expert consulted to ascertain how endogenous (e.g., depopulation) and exogenous factors (e.g., CAP changes) would influence the region.  These findings were then translated in scenarios for discussions with stakeholders in a community stakeholder workshop. Scenarios were “brought to life” through 3D maps and photo realistic images that depicted how such developments could alter regional land use and rural functionality (figure 3). The method gave insights regarding the spatial configurations of challenges and opportunities for regional development that may not have been achieved without using maps and photos.  A similar method could be used by local policymaking for integrative community design of development interventions that are acceptable to the wider community and embedded in local understanding of local processes (Van Berkel et al., In Press).

space 2a

Further investigation at the local scale will be conducted into how an agent-based model can be used to stimulate and frame a stakeholder workshop dialogue. The research will be done in the Achterhoek region of the Netherlands for which a multi-agent model that simulates stakeholder interaction, local environmental conditions and exogenous factors (e.g., population increases, policy changes) through scenario simulations has been made. While the model output will aid in understanding rural dynamics, the interactions of stakeholders with the tool may enable a richer understanding of local nuances.

A final proposed study for the PhD will link cultural ecosystem services to rural development by mapping respondents’ characterization of a ‘sense of place’, landscape aesthetics and spirituality.

By the end of the PhD I hope to have given insight into several methods that can open up productive discussions about different development options for rural area stakeholders while framing these dialogues in understanding of policy changes and spatially heterogeneous environmental consideration.

Van Berkel, D. & Verburg, P.H., 2011. Sensitising rural policy: Assessing spatial variation in rural development options for Europe. Land Use Policy 28(3): 447-45. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2010.09.002

Contact: Peter Verburg