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Unleashing Rural Science Society Policy Interfaces: The SHERPA experience

BLOG – 24/10/2023
by Jorieke Potters, Wageningen Research

The SHERPA project has been a driving force in facilitating meaningful engagement between rural actors, scientists, policymakers, and society in the development of modern rural policies. Through the creation of Rural Science Society Policy Interfaces, known as Multi-Actor Platforms (MAPs), SHERPA has demonstrated the potential to drive rural development, enrich the knowledge base, and empower rural communities across Europe. This blog post explores the SHERPA project’s insights, lessons learned, and recommendations for building stronger, connected, resilient, and prosperous rural areas.

Engaging Rural Actors

SHERPA effectively engaged rural actors through its science society policy interfaces. These platforms served as hubs for dialogue, enabling the identification of environmental, social, and economic challenges, knowledge gaps, and the effectiveness of existing policies. This bottom-up approach aligns with the EU’s goal of involving citizens in shaping future policies and supports the exploration of innovative rural development approaches. Over half of the MAPs continue their operations post-project, reflecting the sustained value of these interfaces in rural governance.

Designing, supporting and running effective rural Interfaces

The success of science-society-policy interfaces hinges on several key factors:

  • Balancing science, society, and policy is a delicate process of translating and connecting which requires a strong network and a good understanding of different perspectives on the topic under discussion. Early involvement of policy actors is crucial for impactful contributions to policy processes.
  • Bridging broader policy agendas and calendars with concrete rural processes and issues on the ground is vital.
  • The use of discussion papers can serve as a common starting point and facilitate impartial dialogues..
  • Facilitators play a pivotal role in organising a meaningful dialogue. Flexibility in methods and trust-building are essential for open and constructive conversations.
  • MAP Position Papers serve as tangible outcomes representing shared recommendations. Careful content selection ensures the translation of specific messages into broader policy areas.

Meaningful Contributions to Rural Development Policy

Science society policy interfaces have proven their significance for rural governance and development though four distinct avenues:

These rural interfaces strengthen the bottom-up evidence for EU policy on rural areas. They also influence national, regional, and local rural governance and contribute to rural emancipation.

By enriching the knowledge base, engaging new actors, and building trust, rural interfaces enhance the quality of rural dialogues.

Rural science society policy interfaces inspire new rural development initiatives and expand the horizons of existing ones.

Engaging in science society policy interfaces enhances the capacity of rural actors to facilitate rural dialogues, to empathize with different perspectives and to understand multi-level governance.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

The SHERPA project offers valuable insights and recommendations for leveraging the potential of rural science society policy interfaces:

  1. Allocate resources: Supporting rural facilitator roles in science society policy interfaces pays of and requires dedicated resources to ensure effective operation.
  2. Enhance transparency in policy agendas
  3. Clear invitations: Policymakers should extend clear and timely invitations for rural areas.
  4. Practical knowledge: Research projects should prioritize producing practical knowledge products relevant for rural dialogue to ensure research findings contribute to rural development.
  5. Active involvement of researchers: Researchers should actively participate in rural development efforts to enrich the knowledge base and enhance the quality of rural conversations.
  6. Alignment with rural realities: A resolute intention to align EU policy with rural realities is crucial to reflect specific needs.
  7. Listening and integration: Policymakers should commit to listening to and to integrating rural recommendations into policy to ensure the voices of rural actors are heard and considered.

The road done

The SHERPA project’s experience demonstrates the potential of Rural Science Society Policy Interfaces in shaping the future of rural areas in Europe. As we move forward, a firm commitment is needed to sustain and expand the impact of these interfaces, ensuring stronger, connected, resilient, and prosperous rural areas integrated into the fabric of European society.

Don’t miss the second phase of the SHERPA report on ‘Findings of monitoring and evaluation’ to find out more.

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