A report released by Memorial University’s Leslie Harris Centre of Regional Policy and Development (the Harris Centre) takes an in-depth look at communities across the province and identifies successful approaches and challenges to regional governance. The report examines regional collaboration as an important strategy for rural communities facing social, economic and ecological change.
Understanding Regional Governance in Newfoundland and Labrador: A Survey of Regional Development Organizations, was led by Memorial University’s Dr. Kelly Vodden, associate professor, Environmental Policy Institute, Grenfell Campus (cross-appointed to the Faculty of Arts’ Department of Geography), along with Dr. Heather Hall, postdoctoral fellow, Department of Geography and the Harris Centre, and Dr. David Freshwater, professor of agricultural economics, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and adjunct professor, Memorial University’s department of geography. This core group collaborated with a research team and an advisory committee representing a cross-section of government and regional organizations over a five year period.
“It was critical that the project engage with communities and organizations throughout the province,” said Dr. Rob Greenwood, executive director of the Harris Centre. “Their input provided insight into how regions within our province work together, helping us develop a practical guide for public policy decision-makers.”
The findings of the research suggest that while communities have long been coming together at a regional or multi-community level to address challenges, regional efforts have increased substantially since the 1980’s and 1990’s. This regional collaboration, through both formal institutions and more informal social arrangements, has resulted in a number of advantages for communities, including economic benefits, sharing of ideas, mutual support and improved environmental management.
Dr. Vodden explained that the forces of change that have encouraged communities to collaborate with one another have come from both within and outside their regions.
“Both provincial and federal levels of government have encouraged regional development approaches,” explained Vodden, “but many community leaders also see the advantages – and the necessity – of working together as their demographic and financial realities change.” She added, that regional governance and collaboration does not come without challenges and requires significant investments in relationship and capacity building at the local level.
“With the loss of Regional Economic Development Boards, Employment Assistance Services offices and school boards, stakeholders across the province have begun to come together to discuss what development in their regions will look like going forward,” Vodden elaborated. “These are critical discussions at a time when more, rather than less, development capacity is required in many rural regions.”
The research also describes a trend towards large provincially defined geographic regions which are cited by stakeholders as extremely difficult to serve. Findings of the report suggest they are often not optimal for sharing services or planning for economic development. Alternatively, the report suggests regions should be smaller and based on factors such as labour flows, service areas, natural resources and amenities that reflect residents’ sense of place.
“When regions come together at this smaller scale it is often organically. The interconnections between social and economic development, for example, tend to be evident in these smaller regions,” says Vodden.
Driven by the mandates and funding programs of individual departments, the report suggests most regional initiatives in Newfoundland and Labrador have yet to take an integrated approach to development. “This creates silos,” says Vodden, “but also contributes to the complex layering and maze of regions and organizational structures and processes across the province.”
The research was made possible with support from Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Market Development Agreement, Service Canada, the Department of Advanced Education and Skills, and Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador.
The report is available online at www.mun.ca/harriscentre/reports.