Dr. Rob Greenwood

Big lessons from small places

If you ask Dr. Rob Greenwood, director of the Harris Centre, it is a no-brainer that universities and research institutions play an essential role in helping rural and remote areas thrive.

“Universities are more than educators; their researchers create and diffuse knowledge, and as such they are essential to economic and social development,” said Dr. Greenwood. “Now, the rapid pace of societal change means there is an even greater need for high-quality rural research, responsive rural policy and, in turn, the best possible support for rural communities.”

In that vein, Dr. Greenwood recently took the lead in organizing an international conference on rural research and policy that brought about 200 rural researchers, policy makers, and leaders to Twillingate from around the world on Oct. 13-15, 2005 to share their research and experiences.

The conference, Big Lessons from Small Places: A Forum on Governance in Rural North America and the North Atlantic Rim, was a joint initiative between the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF), of which Dr. Greenwood is also president, the North Atlantic Islands Program, and two community-based organizations - the Twillingate-New World Island Development Association and the Twillingate Island Tourism Association. An annual event, this year’s CRRF conference was held in conjunction with the inaugural National Rural Research Network conference, held on Oct. 12.

Big Lessons from Small Places was opened by Dr. Godfrey Baldacchino, the Canada Research Chair, in Island Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island, former Newfoundland Premier Brian Peckford and Inuvik Mayor Peter Clarkson.

By all accounts, the conference went off without a hitch, but not without a lot of hard work and a good dose of cautious optimism on the part of Dr. Greenwood and his team of organizers. All along, Dr. Greenwood, who spearheaded this idea, was adamant that the conference should be held in Twillingate.

Big lessons from small places

Gordon Noseworthy of the Twillingate Harbour Authority talks with conference participants, including former Premier Brian Peckford, on the Fisheries Field Trip.

“Although there were obvious logistical challenges, there were many more tangible benefits. Holding a conference on rural research in a rural area is important because it helps raise community awareness that it is not alone - that other places face similar challenges and that it does not have to reinvent the wheel, the community can learn from these experiences.

“It also helps keep our researchers grounded, reminding them of the difficulties that rural communities face, including high travel costs, old infrastructure, and less advanced technology. And finally, by hiring local organizers and employing community groups, it helps build capacity.”

Cottlesville resident Cheryl Cassell was hired as the on-the-ground conference organizer in Twillingate. She said that every part of the community pulled together - from the student volunteers, to community groups who provided catering, to the children participating in the closing night choir. Ms Cassell worked closely with Memorial PhD candidate in Sociology, Deatra Walsh, who served as program coordinator.

CRRF, www.crrf.ca, is a national not-for-profit organization whose mission is to revitalize rural Canada through education and research for rural leaders in the community, the private sector and in government.

The Harris Centre is the educational, coordinating and outreach arm for Memorial’s activities related to regional policy and development.