This report for the European Committee of the Regions aims at identifying the mainstreaming potentials of existing rural proofing methodologies and territorial impact assessment methodologies in the EU policy process.It was written by Roland Gaugitsch, Isabella Messinger, Wolfgang Neugebauer, Bernd Schuh (ÖIR); Maria Toptsidou, Kai Böhme (Spatial Foresight). Its executive summary is reproduced below.
The study Rural proofing – a foresight framework for resilient rural communities is focussing on a term that has become in recent years a prominent concept within rural development. Rural areas are considered as particularly at-risk regarding disparities and unbalanced impacts of policies on EU level and other levels of governance, therefore the idea of “rural proofing”, namely ensuring that “thinking rural” becomes part of the policy design at all governance levels, potential negative impacts are addressed and positive aspects of a policy are fostered. Rural proofing is called for by the Cork Declaration 2.0, by the EU long-term-vision on rural areas and is a declared approach of the 2022 Work Programme of the European Commission.
Rural proofing is furthermore included in the Better Regulation Agenda at multiple points. From a methodological point of view it is close to Territorial Impact Assessment (TIA) as recognised by the Better Regulation Toolbox, tool #34 in its approach of focussing on assessing impacts based on specific regional traits and characteristics. Rural proofing however is not only an impact assessment process, but rather part of the overall policy design. “Thinking rural” needs to be relevant at all stages, from drafting the initial policy strategy all the way to impact assessment after implementation.
Based on expert interviews and literature review, an assessment of existing rural proofing approaches in (mainly) national circumstances was conducted in the study, identifying main challenges and main success factors for implementing rural proofing. Building on this knowledge, a grid assessment of existing TIA approaches was conducted in order to identify potentials and shortcomings of those methodologies for rural proofing. While some methodologies are not well suited due to their methodological approach or geographic focus, three particular methodologies were identified that can potentially contribute to rural proofing exercises. The TIA Quick Check, territorial foresight as well as EATIA carry such a potential, all of which apply different approaches regarding territorial demarcation, use of quantitative data and expert involvement.
As none of those methodologies has yet been applied for rural proofing, three cases demonstrating the practical application in hypothetical examples were developed. The test runs do not only serve as practical examples, but also contributed to identifying shortcomings in practical application. Based on those test-runs a number of recommendations for further development of those tools could be made. Inter alia, improvements are advised to specific tools, increasing their geographical resolution and database flexibility as well as visualisations. Furthermore particular guidance for application in rural proofing as well as adapting templates provided to the specific application are recommended.
Apart from specific of methodologies, the wider implementation of rural proofing in policymaking, including supporting measures has been assessed. The study has shown, that rural proofing where it has been applied rarely succeeded if it consisted only of a checklist approach or an individual methodology. Key factor for successful implementation was the establishment of a responsible ministerial department or other governmental body for rural proofing. Those bodies should provide expert input to other departments on thematic and methodological issues, act as a networking and exchange platform, and in general be involved in policy drafting processes from early stages onward. A solid basis for rural proofing within the legislative framework is also considered as a key success factor.
Therefore, a better link between the EU legislative process as laid down in the Better Regulation Guidelines, the existing emphasis on Territorial Impact Assessment and Rural Proofing will be necessary. For example, at EU level, tool #34 should be expanded in order to address, how TIA can serve rural proofing exercises, and how the methods currently included can be used in practice. Another entry point for such an integration may be the preliminary impact assessment stage, where the use of a territorial lens (including the rural one) may serve as horizontal first assessment step to identify potential impacts of the sectoral dimensions (economic, social, environmental etc.) in different types of territories.
The study provides detailed recommendations on the above topics, aiming to contribute to the development and mainstreaming of rural proofing and TIA at all governance levels. Not only the EU level, but also national and regional levels are addressed and specific guidance for them is provided. Ultimately, the study should contribute to the debate on rural proofing raising awareness about the issue, but also provides concrete recommendations for the successful implementation.
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