Project Overview

What is the purpose of this project?

This research aims to understand how change in remote, rural and island communities can be measured and responded to, and how it can be encouraged, now and in the future. Ultimately, the project intends to understand and aid ways for key stakeholders to work with rural communities, in order to create and maintain positive and resilient change. The way we carry out our work has been designed to better understand the lived experiences of people living in remote, rural and island communities, and how these places are experienced by different groups of people (young people, older people, minority groups). We hope that we can assist impactful policy interventions, that are tailored to specific communities, where they are most needed.

Why is this research important?

Rural communities in Scotland are facing critical challenges, including population decline and a lack of viable services in many areas. In the last decade events such as Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have further tested the resilience of these communities, accentuating pre-existing issues and provoking change. Researchers at the James Hutton Institute will work with a range of communities across rural and island Scotland to gather information about the ways in which rural life is changing and how positive changes can be made to help communities. The changes across these communities include population change, innovations within communities, and transport and housing developments. The research aims to help amplify ‘the rural movement’ by making sure that rural and island voices are heard, to form better understanding of life in these places and to inform policymakers of what their needs are.

How will this process work?

This ongoing study will run from 2023 to 2027. This timespan will give us a snapshot of changes that can happen within rural communities over a discrete period of time. This project will engage with participants repeatedly over the coming years, to learn how their perspectives on issues within their community change – or don’t change – over time. The intended result of such research is that it will give us a good grounding in the ways in which positive trajectories can be aided and challenges can be overcome. As part of the research process, we will undertake individuals living in rural communities, up to 3 with each person, carried out in three phases between Spring 2023 and Summer 2026. People living in select rural and island areas in Orkney, North-East Scotland, South Uist, Argyll and the Islands, South-West Scotland, North-West Highlands, and Lewis will be invited to take part. Interviews will take approximately 1 hour and will be carried out with one or two researchers from the James Hutton Institute. We will also work with community groups in these places to co-design a research process that aims to facilitate positive change for those communities in a way they agree is beneficial.  This ‘action-research’ approach means that we are working with communities to develop research that meets their identified needs and facilitates action or impact through the research process.

How will this research benefit our participants?

Following anonymous interviews, key themes will be shared with the Scottish Government’s Rural Economy and Communities Stakeholder Group (a group set up by the Scottish Government to ensure rural voices feed into their rural economy, communities, and islands policy teams). Any feedback from these meetings, or impact generated as a result of these meetings will be shared with the communities in which we are working, ensuring that they are part of this communication and central at all stages of the process. We will also engage with the Scottish Government's policy teams on a regular basis, ensuring that the research is responsive to their developing needs. As researchers, we are an experienced team, embedded in rural research across Scotland. We aim to observe, learn, share, and help to facilitate positive change.