Matching The Ivory Tower With The Grassroots

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Academic researchers often want to study rural communities but missing in the exercise is any kind of exchange or partnership to facilitate the research. Enter the Alberta Rural Development Network (ARDN). It’s focused on creating partnerships and increasing co-operation between Alberta’s post-secondary institutions and rural communities in Alberta, executive director Dee Ann Benard said at the annual meeting of the Alberta Agricultural Economics Association here last month.

In many cases, researchers are isolated from communities, they come up with ideas in their offices, and then go out to the communities to conduct their research and then write up and publish it in a journal, said Benard.

ARDN wants to change this and is committed to finding new ways that researchers and rural communities can work together in ways that are community driven and beneficial to both parties. It says results of any research project would also be made more accessible to rural Albertans, and written in plain language.

ARDN was created by Alberta’s 21 publicly funded, post-secondary institutions. The organization is only about a year old and has three employees in Sherwood Park and one in Girouxville.

“Several dedicated individuals started working on this about 10 years ago and after several years of work, they got all 21 members to sign on in 2006,” said Benard.

Five million dollars of funding was secured from Alberta’s Rural Development fund in 2008. ARDN is not a funding agency, but a rural-development agency that is focused on linking academics in post-secondary institutions to rural communities.

ARDN marks the first occasion that all 21 post-secondary institutions have voluntarily agreed to co-operate to contribute to a larger project, said Benard. Each institution signed on with a key contact who is participating and co-operating with the efforts of ARDN.

Shared experiences

Benard sees ARDN as a resource that works with communities to identify their needs and helps them partner with the right postsecondary partners to address those needs.

“We want communities to learn from the experiences of other communities and we want them to be able to access the expertise and information that they need.”

The network also wants to help facilitate research on issues affecting rural communities and identify the gaps between training and education in rural communities. It’s hoped that research networking will create opportunities for new research opportunities, collaborations and partnerships.

“We want to create opportunities for community leaders and researchers and academics to get together and share information,” she said. “We also want to inform communities about their opportunities and options,” Benard said.

The organization facilitates meetings and partnerships between academic researchers and residents of rural communities. Some of the projects include the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s research into greenhouses, and Northern Lights College’s research into tourism and historical interpretive possibilities into the tiny community of Girouxville.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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