European Rural Policy at the Crossroads
Thursday 29 June – Saturday 1 July 2000
The Arkleton Centre for Rural Development Research
King's College, University of Aberdeen
Leading and Lagging Sites in Rural Canada
by Bill Reimer
Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology
1455 boul. de Maisonneuve O
Montréal QC H3G 1M8
Fax: (450) 689-5435
This paper provides a theoretical and empirical exploration of leading and lagging
locations in rural Canada. The theoretical discussion is based on a review of the literature
addressing economic and social differentiations in rural locations and the empirical work is based
on the analysis 3598 rural census subdivisions in rural Canada. The results confirm the
multidimensional and dynamical nature of the processes underlying the distinction between
leading and lagging regions. As a result, researchers are encouraged to move beyond economic
and demographic perspectives, to include institutional processes in their analysis, and to consider
the ability of regions to self-organize as an important element in the differentiation of leading and
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Leading and Lagging Sites in Rural Canada
Table of Contents
1. Introduction ......................................................................................................................1
2. First Question: What is meant by "leading" and "lagging"? ............................................2
2.1. Economic Issues ................................................................................................3
2.1.1. Economic well-being .........................................................................3
2.1.2. Economic Development .....................................................................3
2.1.3. Economic Sustainability ....................................................................4
2.1.4. Income or poverty ..............................................................................4
2.1.5. Employment .......................................................................................4
2.1.6. Livelihoods ........................................................................................4
2.1.7. Markets and competitiveness .............................................................4
2.1.8. Industrial growth ................................................................................4
2.1.9. Summary - economic .........................................................................5
2.2. Social Issues ......................................................................................................5
2.2.1. Social support/vulnerability ...............................................................5
2.2.2. Integration and exclusion ...................................................................5
2.2.3. Network approach ..............................................................................6
2.2.4. Summary - social ...............................................................................6
2.3. Collective Action (Governance) Issues .............................................................6
2.4. Subjective Evaluation Issues .............................................................................7
2.5. Environmental Issues ........................................................................................7
2.6. Summary - definitions of leading and lagging status ........................................8
3. Empirical Exploration of Leading and Lagging Indicators ..............................................8
4. Second Question: “What processes influence the leading and lagging status of rural
4.1. Demographic Characteristics and Processes ...................................................10
4.2. Economic Characteristics and Processes .......................................................10
4.2.1. Characteristics and changes in skills and talents ............................10
4.2.2. Characteristics and changes in the structure of work ......................10
4.2.3. The distribution of and changes in economic capital ......................11
4.2.4. The distribution of and changes in economic resources .................12
4.2.5. Economic markets ...........................................................................12
4.3. Political and legal characteristics and processes ............................................12
4.4. Social characteristics and processes ...............................................................13
4.4.1. Characteristics and changes in social institutions ...........................13
4.4.2. Characteristics and changes in social support .................................13
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4.4.3. Characteristics and changes in networks ........................................14
4.4.4. Characteristics and changes in norms, attitudes..............................14
4.5. Characteristics and changes in local infrastructure ........................................14
4.6. Spatial and environmental conditions and processes .....................................14
4.7. Empirical Exploration of Processes ................................................................15
4.7.1. Factor 1: Income-related ..................................................................15
4.7.2. Factor 2: Marital Status-related........................................................15
4.7.3. Factor 3: LICO-related .....................................................................15
4.7.4. Summary ..........................................................................................16
5. Third Question: “What are the most promising directions for future research?” ..........16
5.1. Take a multidimensional approach .................................................................16
5.2. Take a dynamic approach................................................................................16
5.3. Take a multi-level approach ............................................................................17
5.4. Take a comparative approach .........................................................................17
5.5. Build on existing studies .................................................................................17
5.6. Move beyond demographic and economic perspectives .................................18
5.6.1. Integrate institutional resources into the analysis ............................18
5.6.2. Consider broad definitions of local resources ..................................18
5.6.3. Consider the self-organization of communities ...............................18
5.7. Beware confusion in definitions and measures ...............................................19
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Leading and Lagging Sites in Rural Canada1
30 June, 2000
Stimulated by discussions in the OECD, the distinction between leading and lagging
places appears to resonate with a wide range of interests among rural Canadians.
It appeals to administrators and policy-makers in their search for clear criteria on which
to allocate different types of resources. It is assumed that leading places should be supported in
the confidence that additional resources will strengthen a solid foundation. Lagging places could
be provided with tailor-made programs which might help to reverse their fortunes or mitigate the
most negative effects of their status. By focusing on the differences between the two, we might
come to identify the ways in which lagging places could move toward a leading status.
Local rural Canadians and community developers have also shown an interest in the
distinction between leading and lagging in spite of their dissatisfaction with the labels. Advocates
of the 'best practice' approach to community development see it as an opportunity to identify
models for local groups to emulate as they search for ways to improve their situation. For those
living in such places, being labelled a leading region can serve as an inspiration and a selling
point in their search for recognition. At the same time, however, rural citizens are wary of the
negative effects of the distinction. Being labelled a lagging region carries a stigma which can
marginalize the region both from within and without.
Many researchers are sensitive to the ways in which the terms "leading" and "lagging"
are a reflection of social power and thereby help to shape entitlements. Labelling a region as one
or the other is not benign, since it carries considerable social and political baggage which can be
used to exclude and include regions or communities from getting access to important resources.
Researchers have found, however, that the distinction is consistent with the value of
comparison as a technique for increasing understanding.2 From this perspective, comparison of
leading and lagging places promises considerable opportunity for learning. By examining the
differences between these two type of places we should be able to stimulate creative ideas
regarding the reasons for those differences, and test those ideas through a systematic
examination. The comparisons can also point to the processes which might contribute to changes
in the fate of communities: from leading to lagging, or from lagging to leading.
These multiple interests suggest that we are likely to gain considerable advantage by
I would like to thank Benoy Jacob and Rodrigo Molina who helped with the literature
review, and the Rural Secretariat of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Canadian
Rural Revitalization Foundation that provided financial support.
In spite of researchers' general commitment to the principle of comparison, our review of
the literature related to leading and lagging places revealed that the primary focus is on those
with lagging status. There are few studies of leading places and virtually none which make a
comparison between the two types of places.
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looking more closely at the distinction between leading and lagging places and the processes that
contribute to changes in these statuses. They also point to the dangers in such an examination,
warning us to avoid reification of this distinction. It is in this spirit that we have conducted the
Our research proceeds with three basic questions:
"What is meant by "leading" and "lagging" with respect to rural places?",
"What are the most likely processes underlying the differentiation of leading from lagging
“What are the most promising directions for future research, given the above?”.
These questions are addressed within the framework of a research project entitled
Understanding the New Rural Economy: Options and Choices (NRE) initiated by the Canadian
Rural Revitalization Foundation. This project includes the preparation of a national database on
rural Canada that was used for the empirical analysis reported below. The project also supported
the literature analysis on which much of this material is based (Reimer, 2000a).
2. First Question: What is meant by "leading" and "lagging"?
There are very few references in the literature to the terms “leading” and “lagging”.
However, many researchers examine communities and regions that vary with respect to
economic, social, or quality of life characteristics. While doing so, they imply features that make
a community leading or lagging with respect to those characteristics. In most cases, the driving
processes of change are also left implicit rather than explicit. Our objective is to make these
implicit assessments and evaluation more explicit.
We have, therefore, examined material that makes a direct or implied comparison
between communities or regions regarding relative success or failure. Sometimes this involves
direct comparisons between communities; sometimes it involves an implied comparison by a
focus on communities that are doing particularly well or poorly; and sometimes it means a focus
on a special problem relating to communities, including a direct or indirect comparison of
The NRE focus on community capacity provides an example of one type of comparison.
By identifying capacity as a crucial element of community status, we imply that those
communities with relatively high levels of capacity are “leading” compared to those with
relatively low levels. In this case, our objective is to identify the characteristics and processes that
might contribute to community capacity.
Our focus on social cohesion provides an example of another type of comparison. In this
case, we do not assume that social cohesion inevitably results in a “leading” community. It may,
act as a barrier to the community interests where it contributes to isolation and exclusion. Social
We use the terms ‘leading’ and ‘lagging’ as the most general representation of these
differences. Those communities that are considered favored or advantaged in some way will
be treated as ‘leading’. Those that are disadvantaged with respect to the dimension(s) being
discussed will be treated as ‘lagging’.
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cohesion will therefore be considered as a potential contributor to the leading or lagging status of
rural communities, but not as a defining characteristic.
Most studies that approach leading and lagging status contain three important
implications. First, they include a spatial or regional point of reference. This is largely due to our
community focus. Second, they refer to the economic or sometimes welfare status of the region.
Third, they imply a dynamic quality, where changes in status are expected over time. Leading
regions are in some ways more advanced with respect to lagging ones or they have important
advantages with respect to economic or social outcomes, but they have not necessarily always
been that way, and will not necessarily continue that way in the future.
These characteristics are usually preserved in the more policy-oriented or prescriptive
discourse regarding leading and lagging regions. However, such discussions often include a
broader focus than the economic one found in the more academic literature. Regions may be
considered leading with respect to education, health, or housing characteristics as well as with
respect to incomes or employment.
In much of the literature the discussion is so broad or vague that it is difficult to
distinguish the definition of leading or lagging from those aspects considered as causes or
consequences of that status. This is most problematic where we wish to identify the processes
related to leading or lagging status since those processes must be analytically separate from the
definitions. Without such a separation, we cannot use the processes as explanations for the status
or changes in it.
This problem is compounded by the fact that the specific indicators of leading and
lagging status vary depending on the interests of those asking the questions. Rather than limit
those interests, therefore, we have opted to outline the discussions in the literature by considering
interests with respect to five types of issues: the economic, the social, those relating to collective
action (governance), those that focus on subjective evaluations by local people, and those that
deal with environmental concerns.
2.1. Economic Issues
By far the most prevalent definitions of leading and lagging status are those related to the
economic conditions of the community or region. Few of the authors explicitly define the
differences between leading and lagging, but their criteria are implied in the comparisons they
make or, most often, in the indicators they use. We will group those criteria in the following way.
2.1.1. Economic well-being
These studies consider the general level of economic well-being to be the major defining
characteristic of leading and lagging status (Foster, 1972; Dahms, 1991; Barnes and Blevins,
1992; Li, 1992; Hudson, et al., 1997). These authors do not specify the components of this well-
being, but typically discuss it in abstract or general terms.
2.1.2. Economic Development
A second set of studies make reference to economic, community, or rural development as
a critical focus for distinguishing communities (Folscher, 1969; Flammanag, 1979; Cooke, 1982;
Akpadock, 1993; Krannich and Zollinger, 1997). In some cases there is mention made of key
issues for that development (Stabler, 1987; Bollman, 1998), but most of them leave the concept
unspecified other than to hint at economic criteria. A more specific classification of these studies
will probably be made as we develop a deeper analysis of the literature.
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2.1.3. Economic Sustainability
These studies consider the economic viability or sustainability of places to be the central
criteria for differentiating leading from lagging (Bauen, et al., 1996; Bebbington et al., 1998; Bryden,
1994; Eberts, 1979; Eckersley, et al., 1982; O’Brien, et al., 1998; Pacific Resources Centre, 1999; Rannikko,
1997; Stabler and Olferi, 1993). We have included in this group, those that consider economic
dependency of the communities to be an indication of lagging status.
2.1.4. Income or poverty
Several studies focus specifically on levels of income or poverty as the defining
characteristic between leading and lagging places (Bloomquist and Summers, 1982; Duncan and
Lamborghini, 1994; Farmer, et al., 1989; Keddie and Alasia, 1999; Smith-Mello, 1996;
Overdevest and Green, 1995; Tickamyer and Duncan, 1990; Wilikinson, 1989). Several of them
include income or poverty as one of several indicators of community well being, development, or
Participation in the labour force and employment rates are common indicators of leading
and lagging status (Bollman, et al.,1992; Bollman, 1998; Dorion,, 1981; Fairbairn, 1994; Fawson
et al., 1998; Findeis, Jill L.; Jensen, Leif; Cornwell, Gretchen, ; Fuller, 1996; Keddie and Alasia,
1999; Lonsdale and Clark, 1995; Robinson and Wilkinson 1997; Smith-Mello, 1996; Terluin, et
al., 1998; Tichy, 1995; Wellman, 1985; Wilkinson, 1989). In some cases these are considered the
sole criteria for differentiating communities and in others they are part of more general concepts
such as community well being, development, or economic viability.
A few studies focus on the ability of individuals or households to make an adequate
living as criteria for leading or lagging status (Ashley, 1998; Findeis, et al., nd; Roberts and
Hollander, nd; Wellman, 1985). They may include income or employment when measuring
community status, but they often go beyond these two indicators to consider informal exchange
and other household strategies for economic survival. Typically, the focus is on the individual or
household level of data collection and analysis.
2.1.7. Markets and competitiveness
These studies consider the competitiveness of rural economies as a key element in
defining their leading or lagging status (Brown, et al., 1996; Ilbery and Kneafsey, 1998; Levitan,
1992; Pinkerton, et al., 1995; Stabler, 1987; Stabler and Olferi, 1993; Teitz, 1989). In most cases,
the focus is on particular markets in this evaluation.
2.1.8. Industrial growth
These studies include those that look at the productivity of industrial sectors, the
exploitation of natural resources, and the development of particular sectors as indications of
leading and lagging status (Akpadock, 1993; Bernat, 1992; Canadian Employment and
Immigration Advisory Council, 1988; Cook and Mizer, 1994; Curry-Roper and Janel, 1995;
Damianos and Dimitri, 1996; Flammang, (1979); Freudenburg, 1991; Ho, 1997; Johnston, 1995;
Kada, 1992; Kariel, 1993; Krannich, et al. 1997; Lovejoy and Krannich, 1982; McAllister, 1997;
McGill, 1995; Moore, 1995; Rannikko, 1997; Reddeppa and Naidu, 1992; Shah, 1973; Smithers
and Smit, 1995; Statistics Canada, 1995; Storper, 1990 ; Thomas, 1997; Tichy, 1995; Tisdall,
1992; Wilkinson, 1989). Most often they conduct the analysis at the level of communities or
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2.1.9. Summary - economic
In summary, from an economic point of view, leading communities are those that have
relatively high incomes, employment, productivity, industrial growth, or show other indications
of economic well-being or development. Lagging communities are those that have a weak
economic base, are dependent on external economies, or have low levels of the characteristics
associated with leading locations. Terms such as ‘backward’, ‘deprived’, ‘underdeveloped’,
‘marginalized’ are often part of this literature. Resource dependent communities (e.g. agriculture
and forestry) are often singled out as particularly important.
This literature does not make it easy to identify specific defining characteristics of leading
and lagging regions or communities. However, by focusing on the ways they operationalize the
concepts, we are able to identify several key variables reflecting the economic definitions:
· income (personal or community),
· service provision,
· population growth, and
· enterprise growth.
For the most part, these studies focus on the community or regional level of analysis, however,
there are a few that give individuals or households their primary attention. Few discuss the
potential contradictions that can arise as a result of these different levels of analysis.
2.2. Social Issues
A second focus of attention for leading and lagging status is on the social or institutional
characteristics of communities. We have identified three types of approaches within this
2.2.1. Social support/vulnerability
These studies differentiate leading and lagging communities on the basis of the formal
and informal institutions and activities related to social support (Ashton, 1995; Backman and
Hawkins, 1997; Bauen, et al., 1996; Chambers, 1994; Fairbairn, 1994; Hunter, 1993;
Independent Task Force on Community Action for Social Development, 1995; Intergovernmental
Committee on Urban and Regional Research, 1993; Lemieux and Fortin, 1977; Buske, et al.,
1999; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1994; Simons, 1997; Statistics
Canada, 1991; Wellman, 1981; Wellman and Wellman, 1992; Wellman, 1992). We have
included those that address specific social problems as things to be explained (e.g. outmigration,
aging, health, education) so long as they are treated as the distinguishing characteristics of
leading and lagging places.
2.2.2. Integration and exclusion
Many studies compare leading and lagging communities with respect to the extent to
which people are socially integrated or not (Bowles, et al., 1994; Canadian Employment and
Immigration Advisory Council, 1988; Chouinard and Perron, nd; Eberts, 1979; Flora and Flora
1985.; Independent Task Force on Community Action for Social Development, 1995; Jolly, et
al., 1996; Lapping and Fuller, 1985; Lasely, et al., 1993; Putnam, 1993; Qiaming, et al., 1998;
Robinson, 1995; Sinclair and Felt, 1991; Storey, 1999; Torjman, 1997; Walter, et al., 1999;
Warsewa, 1993). They tend to treat integration, participation, engagement, or cohesion as signs
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of leading status. We have included those studies with a focus on community well-being within
this category so long as it has a specific social (as opposed to economic) focus.
2.2.3. Network approach
Several studies examine the involvement of local people with a particular focus on their
network or partnership linkages (Armstrong, 1981; Bulmer, 1985; Human Resources
Development Canada, 1996; Wellman and Leighton, 1979; Wellman, 1982; Wellman, 1990;
Wellman and Tindall, 1991; Wellman, et al., 1995; Wellman, et al., 1996). Those communities
with high levels of linkages, both internal and external to the community are most often treated
2.2.4. Summary - social
Within this literature, leading communities are those that have relatively extensive
infrastructure, including telecommunications, transportation, financial, commercial, education,
health, and welfare services, and various informal systems of social support and integration.
Lagging communities are deficit in one or more of these characteristics, often being characterized
Some of the key indicators used in the literature are the following:
· the number and characteristics of social institutions (e.g. education, health,
· the number and participation levels in third sector organizations (e.g.
economic, social support, education, health, recreation),
· sources and extent of informal social support,
· transportation services,
· internal and external networks, and
· migration patterns.
2.3. Collective Action (Governance) Issues
Many of the studies examined refer to social action or the ability of the community to
take action as a defining characteristic of their leading or lagging status (Ashley, 1998; Ashton,
1995; Chambers, 1994; Community Futures Policy and Employment and Immigration Canada,
1989; Errington, 1997; Freshwater, 1995; Gertler, 1995; Halseth, 1996; Halseth, 1997; Hilts,
1995; Jeter, 1996; Jolly, et al., 1970; Lapping and Fuller, 1985; Luloff, et al., 1990; Markey and
Vodden, 1999; New Economy Development Group Inc., 1999; Nightingale, 1984; Preston, 1983;
Putnam, 1993; Rickard, 1995; Robinson, 1996; Rounds, (ed.), 1993; Shorthall and Shucksmith,
1998; Sinclair and Felt, 1991; Smith-Mello, 1996; Storey, 1999; Terluin, et al., 1998; Torjman,
1997; Williams, 1994). Leading communities are those that have strong local political or social
action groups, show high levels of empowerment, cohesiveness, or the ability to self-organize. In
several places ‘community capacity’ or ‘community resilience’ are interpreted in these action-
oriented ways. Lagging communities are identified as ‘vulnerable’, ‘powerless’, or ‘excluded’.
There is some overlap with the social classification above, particularly with respect to the
integration and exclusion approaches, but within the collective action category we wish to
identify those studies that place greater emphasis on the action or ‘agency’ of people or groups as
opposed to the description of participation levels.
Some of the indicators used for measuring collective action issues are the following:
· municipal and regional government organization and mandates,
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the level of public debate as reflected in the media,
the history of crisis management by community groups and the community
as a whole,
· the number and activities of community groups and associations, and
· voter turnout for local, regional, and national elections.
2.4. Subjective Evaluation Issues
Several authors treat the subjective evaluation of local people as the criteria to separate
leading and lagging communities (Blishen and Atkinson, 1978; Brewster, et al., 1993; Dorion,
1981; Flora and Flora, 1985; Goyder, 1995; Hyman, 1994; Kariel, 1993; Li, 1992; Linn, 1976;
Pinkerton, et al., 1995; Qiaming, et al., 1998; Rannikko, 1997; Wall, 1994). Leading
communities are those where local satisfaction is high, lagging are those where people are
discouraged or ‘troubled’. Much of the literature regarding the ‘quality of life’ includes such
evaluation as a key component of their identification, sometimes contrasting it to more objective
criteria. We have included those studies that focus on community attitudes and community
identity as distinguishing characteristics. In these instances, leading communities are those where
the community is considered in a positive light.
In most cases the indicators used for measuring the subjective assessments are taken from
attitude surveys of community leaders or local residents. They solicit opinions about such
· the image of the community and an evaluation of it,
· assessment of the quality of community services,
· assessment of the preference for living in the community, or
· satisfaction indexes for various aspects of the community.
2.5. Environmental Issues
A few authors compared communities with respect to their preservation and protection of
the environment (Hilts, 1995; Kariel, 1993; Lasely et al., 1993; Martin, 1995; Wackernagel and
Rees, 1996; Wall, 1994). This was often connected to the issue of community sustainability or
the sustainable development of resources or cultural groups. Leading communities are considered
to be those where there is a low demand on the environment (their ‘environmental footprint’),
citizen support for conservation action, or management practices that support the long term
viability of the resource base.
Some of the indicators used for measuring these aspects are:
· use of basic resources by individuals and the community (e.g. water, land,
energy, food, transportation),
· treatment of waste by individuals and the community,
· resource management practices of community individuals, enterprises, and
· environmental recovery rates.
2.6. Summary - definitions of leading and lagging status
In summary, we propose a working definition of leading and lagging status that reflects at
least five aspects: economic, social, governance, identity, and environment. Leading communities
are those that are doing rather well with respect to one or the other of these dimensions and
lagging communities are those that are in difficulty by comparison. We will treat each aspect
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independently in our analysis in order to avoid begging the question about the relationship
3. Empirical Exploration of Leading and Lagging Indicators
As a foil to the literature review, we conducted an empirical analysis of the primary
indicators of leading and lagging regions mentioned in the literature (Reimer, 2000a). Our first
objective was to determine the extent to which these variables were interrelated. Should there be
considerable correlation between them, much of the theoretical discussion regarding their
relationship may be moot. On the other hand, if the variables remain largely independent from
one another, the analysis and interpretation of their relationship to leading and lagging regions
must reflect the complexity implied.
Factor analysis was utilized as a data reduction technique to this end. It allows us to
determine the extent to which the characteristics of places are related. We can ask, for example,
"To what extent are places with high levels of unemployment also likely to lack services?" In
addition, it will allow us to test our assumption that lagging and leading are multidimensional
concepts, not only conceptually, but empirically as well. Factor analysis can also be used to reflect
the extent to which groups of related characteristics can be distinguished from other groups. It may
therefore help us to identify the dimensions on which lagging and leading regions might be
Fourteen outcome variables were selected from the list of indicators identified from the
literature review. We were limited to the variables on the census and some were excluded due to
high levels of auto-correlation and missing cases. In the end, 3598 Census Subdivisions (CSD)
from the 1991 Canadian census were included in the analysis. These CSDs represented all those
that met our criteria as rural locations.4
The analysis produced three primary factors, accounting for 58% of the variation in the
variables (cf. Table 1).5 The first factor is associated with income levels, particularly as they
relate to employment income. The second is associated with levels of divorce and separation in
the CSD, reflecting a close relationship to housing costs. The third factor is associated to the
incidence of households below the Statistics Canada Low Income Cutoff, a low instance of
income inequality, and a high percentage of owned dwellings.
Table 1: Selected Statistics from Factor Analysis
Factors and Principal Variables - 1991 Coefficient Mnemonic
Employment Income-related: 32% of variance
% of people with government transfers -0.923 IN91CGTP
Rural CSDs are those that are outside Census Metropolitan Regions and Census
Agglomerations. They exclude centres with more than 10,000 population.
Principal component extraction was used and oblimin rotation with Kaiser normalization
was conducted. A detailed account of the analysis is reported in Reimer (1999a, 2000b).
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Factors and Principal Variables - 1991 Coefficient Mnemonic
median household income 0.819 IN91HHME
CSDs with a high labour force participation rate 0.815 CS91B248
% of people with employment income 0.801 IN91CEMP
the unemployment rate -0.657 CS91B247
median income for females 15+ years 0.645 IN91F15M
average value of dwellings 0.584 DW91AWL
Marriage and Housing Cost-related: 14%
% of people who are separated 0.728 PSEPA91
% of people who are divorced 0.727 PDIVO91
% of households where the gross rent is greater 0.598 PH91RTGT
than 30% of the household income
% of owners whose major payments are greater 0.455 HH91PYGT
than 30% of their household income
LICO, Inequality, and Home Ownership-related: 12%
% of households below the Low Income Cutoff 0.777 CS91B515
income inequality index -0.696 INEQUF91
% of dwellings owned 0.65 PDW91OWN
The factor analysis reduces the 14 variables to 3 for differentiating leading and lagging
CSDs using available census information. All of them will be considered as we proceed to
answer the second major research question: What processes are most likely to influence the
leading and lagging status of rural CSDs?
4. Second Question: “What processes influence the leading and lagging status of rural
Six general processes were identified from the review of the literature. Since our
objective at this stage is primarily exploratory, the distinctions are created with a view to being
inclusive and flexible rather than exclusive. It also means that more than one process may be
addressed by a particular author and each process may bear a strong relationship to others. This
fits with our expectation that the phenomena are complex.
4.1. Demographic Characteristics and Processes
Demographic processes are some of the most fundamental elements of social change.
People are born, they age, they move, and they die: events that place constraints and possibilities
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on human action which are pervasive and profound. These processes are reflected in a number of
important characteristics identified in the literature.
The population size, density, isolation, and settlement patterns provide the basic
conditions for the economic and social opportunities of a region or community (Dykeman and
Corbett, 1986; Stabler, 1987; Luloff and Wilkinson, 1990; Stabler and Olferi, 1993; Walter et al.,
1999). The age distribution of the population is fundamental to the demands on services, the size
and nature of the labour force, the patterns of consumption, and the political importance of the
site, to name only a few (Intergovernmental Committee on Urban and Regional Research, 1993;
Pinkerton, et al., 1995). The gender distribution within locales is also related to these aspects,
with the additional impact on birth and marriage patterns. General analysis of the rural
population shows a distribution with a high proportion of young and old by comparison to urban
regions. Rapid changes in this distribution also contribute to various forms of social disruption
Movement in or out of a region is related to its economic opportunities and social
cohesion since they directly affect the human and social capital of the locale (Dykeman and
Corbett, 1986; Flora, 1990; Slodczyk, 1992; Goyder, 1995; Smith-Mello, 1996; Walter, et al.,
1999). Studies have examined the impacts on community status relating both to out-migration –
especially of youth or trained workers – (Geory and Williams, 1990) and in-migration –
especially of the elderly (Bowles, et al., 1994). Such changes may also be interpreted as a
reflection of shifting opportunity costs and information flow.
The types of living arrangements found in a locale are related to the nature of
socialization taking place, the services required, consumption patterns, the social cohesion, and
the future demographic profile of the region. All of these can contribute to the leading and
lagging status of the place: as direct influences and as conditions on other processes.
0.1. Economic Characteristics and Processes
Processes related to the operation of the economy are extensive and complex. We have
divided them into four sub-types to reflect the extent of the literature and to link them
appropriately to the available variables.
4.1.1. Characteristics and changes in skills and talents
In order for commercial economic activity to take place it is necessary to have people
who are willing and able to do the work. A trained labour force will provide the basis for
economic growth. The existence and nurturing of individuals who are sufficiently skilled to
initiate and expand economic ventures is an important element in the economic viability of
regions. Several authors have focused particularly on the way in which these skills and talents
have contributed to the leading or lagging status of a community or region. References to human
capital, education, training, and entrepreneurship are frequent aspects of this focus (Bollman,
1998; Flammang, 1979; Flora, 1990; Flora, 1998; Geory and Williams, 1990; Lackey, et al.,
1999; Lam, 1996; Li, 1992; Lonsdale and Archer, 1995; Malecki, 1989; Smith-Mello, 1996).
4.1.2. Characteristics and changes in the structure of work
The type of industries in the region links the local economic and social resources to the
broader economy (Ashley, 1998; Bernat, 1992; Bollman, et al., 1992; Bull and Williams, 1994;
Canadian Labour Force Development Board, 1996; Cook, et al., 1994; Farmer, et al., 1989;
Fawson, et al. 1998; Flammang, 1979; Flora and Flora 1985.; Freshwater, 1995; Fuller, 1996;
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Ilbery, et al. 1998; Li, 1992; Lonsdale and Archer, 1995; Mahapatra, 1998; Malecki, 1989;
McGill, 1995; Moore, 1995; Persson, et al., 1995; Pinkerton, et al., 1995; Stabler and Olferi,
1993; Swanson, 1985; Tichy, 1995; Walter, et al. 1999). Changes in that broader economy will
have differential effects on the local region according to the industries affected. In addition, the
particular mix of occupational groups at the local level is related to the vulnerabilities and
opportunities for economic growth. Changes in the size of enterprises, ratios of managers, trades,
and unskilled workers in the community affect the availability of trained workers.
The structure of pluriactivity, part-time work, self-employment, and wage work have been
undergoing considerable change. These not only reflect broad changes in the economy, but are
likely to have significant impacts on the capacity for local regions to generate wealth. In addition,
the segmentation of the labour market into two or more relatively independent sectors creates
severe limitations on the movement and training of labour. Since this segmentation is strongly
related to local and regional characteristics, it produces differential opportunities by these
regions. The history of relations between those who control capital and the local labour force will
affect the options available to both parties. The role of the unions is an important aspect of this
factor (Lobao, 1990).
A considerable amount of unpaid and exchange work takes place which is not represented
in official economic statistics. This type of activity is often crucial to the flexibility of a local
economy and the social cohesion of a community. It is also highly gender-related, especially in
the case of housework and child-care (Fairbairn, 1994; Fairbairn, 1994; Findeis, et al., nd;
4.1.3. The distribution of and changes in economic capital
Local areas will vary with respect to the sources and amount of income and wealth that
are available to them. This in turn will significantly affect the opportunities that are available to
people along with their ability to act on those opportunities. As a result, income and wealth are
frequently treated as important indicators of processes influencing whether a region is lagging or
leading (Bloomquist. and Summers, 1982; Cook and Mizer, 1994; Luloff, et al., 1990).
This is also the case for the availability, characteristics, and control of capital. Literature
in this area includes those that consider the impacts of economic dependency (especially on urban
regions or transfer payments), uneven accumulation, or inadequate financial capital (Akpadock,
1993; Barnes, et al., 1992; Damianos and Skuras, 1996; Eberts, 1979; Flammang, 1979; Geory
and Williams 1990; Ho, 1997; Overdevest and Green, 1995; Reddeppa and Naidu, 1992). In
several cases, specific sectors (especially agriculture or forestry) are singled out for special
consideration. People in local areas must be able to find and control the appropriate type of
capital for their economic growth. Both private and public sector institutions are considered
within this framework, not only with respect to their availability, but also with respect to their
policies and practices for the distribution and investment of public and private capital. These is
reflected in both the formal regulations of the institutions as well as the more informal
preferences and practices of their employees. Once again, gender differences play an important
part in these processes.
4.1.4. The distribution of and changes in economic resources
Natural resources have always provided the fundamental economic advantage of rural
places. They not only provide the raw materials for export outside those areas, but they are most
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often the drivers for manufacturing and service industries located in rural Canada. The research
literature reflects this by identifying the ways in which natural resources, amenities, and their
exploitation are critical features contributing to the leading and lagging status of communities
(Ashley, 1998; Barnes, et al., 1992; Beckley and Burkosky, 1999; Beckley and Reimer, 1999;
Cook and Mizer, 1994; Damianos and Skuras, 1996; Eberts, 1979; Fawson, et al., 1998; Flora
and Flora, 1985.; Freudenburg, 1991; Ilbery and Kneafsey, 1998; Krannich and Zollinger, 1997;
Lasely, et al., 1993; Lobao, 1990; Malecki, 1989; Natural Resources Canada - Model Forest
Network, 1999; New Economy Development Group Inc., 1999; Pinkerton, et al., 1995; Stabler
and Olferi, 1993; Tisdall, 1992; Wilkinson, 1989). In most cases, the discussions focus on the
impacts of one or the other resource sectors without significant comparisons between them. In a
few cases, the emergence of specialty or niche products and value-added activities based on
natural resources are considered as new opportunities for economic development.
4.1.5. Economic markets
The operation of macro and micro-economic markets is implied as a crucial element for
leading and lagging status of communities, but it is seldom explicitly addressed in a general
fashion. The literature reviewed includes discussions of labour, trade, and capital markets, for
example, with only a few specifically considering the impacts of changes in competition at the
local level (Alasia and Fuller, nd; Bollman, et al., 1992; Brown, et al., 1996; Cooke, 1982; Ilbery
and Kneafsey, 1998; Levitan, 1992; Lonsdale and Archer, 1995; Malecki, 1989; McGill, 1995;
O’Brien, et al., 1998; Overdevest and Green, 1995; Stabler, 1987). This is an important direction
for future research since it promises to be a critical link between local and general processes.
0.2. Political and legal characteristics and processes
Well-functioning and well-connected political organizations and facilities make collective
decision-making possible, increase the motivation of local citizens, provide an important basis
for social inclusion, and ultimately improve their ability to anticipate issues and to respond
effectively. These effects will be accentuated if there are extensive connections to regional,
provincial, national, and international groups. Interaction with political groups at various levels
provides information and the opportunity for collective action on issues of local concern. It also
provides status advantages and experience in how to operate within such structures.
Although there is some important literature addressing the ways in which these processes
affect the leading and lagging status of communities, there are serious gaps in the issues
addressed (Basile, 1984; Beaumier, 1988; Florio, 1997; Geory and Williams 1990; Jeter, 1996;
Krannich and Zollinger, 1997; Lapping and Fuller, 1985; Lobao, 1990; Luloff, et al., 1990;
Parsons, 1994; Preston, 1983; Rickard, 1995; Robinson, 1995; Shorthall and Shucksmith, 1998;
Sinclair and Felt, 1991; Smith-Mello, 1996; Storey, 1999; Terluin, et al., 1998; Walter, et al.,
1999; Williams, 1994). Much of the material is prescriptive in nature, rather than analytical and
comparative. The community development literature, for example, provides numerous
suggestions regarding how communities might increase empowerment, but little analysis of the
ways that particular approaches might have various effects. In addition, the discussions tend to be
policy-focused, most often oriented to general policies rather than providing information on the
ways in which local communities deal with those policies, or even affect the policies themselves.
In most cases, these factors should be analyzed in conjunction with local characteristics to assess
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the ways in which general policies have different local effects.
It is understandable why there is so little detailed empirical literature in this area: the
information about political and legal processes is hard to come by. On the other hand, what little
we have suggests that these are very important elements in the leading and lagging status of
communities. The emerging discussions of community capacity, self-organization, and
empowerment point to several directions that such research might take.
0.3. Social characteristics and processes
Social resources include formal and informal institutions, inter-community networks, and
culture. The existence and nature of the formal institutions in a region contribute to job
opportunities, access to information both inside and outside the community, social support,
political influence, and financial capital. Institutions include those in the public and private sector
(eg. schools, religious institutions, media, business organizations, hospitals, justice services).
Each of these is related to the ability of local communities to respond to stresses and
opportunities. In addition to the more formal organizations, the networks that people make use of
on an informal basis provide a means of information transfer, trust development, social control,
social cohesion, and contacts both within and outside of the locale. The extent and form of these
networks will be related to the learning that can take place and the possible responses to stress
The literature identifies several social aspects that are likely to be related to leading and
lagging status. They are classified into four groups below.
4.1.6. Characteristics and changes in social institutions
These may be identified as formal organizations in rural communities (e.g. schools,
churches, hospitals, government agencies, banks) or as informal groups (e.g. recreational,
political, hobby, or interest groups) (Bebbington, et al., 1998; Canadian Employment and
Immigration Advisory Council, 1988; Flora, 1998; Flora, 1998; Gertler, 1995; Human Resources
Development Canada, 1996; Independent Task Force on Community Action for Social
Development, 1995; Jolly, et al., 1996; Linn, 1976; Putnam, 1993; Qiaming, et al., 1998; Rounds,
1993; Shorthall and Shucksmith, 1998; Wall, et al., 1998; Walter, et al., 1999). In several of the
references, these include discussions of the organizations as an important component of 'social
capital' or as a basis for building 'partnerships', particularly with organizations outside of the local
4.1.7. Characteristics and changes in social support
Another focus is on the ways in which social support is provided by the local community,
in some cases through formal mechanisms, and in some through more informal means, including
family and friends (Bebbington, et al., 1998; Beckley and Reimer, 1999; Bowen, 1994; Canadian
Employment and Immigration Advisory Council, 1988; Flora, 1998; Flora, 1998; Kariel, 1993;
Linn, 1976; Putnam, 1993; Simons, 1997; Sinclair and Felt, 1991; Wall, et al., 1998; Weening, et
al., 1990). These people, groups, or institutions are most often considered to be critical for the
attraction of the community and as means through which the community can survive crises.
4.1.8. Characteristics and changes in networks
Local communities are linked to those around them in many different ways. This may
occur through individual visiting, commuting, shopping, and recreational movement, through
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trans-community organizations, or through economic or political alliances. The existence and
nurturing of these networks is related to the flow of information, development of trust, and access
to resources which can alter local community wealth.
As with the definition of leading and lagging, the existence of local and regional networks
is considered by some authors as an important basis for improving community conditions
(Backman and Hawkins, 1997; Bulmer, 1985; Chambers, 1994; Community Futures Policy and
Employment and Immigration Canada, 1989; Halseth, 1997; Harvey, 1996; Hunter, 1993;
Lemieux and Fortin, 1977; Levitt, 1997; Martin, 1995; O’Brien, et al., 1998; Weening, et al.,
1990; Wellman and Potter, 1996). This is discussed in terms of leadership, groups building, and
capacity-building. The networks are also treated as bases for formal or informal groups or
4.1.9. Characteristics and changes in norms, attitudes, and culture
Several of the studies refer to the attitudes and normative structure of the communities as
important contributors to their leading or lagging status (Brewster, et al., 1993; Duncan and
Lamborghini, 1994; McAllister, 1997; Wall, 1994). In some cases the focus is on the ways in
which these norms or attitudes limit the options for the community or people in it, whereas for
others they are treated as features that facilitate the resolution of problems.
The options and choices available to rural people will be significantly affected by the
local and regional cultures in which they operate (Curry-Roper, 1995; Lasely, et al., 1993;
Napton, 1995; Rannikko, 1997). Local and ethnic-based values, norms, beliefs, and rituals
provide an important component of entitlements, training, and opportunities for individuals and
0.4. Characteristics and changes in local infrastructure
Transportation, communication, housing, and institutional infrastructure provide the
means whereby local options and initiatives can be considered and implemented (El Askari,
1998; Florio, 1997; Geory and Williams 1990; Ho, 1997; Jolly, et al., 1997 ; Linn, 1976;
Malecki, 1989; Stabler, 1987; Warsewa, 1993). Easy transportation and communication will
affect the ability of those in a community to learn and to trade. They are directly related to
transaction costs. The extent and quality of housing can be treated as a resource for local action as
much as an outcome. If people live in adequate housing, their energies can more easily be spent
on other forms of development. If they have significant education, health, public safety, and
welfare institutions available, they will be able to deal with both short-term crises and long-term
0.5. Spatial and environmental conditions and processes
Two very important distinguishing features of rural places are those related to population
density and space (Bauen, et al., 1996; Beckley, 1998; Bryden, 1994; Chouinard and Perron, nd;
Cook and Mizer, Karen, 1994; Eckersley, nd; Halseth, 1996; Herrschel, 1997 ; Hilts, 1995;
Johnston, 1995; Kada, 1992; Lasely, et al., 1993; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development, 1994; Pinkerton, et al., 1995; Rannikko, 1997; Roberts and Hollander, nd;
Schoonmaker and von Hagen, 1998; Slodczyk, 1992; Smithers and Smit, 1995; Walter, et al.,
1999; Wilikinson, 1989). Proximity to urban regions provides a labour force, consumers,
markets, institutions, and cultural facilities to the regions which surround them. Being distant
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from urban regions increases the transportation and communication costs for goods and services
from outside and forces a greater self-reliance on the local community. The natural environment
creates economic and social opportunities which can alter the options for local growth. They can
serve as comparative advantages for trade and services.
4.2. Empirical Exploration of Processes
As much as possible, census variables related to these processes were selected for
consideration. Correlation analysis was conducted to identify potential problems for
autocorrelation effects and 52 of the variables were selected for discriminant analysis.
Discriminant analysis is a statistical procedure designed to identify which variables
contribute most to the difference between two groups of cases. It will help to answer the general
question by answering a more operational one: Which variables contribute most to distinguishing
leading from lagging CSDs on each of the 3 leading/lagging dimensions identified above? To do
so, we identified the CSDs in the top third and bottom third of each dimension and use the
analysis to identify the independent variables which do the best job of distinguishing the leading
from lagging CSDs on each of those dimensions. Following the usual procedure for discriminant
analysis, a 50% random sample of the cases is drawn to calculate the coefficients. This leaves
50% of the cases to use for testing the reliability of the procedure.
The three dimensions of leading and lagging were examined using this technique. CSDs
that are high on the income factor were considered to be leading, whereas those that have low
levels on the marital status and LICO dimensions are identified as leading.
4.2.1. Factor 1: Income-related
This factor shows a high level of differentiation by the discriminant variables. They
reflect the importance of age, education, sectoral, regional, family, and housing characteristics.
Leading CSDs are likely to be high in agricultural employment, the proportion of husband-wife
and common-law families, and dwellings owned. Lagging CSDs have a high level of old age
dependency, low education, immobility, and employment in logging or government services.
They are also more likely to be found in Newfoundland.
4.2.2. Factor 2: Marital Status-related
This factor combines characteristics of marital status and housing. It is differentiated
primarily by family, sectoral, regional, age, and mobility characteristics. Leading CSDs are
more likely to have high levels of husband-wife and common-law families with children,
agricultural employment, old and young dependency ratios, and residential stability. Lagging
CSDs are likely to be from Québec, New Brunswick, or Ontario..
4.2.3. Factor 3: LICO-related
This factor combines information about LICO levels with home ownership. The
discriminant analysis identifies education, family, regional, sectoral, and age characteristics as
important bases for differentiation. Leading CSDs have a high proportion of husband-wife and
common-law families with children, government employment, and are likely to be found in
Ontario. They also have relatively high old dependency ratios. Lagging CSDs have low levels of
education, are likely to be located in Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, and have
a high proportion of people employed in agriculture. They are also likely to have a high
proportion of immobile residents.
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The discriminant analysis supports the suggestion that these processes are different. The
difference is reflected in the relative importance of various processes, however, not their
contribution alone. For example, processes related to age, education, and economic sector are
most important for differentiating leading and lagging regions on the basis of income, whereas
those related to family, economic sector, and region are most important for the marital-status
dimension. This supports our claim that leading and lagging processes must be treated in a
multidimensional fashion. The processes differentiating the sites are likely to be different
depending on how leading and lagging are defined.
The results also show that regional, sectoral, demographic, and family-structure variables
predominate in the analysis, but the specifics of those variables change from one type of
leading/lagging indicator to another.This implies that economic, demographic, and social
processes all play a part in the leading or lagging status of CSDs.
5. Third Question: “What are the most promising directions for future research?”
This analysis suggests several directions for future research. These will be organized with
respect to the NRE project in order to facilitate the redirection of our work. Where possible,
specific indicators and information will be identified with a view to preparing for data collection
at both the macro and micro levels of analysis.
5.1. Take a multidimensional approach
The leading and lagging status of communities is defined using many different
dimensions. We have attempted to reflect this variation by a classification into five types:
economic status, social and institutional characteristics, governance and collective action
differences, subjective evaluation (most often by local residents), and environmental criteria. The
analysis of underlying processes is even more diverse.
This diversity is not only a consequence of the different groups holding an interest in
community development, but is likely a reflection of the multiple processes contributing to the
status of communities. For this reason, any research program investigating this status must take
an approach that is multidimensional and multi-disciplinary. Single-factor explanations, even if
broadly conceived are unlikely to be useful.
Research questions arising from this approach include the following:
· How are economic, social/institutional, governance/collective action, subjective,
and environmental variations in leading and lagging status related?
· What indicators are most appropriate for each of these?
5.2. Take a dynamic approach
Both the literature and the NRE research makes clear that the leading and lagging status
of rural communities is dynamic and complex. Even where the literature discusses the
characteristics of communities in a structural way, there is usually some recognition of the
changing nature of those structures. This implies that the best strategy for analysis is to focus on
the characteristics of communities, only as a means to identify the processes underlying them.
This is even more important where those processes are complex in their relationships. Under
these conditions, timing becomes critical for particular outcomes.
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In the development of a community capacity profile, for example, it may be necessary to
prepare a taxonomy, but it should be treated as a means to monitor the underlying processes
rather than a classification technique alone. By identifying the characteristics of high capacity
communities, we help to focus attention on particular elements and provide a means to verify our
speculations regarding appropriate policies. However, these characteristics should be treated as
manifestations of underlying processes. It is these processes that we should seek to understand
rather than focus solely on the refinement of the taxonomy.
Research questions arising from this approach include the following:
· What are the process-related assumptions that underlie various classifications of
leading and lagging communities?
· What are the typical sequences of events that occur as a community moves from
lagging to leading or from leading to lagging status?
· What indicators are most appropriate for the various processes?
5.3. Take a multi-level approach
Leading and lagging processes operate at several levels: local, regional, national, and
global. Our analysis, therefore, should include the examination within each of these levels as well
as between them. This is a significant challenge, both from an analytical and methodological
point of view, but the necessity is obvious: most of the global effects are significantly
conditioned by regional and local characteristics and activities. If we are to understand these
relationships and identify local options, we must develop models that are inclusive of all levels
and the relations between them.
Research questions relevant to this approach include the following.
· How do regional, national, and global characteristics and processes affect the
options available for local action?
· What are the limits of local control?
· How do regional or national policies affect different local conditions and options?
5.4. Take a comparative approach
The most useful literature we found is that which compares the differences between
leading and lagging communities and processes. This type of research not only describes the
characteristics of each, but also provides the means for evaluating the relevance of those
characteristics to the status of the communities. Without comparison, we are left unsure whether
the descriptions are unique to leading or lagging communities, or whether they reflect important
differences between the two.
This research approach is already a key component of the NRE Project. Comparisons are
built into the research design at both the macro and micro level. It should be reaffirmed as a key
component at the level of collaboration, however. In both the data collection and analysis aspects
of the project, comparison between types, locations, sites, and personnel must be enhanced.
Research questions arising from this approach include the following:
· What processes are shared and what processes are unique among leading as
compared to lagging communities?
5.5. Build on existing studies
Systematic research regarding the differences between leading and lagging communities
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has been largely limited to demographic and economic processes. This is most likely due to the
relative ease of access of this type of information in census and general survey form. Even with
this research history, there remain some important questions to be answered. They include the
· How does the introduction or loss of major industries affect the leading or lagging
status of rural communities?
· Under what conditions do various age groups move in or out of rural
The literature on demographic and economic processes has provided an important base upon
which more detailed analysis and testing can be developed. Some of these are suggested below.
0.6. Move beyond demographic and economic perspectives
As the research literature shows, the limitations of demographic and economic
perspectives have now become apparent. For this reason, a search for other contributing factors
should be a research priority. Many suggestions can be found in the research literature, but there
is little supporting research of a systematic nature. Instead, we find speculation based on
individual case studies, examples, and illustrations. Most likely this is the result of the lack of
comparative data, the high resource demands of case work, and the research traditions of non-
economic disciplines. These limitations can only be overcome by more systematic investigations
of these suggestions. To this end, we will identify some of the most promising directions for such
5.5.1. Integrate institutional resources into the analysis
This includes the analysis of formal organizations directly related to economic activities
(e.g. business development offices, Chamber of Commerce, business clubs, banks, and
enterprises) as well as those not directed to economic activities (e.g. churches, sports and
recreations clubs, charities, interest groups, and political organizations). The latter type of group
is often overlooked in spite of the fact that they contribute to the transfer of information as well
as the maintenance of a context of support and trust that is essential for economic activity.
Informal organizations (e.g. hobby, recreation, and social support groups) are also part of
the ‘social capital’ of communities. They help maintain a context that can provide a direct
contribution to economic activities, support those activities indirectly in a similar manner to the
more formal organizations, or provide a source of community resilience for difficult times.
Research questions arising from this approach include the following:
· What formal and informal institutions or groups are most crucial to the leading
and lagging status of rural communities?
· How do they contribute to that status?
5.5.2. Consider broad definitions of local resources
Informal social support groups, natural amenities, recreation opportunities, healthy
environments, local identity, and community celebrations can all be considered part of the local
resource package of rural communities. These are often only integrated into the analysis if they
have commercial potential.
Research questions arising from this approach include the following:
· What local resources are most often utilized by leading and lagging communities?
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5.5.3. Consider the self-organization of communities
The RUREMPLO identifies the capacity of actors to take action as a key element in the
differentiation of leading and lagging regions (RUREMPLO, 1999: 47). This point is echoed in
much of the literature we have examined, especially that based on case studies. This capacity not
only reflects the knowledge, skills, and attitude of individual actors, but includes the political and
social relationships that make collective action possible. This means that the extent of interaction,
cooperation, trust, risk-taking, and nurturing that occurs in a community will play an important
part in whether the opportunities available are acted upon.
Research questions arising from this approach include the following:
· Through what political and social groups does collective action take place in
leading and lagging communities?
· Under what local conditions are the leaders likely to emerge?
5.6. Beware confusion in definitions and measures
The wide variety of definitions for leading and lagging, the often implicit nature of the
characteristics and processes associated with these terms, and the often vague identification of
many key concepts in the related literature make the testing of these claims particularly difficult.
The most frequent analytical problem is the confusion between the way in which leading or
lagging status is defined, the indicators used for its measurement, and way in which associated
characteristics are measured. In many cases, the indicators of leading communities are essentially
identical to the way in which the processes affecting them are measured. If leading or lagging
status is measured, by employment levels, for example, then employment statistics cannot be
used to explain changes in that leading or lagging status. To avoid this problem, our analysis of
leading and lagging differences must be based on clear definitions: both theoretical and
operational. It also suggests that the multiple definitions of leading and lagging status require
independent analyses of the characteristics and processes involved. The demands are many, but
the potential for facilitating appropriate action is great.
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