Collaborative Rural Networks (CRNs): An examination of the Roles and Relationships between Regional Stakeholders

Elaine Aylward

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract

A major objective of recent national and supranational policies has been the socio-economic equity and cohesion of all regions, such as within the European Union (EU) and in the Irish state. Specifically, there is growing support for the establishment of collaborative and networking activity on a regional or geographic basis and networks are regularly cited as key factors in enabling a community’s economic and social development (Cawley and Gillmor, 2008; Saxena et al., 2007; Döring and Schnellenbach, 2006; Stathopoulou et al., 2004; De Faoite et al., 2004; Tourism Policy Review Group, 2003; Fleischer and Falenstein, 2000; Haugh and Pardy, 1999).
From a rural perspective, inclusive stakeholder networks, involving third level institutions and public-private stakeholders, are considered pivotal to successful and sustainable rural development (Johnson et al., 2000). Yet, it is also acknowledged that significant gaps exist on the identification and precise nature of the roles and functions of stakeholders (Pezzini, 2001; McQuaid, 1997) and the content of network interactions and relationships (Jack et al., 2008), particularly in a rural environment (Murdoch, 2000). Hence this research sought: to examine the roles and relationships that exist between regional stakeholders in a collaborative rural network environment.
From an interpretivist philosophical stance, a longitudinal case study method comprising an initial case and two comparative cases was utilised to identify the component elements of sustainable regional stakeholder engagement in a rural context. The case study approach ensured a rich thick description (Geertz, 1973) in terms of the interaction of public semi-state, private and educational organisations in the studied environment. Furthermore, the adoption of a multi-layer analysis at individual, organisational and network level has offered valuable insights into the relational dynamics of the observed region within and between the stakeholder relationships.
It was found that a common vision was a key factor to promote the collective agenda, enhanced by the presence of trusting, committed, cooperative and reciprocal relations in the rural network. The success, and sustainability, of a collaborative network is greatly facilitated by the presence of a proactive individual that acts as a broker. The key contribution of this research study is the development of a ‘Refined Model of Regional Stakeholders Rural Network Relationships’. This evolutionary model indicates the potential generation of inter-organisational social capital as the network relationships evolve. It also offered an insight into the factors that promote, and hinder, sustainable engagement.
The current study examined the roles and relationships between regional stakeholders in a rural network environment, offering insight into the relationship dynamic that developed within and between stakeholder organisations. At a theoretical level this research has responded to Murdoch’s (2000) call to use networks as a “new paradigm” for rural development. From a practical perspective, the implementation of the network paradigm (as advocated by Macken-Walsh, 2009; OECD, 2006; Murdoch, 2000; Van der Ploeg et al., 2000) into the national strategic plan for rural regional development in Ireland is recommended. Methodologically, the adoption of a multi-layer analysis at individual, organisational and network level offered valuable insights into the relational dynamics of the observed region. Furthermore, the theoretical and practical contributions which surfaced in the latter stages of this research and could not have been realised using other research methods. This researcher recommends further research of these relationships, or an examination into the development of a specific relationship, in other regions in Ireland or internationally would be beneficial in this milieu.
Original languageEnglish (Ireland)
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Kelliher, Felicity, Supervisor
  • Lynch, Patrick, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Publication statusSubmitted - 2012
Externally publishedYes

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