You are here

Reimagined policy futures: Shaping sustainable, inclusive and just rural and island communities in Scotland

Reimagined policy futures: Shaping sustainable, inclusive and just rural and island communities in Scotland

  • Rural Communities
  • 2022-2027
Sustainable Development icon: decent work and economic growth
Sustainable Development icon: reduced inequality
Sustainable Development icon: sustainable cities and communities


Despite numerous policy interventions, strategies and funding streams operating at different scales over recent decades, several persistent or ‘wicked’ challenges remain in many rural and island communities, and indeed are worsening in many places, including:

  • The unaffordability and inadequate supply of appropriate housing to buy or rent.
  • Depopulation, the out-migration of young people and population ageing.
  • Rural poverty, inequality, disadvantage, and the exclusion of minority groups and those with protected characteristics.

These challenges affect rural, island and small-town communities, and the households and individuals within them in different ways, at different times, and to differing extents. Moreover, the interactions between these challenges, and newly emerging ones, create rural and island communities with a very diverse range of current characteristics and future trajectories. We know these challenges contribute to increased inequalities and disparities between rural and island communities and their urban counterparts.

At the same time, new trends are emerging, which will also affect rural and island places in different ways, and which require new and different policy responses, such as:

  • An increasing recognition of the importance of the natural (blue and green) economy in recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Responding to the climate and biodiversity emergencies, for example through achieving net zero ambitions and decarbonisation.
  • Changing technologies, mobilities and connectivity, for example in relation to agriculture (including novel crops and innovative agricultural methods) and changing mobility and connectivity for work and living because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Alongside the wicked challenges, more research is required to examine how these challenges and opportunities are manifesting in rural and island locations and explore policy responses.


  • How can we understand the distinct characteristics and needs of accessible rural, remote and island communities in Scotland and how they change over time?
  • How can we ensure that we have a reliable evidence base to understand the diversity of rural communities, how these communities change over time and how to meet their needs?
  • How can we develop a better understanding of the changing population dynamics of Scotland’s rural and island communities?


This project aims to generate new understandings of persistent and emerging challenges and opportunities in Scotland’s rural and island communities to distil evidence- based recommendations for new and re-designed policy interventions and tools to ensure sustainable, inclusive and just futures.


Taking stock: reviewing the evolving policy context for rural and island communities

We have established Rural Exchange to help collect primary data (information, ideas, commentary, and best practice examples) on a regular and large-scale basis from the full range of rural stakeholders (including individuals in rural and island communities, community groups, researchers, policymakers, national and regional stakeholders) on persistent and new challenges and opportunities. This is helping us to understand the wider impacts of shocks, policies, strategies or services.


Persistent rural challenges

We are reviewing rural policies, strategies and funding streams in Scotland and how they have evolved since the 1960s; the evolution of national and rural and island-specific policies relating to the three persistent, ‘wicked’ challenges (housing, demographic change and out- migration, and social exclusion, poverty and marginalised rural voices); and current policy drivers which are particularly relevant for rural areas. We are researching the three persistent challenges using large-scale citizen science; quantitative analysis of secondary data; qualitative data collection with stakeholders and rural and island communities; and targeted international learning.


Future challenges: a context for opportunity

We are exploring emerging challenges and opportunities and their potential implications for rural and island communities. This focuses on three key themes: natural [blue and green] economy and green recovery; climate change, decarbonisation, and net zero; changing technologies, mobilities and connectivity.


Looking forwards – what works?

We are developing evidence-based recommendations for new and re-designed place- based policy interventions and tools to ensure the sustainable, inclusive, and just future of rural and island communities. These are being informed by evidence-based case studies and international learnings. The Rural Exchange is key to sense-checking these recommendations with rural and island communities, ensuring that their voices are central.

Related Projects

Local Assets, Local Decisions and Community Resilience

This research aims to examine how resilience in rural communities can be enhanced through processes of local empowerment and the role of wider networks and partnerships in facilitating the enhancement of resilience. It will also consider how stakeholders’ (including academics, policymakers, practitioners and communities) understandings of rural community resilience can be developed to create...

  • Rural Communities
  • 2016-2022
Place-based policy and its implications for policy and service delivery

Place-based policy and rural Scotland: To improve current understanding of (i) the main reasons for differences in economic performance and social outcomes across rural areas and small towns of Scotland, and (ii) how policies can help to deliver positive outcomes and address these disparities.

  • Rural Communities
  • 2016-2022