New Research Project: Municipal Capacity Related to Rural and Agri-food Issues

Posted on Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

This spring Dr. Wayne Caldwell and MSc students Elise Geschiere and Regan Zink are undertaking research examining municipal capacity as it relates to rural and agri-food issues; the project is funded by the Greenbelt Foundation. A thriving agricultural sector in Ontario is dependent upon a knowledgeable and supportive municipal sector. As the nature of municipal government and agriculture evolves, municipalities need to ensure that they have the capacity (staff, time, expertise) to respond to new and emerging agricultural issues (including climate change, cannabis production, agritourism, etc.). It is equally important that municipal elected officials understand the needs of agriculture and are well positioned to make timely, relevant decisions in support of the agri-food sector and the economy of rural Ontario.

Research examining municipal capacity and rural and agricultural outcomes is relatively sparse, the most recent comparable study being conducted in the late 1980s. Davidson (1988) provides historical context to the varied efforts of Ontario municipalities in relation to rural issues. His research examined the capacity of 13 upper-tier planning departments and determined a variety of challenges (staff resources, outdated policies, expectations) impacting rural areas and rural economic development. Many of the issues identified in Davidson’s research persist in the present and point to a sustained relationship between municipal capacity and the ability to deliver on critical planning mandates; the current study being undertaken by Dr. Caldwell aims to build on this research and contribute to a more complete understanding of this relationship.

Screen capture of three people VideoconferencingImage:  Videoconference depiction of what the research process looks like at the moment (with Elise Geschiere, Regan Zink and Wayne Caldwell).

The research area includes 67 upper and lower tier municipalities across the Greenbelt Region. A mixed methods approach will be used in the research, including: surveys and interviews with municipal planners and elected officials, in addition to a literature review and policy analysis. The deliverable of this project will be a report for the Greenbelt Foundation detailing the research findings and providing recommendations for how to better position municipalities to respond to and support the agri-food sector in the planning process. Dr. Caldwell’s website will house this report as well as supplementary materials such as lessons learned, best practices and training materials.  

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