Research into Practice

A Collaborative Approach to Sustainable Rural Development: Maptionnaire & RUSTIK

May 15, 2023
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Digital, environmental, and socio-economic transitions don’t occur only in urbanized areas — these changes transform rural environments too. RUSTIK (Rural Sustainability Transitions through Integration of Knowledge) is an EU Horizon Europe-funded project* that works together with rural communities and policy-makers to understand and accelerate these transitions outside of urbanized areas. And Maptionnaire is a proud partner of the project!

Who is behind RUSTIK?

The project runs for 4 years until 2026 and brings together 31 partners from 10 countries — research institutions, SMEs, and municipal and governmental bodies. Maptionnaire is one of the private sector partners, offering solutions for effective digital community engagement in rural areas. 

What’s more, 14 Living Labs from 10 countries are taking part in the project. These labs are the testing grounds for research and policy implementation, and the project is uniquely promoting collaboration among the living labs. You can read about each Lab and their unique focus here

*This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement No GA 101061051. The work developed under this project is also supported by Innovate UK through the Horizon Europe Guarantee scheme.

Key Challenges of Rural Transitions

At the first stage of the project, RUSTIK partners have identified three crucial transitions that are posing the most challenge for rural areas: socio-economic changes, climate change, and digitalization. 

  1. Socio-economic and demographic challenges: regional disparities, aging population, out-migration, labor market shortage, digital divide (local lacking skills and/or connectivity), access to services and infrastructure
  2. Climate change & environment: drought, water management, wildfires, land abandonment, biodiversity loss, crops loss, new production methods, loss of traditional farming landscapes 
  3. Digitalization: urban-rural digital divide, lack of skills, infrastructure, digitalization of public services 

The partners and living labs are working together to better understand specific functionalities of rural areas relating to these three spheres. The goal of the project is also to design solutions for mitigating them while improving overall sustainability. What’s more, these findings should feed into the policymaking process by making it more participatory and open for local stakeholders and residents.

a photo of RUSTIK participants discussing sustainable rural development and its challenges
Collaboration and knowledge exchange is at the heart of the RUSTIK project.

Maptionnaire for Community Engagement in Rural Areas

To ensure knowledge exchange between the labs, project partners, and local stakeholders, as well as co-creation in research and policymaking, RUSTIK employs a range of community engagement and collaboration methods. 

Although community engagement originates in urban research, these techniques are applicable in rural areas as well. PPGIS (Public Participation GIS) technologies that Maptionnaire brings to the project help mitigate some of the challenges of community engagement in rural planning. For example, due to larger distances between households and centers in rural areas, it is more difficult to organize live events. Asynchronous digital participation with Maptionnaire can help locals breach these distances and share their voices without unnecessary travel. 

To sum up, Maptionnaire’s role in the project is to: 

  • Evaluate the specificities of citizen engagement and data collection in rural areas and applicability of PPGIS in this environment 
  • Create an overview of these various data collection methods for the Living Labs 
  • Assist the Living Labs in using Maptionnaire’s citizen engagement platform for data collection and co-creation

We’ll be sharing stories of Living Labs implementing citizen engagement methods throughout the project, so stay tuned!

Collaboration and Exchange in Practice: Barcelona Kick-off Meeting 

Collaboration is the modus operandi of the RUSTIK project. To achieve this, participants regularly meet digitally — and also in person. The Living Labs kick-off meeting in Barcelona and Osona in February 2023 was the first offline event to unite both partners and all the Living Labs.   

In these two days, there has been a lot of planning, discussions of the key concepts and goals, introductions of the pilot regions, and knowledge exchange. Kirsi Forss, who represented Maptionnaire at this meeting, introduced the platform to the participants and demonstrated how the technology worked in other rural projects, encouraging Living Labs to use digital and blended citizen engagement for research and co-creation. 




Some moments of exchange, discussions, and field trips from the kick-off meeting in Spain.

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