Vibrant Rural Communities

Published on 13 February 2013 in Sustainability and Communities

Isle of Harris Ferry


Vibrant Rural Communities is a research programme that has been commissioned by the Scottish Government, as part of a larger programme of work. It takes place from April 2011 through to March 2016.

One of its themes explores ‘Governance and decision-making for community empowerment in rural communities’. This theme is important as there is an increasing drive, in policy and in practice, to enhance the capacity of rural communities to be involved in their own local futures.


Key Points

Phase 1 of the research, from 2011-2012, focused on identifying what makes rural communities “vibrant”, “resilient” and “high-capacity”. At this stage of the programme key findings indicate that:

  • resilience is a useful over-arching concept which can encompass other terms such as community resilience, adaptive capacity, vibrancy, empowerment, social capital and well-being (see Figure 1 and for further exploration of these terms see Vibrant Rural Communities Database)
  • methods of measuring community resilience presented in the academic literature and community toolkits show an early attempt of capturing this concept - in designing any measurement tool, a balance must be kept between cost, availability of data, scope, complexity, and accuracy
  • combining qualitative and quantitative research approaches is considered to offer the strengths of both research methods helping to understand how community resilience ‘happens’ and how to measure community resilience
  • and finally it is important to adapt international research approaches to specific local Scottish features and therefore we propose using a hybrid evaluation model combining existing research evidence with contextual factors identified through fieldwork.

In Phase 2, from 2012-2015, in addition to further exploration of existing literature, our research focuses on applying current findings in the fieldwork, working out and about in rural Scotland (for an example of our work, please see information on the Capacity for Change programme).

Phase 3 of the research programme will be focusing more on knowledge exchange and lessons for policy, drawing out lessons for wider rural Scotland.

Research Undertaken

Our future work in this research programme will continue to explore related terms in greater details. This will be done though both systematic and rigorous review of international research and our empirical study in Scotland. Through a refinement process, the conceptual dimensions will be further developed in relation to a number of key academic and practice publications.

Figure 1. Community resilience and its links with other concepts

Policy Implications

Globally, within communities and research, there is an increasing interest in the concept of community resilience. The concept, however, appears to be complex and one that is difficult to measure. The main reason for this is that community resilience encompasses and links with other community characteristics and terms such as empowerment, adaptive capacity, sustainability, wellbeing and social capital. Consequently, there is a lack of easily adaptable and practical tools which enable the aspects of community resilience to be captured, whilst inadequate assessment methods make it difficult to measure how effective these community-focused policy and project investments are. Our current work tackles this issue through developing and testing community resilience measurement tools.

Find out more about the Governance and decision-making for community empowerment in rural communities research.


Dr Artur Steiner

Dr Sarah Skerratt


Sustainability and Communities

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