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Creativity, innovation and sustainability: Understanding urban-rural linkages in regional economic development initiatives

Generously funded by:

Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO)

Meet the research team:

Faculty investigators

Dr. Tara Vinodrai, Associate Professor, Department of Geography & Environmental Management and School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, University of Waterloo

Dr. Paul Parker, Professor, Department of Geography & Environmental Management and School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, University of Waterloo

Dr. Steffanie Scott, Associate Professor, Department of Geography & Environmental Management, University of Waterloo

Student investigators:

  • Riaz Nathu (Local Economic Development, University of Waterloo)
  • Emily Robson (Local Economic Development, University of Waterloo)
  • Scott Ross (Local Economic Development, University of Waterloo)

Partners:

Ontario Association of Community Futures Development Corporations (OACFDC)

Waterloo Region Food Systems Roundtable

Waterloo Region Green Solutions

Woolwich Healthy Communities Committee

Abstract:

This research advances our knowledge of models of regional collaboration and governance in economic development through a case study of the Waterloo region, with a focus on local food systems, clean technologies, and the creative and cultural industries. The project focuses understanding the models of governance and collaboration in each of these three sectors in Waterloo region, and examines if, and how, regional approaches facilitate economic development. The objectives of the study are to:

  1. Identify models of regional governance and collaboration;
  2. Understand the opportunities for collaboration that exist between jurisdictions;
  3. Identify organizational models that foster economic development across jurisdictional boundaries;
  4. Identify the challenges and barriers to regional action; and
  5. Investigate and develop new tools and methods to capture and analyze regional collaboration.

Given the centrality of knowledge exchange, sharing and interaction in the practice of economic development, we have developed and applied new, innovative social network analysis tools to understand these regional and sector-based economic development dynamics. These social network analysis tools are used to document interactions amongst the economic development community, as well as their interactions with industry-specific actors in the Waterloo region. The analysis is complemented by 86 key informant interviews with regional actors, as well as extensive background research and an in-depth review of the current academic and policy literature.

Overall, our research identifies two overarching models of regional governance and collaboration: a conventional model, based on a leading regional agency and a network model, based on strengthening existing regional and sector-based networks. Both models exist in Waterloo region and the effectiveness of each is mixed, due to organizational mandates and sector dynamics. Our research also identifies that the barriers to regional action often relate to the lack of clear, recognized leadership, either from an agency or from elsewhere in the community; the lack of connections between existing community leadership and the economic development community; and a lack of understanding related to sector-specific development challenges. Conversely, regional action can be enhanced by the effective use of cross-sectoral networks that enable individual actors to leverage the knowledge and resources of other actors in the network. Finally, our research highlights the value of using new tools and techniques such as social network analysis, alongside other methods.

Research activities:

Report

Vinodrai, T., Nathu, R., Robson, E., Ross, S., Parker, P. and Scott, S. 2012. Taking regional action? Understanding networks in the local food, green energy and creative sectors in Waterloo region. Research monograph prepared for the Economic Developers Council of Ontario, 122 pages.

Presentations and articles

Ross, S. 2014. Are local food opportunities really on the economic developers' agenda? The Higher Ed Blog (November). (re-blogged on local dish by FoodLink Waterloo Region)

Parker, P. and Vinodrai, T. 2012. Building sustainable economies: Foundations, knowledge networks and green trends. Economic Revitalization Conference: Sustainable Economies, Sustainable Communities, Kingston, Ontario, April 11.

Ross, S., Scott, S., Vinodrai, T., Nathu, R., Robson, E., and Parker, P. 2012. Regional economic development networks: Lessons from the local food system in Waterloo. Canadian Association of Food Studies, Waterloo, Ontario, May 26-28.

Vinodrai, T. 2012. Creativity, innovation and sustainability: Understanding regional development initiatives. Presentation to a Liaoning Provincial Government delegation, People's Republic of China, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, September 4.

Vinodrai, T., Nathu, R., Robson, E., Ross, S., Parker, P. and Scott, S. 2012. Taking regional action? Understanding networks in the local food, green energy and creative sectors in Waterloo region. Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO) Annual Conference, Toronto, Ontario, February 2.

Theses / Major research papers

Robson, E. in progress. Economic development and the creative, cultural and new media industries: The case of Waterloo (tentative). MAES Major Research Paper, University of Waterloo. (Supervisor: T. Vinodrai)

Ross, S. 2014. Regional economic development and alternative food network governance: A Waterloo Region case study. MAES Major Research Paper, University of Waterloo. (Supervisor: S. Scott)

Nathu, R. 2013. Exploring networks for regional green economic development: A case study of the Waterloo Region clean tech sector. MAES Major Research Paper, University of Waterloo. (Supervisor: P. Parker)