Centre for Rural Research Annual Review 2004 - College of Social ...

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Centre for Rural Research Annual Review 2004 - College of Social ...

suggest, is an attempt to “leap beyond” short-term cycles and to take the “long view”.They fashion this process around projections up to the year 2020, a marker in timethey consider to be intelligible, but suitably distant from people’s lives today.As a piece of consultancy work, the role of the Countryside Agency in orchestratingthe recent State of Countryside 2020 (SoC2020) was something of a departure in tonefrom previous endeavours, where the relationship between project sponsorship andwork undertaken has always worked in an oblique fashion. As my analysis willgradually make clear, this ‘interested’ role of policy actors runs to the heart ofdilemmas within futures work, of which the terms and findings of SoC2020 are noexception. That said, it is nonetheless worth highlighting from the outset that theTomorrow Project harnessed its work on future countrysides by drawing on what ittermed the “intellectual capital of tomorrow”; a group of people with no necessaryexpertise in the countryside, but who understood and shared the project’s “will tothink in the long term” through shared discussion and learning. For the specific termsof the SoC2020 exercise, this group was extended to include persons with moreformal expertise and interests in countryside issues, not least the Countryside Agency,and involved a combination of workshop and in-depth interview discussions. My ownrole in this process initially started in the capacity of an ‘expert’, helping to inform theunderlying issues in its rural work. I then participated in a consultation exercise inwhich interested stakeholders discussed prevailing issues surrounding the long-termfuture of rural England. It is not my purpose here to provide a blow-by-blow accountof the discussions that took place in formulating this report. Rather, what I wish to dois describe, very briefly, the broad terms on which its story of future countrysides wasultimately constructed (see Figure 1) and to use this as the basis for a short critique ofits methods, assumptions and purpose.Let me begin by stating that this process of storyboarding rural futures followed aframework laid down by the previous inquiries of the Tomorrow Project and involvedfour central questions around which scenarios of English countryside could beproduced. These questions formed the basis of the final SoC2020 report and were, inthe following order:1. Where are we now?2. What are the driversof change?3. What are the possibleoutcomes?4. What are implicationsfor the present?i.e. producing statements about issues definingthe contemporary condition of countryside.i.e. identifying forces that will shape theunfolding condition of countryside.i.e. determining the possible consequences ofthese forces at a future point in time.i.e. suggesting in light of these alternativestories what should be done now.83

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