Act as a Region

Communities persistently analyze, develop strategies and act together within and across sensible and workable regions to address shared issues, challenges, and opportunities and achieve outcomes at a productive scale.

Competition among neighboring rural communities, whether based on past actions, a zero-sum mentality, high school sports team rivalries, or other factors, rarely make sense when it comes to improving economic prospects for more people. No one rural community can typically meet all of its needs and achieve prosperity or advance equity on its own. 

Intentionally and consistently analyzing, planning, and working together across the regional footprint that shares a challenge or opportunity breaks down barriers, builds trust, and ultimately maximizes the use and strengthening of assets that exist in each community as well as the region. This ensures that both investments and returns can happen at a scale that increases dynamism and meets the equitable prosperity aspirations of the region.

Building Block Evidence

Evidence suggests that regional collaboration across geographies, jurisdictions, and functions can be effective in improving social and economic opportunity.1,2 Some researchers have seen regional collaboration as a response to urban-rural divide narratives3,4 and as an institutional response to the realities of rural-urban interdependence.5,6 Principles for effective regional collaboration include: building and sustaining trusted regionally-focused institutions with deep roots, contextual understanding, and strong analytical capacity; recognizing that everyone, urban and rural alike, contributes to regional well-being; addressing inequities of geography, race and ethnicity, gender, income, and class to improve social and economic opportunity and health for all people and places; connecting the many elements that create and sustain healthy economies and communities into regional ecosystems; and investing for the long-term.7 

See also, 10: Regional Analysis and Action for an overview of regional studies.

  1. Dabson 2019
  2. Dabson & McFarland 2021
  3. Dabson 2007
  4. McFarland 2018
  5. Lichter & Ziliak 2017
  6. Gebre & Gebremedhin 2019
  7. Dabson, Okagaki, Markley, Green, Ferguson, Danis, & Lampkin 2020

Curated ReSources

From Competition to Cooperation: Insights on Rural Wealth Creation

Insights from rural practitioners who are advancing equitable prosperity and economic development in a way that embraces and strengthens the unique assets of rural regions.

Person looking through binoculars is birdwatching near a body of water
Learning to Grow Equitable Outdoor Recreation Economies

Discussion with rural leaders on the opportunity equitable outdoor recreation economies pose to rural areas.

African American man practicing with power band on exercise class in nature.
Pathways to Health Equity: Rural Wellbeing and Regional Assets

How the health equity and economic development fields intersect and can collaborate to bring prosperity to rural communities.

outdoor rec report page cover
Mapping a New Terrain: Call to Action

As new rural outdoor recreation economies take root, we can meet this moment by improving how we do outdoor recreation development to better support rural families, businesses, and workers, create more sustainable and equitable economic systems, and improve local health and wellbeing.

Case Study
Smiling colleagues sitting together in a meeting room.
Translating Federal Opportunities into Local Resources: Ada Jobs Foundation

This short case study has insights and tips on how rural communities with limited staffing and resources can understand, prepare for, and compete for finite federal funds.

natural disaster report cover
Through Natural Disaster to Prosperity: A Call to Action — Executive Summary

Executive Summary document for Through Natural Disaster to Prosperity: A Call to Action. Get quick takeaways and recommendations for action.

Green landscape with icons and designs over it
Better Results: What does it take to build capacity in rural and Native nations communities?

Insights and learnings from rural practitioners on how organizational capacity and technical assistance can be carefully and intentionally strengthened to grow economies, health, and livelihoods for each and every person in their regions.

Group white water rafting
Rural Outdoor Recreation Economies: Challenges and Opportunities

Outdoor recreation is driving new opportunities for local communities in many rural places. See ways to do economic development differently with rural recreation economies.

Natural disaster response workers moving sand bags
The Calm Before the Storm: Disaster Planning and Rural Resilience

Flooding, tornadoes, drought, wildfire, and other extreme weather events cause major disruption and damage wherever they occur and have potential…

Hubs report page cover
Rural Development Hubs Report

This report focuses on the role — and aggregates the wisdom — of a specific set of intermediaries that are doing development differently in rural America. We focus on Rural Development Hubs because they are main players advancing an asset-based, wealth-building, approach to rural community and economic development.

Field Items

Accelerating Rural Prosperity Through Regional Collaboration

Findings from the chapter on collaborative development, authored by Brian Dabson and Christiana K. McFarland, in the book “Investing in Rural Prosperity”.

Regional Solutions for Rural and Urban Challenges, About the Project webpage
Regional Solutions for Rural and Urban Challenges

LOCUS Impact Investing’s Regional Solutions for Rural and Urban Challenges explores the possibility that regional collaboration and solution-seeking can be an effective way of improving social and economic opportunity and health for all people and places within a region.

Aerial pic o agricultural fields
Regional Rural Development Centers

The NIFA Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDCs) play a unique role in USDA’s service to rural America. They link the research and educational outreach capacity of the nation’s public universities with communities, local decision-makers, entrepreneurs, families, and farmers and ranchers to help address a wide range of development issues.

Collage of North Carolina imagery
N.C.’s Border Belt Independent Provides a New Approach to Rural Journalism

Read this Daily Yonder article about a nonprofit newsroom in southeast North Carolina helping change the journalism landscape in four rural counties.

Aerial view of a river winding through agricultural fields in rural area.
Decreasing flood risk in the Midwest with regional collaborations

A regional approach to flood risk can help communities pool resources and implement effective solutions. Five case studies offer lessons.

Grid of suggestions. Communicate the Value and Impacts of Regional Multistate Partnerships. Work to Build Trust and Buy-in. Consider a "Backbone" Organization. Devote Time and Resources to Building Regional Multistate Relationship and Partnership. Ensure Equitable Representation in Regional Multistate Projects. Ensure that Partnership is a Two-Way Street with Equitable Benefits. Let the Shared Vision and Mission Drive the Work. Use Data, both Plan and to Measure Success. Establish Formal (but Flexible) Structures.
Regional Multistate Collaboration Toolkit

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and American Institutes for Research (AIR) share case studies, insights and takeaways from practitioners and resources.

Regional Food Hub Resource Guide cover
Regional Food Hub Resource Guide

This USDA resource guide is designed to give readers a greater understanding of what regional food hubs are, their impacts, strategies to assist their success and growth, and direction on where to find financial resources to support them.

Government official speaks at podium
One Appalachia: Connection and Collaboration

YouTube recording of the The Appalachian Regional Commission event One Appalachia: Connection and Collaboration.

Regional Development in the United States cover page
Rural Development Policy

One-pager highlighting general policy approach of economic development and recent policy changes.

We see the framework as a living document, which necessarily must evolve over time, and we seek to expand the collective ownership of the Thrive Rural Framework among rural equity, opportunity, health, and prosperity ecosystem actors. Please share your insights with us about things the framework is missing or ways it should change.

Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group