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Strategies for Rural Development

How the Ministry of Food and Agriculture designed change

Anna Welbers
Anna Welbers
January 10, 2018

At a little under 75,000 residents, the German town of Arnsberg is the largest in its district. This is where the first of a total of four Future Workshops, a series of events hosted by the by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, took place in May of 2017.

The workshop motto translates to “Regional Networks – Strong Communities.” Roughly 90 participants had registered to attend the event. The goal was to develop a list of desired outcomes and a framework for their implementation to respond to future challenges in rural development. Following a brief welcome by the German Minister of Agriculture and two local officials, participants were ushered into their pre-assigned workshops.

What are our goals for the future of rural development?

There were three simultaneous workshops, one on economic issues, one on the topic of infrastructure and one about communities. To define the exact topic for each workshop, we had invited the participants to an online consultation to gather their suggestions for potential workshop topics. Based on the answers we developed the discussion questions for each workshop.

Screenshot of the consultation "communities"

In the workshops, participants defined the most important outcomes for the topic at hand and then developed a framework for their implementation. The two guiding questions were:

Define the outcomes: What do we want to achieve over the course of future development in rural areas?
Develop a framework for implementation: How can we achieve these outcomes?

The participants came from a variety of different backgrounds, both in terms of age and in terms of profession. This diversity resulted in constructive and stimulating discussions that produced interesting insights.

In the economics workshop, participants agreed that investing more in digital workspaces and co-working facilities would likely improve employment opportunities in rural areas. To help establish these new forms of employment, companies, universities and politicians must work together to build the required digital expertise and create the right incentives.

In the infrastructure workshop, participants decided that one important outcome for rural development would be to ensure comprehensive healthcare provision using digital means. Suggestions for the corresponding framework for implementation included medical consultations via Skype, electronic prescriptions and automatic transmission of patients’ medical data.

The participants of the community workshop defined one of their goals as “engaging young people, taking their concerns seriously and involving them in collective decision processes.” Participants suggested that to implement this goal, politicians and administrators should use different strategies to engage different target groups and should actively involve younger citizens.

Discussion round in the infrastructure workshop
Photo: BMEL/Michael Gottschalk/

Insights provided the digital infrastructure for the event and our team was there to record the results of the workshop discussions and feed them into the platform. In addition, participants were asked to send text messages, which were automatically uploaded to the platform and could be displayed inside the workshop rooms in real time. After the discussion phase, workshop leaders were able to share their groups’ results using the answers and insights collected on the platform. In addition, participants were able to submit answers for each workshop topic online after the event.

Workshop conclusion and subsequent events

After the discussion workshops, everyone got together for a final session and the workshop moderators each presented their group’s results. At the end of this long and productive afternoon, everyone was invited to the lobby to share their thoughts and impressions and socialize with other participants, as well as for a feedback session on the Insights platform.

The insights from all three workshops were recorded on the platform and sent to all participants via email. The aim of the digital component of the event was to gather knowledge and expertise from a number of rural regions in Germany, to aggregate it and extract the key insights, and to develop strategies for the future of the development of rural areas throughout Germany.

After the successful initial event, there were three more Future Workshops in three different regions. Each event resulted in a number of future-oriented insights. All the insights were collected and integrated on the platform. They will be presented to senior officials in the Federal Agency for Agriculture and Food and incorporated into the pilot project “Land(auf)schwung.”

Open House at the Ministry for Food and Agriculture

Over the course of the four Future Workshops we had collected the advice of rural stakeholders. The Open House event at the Ministry of Agriculture in Berlin on August 26th and 27th provided an opportunity to consult city dwellers on their views regarding the future of rural development and thus incorporate a new perspective on the issue.

Open House event at the Ministry in Berlin
Photo: BMEL/Thomas Trutschel/

In addition to the more than 1,100 answers we had already collected, we spoke to about 200 visitors at the Open House and recorded their views on the platform. We found that residents of rural areas and city residents have similar views on many of the issues. Mobility, public provisions, opportunities for highly qualified workers and the revitalization of old town centers were just a few of the many insights that resulted from the Ministry’s project.

If you want to learn more about other Insights projects please see our Examples section.

German Ministry of Food and AgricultureAnna Welbers
Anna is a project manager at InsightsDE. In the last year she has helped many private and public organizations to establish inclusive decision making processes and has managed a project about regional development in Germany.