Part 3: ICF Rural Initiatives

Intelligent Rural Community Indicators

Blandin-Foundation-250.gifBeginning in 2010, ICF has partnered with the Blandin Foundation to adapt our global standard, the Intelligent Community Indicators, to the density and scale of rural communities. Blandin is dedicated to creating vibrant communities in the rural areas of the US state of Minnesota. The Intelligent Rural Community Indicators are based largely on publicly available data and provide meaningful evaluation of the readiness of rural communities to use broadband and information technology for economic and social development. Among other factors, they measure broadband penetration and costs, educational performance and attainment, digital inclusion efforts, innovation by business and government, and the communities’ skills at marketing themselves to the world and advocating for change within the community. For the Blandin Foundation, ICF conducts benchmark evaluations of communities involved in their programs, and then repeats the evaluation later to determine progress. For ICF’s exclusive Community Accelerator program, ICF offers its Intelligent Rural Community Indicators as effective means to measure readiness and track progress in building sustainable prosperity.

Search for Intelligent Rural Community Models

ICF believes strongly that ICT, properly applied, holds the key to sustainable prosperity for rural communities, and we have launched an active search for model strategies and programs that use it to attack the challenges unique to rural communities. Examples may include efforts to create “virtual clusters” in specific industries, proactive marketing that connects citizens to distance learning applications, or a mixed face-to-face and social networking approach to matching entrepreneurs with investors. From these strategies and programs, ICF will distill best practices and share them with communities around the world.


As examples, we offer the following applications uncovered by our research into rural communities:

  • Collaboration vs. Competition for Economic Growth - Lots of talk about the economy focuses on how individual businesses compete. Generalizing from the situation of individual businesses, public officials who are responsible for the overall growth of their local economy also often talk about competition. Making their cities “competitive in the world economy” or enabling their “residents to compete" are frequent phrases you hear.
  • Modern but Still Countryside - In 1884 Van Gogh depicted the potato farmers of the southern Netherlands turning soil by hand. Today, things are different. Dutch farmers are still growing potatoes, and there is still open land. But the people in and around the small city of Eersel are creating a new kind of rural – the modern countryside.
  • Why the World's Salad Bowl Wants to go High Tech - If you’re eating a salad for lunch today, there’s a good chance it came from California’s Salinas Valley, the rich agricultural area an hour’s drive south of Silicon Valley where more than two-thirds nation’s leafy greens are produced. There’s also a decent chance it got to your plate with the help of a robot.
  • On Smaller Farms, Including Organic Farms, Technology and Tradition Meet - I spent yesterday morning at a remarkable meeting of young farmers meshing tradition and technology to sustain healthy soils and produce bountiful crops in a changing economy and climate. They had gathered for a “pre conference” ahead of the seventh Young Farmers Conference hosted by the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in the lower Hudson Valley the rest of this week. A recurring theme was that the best way to sustain America’s smaller farms, both organic and conventional, is through an intensified focus on technology.
  • A Low-Cost Alternative to Pricey Big Data on the Farm - Will big data kill the small farm or save it? An article in Monday’s New York Times profiles a farmer in Indiana, who is loaded with the latest information technology-rich agricultural gear. His sensors and large-scale data analysis, he told me, increases his return on investment by 50 percent, compared with conventional farming.
  • Working the Land and the Data - Kip Tom, a seventh-generation family farmer, harvests the staples of modern agriculture: seed corn, feed corn, soybeans and data. “I’m hooked on a drug of information and productivity,” he said, sitting in an office filled with computer screens and a whiteboard covered with schematics and plans for his farm’s computer network.
  • Polder and wiser - AT THE entrance to Hoeve Rosa farm, in the southern Dutch province of Limburg, a sign gives a warning that unmanned machines might zoom past. This farm is run by robots. They feed 180 cows, monitor their health, clean their stables and milk them whenever the cows choose. Fons Kersten, who runs the place, just needs to keep an eye on his phone. An app alerts him if a cow needs human attention.
  • Cash Cow, Taobao - TAOBAO, a large online retail platform, has become increasingly important to rural economies across China. Establishing online stores on Taobao requires little more than decent internet links and a logistics chain (often motorcycle delivery), so millions have been able to start selling goods at low cost. The trend has reversed the fortunes of many rural people.
  • With Farm Robotics, the Cows Decide When It’s Milking Time - Something strange is happening at farms in upstate New York. The cows are milking themselves. Desperate for reliable labor and buoyed by soaring prices, dairy operations across the state are charging into a brave new world of udder care: robotic milkers, which feed and milk cow after cow without the help of a single farmhand.
  • Does Ponca City Have the Fastest Free Wi-Fi in America? - A decade ago, cities jumped on the free municipal wireless bandwagon, but free was not a very good business plan, and most projects went dark when cities or vendors pulled the plug. Today free wireless is most commonly offered by public libraries and businesses wanting to attract customers, and only a few localities still offer citywide coverage.
  • Access All Areas - Once living in a small town meant isolation and a lack of opportunity, but that is all changing, writes Karen E. Thuermer in the February-March issue of fdi Intelligence, as remote rural communities embrace the digital age and link up with the global economy.
  • The Role Model for Sustainable Rural Broadband - In 2006, a majority of Nova Scotians enjoyed high-speed Internet service, but broadband connectivity was still unavailable for thousands of citizens living in rural areas. The government of Nova Scotia recognized the lack of high-speed Internet access to be a key social and economic issue for the more rural areas of the province.
  • New Global Outsourcing Hub - Wyoming? - When it comes to call centers filled with English-speaking employees, India likely comes to mind. Not a tiny town in Wyoming called Ten Sleep, population about 300. What Ten Sleep has is not, exactly, a call center. Instead, the town is home to a teaching center that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • French Farmers Go Online in Search of Love - In France, one of the biggest challenges facing farmers is not bad weather or agricultural policy but loneliness. According to an August 2011 article in The New York Times, “The lack of love in the countryside is a serious topic for a country that sees its bedrock in small farmers and their produce, which is supposed to be uniquely of the place where it is grown. According to the Agriculture Ministry, about 30 percent of male French farmers did not have a partner in 2009.
  • The Tech Farm Brings Innovation to the Fields - The Technology Farm is an incubator located in a 72-acre apple orchard in Geneva, New York. It is a nonprofit joint venture among Cornell University, the city of Geneva and the State of New York, which aims to create, retain and expand technology-based businesses focusing on agriculture and foodstuffs.
  • Startup America Makes Business Networks Virtual - Arlington, Virginia, USA is home to a small software company called Lemur Retail. Its founder, Will Fuentes, was planning a business trip to Seattle and needed help with a common priority: identifying potential clients and arranging to meet them. He decided to work though his local chapter of a national networking group called Startup America. Within hours, he had won some introductions, secured a temporary work space and even received restaurant recommendations.
  • Green Hectares Fosters Dynamic Rural Economies - In the largely rural Canadian province of Alberta, a group of young farmers have formed a nonprofit called Green Hectares in 2008. Its mission is to foster dynamic rural economies while bringing sustainability to agriculture. It takes existing and new community-based programs promoting entrepreneurship and smarter farming and shares them over a growing online community.
  • Castelo de Vide Finds New Vitality - Castelo de Vide is an inland Portuguese city of 3,400 people that has suffered the fate of many small, rural communities. As young people left in search of opportunity, its population gradually shrank and its economic base eroded. Tourism based on its 500-year history became Castelo de Vide’s most important industry.
  • Stratford Builds a Culture-Driven Economy - Stratford is a city of 32,000 at the center of a rural Canadian county 2 hour’s drive from Toronto. Its largest employer is the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, a seasonal business that attracts cultural tourists from a large market. To leverage its value, Stratford’s City Council and the local business community created a public-private Stratford Tourism Alliance.
  • Mitchell Leverages Agriculture with ICT - Mitchell, a city of 15,000 on the plains of South Dakota, where it is the center of a region that has lost 30% of its population over the past 70 years. But Mitchell has carved out a sharply different destiny. With a willing private communications company and a Federal broadband stimulus grant, Mitchell has developed a fiber-to-the-premise network serving every business and residence.
  • How the Internet Came to Borneo - In the late Nineties, the telephone company in Malaysia, together with a Malaysian university and money from the Canadian government, created a pioneering Internet access project in the remotest highlands of Borneo. The residents of the village of Bario there received a computer, a generator and a satellite terminal, which connected them to the Web for the first time.