OECD Rural Development Conference 2018

OECD rural development conference 2018
James Rose

The 11th OECD Rural Development Conference came to Edinburgh from 9-12 April, with the Scottish Rural Network Support Unit leading the UK in the organisation and the execution of the event. 442 delegates from 27 countries descended on Scotland’s capital to discuss how innovation can help rural areas respond to the challenges of globalisation, shifting trading patterns, and growing inequality.

The event highlighted ten key drivers of rural change and the development of an integrated policy approach to capitalise on them, and concluded by adopting the Edinburgh Policy Statement, which calls for making the most of rural innovation opportunities to drive job creation, economic growth, and service delivery (see also OECD’s Rural 3.0 Policy Note).

The conference was co-hosted by OECD,  the Scottish and UK Governments, the European Commission, working alongside ENRD Contact Point, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands & Islands Enterprise and Scotland Food & Drink. Staff from the Scottish Rural Network Support Unit were involved in every aspect, from workshop content & design, programme co-ordination and planning, to booking and liaising with venues and accommodation.  The team also provided on-the-ground logistical support including photography and filming. Watch this short video to find out what went into the planning of the conference and what it meant for Scotland.

You can view extensive highlights from the conference now at the SRN Vimeo page. A series of interviews with speakers and delegates conducted by SRN will be released shortly.

The Conference

On Monday 9 April the Lord Provost of Edinburgh open proceedings with a lively exhibitor show , at which all four UK National Rural Networks shared a stand to greet and chat to delegates.

The afternoon pre-conference forum focused on enhancing prosperity and building sustainable, resilient communities, before delegates attended an evening dinner reception hosted by the Scottish Government and Scotland Food & Drink at the Assembly Rooms.


On Tuesday 10 April high level representatives including Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs, Phil Hogan, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Eueopean Commission and Lord Duncan of Springbank, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Scotland and for Northern Ireland, met at The Cannonball restaurant in the shadow of Edinburgh castle to discuss and shape the Edinburgh Policy Statement on Enhancing Rural Innovation.

The main conference opened later that afternoon. Fiona Hyslop MSP attended on behalf of the Scottish Government and spoke at the high level plenary session. You can view the full session here.

Gunter Pauli, Entrepreneur and author of The Blue Economy, Belgium, made a lasting impression on delegates with his keynote speech, which you can watch in full here.

Tuesday afternoon also focused on  ‘megatrends’ – ten key drivers for rural change, with speakers on topics such as driverless cars, the future of food, decentralised energy systems and digital connectivity, followed by an ‘ideas factory’ breakout discussion. Watch highlights from session A and session B.

This was followed by an 'Ideas Factory' breakout group discussion on the 10 Key Drivers for rural change and other topics emerging from pre-conference. Watch here.

Our colleagues at the Welsh Rural Network hosted a ‘Taste of Wales’ reception on Tuesday evening, sponsored by Food and Drink Wales, showcasing the best in Welsh produce.  

There was another packed programme on Wednesday with sessions including promoting entrepreneurship, rural responses to global climate objectives, social innovation and community-led initiatives.

Finally, on Thursday delegates headed off to two field trips to showcase Scottish rural innovation. One group headed to a dairy farm at Parkend Farm and a farm-turned-tourist-attraction  at Comrie Croft to take a look at ‘robotics and regeneration’ respectively (hosted by Scottish Enterprise), while a second  took a close look at ‘marine science, business development and de-concentrated energy systems’ at the Scottish Association for Marine Science and the European Marine Science Park (hosted by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Reflecting on the week, Alistair Prior, Head of the Scottish Rural Network Support Unit said:

“Scotland is a world-leader in rural development and innovation, and this conference was a unique opportunity to showcase Scottish rural innovation to the world and establish Scotland as a global centre of rural development excellence.

“The learning and sharing of experiences that delegates contributed and took away will shape policy decisions worldwide, promoting opportunities for job creation, economic growth, and service delivery in the context of the limitless opportunities of technological innovation.

“I’m extremely proud that Scotland was able to host such a succesful conference, and of the hard work that Scottish Rural Network Support Unit staff put in to deliver a landmark event that will shape the way rural areas drive innovation worldwide.”