Blake Glassford

Role: HQP Scholar

Degree: M.Sc.

Project: The Peaks and Valleys of Connection: A Mixed Methods Analysis of Smart Village Policies in the EU

Department: School of Environmental Design and Rural Development (SEDRD) (OAC)

What inspired you to pursue your current degree? 

I decided to pursue an MSc in Rural Planning and Development (RPD) after I moved back to the East Kootenays in 2020. I grew up in the Columbia Valley in southeastern BC, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. While I loved growing up in interior British Columbia, I did not appreciate the full potential of rural life and craved to get out and see the world. So, I left home in 2015 to pursue a BA in Political Science at the University of Victoria. After living on Vancouver Island for five years, I moved back to the East Kootenays right before the COVID-19 pandemic descended on the world. While the pandemic took its toll, It was beautiful to see the community rally behind each other and prosper in a time of darkness. I was privileged to come back and work for several local community development organizations over the last couple of years. My experience working with those groups allowed me to see limitations and opportunities for innovation and sustainable development in small towns. By coming home, I could find questions that needed to be answered and finally realize the limitless possibilities available for rural Canadians. I applied to the RPD program in Fall 2020 and have never looked back.

What about your research area excites you? 

My research area pertains to rural digital development and sustainable development, particularly the Smart Village concept and the impact of government policies on rural development. While I am excited about several parts of my research, two things stick out. First, I am excited to be working on a project that could directly impact the welfare of the place I grew up in. I love the Columbia Valley and the Kootenay region. I wouldn’t be in the position I am in without the fantastic community I grew up in, and I feel like this is the best way I can give something tangible back using my skills and talents. Secondly, Canadian research into rural digital development is an emerging field. It is filled with talented and passionate researchers and offers a wide range of topics to explore. I am excited to contribute to ongoing, cross-cultural discourses and add to this blooming body of knowledge.

What challenges do you find in your research, and how do you try to overcome them? 

As mentioned before, rural digital development research is an emerging field of study in Canada, with even less research dedicated to examining the role of policy on digital capacity building and sustainable development. A lot of the core research on Smart Village policies and projects focuses on the European context and is disaggregated across several languages, geographic, and political regions. In turn, locating relevant policies and projects to study has become difficult. I navigate these problems in several ways, such as implementing different case selection methods and learning linguistic and cultural differences in how Smart Village concepts are interpreted in various countries. Another aspect of this research that I find difficult is the concept of positionality. While I write this response, I have not commenced the case study phase of my research. However, focusing on an international case on the impact of Smart Village policies, I must be cognitive about my relationship with those I am creating knowledge. As a young, white male researcher from a western academic institution, I bring a lot of power into those relationships. As I go forward with my research, I must engage in an ongoing process of reflexivity with my actions and collaborate with any community I conduct my research in that the research outcomes are beneficial for all parties involved.

How would you describe your research and the implications of your project? 

My research comprises a mixed method study of Smart Village policies developed in the European Union and the United Kingdom and their impacts on sustainable and digital development in rural areas. This consists of a preliminary content analysis of Smart Village policies ranging from a supernational to regional in scope, as well as a case study of an ongoing Smart Village project within the EU or the UK. My research aims to inform rural Canadian stakeholders, particularly those working in mountainous regions, of the potential impacts Smart Village policies and initiatives have on enabling regional cooperation and improving ICT capacity to strengthen rural resilience. There are several implications for this research. Some of the main implications include the following:

  • Expand how policymakers and rural actors think about addressing digital and sustainable development in Canada.
  • Showing the value of creating place-based and participatory-based approaches to digital development.
  • Encouraging an international dialogue between rural regions to find more effective solutions to contemporary problems such as rural decline and climate change.

What are three of your favourite activities outside the lab? 

Outside of my research, I enjoy writing music. I find it helpful in expressing my creativity and decompressing after a long day of studying. In the winter, I love to go downhill skiing. Lastly, I am also a massive fantasy nerd, so I also play Dungeons and Dragons regularly.

What is one important thing you have learned during the pandemic?

The most important thing I learned during the pandemic was the importance of knowing yourself. To help others, you must also address your personal issues. That process involves taking time for introspection and sitting with uncomfortable questions about yourself. By putting in individual work, I believe people become better equipped to help others address issues in the world and facilitate a self-reinforcing cycle of healing in growth in one’s community.