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The Disconnect Between Principles and Practice: Rural Policy Reviews of OECD Countries


  • David Freshwater,

  • Raffaele Trapasso

  • David Freshwater is a Professor at the Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA and an Adjunct Professor at the Department of Geography, Memorial University, St. John's, NL, Canada. In 2009, he was Head of the Rural Policy Programme of the OECD. His e-mail address is: Raffaele Trapasso is an Administrator and Economist at the Regional Development Policy Directorate of the OECD, Paris, France. His e-mail address is: The first version of the paper was prepared for the North American Regional Science Council Meetings, Denver, CO, 10 & 13 November, 2010. Other versions of the paper have been presented at workshops at the OECD and at other locations. The useful comments of participants at these events are acknowledged. All opinions expressed are those of the authors.


Following the publication of the New Rural Paradigm (NRP) in 2006, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) undertook a number of national rural policy reviews for member countries between 2006 and 2009. These reviews were paid for by the nation being reviewed and were structured to assess how well the national policy followed the guidelines of the NRP. International agencies, including the OECD, are seen as being well positioned to encourage policy transfer, and one might think that countries wishing to be reviewed would have adopted the NRP. We examine the set of reviews to determine which elements of the NRP were commonly adopted and which were not. While it may seem that the interval between 2006 and the time of the reviews is too short to expect much change, the ideas underpinning the NRP have their origins in OECD rural policy analysis that began in the late 1980s.

Over 20 years, the OECD philosophy of rural development has evolved to parallel the academic research literature in endorsing “bottom-up” investment-oriented policies that engage a broad set of actors. Yet, just as academic research seems to have little impact on actual rural policy, so too there is limited evidence that countries fully adopt the NRP. Explaining why this lack of impact is the case is beyond the scope of the paper, but our results reinforce the challenges facing any effort to alter current rural policy.