A new initiative called the Rural Voices Network is being launched to give a forum to those who feel disenfranchised from decision makers, and indeed, from each other. The network is being driven by the Federated Women’s Institutes of Ontario and supported by a $140,200 Ontario Trillium Foundation grant.

Over the next three months, public meetings will be held in seven communities across Ontario, including Fergus and Guelph, as network officials and researchers at the University of Guelph learn how and why people participate in the common life of rural communities. Following that, surveys will be delivered to 15,000 rural Ontario households, asking similar questions about what rural citizens consider catalysts and barriers to civic engagement.

From afar, you’d hardly know barriers existed, given rural Ontario’s block vote against the provincial Liberals. But network project manager Manon Germain says there’s been a decline in civic engagement in rural communities in this province. The citizenry may rally around election times to state its collective case, but Germain says it’s becoming increasingly disengaged with day-to-day community activities that have traditionally made rural Ontario a place that felt like home. For example, she was raised in northern Ontario, and recalls the neighbourliness and volunteerism that was an integral part of the community fabric.

“I think it’s declining,” she says. “I sense it in (the Federated Women’s Institutes of Ontario) and other rural organizations. We need to find out why this is happening, and how people can be engaged to better their communities. We need to put a megaphone to rural Ontario and find out what’s going on.”

Read more about this network in my Urban Cowboy column in the Guelph Mercury.

The image here is from Megaphone Marketing and Branding.