Rural proofing: guidance for policymakers

New Zealand's rural communities face unique challenges. We've developed guidance to help policymakers consider these challenges by 'rural proofing' their policies during development and implementation.

About rural proofing

The Government's rural communities portfolio recognises the importance of our rural communities. We need to focus on the unique challenges they face so that they can be vibrant, resilient, and sustainable.

The rural communities work programme aims to help rural people to:

  • have a higher quality of life
  • have access to social and economic opportunities
  • be just as able to reach their potential as urban New Zealanders.

"Rural proofing" aims to achieve this. It's about taking into account the particular challenges faced by the rural sector when designing and implementing Government policy.

Strong and vibrant rural communities support the success of our major export industries and growth in international visitors.

Rural proofing policy – Beehive media release 

Rural Proofing government policies – Cabinet paper [PDF, 481 KB]

Rural proofing guide for policy development and service delivery planning [PDF, 960 KB]

What does rural proofing mean?

Rural proofing means:

  • understanding the unique aspects of rural communities
  • identifying the impacts of policies on them
  • ensuring the policy outcomes are fair and equitable.

Rural proofing is most effective when considered early and throughout the policy process. This means building a rural lens into the full cycle of our policy development, implementation, service delivery, and evaluation of policy effectiveness.

Successful rural proofing will lead to a more tailored policy and operational design. The aim is to have policies that are practicable and reflect the aspirations, values, needs and capabilities of rural communities.

How to rural proof your policy

Add a rural lens to your normal policymaking process. You should consciously remove any urban bias as you think through potential rural implications of policies.

  1. Confirm policy or programme objectives and desired outcomes.
  2. Recognise the unique challenges faced by rural communities.
  3. Identify and assess potential impacts.
  4. Engage with stakeholders who live in, or are familiar with, rural communities.
  5. Consider mitigation measures.

Find out more about each of the steps

Expand All
Confirm policy or programme objectives and the desired outcomes

Rural proofing means assessing the implications for rural communities of all new policies and programmes. Policymakers need to be able to identify what life is like in a rural community and take this into account when designing and developing policy.

Rural proofing requires us to consider the wider rural community – not just farmers, growers and fishers, but everyone who lives in rural communities:

  • their families
  • those who live a rural lifestyle but work in an urban centre
  • anyone else that supports the work of the primary sector more broadly, for example, the school teacher, church minister, store owner, or trucking firm operator.

If you have little or no experience of living or working in a rural area, get familiar. If you can’t visit a rural community, immerse yourself in resources such as TV’s Country Calendar, Radio NZ’s Country Life, the virtual publication published by Farmers Weekly), the Heartland Strong book, or browse Nuffield and Kellogg scholar reports.

Links to resources

Farmers Weekly virtual publication

Heartland Strong

Nuffield Scholar reports

Kellogg Scholar reports

Farmers Weekly videos [XLSX, 85 KB]

Farmstrong

Recognise the unique challenges faced by rural communities

Rural communities are diverse. They span a continuum from the urban boundary to truly remote, and include isolated farms, fishing communities, people living rurally on lifestyle blocks, and small towns that service rural areas. By some measures, up to 1 in 4 New Zealanders live in rural communities.

Rural communities tend to have different demographics from the New Zealand average. For example, they can have a higher proportion of Māori, older residents or children. However, the proportion of younger adults tends to be lower.

Rural communities have unique drivers and challenges, and these need to be considered when developing policy. 

Drivers

Employment in rural communities is often based in the primary industries and tourism:

  • Residents may be impacted by the economic fortunes and challenges affecting those industries, such as environmental and health issues, floods and drought, and farmgate prices.
  • Regulatory, market, and environmental changes can disproportionately affect rural communities.
  • Seasonality can be important. Farming has periods of peak activity, such as lambing, calving or harvest. Additional activities that are possible at certain times of the year may be impossible to manage at other times.

Where a person lives and how they make their living in a rural community can be inseparable, especially when it is connected to work in the primary industries. In rural communities, changing employment may mean finding a new home or a new region to live in.

Challenges

The key challenges for people living in rural communities are infrastructure (roads, transport, telecommunications, broadband), health care, education, and employment.

Lower population densities and longer travel times to service centres, which may be centrally located, can impact access to essential services (health, education, emergency services) and community activities.

Some rural communities experience significant deprivation. Social and physical isolation, a lack of public transport, and less well-developed digital infrastructure can limit employment opportunities or the ability of residents to take part in social interactions.

Attracting and retaining young staff and their families in rural communities can be difficult if there are not services like preschools, schools, sports groups, churches, marae, health and maternity care.

The telecommunications network and transport infrastructure can be of variable quality. This can make online activities difficult or impossible, which affects access to information, education and government services.

For rural communities with a largely Māori population, all of these challenges are likely to be exacerbated – the communities are likely to be poorer, more remote, and therefore further from health and education services.

About rural communities

Rural communities are diverse [PDF, 145 KB] 

An urban/rural profile (2004) – Stats NZ

Census data from 2018 comparing rural NZ with all of NZ

Dwelling and household statistics [PDF, 216 KB]

Education and commuting statistics [PDF, 165 KB]

Health statistics [PDF, 168 KB]

Population statistics [PDF, 230 KB]

Work and income statistics [PDF, 211 KB]

Identify and assess the potential impacts

Rural proofing means adding a rural lens to your normal policymaking process. Rather than designing your policy only for city and suburban communities, identify the expected benefits and implications and very importantly, the possible unintended consequences of the policy for rural communities.

Be creative. Try walking in their shoes (or gumboots) as you do this. Keep in mind the drivers and challenges that rural communities face, and remember that these can be exacerbated for communities with a largely Māori population.

Questions to consider

  • What opportunities are there to advance rural communities in your policy?
  • Will the wellbeing of rural communities and households be improved?
  • Does the policy have synergies with other policies, from which you can achieve co-benefits?

In particular, consider access to transport, access to telecommunications, employment, health care, the needs of older people and children.

Other considerations

Identify potential barriers, challenges or limitations to how this policy may play out when considered alongside the drivers and challenges of rural communities. Consider social, cultural, environmental and economic factors when thinking about possible impacts and unintended consequences.

  • Could there be unintended impacts of your policy beyond the target audience?
  • Are there wider community impacts?
  • How can you mitigate these? Using scenarios may be useful here.

Create user stories and test them with someone from a rural community or with regional staff from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). They will identify what does not fit in a rural context.

Could there be cumulative impacts from your proposed policy alongside other policies, whether MPI’s or other agencies’?

Consider the wider policy work programme across government.

Find out more

MBIE Regional Economic Activity Web Tool

Statistics NZ

Engage with stakeholders who are familiar with rural communities

Rural proofing requires early and ongoing engagement with stakeholders who are familiar with rural communities. Rural communities are often highly engaged in issues that affect their members. Stakeholders familiar with these communities will be able to help you understand the policy issue and its potential impact from their perspective, and may be able to suggest creative solutions for mitigation.

Don’t rely on people looking up information on the internet. Broadband connectivity and reliability issues may mean that you will get more engagement if you provide printed copies of consultation documents, perhaps through local councils. Recognise infrastructure time delays such as rural post, and allow more time for feedback.

Stakeholder engagement can be done through a simple phone conversation with the right person, or face-to-face (in their time, on their turf). Be prepared to fit into your stakeholders’ timetables rather than squeezing them into a Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 schedule, and allow for the seasonal nature of their employment.

Engagement with Māori is likely to be more successful if it comes from established networks and ongoing relationships – Te Arawhiti/the Office for Māori Crown Relations has useful guidelines for how to go about it.

Te Arawhiti: Crown engagement with Māori

Te Arawhiti: Guidelines for engagement with Māori

Rural contacts and organisations

MPI can help you identify relevant rural contacts and organisations.

Event calendars

Federated Farmers

Beef+Lamb NZ

Consider mitigation measures

Rural proofing means looking for opportunities to make adaptions to mitigate unintended impacts on rural communities. Policy makers should carry out an impact assessment of social, cultural, environmental and economic factors to identify impacts and possible unintended consequences.

There may be simple ways to adapt policy settings to mitigate unintended impacts on rural communities, for instance, consider whether delivery models or timeframes can be adapted to support communities to make the changes required.

When considering how to adapt a policy for rural communities, stakeholder consultation and testing will be vital. If you are able to mitigate undue impacts on rural communities, there is a better chance of compliance and therefore reduced enforcement costs.

Remember to keep parties updated, including stakeholders, relevant agencies and Ministers, of approved policies, mitigations, benefits, and unresolved implications.

Access to services

  • Consider options to manage higher delivery cost per capita and the costs that are constant regardless of scale.
  • Target funding to assist or encourage provision in rural areas, and deliver equitable access to services for rural people.
  • Where private sector provision is tendered, allow time for local or innovative solutions for rural issues to be included.
  • Share resources or staff across agencies.  

Infrastructure

  • Consider if there is a need to subsidise transport services (e.g. school buses, emergency helicopters, transport assistance to health care).
  • Consider mobile services to rural areas.
  • Facilitate shared use of facilities.
  • Contractually require delivery in isolated rural areas.
  • Provide exemptions or concessions where appropriate for rural areas.
  • Enable alternative delivery methods to improve accessibility (phone, email, apps).
  • Encourage combined servicing of several providers.

Government organisations' resources and tools

DPMC Policy Project

Policy Methods Toolbox

Statistics New Zealand

Regional Economic Activity web tool

Treasury’s Impact Analysis Requirements

Treasury’s living standards framework 

Rural proofing resources for policymakers

Checklists

Rural proofing impact assessment checklist (template) [PDF, 130 KB]

Common issues to be considered when rural proofing [PDF, 53 KB]

Rural proofing case study

Reserve Bank of NZ: The future of cash use [PDF, 159 KB]

Research

New Zealanders' views of the primary sector Oct 2017

Applying the concept of resilience to an integrated research programme – Our Land and Water

Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research: Future Scenarios for NZ   

Heartland Strong

Heartland Strong was published in early 2019, and "provides useful insights into the ongoing process of change in rural communities and the resources on which they draw to support their resilience".

Find out about the book and listen to podcasts 

Who to contact

If you have questions about the information on this page or you want help with identifying relevant rural contacts and organisations for a specific piece of policy work, email rural.communities@mpi.govt.nz

Last reviewed: