Online Networking for Rural Businesses: Understanding the Social Context
Agent and Semantic Support for Rural Enterprise (ASSURE) is interdisciplinary research being carried out at the dot.rural Digital Economy Research Hub (University of Aberdeen). The research explores how rural businesses network, both traditionally and in online environments. The end goal is the user-driven design of an online business networking system which will enable rural businesses to widen their networks and collaborate with others. Rural businesses are often isolated, both from customers and other businesses. Evidence suggests that these businesses often fail to network or collaborate effectively on the obstacles they face. They may therefore need more support than their urban counterparts in the creation of strong business networks. Information and communication technologies (ICT) are argued to be useful in strengthening networking, in particular the Internet has value in reducing the barrier of distance for rural communities. Previous research shows that problems associated with rurality, such as limited local markets and resources, can be tackled collectively through online business forums. This suggests that online networking could be particularly useful for rural enterprise. An online business networking system is therefore being designed, in participation with users, to fully understand their needs and approaches to networking.
The paper will present results from the qualitative baseline study and consider questions such as: How do rural businesses approach networking? What benefits does networking bestow upon the businesses? What leads them to engage with online networking and what barriers exist? How do we balance the social and business needs of users? How do we use theory from the social sciences to understand these behaviours, and how can a social perspective add to the technological aspect of the research? The research also explores issues of trust in online networking and ethical issues regarding research which captures data published by individuals in an online environment.
Keywords: Rural, Business, Networking, Collaboration, Online, Participation, User-driven
Dr. Leanne Townsend
Research Fellow, dot.rural