The Resilient Rural Communities programme is a multi-disciplinary project linked to the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge. It examines the drivers of rural community resilience and provides research which aims to support the enhancement of this resilience. 

What is Resilient Rural Communities?

Resilient Rural Communities (RRC) brings together researchers in the social and physical sciences to investigate how people adapt to the changing farming conditions in New Zealand, while balancing economic, environmental, social and cultural outcomes. Topics within the project have included farming entrepreneurship, Māori youth in rural communities, resilience indicators and ecosystem services.

RRC developed from an earlier research programme, called Rural Futures. Rural Futures was a seven-year programme which developed and tested innovation tools and processes that integrate social science and farm systems modelling to explore alternative futures. Its aim was to support farmers in taking a more active approach to envisioning and creating their own futures. That programme produced two important tools that continue to be used in Resilient Communities:

  1. The Exploring Futures Platform: a method for the envisioning and planning work for communities
  2. The Rural Futures Multi-Agent Simulation (RF-MAS): a multi-disciplinary model of farmer behaviour and land-use change.

An important part of both RRC and Rural Futures has been outreach to stakeholders and community members in the rural sector. There has been a concerted effort to create connections to people and organisations who have a stake in rural community development, in order to ensure that the research is useful and relevant.

RRC is both a research programme and an extension programme, and the only one of its type in the country. We aim to collaborate with the widest group of stakeholders possible: farmers, rural residents, social and community groups, local and central government, industry groups, rural businesses, and allied business’ like banks and agribusiness suppliers.

There is a current portfolio of individual projects, as well as integrative efforts to pull together the learnings from the projects. Those projects are:

  • Business innovation - entrepreneurship in family farming
  • Creating agricultural futures for Māori youth
  • Farming in the digital era - implications for the farm business
  • Farm-community relationships
  • Dairy farming, policy and people
  • Tool development - EFP and RF-MAS

There is also a foresight stream of work. This workstream is partly a scanning exercise to identify drivers and trends that are likely to affect the rural sector in the future. It is also an exercise in stakeholder engagement, to understand their concerns and invite them to be part of RRC work.

How do we define resilience? 

We define resilience as the ability of a social system to adapt. This does not necessarily mean adapting to return to the same state, but transformation and renewal within rural communities. Sometimes we see disturbances to rural communities as negative, but it can provide opportunities for positive change.

To view resilience as adaptation to gradual change allows us to consider it to be ongoing, both positive and negative and part of wider system change.

Heartland Strong

In 2019, scientists from AgResearch, Massey University and other industry partners collaborated to publish the book Heartland Strong: How rural communities thrive and change. While most resilience literature has focused on resilience in the face of natural disasters or traumatic events, this book focuses on adaptation to gradual change, like depopulation of rural areas.

Co-authors of Heartland Strong at the book launch held in Wellington in 2019

Alongside the published book, Heartland Strong was made into a seven episode podcast.  Use the link below to find out more and listen.

Heartland Strong

Heartland Strong discusses the future of New Zealand’s rural communities and how the strength of social ties and development of digital technologies, the innovations in rural entrepreneurship and the functioning informal economy suggest that many rural communities are in good health.

Listen here

Our Land and Water

The Resilient Rural Communities programme is linked to the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge.  Find out more about Our Land and Water by using the link below.


The following resources are available for download using the links below.

Targets for Sustainable and Resilient Agriculture: Indicators and modelling for the Sustainable Development Goals

Download (pdf 1.1 MB)

Testing indicators of resilience for rural communities

Download (pdf 800 KB)

Rural Community Resilience

Download (pdf 1.3 MB)

Rural Resilience Endnote Library

Download (pdf 679 KB)
  • Published papers

    The following papers can be widely found online:

    • Testing indicators of resilience for rural communities
    • Interpretative walks: Advancing the use of mobile methods in the study of entrepreneurial farm tourism settings 
    • Learning from resilience research: Findings from four projects in New Zealand 
    • Synthetic foods: A technological disruption to the agricultural production of food 
    • Applying the concept of resilience to an integrated research programme  
    • Targets for sustainable and resilient agriculture (TSARA): A New Zealand perspective
    • Operationalising rural community resilience: Framing indicators for measurement.
    • A farm-scale framework to assess potential farm- and regional-scale implications of removing palm-kernel expeller as a supplementary feed for dairy cows 
    • It’s everybody’s business: Whole farm plans – A vehicle for implementing policy AgResearch
    • Agents for diffusion of agricultural innovations for environmental outcomes. Land Use Policy, 55, 318-326
    • Effect of inter-annual variability in pasture growth and irrigation response on farm productivity and profitability based on biophysical and farm systems modelling 
    • Simulation modelling to investigate nutrient loss mitigation practices
    • Local indigenous biodiversity strategies (LIBS): A pilot project in the upper Waihou sub-catchment 
    • New (ad)ventures in family farming: Rural entrepreneurship in 21st century New Zealand 
    • Looking to the future of land evaluation and farm planning 
    • An investigation of the social sustainability of genetically modified rye grass forage in New Zealand 
    • Rural Community Resilience: Research Stocktake and Annotated Bibliography
    • Rural resilience endnote library
    • Validation of an agricultural MAS for Southland, New Zealand
    • Potential impacts of water-related policies in Southland on the agricultural economy and nutrient discharges. NZIER report to the Ministry for the Environment 
    • An introduction to the exploring futures platform (EFP)
    • The conversion of family farms in Southland: A case study for ‘Rural futures: Building adaptive management capability to deliver sustainable pastoral farm systems 

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