The University of Virginia, with a sponsorship by the National Science Foundation (NSF), convened a successful national workshop to define overarching challenges, explore opportunities, and build strategies toward a research agenda to advance quality of life in medium, small, remote, and rural communities.

The National Workshop on Developing a Research Agenda for Connected Rural Communities (CRC17) workshop brought together more than 80 participants from academic research, community development organizations, as well as local, state, and federal government leaders. Discussions were driven through the lens of how technology, communications, and networking can advance polycentric development.

Over two days, participants engaged in stimulating conversations to articulate pressing needs and explore opportunities for high-impact research. Karen Jackson, Virginia’s Secretary of Technology, and Peter Norton, Professor of Engineering and Society at UVA, provided keynote addresses that both shared exciting initiatives in Virginia on Smart Communities as well as challenged workshop participants to consider community values that are hard to measure. 

Workshop discussions were organized around four topics: (1) Bridging the information gap, (2) Social considerations, education and workforce development, (3) Public safety and emergency response, and (4) Rural health and wellbeing. The diverse and complementary background of the participants enabled stimulating conversations and exposed new ideas ranging from urgently needed technology capabilities to strategy for partnerships and community adoption.

The CRC17 workshop kicks of the NSF’s Smart and Connected Communities (SCC) program, which begins its first round of funding this year. Following this workshop, UVA is also rolling out an exciting cross-Grounds initiative called MainStreet21, which is aimed at driving research and development toward the vision of the 21st Century Main Streets in Virginia. With participation from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Architecture, the School of Medicine, and the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, UVA is solidifying its national leadership position in the important Smart and Connected Communities research domain.