Cover: A Systemic Framework for Understanding the Dynamics of Rural Communities in America

A Systemic Framework for Understanding the Dynamics of Rural Communities in America

Published Oct 23, 2019

by Gery W. Ryan, David Catt, Lauren Davis, J. Luke Irwin, Susan M. Sohler Everingham

Download eBook for Free

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.5 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

The rhetoric in the 2016 election laid bare a growing social, economic, and political gulf between "rural" and "urban" America. Some rural communities have been advantaged by global economic, demographic and technological trends and have thrived over the last several decades while others have stagnated and begun to decay. These disparities have pervasive negative consequences that deeply impact many rural areas: the opioid epidemic, rising rural unemployment and poverty, and dangerous discourse across racial, national, and class lines. Although both the popular and academic literature offer important insights into the many influential and overlapping factors that contribute to these problems, there is no comprehensive understanding of how all the mechanisms fit together as a larger system.

To address these issues, this manuscript describes a basic, multi-level framework for mapping the system of factors and mechanisms that most influence positive and negative outcomes in rural communities. We use a series of examples to demonstrate how the framework works, how it can be used to help illuminate a community's dynamic processes of change, and how it can help assess the potential impact of alternative interventions. We conclude with a discussion of policy implications for decisionmakers at the local, state, and federal level and outline a broad research agenda for those wishing to further explore this domain.

Research conducted by

This project is a RAND Venture. Funding was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND working paper series. RAND working papers are intended to share researchers' latest findings and to solicit informal peer review. They have been approved for circulation by RAND but may not have been formally edited or peer reviewed.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.