Regional Development

Service delivery in rural areas


Better policies for providing quality public services to rural inhabitants  



Delivering health, education and other services of general interest to inhabitants of rural and urban areas is a mandate for governments around the world. Many OECD countries have an explicit constitutional commitment to maintain equitable living standards across their territories, thus making this issue a priority. However, meeting this mandate is becoming more challenging for many countries in recent years because of tight fiscal budgets in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, demographic pressures of ageing societies, and rising public spending on both social services and health care.

The cost of service provision increases with the degree of remoteness and sparsity. Lower density means higher transportation costs, loss of economies of scope and economies of scale, and greater difficulty in attracting and retaining professionals (e.g., health care professionals). At the same time, new technological advances have opened the door to providing quality services in new forms and substituting physical forms of delivery with virtual ones. Many governments increasingly pursue integrated and flexible approaches to the provision of services in rural areas as a way of maintaining quality and access. Integration involves the coordination of public services across a range of sectors —rom health to education and eldercare/continuing support services.



The OECD is currently undertaking work on the measurement of the present and future costs of deliverying services, incuding: 

1) Developing data on the cost of service provision at different geographical units. Departing from these fine-resolution costs estimates, the study provides a comparison of costs by cities, towns, suburbs, villages, dispersed rural areas and mostly uninhabited areas.

2) Estimating future costs of service delivery for different population distribution scenarios, using fine-grained population projections.

3) Examining drivers of costs and policy responses, focusing on five policy areas:

a)     Forward-looking planning, to understandhow governments and communities can better plan for demographic and other changes in terms of service provision needs (e.g., in education, health or long-term care).

b)     Integrated spatial planning and accessibility, to understandhow longer-term integrated spatial planning perspective may be operationalised in order to encourage joint investments between communities and to coordinate transportation and infrastructure planning.

c)     Flexible models of public service delivery, to understand how the traditional provision of public services is being adapted, including the role of community-based partners and the non-profit sector in such provision.

d)     Multi-level governance and finance, to understandhow roles and responsibilities between levels of governments and community stakeholders can be improved to deliver better public service outcomes in rural areas and how the regulatory environment can enable local public service delivery while ameliorating risks.

e)    Conditions of success for e-services, to undesrtand on howthe landscape for rural digital connectivity and alongside efforts to enhance coverage and the human and institutional resources that are needed for the successful use of e-services.



Understanding present and future public service delivery costs


This project aims to provide a better understanding of present and future service provision by estimating costs of provision by different regional levels and types of human settlements, and assessing the benefits and viability of integrated and flexible service provision models.




The New Rural Paradigm


Innovation and Modernising the Rural Economy


Strategies to Improve Rural Service Delivery


OECD Rural Studies




For further information, please contact Ana Moreno Monroy.


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