OECD Rural development and rural well-being

Policies for depopulation and service delivery in rural regions




  • What's the issue?

Delivering health care, education and other services of general interest to inhabitants regardless of where they live is a mandate for OECD countries. 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, depopulation, demographic pressures of ageing societies, and rising public spending on both social services and health care. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought further demand for public services in rural regions and the consequent need for investment in a context of high spending needs and reduced revenues.

The cost of service provision increases with the degree of remoteness and sparsity. Lower density means higher transportation costs, lower economies of scale, and greater difficulty in attracting and retaining professionals such as teachers and doctors. At the same time, new technological advances have opened the door to providing quality services in new ways. Many governments increasingly pursue integrated and flexible approaches to the provision of services as a way of maintaining quality and access in lower density and remote areas.


  • What can the OECD offer?



Understanding present and future public service delivery costs (*) (**)

This project provides estimates of current and future costs of education and health services provision at different regional levels and types of human settlements by using criteria such as population age structure, settlement changes, or the benefits and viability of integrated and flexible models. Based on quantitative and qualitative indicators, the project provides an effective toolkit for policymakers to understand the effects of various policy responses and design sustainable service provision solutions.

Strategic governance plan for rural depopulation in Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla y León and Galicia (RESOE) (*)

The RESOE regions of Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla y León and Galicia in Spain have a high degree of rurality, and are facing challenges associated with population decline and ageing. The project aims at designing an action plan for each region and a common strategy for the four regions on relevant topics to OECD rural regions facing depopulation: quality service provision, digitalisation, entrepreneurship and social innovation, and multi-level governance. This project is funded by the EU via the Structural Reform Support Programme and implemented in collaboration with the European Commission.

Managing population decline in Estonia through spatial interventions (*)

This project designs effective spatial policy interventions against a scenario of population decline in Estonia. It identifies a set of actionable policy measures in Estonia’s smaller cities and rural areas. The project also seeks to improve the efficiency and impact of national authorities’ policy by strengthening vertical and horizontal coordination within multilevel governance framework and cross-sectoral coordination at the central government by including the study of current governance models. This project is funded by the EU via the Structural Reform Support Programme and implemented in collaboration with the European Commission.

Understanding public service provision in Alentejo: a case study

This project develops actionable policy recommendations to manage the expected population decline in rural and peripheral urban areas in the Portuguese region of Alentejo. It facilitates the development of cross-sectoral approaches of spatial and sectoral policy interventions by the regional government with the objective of generating efficiency gains to reduce costs and improve quality of service provision.

Dealing with demographic change: regional policy directions in Korea

This project identifies effective policy responses to manage demographic pressures in Korea’s rural places and regions. It analyses Korea's demographic trends and evaluates the country’s regional and rural development policies in response to demographic and socio-economic changes.




  • Health Access in Rural Areas: the need for a long-term vision in Europe (organised by All Policies for a Healthy Europe and RUMRA & Smart Villages Intergroup), 23/09/2021
  • Webinar: Lessons in rural proofing of health policies, strategies, plans and programmes, 15/07/2021


  • Kick-off event: Strategic governance plan for rural depopulation in Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla y León and Galicia (RESOE), 02/12/2020
  • SAD seminar (organised by Newcastle University): How much will rural school cost increase in the future and what can policies do about it?, 27/10/2020
  • Understanding present and future public service delivery costs in European regions, European Week of Regions and Cities, 13/10/2020.
  • Webinar on Addressing Territorial Inequalities in Access to Quality Healthcare, 30/04/2020.
  • Webinar on Rural Education Provision, 02/04/2020.
  • Policy Exchange on Present and Future Public Service Delivery in Rural Areas, 04/02/2020, Évora, Portugal.
  • Kick-off Workshop: Understanding Present and Future Public Service Delivery Costs, 28/06/2019, Brussels, Belgium.






(*) European Commission

Logo of the European Commission 


(**) Joint Research Centre (JRC)
of the European Commission in Ispra, Italy

  Joint Research Centre logo



For further information, please contact Ana Moreno Monroy



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