ASSURE project (first published 20/06/2012)



I’d like to tell you a bit more about the ASSURE project. For rural businesses in the UK networking is  (and always has been) really important. Many rural businesses are isolated – from clients, from other local businesses and from the hub of activity around their particular sector (which is often in more urban environments). Rural businesses need these links in order to overcome the problems they face due to rurality – ironically rurality itself makes it harder to form and maintain such connections. Stuart Burgess, Prime Minister’s Rural Advocate reported in 2008 that rural businesses are failing to work together to tackle the distinctively rural obstacles that they face. At dot.rural we wanted to carry out research which could help rural businesses to better network with one another. The ASSURE project does just that through exploring the potential of semantic matchmaking and intelligent agent technologies to intelligently enhance networking for rural businesses. We’re working in partnership with Scottish Enterprise who have put us together with a number of rural businesses/entrepreneurs  who are keen to widen their networks.


In a nutshell, the project does two things – firstly strengthening our understandings of networking for rural businesses – how important is networking? How do rural businesses network – both traditionally and in online environments? Secondly we are designing an online networking tool in participation with users. We are working with a user group of 15 rural businesses. We’ve already carried out a baseline interview study in which I interviewed each of the business people in order to understand their approach to networking and their needs/expectations from a business networking site. This user group will work closely with us to guide the design of the site. As well as featuring typical online networking tools (e.g. discussion area, private messaging) the site will also feature semantic matchmaking and intelligent agents – semantic matchmaking is a computing science approach for finding connections between materials which are semantically related, see: Intelligent agents are entities which work towards finding solutions to given goals, see: In the case of this research, an agent might find relevant connections between given users of a networking site, using criteria they have submitted to describe their networking and business needs.


The project is participatory (working with users to design technology which is most useful and relevant to them) and interdisciplinary (social science, business expertise, computing science). The principles of participation and interdisciplinarity are integral to the ethos of the dot.rural hub. Future plans on the project are for continued qualitative evaluation with the user group through feedback and support workshops, and the iterative design of the networking site based on feedback from our users. I would be really interested to hear your thoughts on this subject, so please feel free to comment.

I am working on this project with:
Professor Tim Norman:
Dr. David Emele:
Professor Claire Wallace:
Dr. Alison Smart:
Dr. Jeff Pan:

For more info on the project please see: