Study on the Level of Social Potential of Rural Areas on the Example of Selected Villages in Poland
Purpose: The aim of the article is an attempt to examine the scale of social potential in rural areas on the example of selected villages in Poland. This potential is to build strong social capital, which is the basis for the development of local rural communities in Poland. Local communities, particularly those living in rural areas and bringing together small communities, face social problems. These include: declining social ties, ageing population, depopulation, lack of perspectives for the development of small towns - villages in particular. Design/Methodology/Approach: The primary tool used during the research was a quantitative survey in the form of a multi-item questionnaire, also known as an omnibus. Due to the specific nature of the research subject, data was collected in the form of PAPI (Paper and Pencil Interview) with elements of face-to-face and in-depth interviews. The research covered three selected villages in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship in Poland, namely Różańsko, Barlinek and Chłopowo. A representative sample of 20% of the population was taken, and a total of 220 correctly and completely completed questionnaires were collected. Findings: Rural local communities form a fairly large group in terms of Poland's area. This is due to the agricultural character of many areas of Poland. The observed problems in the form of increasing migration of young people to towns and cities, and at the same time an ageing population in rural areas, cause that rural areas, in particular villages, are affected by the problems of stagnation of development of such areas, lack of opportunities to take advantage of goods which can be regarded as basic, such as: modern road infrastructure, access to educational and cultural facilities. This brings with it a deepening problem of declining social ties, social exclusion and digital exclusion. Meanwhile, rural settlements harbour untapped social potential, which can contribute to changing and mitigating these social and economic phenomena. Practical Implications: Appropriately collected data and its accurate analysis can contribute to the creation of effective strategies for the development of such settlements, the stimulation of social initiatives, the restoration of regional traditions and the creation of a strong local brand for the locality, its surroundings or the region. Originality value: Based on the results of the research presented, a local development and action strategy is created for the villages involved in the research. The community and local authorities take part in this work by outlining future directions for changes in their villages and rural areas. In the opinion of the authors, the results of the research will become a contribution to building strong, enterprising rural communities that will be able to mitigate the socio-economic problems affecting the region in which they live. It is worth noting that this is the first study of this kind, which addresses the topic of the potential and social capital of Poland's rural areas in such a comprehensive manner in a regional aspect.