At the Future Economic Rural Network, our aim is to reconsider how power structures which govern our communities are formed and how communities conduct their relations with others. This study and report promote new conceptual ways for communities to interact with each other.

This document aims to determine if a new model of global interaction, which has emerged due to the challenges faced by rural and remote communities  in connecting and trading with the outside world, can serve as a blueprint for communities in different parts of the world. Although this new model of interaction is still evolving and not yet well-defined, it offers a potential solution to the limitations imposed by top-down decision-making structures.

As such, for the purposes of this article we have termed the phrase Micro-diplomacy or “Microplomacy” for short.

In the face of amorphous and intractable politics, vacillate reliability of central governments, the disconnect impacting the global supply chain and economies, small towns and villages across the world are having to consider fending for themselves.

The concept of Microplomacy has the potential to transform remote and rural communities into prominent players in the diplomatic arena. Unlike the traditional practice of “sistering” cities based on their names or sizes, which is often viewed as a mere public relations gesture, Microplomacy seeks to transcend these historical boundaries. By doing so, it could offer a viable solution for empowering these communities and elevating their status in the global arena.

Sistering of remote communities has happened for decades in western countries, with examples of Glastonbury and Patmos, Russell, Kansas and Évreux, France, and other examples from recent decades. However, these have been largely ceremonial and have not led more than the occasional trip between these small towns and cities. Moreover, organisations like the Sister Cities Organisation, Peace Bridges International (PBI), Project HOPE and Rotary International have all acted in various ways in recent decades from their respective communities to build micro-diplomacy programmes. However, these forms have very specific uses and agendas which come under the wider remit of their respective organisations.

What value does Microplomacy give?

Although microplomacy is a new term, its origins are not, as evidenced above, however, our proposal suggests this modernised connected form via multiple channels has the potential to be a powerful tool for promoting international cooperation and driving economic generation in rural and remote communities’ across the world.

Microplomacy can be defined as the use of small-scale political interactions to achieve diplomatic objectives.

These interactions can take many forms, including informal conversations, personal relationships, and local-global initiatives. Unlike traditional diplomacy, which is often conducted at the national or international level, microplomacy focuses on building relationships and promoting cooperation at the local level.

One of the potential key advantages of microplomacy is the ability to build trust and promote understanding between individuals and communities in disparate locations across the globe.

In the modern age, with the added benefit of the internet and social media we have the ability for small communities to develop their “brand” on a global level, attracting investment, creating international cooperation and opportunity as well as offering long-term hope for its constituencies.

By engaging in small-scale interactions, ‘rural diplomats’ can gain a deeper understanding of the local culture and values, which can help them to build stronger relationships and promote greater cooperation. Again, this is not a new concept and various forms were created by our predecessors in years gone by, however, the advent of modern technology have created a net-beneit to the concept but also added further challenges due to the entire world now being instantly connected on the person-to-person perspective.

However, the more updated microplomacy approach is particularly effective in situations where traditional diplomacy has failed to make progress, such as in long-standing conflicts or areas of high tension. Communities for example in the western areas of Ukraine, or the communities of Turkey hit by the recent large earthquake can have long term programmes now which help reinforce economic development after shocks to their local societies.

Another potential advantage of microplomacy is its ability to promote local initiatives and sustainable development. By engaging with local communities and supporting local initiatives, diplomats can help to build trust and promote greater cooperation between those communities. This approach can also help to address some of the root causes of conflict, such as poverty, inequality, and lack of access to basic resources.

To be more precise, microplomacy can also be used in a wide range of contexts, from international conflict resolution to promoting sustainable development. In conflict resolution, microplomacy can be used to build relationships and promote dialogue between individuals and communities. By engaging with local leaders and opinion makers, rural diplomats can help to promote greater understanding and cooperation, which can ultimately lead to a more peaceful resolution of the conflict.

In the context of sustainable development, microplomacy can be used to support local initiatives and build partnerships between communities and international organizations. By engaging with local leaders and opinion makers, diplomats can help to promote greater awareness of sustainable development issues and support local initiatives that promote environmental sustainability, social equity, and economic development.

Context of COVID-19

Following the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic, several issues regarding decision making by central powers and their impacts on rural communities came to light. Rural communities were severely impacted by the pandemic in terms of health care coverage, access to resources, technological implications of COVID-19 applications and the short, medium and long-term economic impact of the pandemic on these communities. Moreover, the impact economically created a vacuum in local resilience measures to the pandemic including the increasing departure of councils making decisions for their respective communities in a timely manner.

It has become increasingly apparent that years of cost-cutting measures by local and regional governments across the country in the United Kingdom forced rural communities to rethink how they can service and help and at least reduce the impact of the virus on communities. Increasingly, new trends quickly emerged during the period of 2020 including localised informal committees to deal with the impact of the virus on rural society with food drops by food banks, community watch committees to keep an eye on the vulnerable and concerted ad-hoc measures to tackle the monitoring and testing of the coronavirus on those communities.

An increase in self-sufficiency during the pandemic by rural communities along with a boost in local decision making on the micro level, along with mutual aid networks have all left an indelible mark on rural societies in the wake of the pandemic. Lessons and new paradigms have been developed in the following period with now a global effort to rethink how we govern our communities and conduct business.

How microplomacy can fit into this works in several ways, but firstly it focuses its efforts on empowering these local communities to act for themselves within the wider context of the national framework. Granted there are issues currently in terms of power distribution within the context of governing councils and how much power they must empower themselves in a more formal manner, but there has been increased interest by central government to allow communities to increase their decision-making.

Preston Model in microplomacy

In recent years the so-called “Preston model” originally created by the Labour councillors of the city with the same name in the north of England to hand power back to the local community to drive economic generation. This system gained an outsized role during and after the pandemic as the local economy suffered from the effects of the economic downturn.

The Preston Model is based on the idea of “community wealth-building,” which involves using the resources of local institutions, such as anchor institutions like hospitals and universities, to support local businesses and workers. By promoting local procurement, encouraging employee ownership, and supporting cooperatives and social enterprises, the model aims to create a more equitable and sustainable local economy.

While the Preston Model is typically associated with urban areas, its principles are also applicable to rural communities. By leveraging the resources of local anchor institutions, rural communities can promote local economic development and reduce their dependence on external sources of support. This can help to create a more self-sufficient and resilient local economy, which lead themselves to creating localised departments which actively source partner agencies and departments in countries around the world.

After several decades of such systems like the Sister Cities programmes which have indeed helped, the need to take the subject further needs further exploration, supported, and funded by local, regional and national authorities. European Union officials have begun to look at this concept further in recent years, with Euro Montana process which comes under the Horizon 2020 budget, while the UK is now outside the scope of this and other such programmes which help create a sense of global community of regional towns, there now needs to be a concerted effort in the post-Brexit environment to bolster regional towns international diplomatic credentials.

Author Jonathan Davies.
Editing, Daniel Rad


  1. Sister Cities International:
  2. Peace Brigades International:
  3. Project HOPE:
  4. Rotary International: