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The Rural West Initiative

collage of rural western images and speakers at rural west conference

The Rural West Initiative explores issues of the less populated areas of the North American West – places whose natural beauty and heritage are matched only by the challenges they face. These issues, such as access to economic opportunity, health care, education, and housing, often get less attention than they deserve. This is why the Bill Lane Center has made it a priority to study rural communities in the first place. How did we initially approach the difficulties faced by rural areas? First we listened, then we presented research on the problems, and now we are finding solutions. 

The Rural West Initiative is made possible by generous support from the Spencer F. and Cleone P. Eccles Foundation.

Our Approach

We knew that in order to solve some of the rural West’s biggest challenges, we needed to hear directly from those impacted.  Our listening campaign has taken us through seven Western states - Utah, California, Oregon, Montana, New Mexico, Washington and Nevada - and in each rural town we visited, we convened community members, local experts and elected officials to better understand what we were up against. We also conducted several polls in the West to gain insight into public attitudes toward land management, economic development, health services, the role the federal government should play, and more.

From listening, we moved on to developing and presenting our research, and now, we are entering a phase of exploring solutions with with local experts and stakeholders to improve the quality of life in rural Western communities. Through research and conferences, we seek to join and energize a conversation between journalists and scholars, citizens, nongovernmental groups and policymakers, about a region that still holds powerful sway over our national imagination and our future.

Each year since 2012, the project has convened the Eccles Family Rural West Conference to share knowledge and ideas about the rural West. The most recent conference, held in Park City, Utah, in April 2019, considered a range of topics from economic development to cultural divides in the amenity West.

The Eighth Annual Rural West Conference was scheduled for March 2020 in Carson City, Nevada. Discussion was to explore ranching in the American West, but the event was canceled due to COVID-19. More information can be found on the event webpage

Ongoing Rural Health and Health Care Research

The Bill Lane Center for the American West is working to bring attention to a set of persistent problems impacting rural health and health care delivery across the Western U.S. Our initial efforts focus on three areas:
  • Identifying and compiling best practices from across the region and globe
  • Creating a forum for idea exchange among practitioners, academics and community members
  • Hosting convenings to discuss these ideas and research
By examining clinical needs, health care delivery and the underpinning policies that support improved health and health care in the rural West, the Center is an eager collaborator with Stanford School of Medicine’s Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Working with Stanford undergraduate researchers, Bruce Cain and Iris Hui explored the following topics during summer 2019:
  • Air quality in the California Central Valley
  • Digital health in the rural West
  • Environmental impacts of wildfire on health
Learn more about these research topics below:
mountain with smog in the air

Our research seeks to identify ways to make rural populations –  vulnerable populations, in particular – more resilient to air quality deterioration.

Long, empty road under cloudy sky

As digital health practices expand, it is critical that we understand how to match a particular technology (from video conferencing to text messaging) to a particular health need.