Rural development policies are widening the scope from a focus on farm structures to a broader framework that includes the rural economy as a whole and the quality of life in rural areas. Simultaneously, patterns of governance have started to change: bottom-up approaches constitute ingredients of new local development strategies. The rural development processes are moving beyond the institutionalized blocks of knowledge that are fragmented. Integrative and multi-disciplinary theories are critically lacking precisely at the moment in which such mutual interactions between farming and the rest of the rural economy and the environment, are becoming central to integrated policy actions.

The EU FP6 project ETUDE was aimed at developing an integrated conceptual framework that goes beyond mono-disciplinary and sectoral approaches and integrates several currently emerging theoretical strands like 1) the 'endogeneity´ of rural economies, 2) the capacity of rural areas to produce of ´novelties´, 3) the institutional capacity to construct new markets, 4) the capacity to create new ´induced´ forms of governance, 5) the development of flexible and cost-efficient forms of sustainability and 6) the role of social capital.

The conceptual model was loaded with appr. 100 completed case-studies and tested in regional case studies in contrasting areas. Through this model ETUDE aimed to: 1) acquire a better understanding of the dynamics, scope and regional economic impact of rural development processes, whilst reflecting the large heterogeneity of rural areas and activities, 2) assess the differential impact of newly emerging rural constellations in terms of land management and environmental pressure and 3) explore the interfaces between different rural development trajectories on the one hand and governance structures and rural policies on the other. For each of these objectives, recommendations were developed that are applicable in the domains of theory, practice and policy.