Clive Peckham and Emilija Stojmenova Duh explain how the ERUDITE project is working to ensure that the networks necessary for the digital transformation of rural areas are in place.
Digital innovation requires access to digital networks, the skills to exploit them, and the individual and community capacity and willingness to seek change and develop solutions to meet social, economic and environmental challenges. The extension of high-speed broadband to reach increasing numbers of rural communities has laid the foundations for rural stakeholders to play a role in the rapidly developing digital economy and society.
Truly bottom-up digital transformation in rural, peripheral, and emerging regions is more than speeding up the application of digital technologies; it is about ensuring that each rural village, town, and region, and their communities, can translate the potential of digital technologies into economic and social opportunities. Crucially, digital transformation increases the pressure on communities, companies, and public bodies to innovate continuously.
The Interreg Europe ERUDITE project has demonstrated that collectively we need to catalyse, lever, network, and expand inter-regional digital eco-systems, enhancing inclusion, mediation, or brokerage capacity to provide universal access to and widespread delivery of the integrated solutions and networks our citizens, public administrations and enterprises need.
We have changed the way our partners approach service design and roll-out by creating a clear value-led roadmap (SEROI+) with four steps that constitute the building blocks for digital service co-creation for smart rural communities and ecosystems:
1. Define policy or practice goals for the services
2. Identify and engage relevant stakeholders and define their goals
3. Co-design the service
4. Set indicators and values; estimate then monitor social, economic and environmental return on investment
For ERUDITE ‘Smart’ means galvanising the ‘intelligence’ of the whole ‘ecosystem’ of each region: its people, culture, knowledge, natural resources and business, to ensure it becomes an active player and not a spectator in its own future. A smart village is one which has the capacity to effectively utilise its assets, to innovate and deliver the social and economic changes it has prioritised, most effectively in partnership with both other villages or rural territories, as well as cities and urban territories throughout Europe. Harnessing local innovation capacity is multiplied through co- or ‘networked’ creation and actions to maximise digital inclusion, then through the integration of individual smart villages and rural regions into wider digital innovation ecosystems and inter-regional co-operation networks. Smart villages cannot be just at the end of the digital highway, simple gateways to services delivered by metropolitan areas which could accentuate the regional digital divide.
Smart villages cannot be achieved simply through top-down imposition of digitalisation. In the Interreg Europe ERUDITE project our aim has been to fully exploit the economic and social potential of local assets and networks by designing new digital services with and for local stakeholders, responding to real public, private, and community need, and better direct public investments in infrastructure and uses. Through our merging of Open Innovation and Social and Economic Return on Investment into our SEROI+ process, partnerships have been fostered between businesses, citizens, and public administrations, empowering them to innovate and plan services for maximum impact and benefits.
Smart villages and towns in the rural, peripheral, and emerging regions of Europe need smart citizens, business, and public administrations and above all will require expanded networking and co-operation in and between rural communities, their citizens, and stakeholders to maintain the dynamic they have begun.
ERUDITE (Enhancing Rural
and Urban Digital Innovation Territories) project
Emilija Stojmenova Duh
Digital Innovation Hub Slovenia