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32.1 Digital transformations in rural areas

Tuesday, June 27, 2023
13:45 - 15:15


Prof. Marcello De Rosa
Associate Professor
University Of Cassino And Southern Lazio

Compatibility issues in digital transformation of farms: an ex post analysis of digital transition in rural areas of Italy


One of the most important challenges for agriculture in the last decades is that of digitalization, an important innovation whose rates of adoption need to be analysed in depth. This paper aims to analyze the factors that determine the adoption rate of digital solutions in the farming, placing emphasis on the compatibility issue, defined by Rogers (1995) as the degree to which an innovation is perceived as compatible with the existing values, past experiences, and needs of potential adopters. Drawn on the distinction between digitalisation and digitisation (Brunori et al., 2020), the paper attempts to examine the potential consistency between digital technologies and types of farms, accepting the distinction between actual and symbolic compatibility (Charatsari, Lioutas, 2020): actual compatibility entails the affordability and familiarity of smart technologies. Symbolic compatibility, instead, refers to the meanings that farmers and consumers attribute to both short food supply chains and smart technologies.
Compatibility issue is investigated through an ex post analysis which takes into account a composite set of strategic domains belonging to various dimension of the “context” (Welter, 2011), with special reference to the business, social, spatial and institutional context. The empirical analysis is carried out with the support of data available from the last Italian census of agriculture.
The results of the analysis allow to depict the various dimensions of digital gap (territorial structural, sociodemographic, etc.), then addressing an articulated set of transformative policy solutions, to be addressed through the lens of the policy mix (Crevoisier, Jeannerat, 2022).
Dr. Margherita Masi
Phd Student
University Of Bologna

Enhancing value-creation in short food supply chains through digital platforms


Agricultural digitalization refers to the penetration of digital tools – encompassing both tangible (such as sensors) and intangible, intuition-promoting (like big data) or transaction-enabling artifacts (such as digital platforms) – into agri-food systems. Scholars focused a great deal of their attention on the radically innovative tangible digital farming technologies and big data. Nevertheless, transaction-enabling digital platforms are cost-efficient solutions that can be used to collect information, enhance the farmer-consumer connection, and improve farmers’ decision-making capacity.
This paper is realized within the research project “Data-enabled Business Models and Market Linkages Enhancing Value Creation and Distribution in Mediterranean Fruit and Vegetable Supply Chains” (MED-LINKS) financed on PRIMA programme. This study presents the results of an anticipation exercise aiming to identify the value-generating potential of digital platforms for short food supply chains (SFSC). We first theoretically distinguished value into primary and secondary. The first is the value absorbed by supply chain actors and has four dimensions (managerial, economic, organizational, and relational), and the second is value beyond supply chain boundaries in the form of social, environmental, ethical, and cultural benefits. Then, we created three business models using digital platforms as spaces for engaging societal groups with SFSC, promoting responsible marketing, and supporting voluntary certification standards. Data were drawn from a sample of farmers who distribute their products through SFSC in Italy. The results reveal that digital platforms represent socio-technical phenomena whose value-generating capacity is social context-dependent and that, beyond their function as marketplaces or information-storing devices, these platforms can help pursue sustainability-related goals.
Dr. Mikelis Grivins
Senior Researcher
Baltic Studies Centre

Digital skills for rural communities


Technological development and a focus on user experiences have led us to a point where many tools available require very little training for the user to have a basic understanding of how to engage them. Despite this transition towards more customer-oriented digital tools, it can still be observed that large groups of rural inhabitants/ communities unequally benefit from the uptake of the use of these tools. The paper suggests that the challenge to benefit from these tools is not only a problem of digital literacy/skills. The paper aims at broadening the understanding of adoption of digital tools by linking the notion of skills to social learning.
The paper raises the following research questions:
· How, in the context of increasing orientations towards user experiences, should the notion of digital skills be understood? How does this understanding change when different roles of technologies are considered?
· How are rural communities trying to benefit from emergent digital opportunities? What challenges do they face while introducing digital solutions?
The article pursues two arguments (represented by the two research questions). First, the article illustrates a need to redefine the notion of digital skills by providing a new definition aligned with contemporary challenges and incorporating in the definition a focus on the lack of social experiences that hampers one's ability to benefit from digitalisation. Secondly, the article claims that digital transition needs to be supplemented with social learning. To make these arguments, article explores cases of rural digitalisation from 9 countries.
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Dr. Barbara Fersch
Associate Professor
University of Southern Denmark

Digital e-health and welfare services in rural areas: A Danish case study on patterns of digital exclusion


Digitalization has for decades been touted as one of the major solutions for welfare state challenges, due to the potential to provide less cost-extensive, and more sustainable provisions of services to citizens. The COVID-19 pandemic that arrived in Europe in early 2020, served as a catalyst for digitalization, boosting uptake and experiences with digital solutions. However, it also clearly showed the challenges of this development, as some countries, local communities, and citizens where better prepared than others to handle the digital solutions of socially distanced pandemic life, leading to risks of inequality, less social cohesion, and exclusion for vulnerable citizens, specifically in rural areas. Reasons for this are manifold and range from a lack of access to technological hardware to a lack of digital competences or motivation. These patterns have been coined digital exclusion by the research literature, that argues the “dividing lines of digital exclusion are closely aligned to those associated with social exclusion, for example income, age, ethnic minority, location and disability” (Watling, 2012, p. 126) In this paper we focus on patterns of exclusion from digital local health services in the case of a rural municipality in Denmark, and thereby disentangle its dimensions. The aim is not only to contribute to an exploration of the problem but also to find potential for more inclusive digital care services in rural areas.
Dr. Jiao Huang

Policy to bridge the third-level rural digital divide: A comparison between Finland, France, Poland, and Spain


Research and policy-making have long discussed the marginalization of rural areas in socio-economic development. The digital divide has further enlarged the inequality between urban and rural areas, though digitalization is increasingly recognized as an essential lever of smart rural development and innovation. The research about bridging the rural digital divide first focused on the inequality of ICT infrastructure access (first-level divide), then skills and uses (second-level divide), and now increasingly on the outcomes of digitalization (third-level divide). Remarkably, rural areas have far less benefited from the new opportunities of digital entrepreneurship and business. The objective of this paper is to explore how digital policy at national and higher levels contributes to bridging the third-level digital divide and helping rural areas to truly benefit from the development of advanced digital services and products. Previous studies usually adopted a technology-driven approach. This study tries to propose a territorial vision of the Social-Cyber-Physical-System for rural areas by comparing the evolution of digital policy in Finland, France, Poland, and Spain in the context of the EU Digital Agenda. The results reveal two key points of a territorial vision in rural digital policy: 1) considering the specificities of the countries regarding territorial needs and policy adaptation about rural digitalization and 2) considering the interactions between ICT infrastructure, skills, the development and use of digital services, and other components. The discussion criticizes the existing problems and gaps and provides policy recommendations to boost digitalization in agriculture and rural areas.

Session host

Gianluca Brunori
University of Pisa

Olivier Ejderyan
Group Leader
FiBL - Research Institute Of Organic Agriculture

Mikelis Grivins
Senior Researcher
Baltic Studies Centre

Leanne Townsend
Senior Social Scientist
James Hutton Institute



Contact for questions about abstracts or registration: groningen@congressbydesign.com 

Contact for questions about the content of the programme: ruralgeo2023@rug.nl