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32.5 Digital transformations in rural areas

Thursday, June 29, 2023
13:45 - 15:15


Prof. Artur Steiner
Glasgow Caledonian University

Simple interventions tackling complex issues: exploring pathways from online mental health forums to personal rural resilience


This paper identifies and examines pathways in which online mental health forums assist in building personal rural resilience and address mental health issues. We use resilience theory to develop a Theoretical Resilience Framework and apply it to empirical qualitative data deriving from three of Australia’s online health forums as well as interviews with forum users. Using thematic analysis and an abductive approach to generating new knowledge, we develop a logic model illustrating links between factors influencing personal resilience, factors acting upon resilience, and intermediate and long-term outcomes that online mental health forums have on their users. Our study demonstrates that online forums have the ability to provide ongoing and timely services as well as support the adaptive capacity of individuals to cope with stressors and a variety of challenges. Embedded in a rural setting, the paper adds understanding to the role of technology and online forums in addressing geographical isolation. Ultimately, our work helps to develop new sources of knowledge about rural resilience and supporting mental health service provision in rural places.
Lukas Haefner
Inst. of Economic and Social Geography
Leibniz University Hannover

Rural companies and the development of digital solutions: Rural digital transformations on their way?


Digitalization has long been considered crucial to resolving various issues in rural areas. Provided there is access to fast Internet, as is more and more the case in many countries, digital technologies could be used to overcome adverse conditions in rural areas. Companies for instance are often assumed to suffer from the “rural penalty“, manifesting itself in a lack of resources and long distances to markets, information and labor. Yet, companies do not necessarily develop digital solutions that tackle their locational penalty or inspire any kind of transformation or new dynamic. Instead, they must purposefully target and be capable to develop transformative digital solutions.

The aim of this contribution is to examine the state of digital transformation in rural companies. The contribution shows how and under which circumstances digital solutions are implemented that not only replicate existing arrangements but that can fundamentally alter the competitiveness of rural companies and their integration into the economic landscape. Insights from more than 90 semi-structured, qualitative interviews with representatives of small and medium-sized companies from heterogeneous areas in Germany are used to approach these topics. This allows to investigate the development of digital solutions in diverse locational settings. Doing so adds to the understanding of current digital transformation in rural areas and the circumstances under which digitalization contributes to resolving rural issues. Particular attention is paid to the role of digital competences, as these are needed to enable rural digital transformation and their development in rural companies could be crucial for rural digital transformation.
Dr. Adwoa Serwaa Ofori
University College Dublin

The Rural, Digitalisation and Data - So what’s the problem?


In a post-analogue era, the perceived lack of digital data and technologies in remote rural, peripheral and/or dispersed settings has been identified as a challenge for countryside communities. The global push for digitalisation highlights the tensions inherent in rural decline, degrowth and urban-rural divides, as well as the impact of the digital divide itself. Moreover, the COVID-19 crisis highlighted the vulnerabilities of rural areas, particularly exposed because they have, among other things, poorer access to services, with lower accessibility to the internet (both in coverage and connection speed) when compared to urban or higher density places. The crisis also generated greater demand for digital accessibility. Digitalisation of the rural, and the application of digital data, is a means by which rural populations can harness digital technologies and transform their communities. But can the rural fully embrace digital data and digitalisation? This paper, using Ireland as a case study, and emerging from the Citizen Rural Project, examines the digitalisation of the rural, and the use of digital data through the lens of community adoption. A series of semi-structured interviews were conducted with data and rural development experts from the public and private sectors to explore rural digitalisation, and what it means in reality, in rural geographies. The research finds that although digitalisation has the potential to transform rural communities, this transformation is dependent on a number of factors, such as how the agenda is shaped, community needs and demands, community capacity and access, institutional capacity and investment, and the co-produced approach.
Katrin Vandrecht
Phd Research Fellow
Nord University

Between traditional consensus and digital conflict: building hybrid networks in rural policy communication and participation processes in Norway


How can protests on social media impact policy processes in rural and peripheral regions and how can local governments respond? Our paper addresses these questions by offering an in-depth qualitative study of the negotiations around a recently adopted area and transport plan in Southern Norway and how protests against road tolls affected them. The regional transport plan we studied was part of a national policy for cutting traffic carbon emissions. The study builds on individual interviews and focus groups with politicians and administrators involved in the plan, and documentary and media analysis contextualising the interview data.
Our findings show that despite the fact that the policy processes were carefully designed and conducted, established participatory mechanisms proved inadequate to counter the negative sentiments fueled by the social media protests. One reason for this is that politicians and administrators involved did not adopt an active digital communications strategy and refrained from developing compelling positive narratives.
While protesters were able to mobilise support by using hybrid networks (Castells 2015), the rural municipalities in question were largely tied to practices and understandings that did not take into account the changed nature of space and place brought about by wide-ranging digital transformations of public communication and participation. Our main policy recommendation to address these gaps is that local governments train their organisations into building and harnessing hybrid networks, and incorporate such practices in their routine communication and citizen participation processes.
Dr. Olivier Ejderyan
Group Leader
FiBL - Research Institute Of Organic Agriculture

Mapping policy recommendations from European living labs for digitalisation in rural spaces


The paper presents and discusses the results of scenario workshops conducted in 21 living labs across Europe to identify possible desirable and undesirable futures linked to the deployment of digitalisation in rural areas.
In theses living labs, participants developed scenarios that enabled them to single out and discuss relevant processes and formulate policy recommendations. Most of the living labs underlined the need to support the acquisition of digital skills and training. Legal aspects such as frameworks for data safety were also prominent. A wide range of options were mentioned depending on the context of the living lab.
Results indicate that digitalisation must be approached as a multifaceted process that takes different forms and has different effects based on context. This highlights the importance systemic approaches to understand the full impact of digitalisation.
Living Labs enable to develop such policy recommendations by taking into account stakeholders’ concerns and expectations and directly link with policy makers. However this also raises possible issues about the democratic representativeness of such processes and common understanding of the issues at stake as well as the actual feasibility and relevance of the suggested options in terms of the impacts they will effectively generate.

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