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05.1 Public Services and Infrastructures: Shifting Roles, Responsibilities and Delivery Approaches in Rural Areas

Thursday, June 29, 2023
9:00 - 10:30


Dr. Tobias Mettenberger
Thünen Institute of Rural Studies

Perpetuating and diffusing pilot projects for rural basic service provision


Political debates on basic service provision in Germany's rural areas often emphasise an increasing pressure to adapt to demographic change. Accordingly, a number of pilot schemes are funded to develop new solutions for supplying an ageing and declining population. Such temporary and spatially limited programs usually aim at testing novel approaches that, if successful, can be sustained beyond the funding period and transferred to other regions. However, expectations are often not met. Our contribution shows, which factors influence to the perpetuation and diffusion of basic service solutions tested in a competition-based pilot scheme. Our empirical case is "Rural(up)Swing", a pilot scheme, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. To answer the research question, we conducted in total 105 semi-structured interviews in the participating regions.

Our results show that the pilot scheme’s architecture contributes to the inhibited perpetuation and diffusion in many cases. Rural(up)Swing did not only aim at concrete basic service solutions, but also at a bottom-up activation of regional “entrepreneurial people”, both in deciding on and in implementing projects. Accordingly, many measures were primarily justified by the problem perceptions of those involved in the decision-making processes rather than by substantiated need assessments. Resourceful key institutions were often not involved. The innovation impetus contributed to technology-centredness and lacking practicability of some projects and pushed fashionable topics such as digitalisation. In line with the multiple-streams framework we conclude, that the perpetuation and diffusion of pilot projects needs windows of opportunity, in which problem, power constellation and solution coincide.

Dr. Matthias Berg
Department Head
Fraunhofer IESE

The Digitalisation of Public Services in Structurally Weak Rural Areas


The digital transformation bears potentials for providing efficient, sustainable and need-oriented services (Beer et al. 2021) – especially for sparsely populated rural areas with large distances. Those can benefit from digital tools helping to sustain and to improve services of public interest, thus, contributing to equal conditions of living. But public actors are also confronted with requirements which are hard to fulfil, particularly by smaller rural entities.
This paper presents results of a programme enabling communities in structurally weak rural areas in Germany to develop digital technologies to improve public services. Twelve pilot projects focus on different fields like trade, culture, volunteering, or health. Thus, it is possible to analyse the potentials and limitations of digitalisation across different topic areas.
To do so, the presentation first introduces general views on the digitalisation of public services, which is affecting organizational, legal, technological as well as user related aspects of the planning, conception and of public services. In a second step, the programme and its 12 pilot projects are introduced. The core of the presentation compares those projects along different categories such as starting conditions, key success factors, technologies developed and their spatial impact. Those findings are based on a qualitative analysis of project proposals, reports and technological artefacts. In a last step, the results are reflected in order to re-specify the meaning of digitalisation for the field of public services in rural areas.

Beer, F.; Räuchle, C.; Schweitzer, E.; Piétron, D. (2021): Zukunftsfähige Daseinsvorsorge. CO:DINA Positionspapier 8. Online: https://codina-transformation.de/wp-content/uploads/CODINA_Positionspapier-8_Zukunftsfaehige-Daseinsvorsorge-2.pdf .
Prof. Martin Phillips
Professor Of Human Geography
University of Leicester

Living with shrinking services in English small rural towns: contrasting experiences and responses


Rural small towns have long been viewed as places of public service and infrastructural provision, both for their residential population and for those in a surrounding rural hinterland. However, their role in the performance of these functions has been seen to have significantly shrunk over recent decades, as a consequence of processes such as service rationalisation/centralisation, retail competition and restructuring, and the growth on online retail and service provision, which has accelerated during the Covid 19 pandemic, although there have also been claims that this has also led to a rediscovery of and renaissance in small town high streets. These arguments often echo claims concerning the dynamics of longer running instances of rural small towns growth, gentrification and in-flows of capital, residents and visitors, although studies have also highlighted how even within such settlements there often has continued to be continuing shrinkage across many retail, welfare and transport services. Across a diverse range of rural small towns, concerns have been raised about rising levels of social inequality in access to services, quality of life and well-being, and their consequences on senses of community and place. This paper draws on a study of rural towns in England to explore responses to such inequalities and the experiences of service loss and place change. Attention is paid both to governmental attitudes and policies related to service shrinkage, and to the initiatives emerging from local businesses and community organisations within a contrasting range of English rural small towns.

Session host

Alexandru Brad
Thünen Institute of Rural Studies

Tialda Haartsen
Professor Rural Geography
University of Groningen



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

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