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32.3 Digital transformations in rural areas

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


Kyrre Einar Hegg
University of South-Eastern Norway

Digitalisation of companies in a rural context: an interdisciplinary scoping review


Digitalisation presents both a significant opportunity and a formidable challenge for businesses, especially those operating in rural areas. This article explores the relationship between rurality and the digitalisation of companies through an interdisciplinary scoping review of peer-reviewed academic research from the past decade. We broadly define digitalisation as change triggered and enabled by information technologies, and the review includes literature on concepts related to digitalisation, such as IT-enabled change. We approach rurality as a spatial context in which companies operate, limiting the review to studies from OECD countries. The review summarises the findings of the 67 included studies, organised into two main themes: the impact of rurality on the digitalisation of companies, and the impact of digitalisation on rural businesses and their outcomes. The article’s main contribution is a spatially sensitive theoretical framework that may inspire further research on the topic and inform practitioners who want to promote the digitalisation of companies in a rural context.
Liz Price
Senior Research Fellow
University of Lincoln

The role of local government and municipalities in fostering digital transformation in rural regions of Europe


In 2021, the European Commission set out a plan to bring about a fully digitalised economy by 2030, ensuring that 100% of key public services are available online, 80% of residents have access to basic digital skills, and 90% of SMEs a basic level of digital intensity. Local government authorities, whether county or district/municipality, have a key role to play in realising these ambitions via digital transformation of public services, and supporting digital adoption by residents and businesses.

This paper presents the results of a survey of rural local authorities across northern Europe conducted as part of the CORA (COnnecting Remote Areas with digital infrastructure and skills) project, funded through the Interreg VB North Sea Europe Programme. The survey was based on a Digital Maturity Check, developed by the project team, which examined key criteria of digitalisation under the dimensions of Strategy, Technology, Organisation and Competencies. A total of 38 municipalities from 7 countries responded to the survey.

The results suggest wide variation in the roles that municipalities play in supporting digital transformation within their own organisations and regions, which is partly influenced by their size, governance level, and local context. However, factors such as the presence of a Chief Data Officer and a Broadband Strategy emerge as important for the maturity of activities such as digital public services and stakeholder engagement in the digitalisation agenda. The paper will consider how municipalities can be supported to be enablers of digital transformation and highlight implications for policymakers working in rural digitalisation.
Sabine Barthold
Research Associate
TU Dresden

Prospects and limits for spatial justice within the digital region. A case study from the German periphery.


Societal participation soon will be inconceivable without digital participation. The digital transformation is restructuring most aspects of social, economic and political organization. Digital technologies are reshaping life-styles and space use patterns. The Internet of Things (IoT) connects people with everyday objects, public infrastructures and (big) data from the so-called smart cities to the “smart countryside”, These changes redefine notions of center and periphery and future prospects of this transformation process range from tech-optimistic visions of new spatial parity (i.e. world as flattened plain of connections) to pessimistic scenarios of further deprecation of already marginalized (mostly rural) spaces. Thus, the spatial aspects of the digital transformation also become questions of justice, self-determination and participation. In order to understand expectations and realities of the digital transformation with regard to spatial justice, the project ReGerecht conducted a comparative study of regional forms cooperation between urban and rural communities in the digital transformation. We sought to understand how local stakeholders can be better integrated into joint digital strategies for the digital region. Expert interviews were conducted with regional digitalization stakeholders and surveys on the topic of digitalization were conducted with mayors in the regions of Schwerin, Rendsburg and Cottbus. We asked (1) which digital strategies the municipalities were developing, (2) which partners they consider significant in the context of digitalization in their municipality, and (3) which obstacles or supporting factors they perceive for a regional digital strategy. The results of the study are intended to help develop collaborative governance arrangements for equitable regional development.
Dr. Leanne Townsend
Senior Social Scientist
James Hutton Institute

The role of digitalisation in widening access to natural resources in a rural community in Scotland


This presentation introduces the Horizon Europe project COEVOLVERS (“Coevolutionary approach to unlock the transformative potential of nature-based solutions for more inclusive and resilient communities”). Nature-based solutions (NBS) tend to mostly engage privileged and expert stakeholders. COEVOLVERS develops a more inclusive approach to NBS by widening access to whole communities, explored through seven Living Labs (LL) across Europe. The Scottish Living Lab is based in a rural community in the North-East of Scotland, with activities centring around the community-owned woodland in the local village. The goal is to encourage deeper connections between rural residents and natural resources in order to realise benefits including: improved residents’ mental health and wellbeing; increased community resilience; better management of community-owned natural assets; and improved local policy and governance in relation to NBS. In the Scottish Living Lab, we will work with the local community to co-produce a more inclusive approach to nature-based practices, encouraging interaction from community members of all ages. Activities will include foraging, native tree planting and other woodland management practices. For those members of the community for whom physical mobility is an issue, engagement will be approached through various participatory and digital methods, including a virtual nature tool which will allow those with limited mobility to engage. Social media platforms will also be utilized in order to involve wider community members in the project activities. This presentation will reflect on the role of digital tools and platforms in widening access to local natural places and more inclusive approaches to natural resource management.

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