Meeting the Challenges of Digitalisation: Implications for Regional and Rural Development

Cite as: Vironen, H., & Kah, S. (2019) Meeting the Challenges of Digitalisation: Implications for Regional and Rural Development. European Policy Research Paper, No. 111, European Policies Research Centre, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.

Digitalisation transforms societies and economies, affecting the way we live, work and relate to one another. This paper explores the regional development issues associated with digitalisation, and draws out how regions may be affected, with a particular focus on rural and remoter areas. Key issues are: There are large disparities between countries. Of a range of selected European countries, the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) rankings are high in Sweden, Finland and Netherlands, followed closely by Switzerland and Norway, while Poland and Italy lag behind the EU average. There continues to be an urban-rural divide in digitalisation. Digitalisation efforts have thus far prioritised urban areas. Many rural and remoter communities are actively seeking new opportunities, for instance in digital services to drive economic growth, but face difficulties due to inadequate infrastructure and skills. To create successful regions, for instance, the ENRD has called for action to be taken across the three pillars of digitalisation: digital infrastructure, digital services and digital literacy. Digitalisation is high on the policy agendas. The European Commission has been particularly active in launching different strategies and initiatives to support the digitalisation process and to create a fully functioning EU Digital Single Market. A central EU initiative specifically targeted at digitalisation in rural areas is the EU Action for Smart Villages. The theme features high as a target area for ESI funds, with the Thematic Objective 2 concerned with ICT. Digitalisation also features prominently in the proposals for the post-2020 programme period as the third of the five planned Priority Objectives (‘a more connected Europe’). Countries and rural and remoter areas have different policy responses in place to tackle their digitalisation bottlenecks. There are no single best practices, but efforts need to continue across the different elements of digitalisation (including connectivity, service and skills development) and solutions must be tailored, innovative and well-coordinated.1

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