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Digital Resilience in Rural Areas: An Awakening Strategy


The 8th paper of the Digital Revolution and New Social Contract research project by Alberto Alfonso Pordomingo and Gianluca Tomasello offers recommendations on how to tackle the digital barriers that hinder rural development.

Rural areas, despite their extension and relevance, have been largely neglected in policymaking in the last decades. In the context of popular movements demanding the revival and reprioritization and revitalization of rural areas, this paper offers guidance to untap dormant opportunities. The European Commission aims to make rural areas rural, connected, resilient and prosperous. However, there are challenges that need to be addressed, such as the lack of a collaborative and coordination framework, lack of perennial activities that allow for reversed migration, the remoteness and depopulation dynamics in rural areas, and the lack of a sense of belonging. These challenges need to be overcome to achieve the revival of rural areas by 2040 proposed by the EU Commission.

There are initiatives that have already tested and demonstrated the viability of rural empowerment for a fair twin digital and green transition. This paper presents different social economy models that are aligned with the Commission’s goals. These models have been implemented in the past years across remote and sparsely populated rural areas in Europe, such as the Highlands and Islands Enterprise in the United Kingdom, Connected Laponias in Finland and Apadrinaunolivo.org in Spain.

Inspired by these examples, which have demonstrated the highest potential to address the identified challenges and opportunities, the paper offers a methodological framework for all local rural agents of change to recreate Rural Awakening Centres. These are centres that prepare remote rural ecosystems for the development of triple balance (with a positive impact on the local community, the economy and the environment) entrepreneurial and innovative activities, attract digital nomads, cultivate local talent and coordinate the different local actors of change to build long-term resilience within the territory and the local community.

The paper offers policy recommendations for decision-makers, who need to adopt a “complex system” thinking perspective to shape future policy proposals to tackle the multiple barriers that hinder rural development in today’s world. Technical, financial, social and regulatory recommendations need to be taken into account; otherwise, the objectives set by the Commission will not be achieved. 

To increase technical capabilities, we propose a regional fund to compensate rural-urban imbalances.

The national and regional fund should finance sustainable rural development action in scarcely populated areas and support social entrepreneurship models such as the Rural Awakeners Centres. Also, neighbouring universities and companies should be incentivized to co-ideate and test initiatives in nearby rural areas. Additionally, a funding scheme and technical assistance should be offered to micro municipalities (less than 500 people).

To strengthen the financial environment, we propose the positive discrimination of micro-entities in remote and sparsely populated rural areas.

Special fiscal areas should also be established to incentivize the creation of economic organisations that conduct triple-impact activities. Furthermore, reductions in social security contributions, and corporate taxes for large and medium-sized companies that encourage their employees to work remotely from rural areas, should be implemented. 

To embed a renewed sense of community, we propose active policies to foster a positive positioning, narrative, and framing of the rural environment as the key actor of change in the multiple challenges related to globalisation.

Greater effort should be made to create offline and online spaces that support the transfer and exchange of knowledge in traditional sectors such as agriculture, energy, livestock, social services, mobility… to empower local and external actors to make informed decisions to shape the future of their ecosystem.

To improve the current regulatory environment, there should be new household regulation in rural villages incentivizing the cession of abandoned buildings to the public administration for them to be refurbished and repurposed (according to local needs) by local NGOs and cooperatives. Furthermore, a rural proofing mechanism should be put in place for new policy design. Impact assessments on whether the deployment of new technologies for the implementation of new policies may deepen digital illiteracy and the digital divide between urban and rural areas, should be included. This early-stage check at the beginning of the policy life cycle would allow policymakers (both at European and Member States level) to consider the specificities of rural areas and take these realities into account when selecting among different policy options, thus lowering the possibilities of unwanted negative spillovers. 


Alberto Alfonso Pordomingo

Gianluca Tomasello

To read more about the topic and download the full paper, click here.