Digitalisation offers opportunities to the countryside
Rural residents and enterprises are ready and willing to use electronic services. They wish for experiments instead of talk and planning. However, not everybody has the same ability to grasp the opportunities. This is the conclusion of the project Smart Countryside – Better and more diverse services in rural areas through digitalisation and experiments. The study covered the current state of electronic services in the countryside, the opportunities they offer, international practices and views of the service users.
Digitalisation brings services close to the users, reduces costs and facilitates the processes. Digitalisation may have a significant role in the Finnish countryside, where both private and public services are changing rapidly and the distances to physical customer service points are growing. Finnish expertise in engineering and infrastructure are in many ways of a very high standard and the people are cautiously excited about digitalisation, but further improvement is needed in the design and customer-orientation of the services.
Based on the study, there are problems in the continuity of the development work, taking advantage of the experiences gained and transferring these into practice. The opportunities and benefits of digitalisation should be more clearly presented, the citizens’ digital skills must be in order, and more visibility should be given to pioneer enterprises and regions. Functioning telecommunications and digital advice and guidance help to avoid digital exclusion. Experiments in electronic services and exchange of experiences gained from these are needed, for example, in the transport and health and social welfare services and new opportunities for teleworking and distance learning. In particular, experiments on mobility, health and social services and teleworking must be continued in the countryside. The public sector must support digitalisation by providing access to its databases and by compiling and disseminating information and experiences on digitalised practices.
Strong local knowledge has always been one of the core elements of rural development. Digitalisation may bring the rural development forces together even more strongly than before. The public sector has a key role in creating platforms and provision of data sets, while various associations can make a contribution by channelling voluntary work, neighbourly help and advice.
The study was conducted by the Consultancy for Regional Development MDI, the Centre for Regional Research of the University of Eastern Finland Spatia, the University of Vaasa, and the Finnish Environment Institute. The project was part of the implementation of the Government Plan for Analysis, Assessment and Research for 2016. The project steering group operated under the Ministry of Transport and Communications.
Further information about the Government’s analysis, assessment and research activities: tietokayttoon.fi.
Inquiries: Laura Eiro, Chair of the Project Steering Group, Ministry of Transport and Communications, laura.eiro (at) lvm.fi, tel. +358 40 096 9293 and Janne Antikainen, Project Leader, MDI, janne.antikainen (at) mdi.fi, tel. +358 40 7641829