Event report: Smart Villages Thematic Group

Participants at Smart Villages workshop
Ailsa Clark, Inspiralba

In this report, Ailsa Clark from Inspiralba tells us about the European Network for Rural Development Thematic Group for Smart Villages event held in Brussels on 26 October 2017.

The Smart Villages European Union (EU) Action has a focus on revitalising rural services through both digital and social innovation in rural areas.

Social Enterprises are an important aspect of the rural economy and social fabric of rural communities. Inspiralba works with social enterprises across Argyll and the islands, engaging directly with organisations providing a range of services vital for rural sustainability. The rural and island nature of our area, with issues of logistics and remoteness, alongside the context of reduced public sector finance and demographic change results in significant challenges for social enterprises engaged in service delivery. 

We attended the EU action for Smart Villages to learn more on how to utilise information and communication technology (ICT) tools to enhance and support community led actions. We hope to develop improved ICT based networking tools which will assist rural social enterprises to connect, integrate and cooperate better to deliver sustainable community services.

The thematic group included presentations on:

Examples of community led actions, including SIMRA -Social Innovation In Marginalised Rural Areas and ACRE- Action in Communities in Rural England were also highlighted. 

Information from the event, including presentations is available at: https://enrd.ec.europa.eu/news-events/events/1st-meeting-thematic-group-smart-villages_en

Discussion on the key challenges for rural areas across Europe and potential solutions within the context SMART Villages, highlighted the need for networking and peer learning. Discussion also focussed on how the RDPs can be used to support initiatives. There was agreement that whilst EU LEADER is designed to support community led initiatives, the increased complexity of the application process now limits accessibility and acts as a barrier for smaller community-led initiatives with limited capacity, greatly reducing the potential impact. 

We found the workshop engaging and feel it has informed our work. We were able to make connections with organisations from Germany and Slovenia with experience in developing ICT networking tools for rural development. We hope to use this learning to develop pilot activity to:

  • Identify how we can better utilise digital technology to support greater inter connection between social enterprises
  • Develop a digital support framework that can build capacity and resilience across organisations delivering vital services in challenging circumstances
  • Increase rural access to support, learning opportunities and peer engagement to build resilience, knowledge and capacity across the community led sector

We believe this could assist rural communities across Scotland with digital technologies as an enabling tool.

There is an opportunity to share information from community led actions or digital innovation to support rural development at: https://enrd.ec.europa.eu/sites/enrd/files/tg_smart-villages_leaflet.pdf

You can follow on Twitter using #smartvillages.