The EU Rural Digitalisation Forum (RDF), set-up by the DESIRA (Digitisation: Economic and Social Impacts in Rural Areas) project, held its first meeting online on 10 September 2020.

The RDF is a platform that brings together a wide range of stakeholders working on the digitalisation of rural areas. It aims to be a space for sharing experiences, ideas and recommendations, and communicating them across Europe.

The first RDF meeting brought together 60 participants from different backgrounds (research, public authorities, SMEs, stakeholders’ organisations, members of National Rural Networks) from 22 EU Member States (and one from Georgia). Participants contributed with their views, experiences and perspectives. The aim was to move forward the development of the initial outcomes of the project, mainly related to the:

  • Conceptual and Analytical Framework (See conceptual Briefings)
  • Pan-European Assessment on Digitalisation (See draft Briefing)
  • Socio-Economic Sustainability Indicators (See draft Briefing)
  • Taxonomy and mapping of digital technologies (See Briefing).

During the meeting, Michaël de Clercq (Gent University, BE) presented the preliminary results of the assessment on the state of digitalisation of rural areas, and the relationship between economic growth and the urban-rural digital divide. He explained how rural areas are catching up with urban areas, but only for broadband speeds up to 30 Mbit/s. The urban-rural digital divide remains large at the level of 100 Mbit/s, and continues to persistent across time and technological advancements.

Lurissa den Dulk (Wageningen University, NL) introduced the line of reasoning and causality for three of the main concepts of the Conceptual and Analytical Framework of DESIRA: Digital Transformation, Digital Game Changers, and Socio-Cyber-Physical Systems.

Manlio Bacco (CNR, IT) and Silvia Rolandi (Pisa University, IT) reflected on the potential of digital technologies to ‘change’ the status of rural areas, based on the analysis of about 600 digital tools and applications from across the EU. This work will result in an inventory of digital tools that supports the DESIRA Living Labs in finding the right digital technology for their context, application scenario and the needed socio-economic impact.

Kirsten Gaber (KIT-ITAS, DE) explained the draft set of Socio-Economic Sustainability Indicators (SESI) selected by DESIRA for measuring the impacts of digitalisation on the three domains of the project – agriculture, forestry and rural areas – in all the DESIRA Living Labs. This work will provide inspiration for other areas in the EU.

In addition, the RDF benefited from the insights of three other Horizon 2020 projects with experience in the field of rural digitalisation, namely i) SHERPA (Sustainable Hub to Engage into Rural Policies with Actors), ii) SmartAgriHubs, and iii) RURITAGE (Heritage for Rural Regeneration). DESIRA is seeking to create synergies with these projects to optimise the work developed in the field of digitalisation of agriculture, forestry and rural areas.

All the presentations and briefings summarising the results of DESIRA are available on the event page.

Finally, the Rural Digitalisation Forum has a private group on Facebook with over 250 members who share and discuss relevant information.

The next meeting is scheduled for the first half of 2021 and further information will be communicated with the members of the RDF.