Photo credits: Mags Currie

A remote community on Scotland’s spectacular west coast provided the location for DESIRA’s Scenario Planning event. Coigach, also known by its Gaelic name of A’ Chòigeach, lies in the Northwest Highlands of Scotland. The area consists of a sparsely populated, traditional crofting and fishing community whose main settlement is Achiltibuie, located between mountain and shore on a peninsula overlooking the Summer Isles.

On 7 October 2021, the Scottish DESIRA Living Lab met with ten residents of Coigach in their village hall along with virtual representatives from the Scottish Government participating online. Participants considered the scenario question: What will crofting communities be like in 2031 given future digitalisation?

An ageing demographic, reflected in the composition of the attendees, were unsurprisingly concerned with attracting and retaining youngsters. They worried about the fate of the primary school, the incursion of damaging tourism that inflates house prices squeezing out locals. They bemoaned the state of public transport.

Digitalisation is clearly a double-edged sword in this picture. There are clear opportunities to enhance learning and development through online skill sharing. Greater connectivity can link Coigach with other communities and increase its voice in decision making. Participants wanted digitalisation that would enable them and reduce hardship. They envisioned more working from home and virtual meetings reducing the number of car journeys along the single-track roads. They hoped for Apps and digital services that can shrink the gap between remote rural and urban communities, bringing greater e-commerce, bolstering SMEs, and enhancing social justice.

Against this, digitalisation can act to reinforce existing inequality and deprivation. Newcomers are drawn by the Instagrammable charm, flocking to locations popularised by social media. Camper vans constitute a form of tourism that largely bypasses local services. Roads become busier, particularly during summer months, property prices spiral though second homeowners, and local services deteriorate as communities whither. The digital divide, already restricting both enterprise and rural society, can widen in the next decade as communities, already familiar with decline, fail to achieve the diversity and vibrancy required to flourish in the modern world.

The Comparative Scenario Report will be published in November 2021 including the synthesis and assessment of the scenario development of the 20 Living Labs.

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