Smart Country Side Ostwestfalen-Lippe
Digitalisation as a tool to promote civic engagement in rural villages
The Smart Country Side project takes place in rural villages in the two administrative districts Höxter and Lippe in north-eastern North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Demographic challenges and service provision varies between localities in this region, but many villages are suffering from ageing and problems of access to basic services, specifically for those with limited mobility. As part of a regional action programme, Smart Country Side aims at using digitalisation as a tool to improve quality of life and social cohesion in the 16 participating villages by offering new digital ways for civic engagement.
Village community representatives have participated in the design and implementation of a digital village platform and villages have been facilitated with multimedia infrastructure and digital training courses. The action has managed to raise considerable community resources and the place-based and community-oriented approach is the decisive factor for the effects and outcomes of the project. We argue that, among others, the main success factors have been digitalisation as a cross-sectional topic which was compatible with many already existing local initiatives in the villages. Also, the strong local social capital, in form of a critical number of very active volunteers with personal networks and know-how originating from their professional background, has been of critical importance. Yet, questions of sustainability and transfer strategies are discussed in the report, as it is observed that there are villages which would not be able to raise such a level of voluntary commitment.