Social and Digital: Innovations for Rural Life

No 20 | August 2021

During the COVID 19 pandemic, it seems, the great escape to the countryside began. The media are full of stories about former city dwellers discovering rural life for themselves, escaping cramped living conditions and overcrowded subways to find happiness in village self-sufficiency, their own garden and perceived safety from infection. Never have we had to answer more press enquiries on the subject of urban flight than in the last year and a half. The sudden attention reflects a real trend, which, however, was already clearly apparent before Corona and which is more multi-faceted than often portrayed.

Yes, the time when rural areas were written off wholesale is over. However, this image change has been underway for some time. Small rural towns are becoming increasingly attractive. Newcomers and old residents are revitalising villages, sometimes even in structurally weak regions far from the urban centres. Another megatrend is digitalisation. Online shopping and mobile working - now fuelled by the pandemic - have been threatening the "business model" of expensive city centres for some time. At the same time, where connectivity is sufficient, digitalisation supports new working arrangements in rural areas and new forms of social organisation in villages. In the penultimate issue of IRS aktuell (No. 94, "Digital Tools and Visual Media"), we reported on the "Smart Villagers" - the well networked and committed villagers who find socially innovative solutions to the problems of rural areas with digital means, from the village car to the digitally bookable community house. This issue is now dedicated to the question of how innovative, digitally supported solutions for rural areas can be promoted and implemented.

Research leads to findings that are communicated to practitioners through knowledge transfer. However, research often also takes place directly with practitioners, together with initiatives or local organisations and with a focus on concrete problems. Knowledge transfer takes place in both directions: From practice to research and vice versa. In several projects, the IRS conducts practice-oriented research on socially innovative problem solutions in rural areas. more infos

Not only since the COVID 19 pandemic, but even more so as a result of it, digitisation is considered a central development factor for rural areas. Rural civil society and its voluntary commitment are increasingly coming into focus of research on digitalisation: The voluntary sector’s effectiveness is potentially greatly expandes by digital tools. However, there is hardly any data on the extent to which voluntary engagement in rural areas is already digitised. A new project of the IRS in cooperation with neuland21 is filling this gap. more infos

Committed, creative, innovative – social enterprises and initiatives are helping to promote rural areas. The research of the IRS shows that even regions that are considered peripheral and "disconnected" have potential for new ideas and solutions and use it. However, in order to have a wider impact, the commitment needs better framework conditions. For politics and funding practice, this means: providing infrastructures, creating recognition and helping innovations to break through. more infos

Coworking spaces, FabLabs, Maker Spaces and Repair Cafés – they all stand for new forms of joint working, partly economically motivated, partly driven by idealism, and for a new openness of access to working tools, both technical and organisational. For a long time, they were considered an urban phenomenon. Their spread began in the large metropolises. More recently, they are increasingly found in rural areas as well. A new Marie Sklodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network (ITN) funded by the EU's Horizon 2020 research programme is now looking at collaborative workplaces – the umbrella term for the facilities mentioned – in rural and peripheral regions: What distinguishes them from their urban counterparts? How can they improve living and working in rural areas? Under the direction of economic geographer Suntje Schmidt, the IRS is participating in the ITN CORAL, in which 15 Early Stage Researchers will work on their doctorates. In the interview, Schmidt explains what can be expected from the network. more infos