New technological achievements outside the public sector are changing citizens’ expectations of government’s ability to deliver digital services quickly and in real time. In response to this change, and triggered by foreign policies, public administration is changing the way it works to improve the delivery of public services.
Digital transformation is opening up a new role for municipalities. Rural areas can now become key players again by taking advantage of the opportunities of the digital era. The sustainability of rural areas faces many challenges through the use of data. Sharing data not only creates opportunities for development, but also breaks down barriers and serves as a useful tool for innovation.
The vision of building Smart Villages is an integral part of the strategy to achieve sustainable development in rural areas. We define a smart village as a rural development model that makes full use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) solutions to promote sustainable local development based on local resources and opportunities.
Communities can address the different challenges of digital transformation by adopting an open data strategy. A culture of data sharing ensures greater transparency and openness of data, while encouraging innovation. Communities are becoming increasingly complex and their needs are constantly evolving. As a result, data is emerging as a new and indispensable resource for understanding what is actually happening in a community.
But there is a big gap between the aspirations of local public authorities and their capacity to implement data-driven policies, projects and strategies. The vision of moving from traditional village management to digital transformation shows that building smart villages in rural areas is the right choice for sustainable development, in line with national and EU policies. Based on this vision, the Smart Village Strategy can be developed as an integral part of the local development strategy.
As the process of depopulation of rural areas is becoming more and more evident we are seeing that the heritage of villages and rural areas is also disappearing. At the same time, new risks, threats and challenges are emerging. An analysis of the future of rural areas and their role in our society calls for a reassessment of the process of community development behind smart villages. Depopulated villages tend to be inhabited by elderly people, usually alone, who need health care, financial help and counseling. At the same time, the same areas need young people to innovate and get more involved in production processes.
Digital transformation aims to help catch up with urban areas by implementing digitization in all functional infrastructures and maximizing the benefits of using smart technologies. In this context, it is worth highlighting the first Cork Declaration of 1996 (ECRD, 1996). Today, the concept of the smart village has been defined by the European Commission as follows: “The emerging concept of Smart Villages refers to rural areas and communities which build on their existing strengths and assets as well as on developing new opportunities. In Smart Villages traditional and new networks and services are enhanced by means of digital, telecommunication technologies, innovations and the better use of knowledge, for the benefit of inhabitants and businesses.“
The main problem characterizing the situation of rural communities is the insufficient development of electronic public services. By exploring the broad potential of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), we aim to stimulate the progress of rural areas and the overall development of their inhabitants. In order to achieve the objectives of the Smart Village Vision, we need to prioritize investment in ICT.
What digital transformation is?
Digital transformation, can be divided into its two component parts. Digital in this sense, refers to the use of computing technology, while transformation refers to a definite change in nature, form or result (Oxford Dictionary). Therefore, by its essence, a community’s digital transformation project uses technology to change the component parts of its functional processes.
In the context of defining the national Digital Agenda strategy for Romania, but also based on the Digital Europe Programme, we want to make the most of the new opportunities offered by a digital transformation. These ideas are also reflected in the EU initiative “Preparatory Action on Smart Rural Areas for the 21st Century”, which aims to support communities to develop and implement smart village approaches and strategies.
The need for smart actions is also reflected in the EU’s Rural Development Policy, which supports rural areas in tackling the wide range of economic, environmental and social challenges.
A vision of digital transformation for villages and municipalities, in line with European Community guidelines, directly addresses the ICT sector and aims to contribute to economic development and increased competitiveness.
The Smart Villagevision re-imagines the way public services are delivered. With the help of technology we want to achieve a continuous improvement in the way the Municipality serves the community, both through direct actions, such as the effective development of the local ICT sector, and indirect actions, such as increasing efficiency and reducing costs in the public sector, improving the productivity of the private sector by reducing administrative barriers in dealing with the state, improving the competitiveness of the workforce, etc.
Our vision for the future of rural areas takes into account several disruptive elements, starting from demographic change and degradation of the natural environment and moving on to social and economic aspects of development such as, the pace of technological advancement, limited access to services and isolation.
This creates the framework for rural communities to make the most of the new opportunities offered by a digital transformation.
Achieve sustainable development in rural areas by promoting informatization in different areas of villages, such as rural economy, society, culture and ecological civilization.
The Smart Village vision aligns with regional and national e-Government strategies and is the starting point for the development of the Smart Village Strategy to complement the Local Development Strategy. In general, the meaning of sustainable development is usually linked to the sustainable development of the economy, society and the environment.
By increasing the quality and the number of electronic public services in rural localities, we want to improve the efficiency of the administration, improve the quality of life and create economic opportunities for citizens. It is a vision adapted to local needs.
By harnessing the great potential of information and communication technology (ICT), we can achieve modernization of administration, revitalization of rural areas and the general well-being of residents.
5. The Vision – Smart Village
Digital community transformation and the transition from traditional rural management to a Smart Village concept.
In socioeconomic terms it means changing from dependency and isolation to connectivity and partnership.
The future of digital transformation is no longer a point on the horizon, it is already happening!
To build a local digital ecosystem conducive to innovation, digital development and collaboration between Romanians inside and outside the localities, using smart technologies.
Achieving this objective will lead to the diversification and increase of the quality of public services by using data. By increasing the quality and number of electronic public services in rural localities, we achieve an improvement in efficiency at the level of administration, an improvement in the quality of life and economic opportunities for citizens. It is a vision adapted to local needs.
Building a digital ecosystem and developing data-driven services means more interaction with citizens, with the private sector and more interaction between different administrations. This ecosystem covers specific areas of public administration and the private sector and responds to basic needs in relation to the community.
6. DOMAINS OF ACTION
Success in digital transformation depends on many factors. While technology is not necessarily the only solution, there are some key areas that should be developed to achieve a notable result. Given the advancement of technology and the needs for rural modernization, we have identified 3 major areas of action that can define the Smart Village Vision for digital transformation of communities.
ICT infrastructure is an essential part of achieving a SMART VILLAGE, being the basis for smart community building. It relies on advanced systems for monitoring, collecting, storing and transmitting information, including smart sensors integrated into the physical infrastructure. With its help we can achieve real-time data processing, then the data is transformed into information, and based on the information authorities can make decisions. Investments in the development and upgrading of ICT tools can be made at the same time as investments in the underlying infrastructure.
The main components of the required infrastructure are:
– Cloud Computing
Fast and cost-effective acquisition of IT systems/services for all operations and creation of a database.
– Smart Village portal platform
A smart community is a system that connects data and users and includes spatial-temporal information, database, Internet of Things (IoT). The Smart Village platform is an interface that serves as a medium for information exchange and connects with the user. With its help we will communicate with users and provide services for smart applications.
B. Smart Administration (e-administration)
The realization of public services, the link between them and the dissemination of information necessary to ensure transparency, such as:
– developing electronic public services related to administrative procedures;
(proof of residence, notification of the person receiving social assistance, registration of a change of address, filing a tax return, payment of tax contributions etc.)
– extending the digitization of internal activities and creating data sources;
(phasing out of paper and counter income and exchange of documents directly from a web platform via the internet.
– increasing the general training of employees;
(training of staff in the use of electronic public services for interaction with their beneficiaries, but also with other institutions or public authorities).
C. Social inclusion (e-inclusion)
E-inclusion refers to the participation of all individuals at all levels of the community through access to infrastructure, data and information. In this way we can provide better and cheaper actions and services in the areas of health, education, mobility, security, justice, culture, resource management and promotion of local identity.
Increasing the number of cable connections and the use of internet and mobile are directly linked to improving local identity (tourism, heritage, crafts, agriculture, traditions, history, monuments). By developing the ICT infrastructure, in particular by connecting schools, dispensaries and public institutions in the locality or in hard-to-reach areas, we make a major contribution to increasing social inclusion.
The Smart Village vision turns these concrete actions into objectives that will progressively lead to an overall policy framework or “rural agenda” that will also take into account the link with urban areas. Its implementation touches on areas of interest to rural areas such as sustainable agriculture, re-population, public and basic services, digitisation, entrepreneurship, mobility, energy, youth, training, etc.)
Creating an IT-enabled community focuses on following principles that drive collaboration and mutual support of all citizens.
– Accessibility – digital services that are inclusive and meet the different types of needs of the widest possible range of people;
– Inter-connectivity – intra-community services that cross local administrative boundaries, using mobile technology;
– Transparency – open data for the exchange of information and services between citizens, public administrations and business, freely and without charge.
Encouraging the use of Digitization, Mobile Technology, Databases and Cloud Platforms, is a policy applicable worldwide and should be standard practice for all citizens, regardless of their location. We aim to provide easy-to-use, secure and reliable digital services.
The Smart Village initiatives are:
1) To support the realisation of the Smart Village strategy and reconsider villages as drivers of intra-EU integration;
2) To remove barriers to the installation of digital communication infrastructures, the deployment of ICT and IoT and the promotion of mobile technologies;
3) To increase access to digital education, tourism and health for all;
4) Help desks, advice and guidance on digital services;
5) To organize training courses in digital skills;
6) To promote the cooperation between the public and private sectors by supporting public-private partnerships.
All these initiatives will be focused on the citizen and meeting their needs. The Smart Village Vision i1s therefore a bottom-up vision, a vision that starts “from the roots up”.
9. EXPECTED RESULTS
Improving access to and quality of information and communication technologies (ICT) will result in improved relations between public administrations and stakeholders, increased citizen satisfaction and, most importantly, a change in bureaucratic and organizational culture.
10. STRATEGIC VISION
The digital transformation process is not just about this projection of the future. Our vision is the basis for the development of the digital growth strategy as part of the local development strategy, enabling investments in ICT products and services. For long-term sustainability, public investments from the local budget or European funds will also include investments for the introduction of next generation networks to ensure broadband internet access, thus contributing to the transformation of rural areas into smart villages.
Public policies at community level will in parallel support the objective of building a rural digital ecosystem by strengthening digital literacy, e-learning, e-inclusion, e-skills and related entrepreneurial e-skills, thus making the shift from the traditional bureaucratic culture to a unitary and integrated model called Smart Village.