Digitalization & Rural regions

Rural regions are of central importance to the economic, social and political stability of advanced Western societies. When national states do not offer sufficient quality of life to people living in rural regions liberal democracies tend to destabilize. Authoritarian, populist or even extreme rightist movements gain followers and political influence (see for instance the USA, former East Germany, Tchech Republic, Hungary, or Slovenia). In Central Europe some of the rural areas are at the same time industrialized, typically with old, traditional industries. Compared to metropolitan regions, the relative affordability of land, historically derived competitive advantages (e.g. mines, water conducts) as well as skill sets of the entrepreneurs and the work force lead to the location of rather traditional production-oriented industries. While high tech typically moves to or emerges out of metropolitan centers, old industries can often be found in rural regions. However, we believe that rural (industrialized) regions have very specific needs and opportunities when trying to improve the quality of life by means of innovative digital artifacts.

We want to exemplify this argument by highlighting some relevant topics and domains:

  • Employment and Cooperative Work: The challenge is the digitalization of workplaces in old existing industries with their traditional machinery. We need to find specific CSCW solutions for highly qualified shopfloor workers.
  • Transport and Mobility: The distances to move to work, shopping or schooling are fast in rural regions. They typically do not have well-functioning public transportation. The challenge is to find IT support in increasing mobility beyond the traditional individualistic car use.
  • Health and Quality of Life: Rural regions typically have demographic problem, in the sense that their population is aging faster (due to a emigration of young population). Compared to metropoles, the density of doctoral coverage, the level of medical specialization and the quality of the medical services is lower. So, the challenge is to support a healthy living and medical care in the width of rural regions.

  • Agriculture and Climate Neutrality: Old industries are typically very energy intense based on processing coal, oil, or gaz. The challenge is to find IT support in developing new production technologies and in economizing energy consumption.
  • Cultural Closure and Inclusion: Rural regions are often characterized by hierarchically grown decision structures and dense social networks among their inhabitants. Conservatism and social closure may characterize these social groups and in turn, people living in metropolitan areas may conceive of these groups as such. Whereas dense networks can be an element of a high quality of life, the traditional social structures may exclude strangers and newcomers, or the latter may exclude by themselves based on certain social representations. The challenge are IT designs which may link rural and metropolitan regions and support participative decision making across these areas and their cultures (i.e. interculturally).

Workshop series

We invite all interested people from both academia and practice/non-academia to take a look at the following workshops. Here you can see a short list of upcoming workshops. You can find more details and information under the “Workshops” menu.

Rural communities are usually not at the forefront of the digitization debate or wider HCI discourse. Often, this discourse addresses e.g. explicitly urban topics, such as smart cities, the influence of digital technologies on work, independent of where this work takes place or somewhat "place-less" processes such as disinformation online. However, the importance of rural areas has increasingly come into focus of HCI research (see e.g. Hardy et al., 2019; Norman et al., 2021; Unbehaun et al., 2021). Rural areas not only face distinct challenges but also provide unique opportunities for studies and offer unique lessons for increasingly digitizing societies. In many countries they play crucial roles: In Germany, for example, rural areas are responsible for the majority and diversity of its food and energy production, it offers space to experience nature and for relaxation.

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Knowledge and innovation are considered to be among the main drivers of economic prosperity. As for today,
the relevance of the accumulation of knowledge both for growth and development on the national and regional
level, as well as for the business success on the firm level has been documented by numerous empirical
investigations from distinct economic paradigms. At the same time, differentials in the accumulation of
knowledge might be essential to explain the large and persistent economic disparities at the national and regional
level both within and across nation states, in Europe as well as overseas.

 

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