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Exploring Rural Digital Hubs and Their Possible Contribution to Communities in Europe

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This article offers a conceptualization of rural digital hubs and outlines the variations among them. Using content analysis applied to websites and results from a survey, we draw a clearer picture of rural digital hub designs in the European context and how these relate to their socio-economic context. To explore their possible wider impact on rural communities, we apply the concept of community resilience. The study finds that there are various rural digital hub subtypes targeting businesses, community members, or both. There is a tendency to diversify such places or even to combine several subtypes, and we argue that this is a necessity if the hub providers are to reach the number of users required to generate added value, especially in the rural context. We have also found that rural digital hubs tend to address businesses and that it is expected that these places can to an extent contribute to community resilience. Furthermore, we narrow down the definition of a rural digital hub and suggest to make it place dependent whether and how to implement new ones.
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Journal of Rural and Community Development
ISSN: 1712-8277 © Journal of Rural and Community Development
www.jrcd.ca
Journal of Rural and
Community
Development
Exploring Rural Digital Hubs and
Their Possible Contribution to
Communities in Europe
Authors: Christina Theresia Rundel, Koen Salemink, & Dirk Strijker
Citation:
Rundel, C. T., Salemink, K., & Strijker, D. (2020). Exploring rural digital
hubs and their possible contribution to communities in Europe. The Journal
of Rural and Community Development, 15(3), 2144.
Publisher:
Rural Development Institute, Brandon University.
Editor:
Dr. Doug Ramsey
Open Access Policy:
This journal provides open access to all of its content on the principle that
making research freely available to the public supports a greater global
exchange of knowledge. Such access is associated with increased readership
and increased citation of an author's work.
Journal of Rural and Community Development
ISSN: 1712-8277 © Journal of Rural and Community Development
www.jrcd.ca
Exploring Rural Digital Hubs and Their Possible
Contribution to Communities in Europe
Christina Theresia Rundel
University of Groningen
Groningen, Netherlands
c.t.rundel@rug.nl
Koen Salemink
University of Groningen
Groningen, Netherlands
k.salemink@rug.nl
Dirk Strijker
University of Groningen
Groningen, Netherlands
d.strijker@rug.nl
Abstract
This article offers a conceptualization of rural digital hubs and outlines the
variations among them. Using content analysis applied to websites and results
from a survey, we draw a clearer picture of rural digital hub designs in the
European context and how these relate to their socio-economic context. To
explore their possible wider impact on rural communities, we apply the concept
of community resilience. The study finds that there are various rural digital hub
subtypes targeting businesses, community members, or both. There is a tendency
to diversify such places or even to combine several subtypes, and we argue that
this is a necessity if the hub providers are to reach the number of users required
to generate added value, especially in the rural context. We have also found that
rural digital hubs tend to address businesses and that it is expected that these
places can to an extent contribute to community resilience. Furthermore, we
narrow down the definition of a rural digital hub and suggest to make it place-
dependent whether and how to implement new ones.
Keywords: Rural digital hubs, digital literacy, smart rural development, digital
divide, community resilience
1.0 Introduction
Rural communities in Europe are dealing with diverse challenges. As Wilson
(2010) indicated, many places in rural regions find themselves at a turning point,
due to changes that these communities often have no direct influence over as
these are driven by forces beyond the regional and even national levels. Among
others, McManus et al. (2012) noted that many rural places in developed
countries are facing rural decline caused by sectoral change, which in turn is
leading to smaller numbers of jobs. In this context it is important to consider that
areas facing population decline in particular struggle with the limited availability
of financial resources (Raugze, Daly, & van Herwijnen 2017).
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Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 22
It was suggested that digital technologies can assist rural places to become better
connected and thereby overcome the disadvantages of their remoteness
(Townsend, Sathiaseelan, Fairhurst, & Wallace, 2013). Nevertheless, Next
Generation Access is still lacking in many rural regions throughout Europe
(Ashmore, 2015; Salemink & Strijker, 2018). This is not only an infrastructural
problem, as also the skills and motivation required to make use of Next
Generation Access are not always guaranteed in rural areas (European Network,
for Rural Development [ENRD], 2017a; Lameijer, Mueller, & Hage 2017).
To tackle the connectivity, and especially the adoption problems, some places
have implemented rural digital hubs (ENRD 2017a). Rural digital hubs have not
yet received a great deal of attention in the academic literature, a clear
conceptualization is still lacking and generally, adoption studies are less available
compared to information and communication technology (ICT) provision studies
(Salemink, Strijker, & Bosworth, 2017). However, considering the challenges that
rural places are facing today, it is important to study this issue in greater depth.
The ENRD (European Network for Rural Development) expects that a rural
digital hub will have broad benefits for local communities. Not only do they take
into account the benefits associated with digitisationfor example, improving
the digital literacy of local inhabitants and local businesses or providing fast
broadband connectionsbut the ENRD also stated that rural digital hubs can
strengthen the local community and attract new residents or businesses. Further,
it was suggested that these improve conditions for economic activity, such as
networking possibilities (ENRD, 2017b). Such possible benefits were also
noted by Ashmore and Price (2019), and Roberts, Anderson, Skerratt, and
Farrington (2017) mentioned ‘community technology hubs’ as possible
training places for digital inclusion.
To assess the validity of these claims, we investigated the setup of rural digital
hubs in several European countries. To determine their wider contribution, we
decided to go a step further and conceptualize how these might contribute to
overall community resilience, hoping to answer the following question:
What types of rural digital hubs exist and how do the initiators and operators of
these different hubs expect them to foster overall community resilience?
To set this research into the policy context, we introduce here some European
circumstances. For policies concerned with digital literacy in rural areas it is
important to consider the Smart Village Initiative at European level. The EU
described Smart Villages as places where existing and developing networks and
services are supported by digitisation (Zavratnik, Kos, & Duh, 2018).
Furthermore, the A new skills agenda for Europe communication deals with the
topic of digital skills (European Commission, 2016a). It encourages countries
within the EU to establish specific digital skills strategies (European
Commission, 2016a, 2017) and offers a common concept which can be used as
a guideline by European countries in creating their digital skills agendas. It
identifies challenges for the following groups: (a) students, (b) specific groups
of community members (e.g., older adults or people on a low income), (c) the
labour force, and (d) IT professionals (European Commission, 2017). However,
policies and recommendations in terms of the improvement of digital skills
in rural areas remain unspecified. While in the introduced policies, the term
‘digital skills’ is used, we are instead speaking of digital literacy in this paper,
since it depicts a wider concept.
The outline of the paper is as follows. Section 2 presents various rural digital
hub types and our understanding and operationalization of community
resilience. Section 3 introduces the various steps taken to approach the
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Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 23
appearances and influences of rural digital hubs, section 4 presents the content
analysis and survey findings. Section 5 discusses our findings and provides an
additional analytical layer. In section 6, we highlight our main conclusions and
propose further research topics.
2.0 Conceptualization of Rural Digital Hubs Types
The term hub is used widely and concerns various fields. Before defining it in
relation to digitalisation, we will look at its general meaning. In urban studies,
for example, it might refer to cities. Derudder, Conventz, Thierstein, and Witlox
(2014) described hub cities as interconnected and as knowledge hubs. Neal
(2014) spoke of hub cities as nodes and focal points of networks in an urban
context. The economic advantage of such cities is stressed, with the city being
described as a hub of activities (Neal, 2014).
More generally speaking, a hub may describe a geographical place (Ramirez,
2007). However, hubs are not necessarily physical entities: an e-hub stands for
a business-to-business web market, which brings providers and customers
together (Kaplan & Sawhney, 2000). Further, households likely host a hub.
Since many homes are equipped with various ICT equipment nowadays, these
can also be described as infrastructural hubs’ (Hjorthol & Gripsrud, 2009).
Thus, although the term is used in various contexts, it always describes a central
point or place where the main action occurs.
A further essential topic associated with hubs is the flows and spokes, as the
example of transport hubs suggests (Bowen, 2012). Concerning transport hubs,
Pettit and Beresford (2009) introduced the transformation of ports from
gateways into logistic hubs and the increasing focus on value addition. We
argue that flows and value addition are important aspects of rural digital
hubs. People coming to the hub can be regarded as flow, receiving additional
services at the respective facility.
In the academic context, the term rural digital hub itself has rarely been
discussed. Instead, other terms have been used for various hub forms, most of
which are not specifically applied in the context of rural areas. These will be
introduced in the following subsections. The ENRD published a definition of rural
digital hubs, which we have taken as a starting point for our review of the literature:
Rural digital hubs offer physical spaces with fast, reliable internet access
that provide a whole range of business and community support services
in rural areas. The activities offered by digital hubs depend both on
whether their target is businesses, the community, or both and whether
they provide space or also specific services to their target groups. Most
digital hubs cannot be categorised within a single category of activity,
but carry out a combination of these. (ENRD, 2017a)
Nevertheless, we think it is of importance to either verify, or maybe adapt, this
definition depending on what kind of rural digital hubs exist and what their
characteristics are. This can help policy makers to differentiate approaches, especially
in the light of a European policy agenda increasingly focusing on digitalisation.
2.1 Categorization of Digital Hub Forms
2.1.1 Digital hubs focusing on businesses. We have identified several forms
fulfilling the description of a rural digital hub focusing on businesses. One of
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Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 24
these is rural enterprise hubs. With their assistance, businesses shall be
supported and new businesses developed. Almost all case studies of rural
enterprise hubs by Cowie, Thompson, and Rowe (n.d.) offer broadband, fitting
to the rural digital hub concept. Mostly these provide several services, for
example, (a) shared amenity space, (b) office space, (c) support, and (d)
networking opportunities.
While these spaces are not specifically assigned to rural areas, co-working
spaces can also be classified as one of the previously described enterprise hubs.
According to Fuzi (2015), co-working spaces are designed for entrepreneurs to
share with others. For example, these can aim at sharing technologies,
exchanging information, seeking cooperation, or finding support. Various
facilities may be offered and support in a variety of forms may be given. As one
study from Finland suggested, co-working spaces can be further differentiated
into subcategories such as ‘third places’ and ‘incubators’. Incubators are
workspaces that are shared by a group of people aiming at the establishment of
business activities while third places are used by the public at large. These
usually offer other services, for example, a cafeteria (Kojo & Nenonen, 2016).
Writing about co-working spaces in a rural Swiss area, Bürgin and Mayer (2020)
mentioned that they were also declared as ‘mountain hubs’.
A similar term used by Buksh and Davidson (2013) is digital work hubs. These
are presented as a combination of co-working and teleworking and as places which
can assist regional agglomeration and reduce economic differences. Digital work
hubs are largely designed for people normally commuting to work or working at
home. A special form of enterprise hubs is creative hubs: These are defined as
places primarily offering business support to creative small and medium-sized
enterprises (SMEs) (Virani, 2015). Further specialised, technology and
innovation hubs can be a kind of co-working space for people working in the
digital technology sector to collaborate there. Another name can be tech hub or
ICT hub. Various services can be offered, also incubation or community building
can take place there (Jiménez & Zheng, 2018).
Further focused on digital technology, Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) have
digital hub already in the name. In a communication on policy measures, the
European Commission explained that DIHs should provide access to the newest
technological developments for all industrial sectors within Europe and promote
innovation (European Commission, 2016b). As such, a DIH is defined as a place
for businesses to make contact with the latest technological developments
(European Innovation Partnership [EIP]-AGRI 2017), (European Network for
Rural Development [ENRD], 2017c). One special variant of DIHs are those
for agriculture. These shall help the farming sector to take advantage of
digital developments by providing the necessary know-how and testing
possibilities (EIP-AGRI 2017).
In conclusion, we can distinguish hubs focusing on business activities in general
and some stressing the focus on technologicaldigital innovation, such as the
DIHs and technology and innovation hubs. In the following chapters, we name
these two types ‘enterprise hubs’ and ‘innovation hubs’. Innovation hubs can thereby,
for example, include technology demonstrations. This means that we also label hubs
focused on training businesses in new digital technologies as innovation hubs.
2.1.2 Digital hubs with community focus and combined forms. A Public Internet
Access Point (PIAP) has its main focus on ICT accessibility and provision to the
community. These are often provided in rural areas and aim at the most
underprivileged (Arifoǧlu, Afacan, & Er, 2011). There are many terms for a
PIAP, such as (a) telecentre, (b) digital (community) centre, (c) community
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Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 25
technology or community multipurpose centre, and (d) telecottage (e.g., Hayden
& Ball-Rokeach, 2007). PIAPs aim to decrease the digital divide (Arifoglu,
Afacan, & Er, 2013) by providing hardware to gain access to the internet and
other equipment such as printers. London, Pastor, Servon, Rosner, and Wallace
(2010) also noted that the services offered by a community technology centre
may be very broad. These can range from aiming at developing basic skills to
providing advanced training. The European Telecommunications Standards
Institute considered every public facility that offers internet access to be a PIAP.
Internet or cyber cafes are other types of PIAP. These may be commercially or
publicly provided and can be further differentiated concerning their services
(Institute of European Telecommunications Standards, 2008). Examples of such
services include library facilities, computer training and e-government services
(Arifoǧlu, Afacan, & Er, 2011). It was reported that these might be operated by
NGOs and be established at locations already serving the community, such as a
library or school, village hall, other government offices, or even rural internet
cafes, and thus not only as a single-purpose facility (Arifoglu, Afacan, & Er,
2013; Lægran, 2002; Huggins & Izushi, 2002). That libraries can indeed be
places to foster digital literacy, for example by offering learning events such as
maker parties, was also noted by Nygren (2014). Libraries were described as crucial
lifelong learning community hubs and can facilitate 21st-century skills learning.
Based on these literature findings, we distinguish places primarily offering
internet access—‘PIAPs’—and training hubs’—providing digital literacy
training over a longer period. In this study, however, we exclude places offering
WiFi to the public only from the PIAP definition.
Finally, the already introduced hub forms can exist in various combinations. Fab
labs can especially be described as places targeting both the community in
general and entrepreneurial activities. These can be defined as places reaching
out to different stakeholders, providing manufacturing laboratories. Innovations
among communities can be fostered, businesses can prototype and design there,
and students can learn more about technology and designing (Stacey, 2014).
2.1.3 Categorization and further remarks. Based on the literature findings
presented, we distinguish the following forms and subcategories of digital hubs
which could also be found in rural areas (see Table 1). As previously described,
a combination of types is possible.
Table 1. Rural Digital Hub Types
Type of hub
Rural digital hub for
businesses
Rural digital hub
for the community
Rural digital hub
for businesses and
the community
Subcategory
Enterprise hubs (co-
working hubs etc.)
Innovation hubs
Combination of
subcategories
PIAPs (and
similar terms)
Training hubs
Combination of
subcategories
Fab labs
Combination of
types
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Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 26
The existing literature presents various functions and issues associated with the
different types of digitalincluding ruralhubs. Many studies looking at
different types of hubs noted above indicated their function as a meeting and
networking space (Capdevila, 2017; Clark, 2003; Kojo & Nenonen, 2016;
London et al., 2010; EIP-AGRI, 2017; Willis, 2017). Several potential issues or
problems faced by digital hubs were also considered by various studies; for
example, the possible low usage rates (Arifoglu, Afacan, & Er, 2013; ENRD
2017a, 2017c; Huggins & Izushi 2002; EIP-AGRI 2017). Various other
functions, advantages and issues were introduced in the literature, but we will
not go into details here. Instead, we will explore them specifically in relation to the
rural digital hubs analysed in this study. Nevertheless, the possible disadvantages
mentioned in the literature are taken into consideration in our survey too.
2.2 Hubs and Community Resilience
The definition of resilience depends on the discipline it is applied to, and in this
study, we refer to evolutionary resilience as described by Davoudi (2012). Since
a system is constantly subject to changes, resilience can be seen as a process
performed under change. Specifically, community resilience is the ability of
communities to respond to changes. This can either mean that a community
attempts to preserve a specific condition or that it actively strives for a change
from the original condition (Davoudi, 2018; Folke, 2006). This spectrum of
responses can be summarized as a ‘preparedness for transformation’, as
Apostolopoulos, Newbery and Gkartzios (2019) described. In order to benefit
from a current transformation, one should already have a vision of the alternative
future. The vision of the new state of a system, however, differs among people.
In turn this also means that there are always winners and losers in the process
(Davoudi et al., 2012).
Roberts et al. (2017) emphasised that the use of digital technologies has thus far
not been linked to resilience. While technological progress can contribute to the
change of society, it can also contribute to the resilience of people (Roberts et
al., 2017). Therefore, we also follow their definition of community resilience
focusing on social and economic resilience and not so much on environmental
resilience (Zwiers, Markantoni, & Strijker 2016), as the latter cannot be directly
linked to digital development and hence to the topic of rural digital hubs. It is
important to add that we understand community resilience not only as
preparedness for abrupt change but also for gradual developments, here
specifically referring to digitisation. Furthermore, in social systems, resilience
can be influenced by interventions (Davoudi, 2012). Community resilience can
for example be fostered by meeting places (Skerratt & Steiner, 2013), formal
and informal learning possibilities (Glover, 2012), a diversified economy
(Steiner & Atterton, 2014) and social participation possibilities (Steiner &
Markantoni, 2014). A rural digital hub could contribute to all of these. Therefore,
we make use of the community resilience concept in this study to explore in how far
the hub operators expect these spaces to benefit the local community in broader terms.
3.0 Methodology
3.1 Research Approach
Overall, our approach consisted of three steps, following a mixed-methods
strategy including desk research, a qualitative survey, and a content analysis of
websites. By doing so, the findings from one method feed into the other
(Frennert, Eftring, & Östlund, 2013). The qualitative input thereby helps us to
get hold of the hub contexts just as described by Fidel (2008).
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Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 27
First, our research involved a literature review to conceptualize rural digital hubs
based on our initial definition. We created subcategories of digital hub types
discussed, assuming that these can also exist in rural areas. As such, we searched
for hubs focusing on ICT accessibility and digital literacy training. The target
group of the hubs could be businesses, community members or both.
In determining whether the initiators expected more than the provision of
internet access and the improvement of digital literacy from their rural digital
hubs, we referred to the concept of community resilience, which can capture
broader hopes for the respective rural areas. This concept was briefly introduced
and explained to the survey participants.
On that basis, a survey for rural digital hubs providers was designed (McGuirk
& O’Neill, 2005) to explore what kind of rural digital hubs exist and what
benefits the initiators expect from them for the rural community. Partly, the
survey consisted of open questions (see also Bryman, Becker, & Sempik, 2008)
to better grasp for example the aim of the hub, the design, how challenges are
approached or what other similar initiatives are to be found in the area. Some of
these responses can be found as quotes in the results section. Altogether, the
survey consisted of 33 questions and was set up using Qualtrics software. The
definition and categories of rural digital hubs were then used for our follow-up
search in which we identified the online presence of these digital hubs. Various
combinations of primarily English search terms from our literature research were
used, for example ‘telecottage, but also respective Dutch and German
translations. This resulted in contacting 154 places who fulfilled our rural digital
hub definition and ten regions participating in the Interreg project called CORA
(Connecting Remote Areas) were approached since some of these had or were
busy setting up a rural digial hub (European Union Interreg North Sea Region,
n.d.). All these places were only added to the sample after controlling for their
primarily rural location in Europe and excluding temporary digital literacy
courses. With this sample size, we aim at providing an initial overview of
different rural digital hub types existing. We stopped the sampling after a search
term did not deliver any new hub results for several search engine pages.
Further, we conducted a content analysis of the web-based content of all hubs
initially found. Kim and Kuljis (2010) described content analysis of web-based
content as a method enabling adaptive data selection. Thereby, it is important to
determine a suitable sample size. Terlouw and Denkers (2011) for example
compared 67 websites for a quantitative content analysis. Categories can either
be formed beforehand or during the analysis (Halpern & Regmi, 2013). We
formed the categories beforehand but were open for new findings. By doing so,
we for example recognized how some explicitly advertise with fast internet
connections. The initial categories and resulting typology can be found in table
2. The categories, mainly the target group(s), service(s) and further description,
provided us with sufficient information to determine the type of hub. Thereby,
the types identified by the literature review beforehand were applied, sometimes
several typologies fitted one hub. This analysis provided a temporary picture of
these initiatives since websites and the offers themselves can change quickly
(Fielding, Lee, & Blank, 2016), but it gave us a first indication how rural digital
hubs can be further classified. By using this approach together with the survey,
we got both, a rather global overview of what may be out there and region-
specific views by asking follow-up questions about contextual factors.
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Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 28
Table 2. Content Analysis Categories and Typologies
Categories initial content analysis
Name hub
Country
Service(s)
Scope (setup)
Target group(s)
Provider(s)
Further description
3.2 Survey Responses
The majority of digital hub contacts sampled were from England, Germany, the
Netherlands, and Spain. Each contact received an email with a survey invitation
twice within two months (June and August 2018). Sending out the survey
resulted in getting more information from 14 rural digital hub cases. We assume
that the low response rate relates to the fact that these places may not perceive
themselves necessarily as a rural digital hub, or at least not in the first instance
when combined with other offers. However, it was not our aim to receive as
many responses as possible but rather to gain additional information by
exploring a few cases of rural digital hubs.
4.0 Results
4.1 Content Analysis
Based on the website content analysis, we found that most of the hubs targeted
businesses only (N=89) and 23 were focused on the community members. Forty-
five hubs indicated to be open for both businesses and the community as a whole.
Differentiated based on our classification (see Figure 1), most hubs also fitted
best into the enterprise hub category (N=72). The few hub types not displayed
in Figure 1 (labelled as ‘other’) are listed in Table 3. We furthermore found 18
fab labs targeting rural areas and 16 training hubs. The other hubs can be mainly
described as a mixture of the categories, for example, enterprise and innovation
hubs (N=7), enterprise and fab lab (N=7) and so on. Remarkable here is that
only a few fitted in the PIAP category. Further, plain innovation hubs tend to
be rare in rural areas. A few hubs were combined with community centres,
for this we also listed them separately.
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Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 29
Figure 1. Main Hub Types in Numbers.
Table 3. Other Hub Types Found
Other hub types
Quantity
PIAP, training and community centre
3
Training, innovation, and enterprise hub
3
Innovation and training hub, fab lab
2
PIAP and community centre
2
Innovation and fab lab
2
PIAP
2
PIAP and training hub
1
Farm offering an enterprise hub
1
Fab lab and training hub
1
Training and enterprise hub, fab lab
1
Often, based on the website content, it was unclear who the provider of the hub
was, as such we do not present any findings here, but the ones who did indicate
it were either organized by private stakeholders, public stakeholders, NGOs, or
even by a combination of partners.
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Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 30
Of interest is that 33 hubs explicitly advertised (fast) broadband or WIFI
accessibility in the hub. Furthermore, the majority of the hubs offered a range of
services or were integrated into places with other functions. These we labelled
as combination hubs (N=132), while 22 can be described as plain hubs, which
means these focused on one main service. A few (N=3) did not completely
clarify the types of service. To illustrate what we mean with offering several
services, we introduce some reoccurring practices below.
Some hubs were not only co-working but even co-living spaces, primarily
targeting freelancers or digital nomads and mostly also advertising the location
of the hub. Two hubs, for instance, were close by surfing locations. Further,
some hubs had offers such as a swimming pool, gym, or leisure activities. Co-
living hubs furthermore offered accommodation and often food.
Many of the hubsat least when these largely targeted the communitywere
not standing alone, but were integrated into community centres, libraries, or
similar. For instance, we identified a hub which is already called a community
web hub. This one offered free courses on ICT and employability and targeted
especially people who were currently unemployed and looking for work, or who
were thinking of returning to work after an illness. It was based within the
lifelong learning centre together with a library. Another hub we identified was
directly based in two local libraries. There, ICT courses were offered and drop-
in for help was possible. Furthermore, this initiative offered workshops at home
if wanted, since it primarily targeted the elderly. One community centre run by
a charity simply offeredbesides its other community activitiesa free to use
IT suite, meaning a PIAP was in place.
Further, we found out that a large share of the hubs offered events, workshops,
mentoring or similar activities. One hub for instance, which was already a
mixture of fab lab and enterprise hub, had additionally hack workshops and a
repair ca available. Another digital hub classified as innovation and training hub had
also an XR (extended reality) cyberspace, especially for events and workshops.
4.2 Survey
Fourteen people responded to our rural digital hub survey, thus resulting in
fourteen cases with additional information besides the content analysis. The
participants were from 10 European countries: two from Ireland, England and
Spain, and one each from France, Serbia, Belgium, Scotland, Portugal,
Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands. All of them targeted areas which were
80 to 100 percent rural, with only one targeting a location considered to be
around 30 percent rural. One of the participants did not answer all of the
questions, for example, about the challenges the hub faces. This was probably
because this hub was still in the planning phase. Five of the hubs completing our
survey were enterprise hubs. Three were training hubs and two can be identified
as fab labs. Furthermore, two were innovation and training hubs and two fit in
other several categories. Although we had only a small number of participants,
there was substantial variation among them.
Many named one or several challenges their region was facing. Most often this
was youth outmigration or insufficient economic development. One survey
participant listed the challenges they faced and specifically mentioned the
problem of citizens being digital by default: Closure of banks. Government
Digital by Default. Expectations precede infrastructure (A).
Generally, the challenges the area was facing corresponded with the target user
groups of the hubs. For example, one participant identified several challenges
which were related to the economic situation. The target group of this specific
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Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 31
hub were businesses. To determine whether there was another support offered
for digital literacy training or similar at place, we also asked about such
initiatives. Only two were reported: young people involved in a ‘kind of digital
business’ and the library.
In general, the participating hubs were at different stages of development, with
some just starting or even still in the planning phase, while others had been in
operation for more than four years. The hubs were initiated by the following
stakeholders, sometimes several were involved: (a) local authorities, (b) private
corporations, (c) citizens, (d) the EU, (e) the regional authority, (f) a university
or (g) a charity. Most of the hub cases aim at the improvement of digital literacy
rather than the improvement of access, and most required the users to pay. A few
survey participants had an issue with the hub not being used by all of the
community members it targeted, meaning that the hub had a lower than expected
usage rate. A larger problem, however, was the limited financial resources
available for the hubs. One survey participant even reported the previous failure
of a hub due to this issue. We asked how the hubs tried to overcome these
challenges, and one quote makes very clear that diversification was applied as a
possible strategy: We diversified the scope of our activities. As an example we
created an international residency program, complementary to the fablab,
enabling I. to generate an interesting amount of own revenues (I). A general
overview of the hubs foci, services and the problems faced by the respective
regions is also provided in the following subsections.
4.2.1 Training Hub. Three of the hubs fit the description of a training hub (See
table 4). Two were located in rural areas in the UK (one in Scotland) and
indicated that these target community members gaining digital literacy skills:
we aim to support people in gaining digital & online skills and employability
support (B). Both of them focused especially on challenged groups, such as the
elderly, the isolated, and the unemployed. One training hub located in Spain
targeted both, community members and businesses. Its central aim was to be a
place for training and empowering the rural population in entrepreneurship and
digital skills (C). Next to technology demonstrations and events, ICT training
was offered for businesses. Two operated without charging (B and C), and one
charged for offered services (A). Hub A and C were privately organized, while
B was operated by a charity. Each of the hubs faced one or more regional
challenges. Moreover, hub B evaluated its influence on community resilience
with substantialand hub C chose ‘very much’, while hub A went for ‘slightly’.
Table 4. Overview of Training Hubs
NUTS3 Region in which rural digital hub is
located
Identifier
Calderdale, England
A
Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
B
Huelva, Spain
C
4.2.2 Enterprise Hub. Overall, five enterprise hubs responded to the survey (see
Table 5). Interestingly, three of the enterprise hubs targeted both, businesses and
community members, while two only targeted businesses. The central aim of
two enterprise hubsbased in Ireland and Serbiawas to be a workplace and
foster creativity. Another Irish hub put offering broadband central, to provide
access to broadband connectivity with the complementing facilities and
technical set up…[targeting] all catchment areas around the towns where
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Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 32
broadband is not available (F), and a French hub mentioned providing fast
internet for work as well as being a place for remote workers. One hub located
in Spain described itself as a business incubator. Two hubs additionally stressed
to be a place to meet or to collaborate. All enterprise hubs charged for the use of
the hub. Interesting though, is their ownership: two were operated privately (hub
G and H), hub D and F were offered by the local authority and one of the hubs
(E) was operated by citizens and privately initiated by citizens. Almost all of the
enterprise hubs indicated one to several regional challenges. When being asked
for the services offered, all of them named several such as meeting places,
offices to rent and events, as H states:
It's a property with five objects …(one) object has private rooms that are
for one or two people on the second floor, while on the 1st is a library
with a billiard room. Library can be used for meetings, Skype calls, etc.
Also… where our kitchen is located. (One) is equipped with offices for
the staff on the 1st floor, on the 2nd there are two rooms with another
conference space. (One) object is a restaurant and a bar… it can be used
for different occasionsfrom conferences, parties etc. (One) object is
used only for work. 2nd floor is for co-working space (and) has two
conference spaces…From there one can go on the big terrace. (One)
space is (with) hostel like dorm rooms…there are as well other facilities
such as swimming pool and a gym (H).
Hubs D and H rated their overall contribution to community resilience with
substantially, hub E and F with medium, while G went for slight influence.
Table 5. Overview Enterprise Hubs
NUTS3 Region in which rural digital hub is
located
Identifier
Girona, Spain
D
Haute-Savoie, France
E
Mid-West Region, Ireland
F
Border region, Ireland
G
North Banat District, Serbia
H
4.2.3 Fab Lab. Two survey participants can be classified as fab labs, one based
in Portugal and one in Belgium (see Table 6). These targeted both businesses
and community members and named additionally pupils or new residents. All
people who want to use our Labmachines (kids, students, adults,...) Mostly
people from J. area but everyone is welcome (J). Looking at their central aims,
both aimed at boosting innovation or the start-up-rate, one also mentioned
education. Hub I indicated that they charged for usage while hub J explained that
they only charged for commercial usage. Furthermore, several parties were
involved in the fab labs: Hub I was operated and initiated by citizens and private
Rundel, Salemink, & Strijker
Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 33
sector, and J was initiated by public authorities, the EU and the university, while
the operation was then taken over by the university only. The hub in Portugal
listed several regional challenges, while the one in Belgium specified that
meeting places were lacking in the region. Both offered several services, such as
ICT training for citizens, events, and general assistance. With respect to
community resilience, the Portuguese hub judged its influence as ‘very much’,
while the Belgian hub went for slight influence.
Table 6. Overview Fab Labs
NUTS3 Region in which rural digital hub is
located
Identifier
County Aljustrel, Portugal
I
Leuven, Belgium
J
4.2.4 Innovation and Training Hubs. Among our survey participants, we
identified two innovation and training hubs: one located in England, aiming at
businesses and the other in the Netherlands (see Table 7). The central aim of hub
K was not stated, but several services were offered in this hub, for example, ICT
training for businesses and technology demonstrations. It indicated that it does
not charge for its usage and was organized by the local authority and by the
private sector. Hub L aimed at businesses and schools, their target was to
stimulate economic growth and employment in L (L). Services offered were for
example, ICT training for businesses and citizens, offices to rent, and events. It
indicated that it charges for its usage and was operated privately.
For the region of hub K, several challenges such as high unemployment or youth
outmigration were named. With respect to community resilience, this hub
evaluated its influence on community resilience as being large (‘very much’).
The region where hub L is located seems to struggle as well, for example, with
youth outmigration and low economic development. The influence of the hub on
overall community resilience was evaluated as substantial.
Table 7. Overview Innovation and Training Hub
NUTS3 Region in which rural digital hub is
located
Identifier
Lincolnshire, England
K
Oost-Groningen, Netherlands
L
4.2.5 Enterprise and Innovation Hub. One of the hubs located in Germany can
be classified as a combination of enterprise and innovation hub (see Table 8). It
was targeting businesses and aimed at supporting SMEs in digitisation. Services
mentioned are for example, offices to rent and hardware and technology
demonstrations. It charges for its usage and was initiated by the federal state
authority, while operated privately. A challenge the region had to deal with was,
according to the survey participant, youth outmigration. In terms of community
resilience, this hub did not answer this question. We think this is because it was
still in planning.
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Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 34
Table 8. Overview Enterprise and Innovation Hub
NUTS3 Region in which rural digital hub is
located
Identifier
Heilbronn (county), Germany
M
4.2.6 Enterprise and Training Hub. One enterprise and training hub based in
Denmark aimed at both community members and businesses (see Table 9). One
should note here that the survey was filled in once for two different hubs. The
training hub was in the form of a bus, the hubs were just both located in the same
region. The central aim of the hubs was improving digital skills; services offered
were for example, offices to rent and technology demonstrations. The bus is for
example adapted as follows: The bus is expected to be used as a mobile office,
meeting room, wi-Fi-hub, training centre and mobile billboard (N). It charges for
the usage and was initiated by the local authority while operated also privately.
Further, this survey participant named several challenges faced in the region and
ranked the influence on overall community resilience as being substantial.
Table 9. Overview Enterprise and Training Hub
NUTS3 region in which rural digital hub is
located
Identifier
Province Ostjylland, Denmark
N
5.0 Discussion
5.1 High Hopes and a Critical Evaluation of the Definition
In the context of a new rural policy orientation (Pezzini, 2001), new public
management and finance issues, especially in declining rural areas (Raugze et
al., 2017), one can expect local authorities looking for opportunities to attain
their objectives with comparatively low costs. This may also be the case for
digital infrastructure and skills. As the results showed, almost all our survey
cases were located in regions facing several challenges. This may be an initial
indication that rural digital hubs are considered by public and private
stakeholders to be part of solving the problems of underperforming areas. This
might lead to high hopes in terms of the delivery of these initiatives. Further, one
can assume private initiatives responding to the lack of public services in rural
settings. It has been recommended to further set up rural enterprise hubs, as these
can serve as a meeting point, contribute to innovation, and offer needed office
space (Merrell, 2019). Still, one can argue that it is crucial for this kind of place
that the right people are involved or even available. Just setting up a physical
space is insufficient, the people organizing it are key to making it successful,
mainly by being able to form successful networks inside and outside the hub
(Katonáné Kovács & Zoltán, 2017). For example, Berger and Brem (2016) noted
the success of an innovation hub depends very much on the people and
innovations can take some time (Berger & Brem, 2016). Therefore, we argue
that it is very place dependent on whether or what kind of hub could be set up,
as was also concluded by Ashmore and Price (2019). This reflects the argument
to be careful with making high-tech development the main solution without
considering spatial circumstances and paying attention to local understanding of
technology (Golding & Brannon, 2020).
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Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 35
Further, we think that the definition of rural digital hubs to date includes places
not necessarily proactively aiming at promoting digital literacy or recognising
themselves in the first instance as a rural digital hub. Just because a place offers
digital equipment and infrastructure in a rural setting does not necessarily make
it a digital hub. To date, the definition allows various types of spaces to be
counted as a rural digital hub. However, many public and third places have
nowadays some kind of internet connectivity or ICT equipment available. As
such, we suggest narrowing the definition down: only when a hub specifically
targets businesses or community members to either improve their digital literacy
or make use of better internet connectivity should one speak of a rural digital
hub. This would still include many hubs we had a closer look at in this study,
but for example, exclude enterprise hubs with no such intentions. We
furthermore argue that to be able to speak of a hub it should exist for a longer
period, meaning temporary training offers are excluded. It was suggested that
there is a range of digital training programmes, including mobile services or
schooling in hamlets and farmyards in various countries (Warren, 2007). This is
also why we excluded temporary offers when selecting the hub contacts for this study.
It is interesting to see how digital hubs apparently adapt over time. While in the
past, often PIAPs have been reported in the literature (see chapter 2.1.2), we
have found little of that type. One needs to note here though that we excluded
Wi-Fi offers only from the rural digital hub definition. Jaeger, Bertot,
Thompson, Katz, and Deoster (2012) showed that public libraries are important
public spaces offering internet access, but also computers and sometimes IT
instruction possibilities. Yet, a study in the US suggested that rural public
libraries are often under pressure in terms of financial resources and personnel
and can therefore not always offer as much supportcourses and so forthas
they wish (Real, Bertot, & Jaeger, 2014). We did not systematically search for
all rural libraries as that would go beyond the scope of this research, but we
certainly acknowledge the important role a library can play addressing digital
divides. As shown, some of the rural digital hubs identified in our study were
linked to libraries. However, we claim that with digital development
progressing, many people nowadays have devices and internet access available,
even if these may not be timely. That makes PIAPs, besides the ones in libraries,
gradually redundant in areas with adequate broadband infrastructure. Probably
the pace of digital development can also be a challenge for equipped digital
hubs in general: permanently in need of upgrading their equipment and
infrastructure to stay attractive for their visitors.
5.2 Accessibility Issues
In particular, people with low education levels or with low incomeslikewise
older, retired, or inactive personstend to make less use of the internet.
Furthermore, 43% of the entire EU population was revealed to have a lack of
digital literacy. The main reasons for this include insufficient interest or necessity,
lack of skills, and the related costs of the infrastructure (European Commission,
2018). To reach these groups, a rural digital hub may not be the right or sufficient
measure. Most of the rural digital hubs investigated in this study charged for usage,
posing an initial barrier to accessibility. In a study by Devins, Darwlow, and Smith
(2002), people running the highest risk of being digitally excluded did not make
use of an ICT learning centre. This might also be due to the fact that one needed
to pay for the courses offered. Moreover, limited rural transport opportunities may
further lead to accessibility problems, along with hubs without disability-friendly
equipment. Thus, not all structural inequalities can be overcome even if a hub is
meant to be inclusive (Jiménez & Zheng, 2018). Furthermore, Devins et al. (2002)
stressed the challenge for ICT learning centres to attract non-traditional learners.
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Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 36
Then, only one rural digital hub in our study appeared to be used for the provision
of fast internet. However, many rural areas are still without highspeed internet
connections (Ashmore, Farrington, & Skerratt, 2015; Salemink et al., 2017). As
such, infrastructural inequalities and general accessibility limitations may lead to
further disparities related to digital literacy. Authorities in rural regions often face
the challenge of reaching all community members and providing the right digital
literacy training opportunities (Rundel, Salemink, & Strijker 2018). With society
becoming increasingly ‘digital by default’, people living in remote places should
be guaranteed adequate opportunities to improve their digital literacy, especially
when the European Union as a whole strives towards smart villages (Zavratnik et
al., 2018). We argue that policymakers cannot count on solving the digital literacy
gap and accessibility issues solely by setting up digital hubs. The success of a
digital hub depends on the services, objectives, accessibility, and acceptance of
the hub by the community. Training programmes aimed at particularly vulnerable
groupssuch as older adults or people with disabilitiesmight prove to be
essential in achieving a digitally inclusive society also encompassing rural regions.
Nevertheless, rural digital hubs can be crucial additional facilities for rural
businesses and communities to get in contact with and learn more about digital
development, thereby possibly contributing to community resilience as well.
6.0 Conclusions
6.1 Combining Offers and User Groups and Expected Community
Contribution
Our study has displayed that rural digital hubs, based on the ENRD definition,
can take a rich variety of forms in Europe. Some of these even fit several
categories. The hubs may be public or private initiatives and may target
community members, businesses, or both. Among the rural digital hubs studied
we have found a tendency to be used for business activities rather than providing
services to citizens. Such hubs may be received positively by rural businesses.
A case study in the UK mentioned rural SMEs appreciating technology hubs
since these offer direct contact with new technologies (Price, Shutt, & Sellick,
2018). Although we differentiate between innovation and enterprise hubs, the
distinction is not always completely clear since enterprise hubs can also lead to
innovation. One could claim, since still business orientated, innovation hubs are
a specific form of enterprise hubs. We have found, however, that plain
innovation hubs are rare in rural areas. This should be mainly due to a lack of
demand for such kind of specialised hubs.
Furthermore, we have shown that libraries and other third places such as
community centres are used to offer digital literacy programmes and courses in
rural areas. We did, however, not include all of them, only the ones providing
regular offers. From our findings, we can conclude that a rural digital hub in
place often targets businesses in rural areas or would at least like to stimulate
business activities. There are also digital literacy initiatives for citizens, but we
argue that it is difficult to maintain a digital hub in a rural area for a longer period
for citizens only. We doubt that the flow of people and sufficient demand will
persist. Rather, temporary initiatives come in place or are integrated into already
existing structures such as libraries or community centres. This highlights the
opportunity to use already existing ‘hubs’ in rural areas to integrate for example,
digital literacy courses. It was already argued in relation to urban co-working
spaces that digital hubs must meet a certain usage threshold to become viable in
the long term (Waters-Lynch & Potts, 2017). It is advisable to have one centre
that serves multiple purposes, as Fuzi (2015) noted for co-working spaces in
Rundel, Salemink, & Strijker
Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 37
small cities. Indeed, our cases show a tendency to integrate several functions and
services into one hub. This reflects the rural digital hub definition provided by
the ENRD (2017) and used in this research. We suggest that this is a response to
the sparse population density: by aiming to satisfy various needs, potentially
more customers are attracted, probably creating additional value for other rural
digital hub users. Whether this always works and whether various user groups
harmonize is a question we cannot answer at this point.
Consequently, we give the following policy recommendations:
A rural digital hub for citizens ideally uses co-location with other
services to safeguard a sufficient user-threshold.
It should be a place for the rural community to get into contact with
digital developments and to receive assistance, for example with various
e-government tools.
If set up for both, citizens and businesses or businesses only, the hub
ought not to be too specialised, yet fitting the regional and local needs.
Moreover, a digital hub should meet accessibility standards, yet it
should not be made the only solution to reach out to rural communities
in order to foster digital literacy and broadband adoption.
Looking at the responses regarding the influence on community resilience, it
seems that these depend on the hub type, but even then, the ratings are to an
extent dissimilar. This lets us assume varied expectations based on their setup,
experiences, and regional factors probably play an important role, for example,
which facilities are already available. This is a relevant finding, revealing that
the hubs could to an extent contribute, but that it depends very much on the hub
setup. The expectation that the hubs can contribute to overall community
resilience within their target area accords with the assumption that initiators have
partly high expectations related to their hubs, exceeding the sole function of
improving internet access and digital literacy. As discussed in chapter 5.1, this
fits the picture that almost all listed several regional challenges such as lagging
economic development or youth outmigration. However, one also needs to keep
in mind that some communities need more support from the state to develop
resilient communities by implementing and conducting such projects than others
(Markantoni, Steiner, & Meador, 2019).
6.2 Further Research
The hub categories we have used in this study are based on the information the
hubs provided. However, one must note the possibility that some important
information was not to be found online or was not mentioned in the survey.
Further, we do not claim to provide a complete representative overview for all
European countries in this study, but rather first insights into what can be out
there and how these hubs can be characterized. It could, therefore, be that we
missed out rural digital hub forms or designs.
The conceptualization and empirics in this paper suggest that rural digital hubs
can contribute to community resilience, however, more in-depth case study
research would be needed to better understand the interconnections of the hubs
with people and places. For our outcomes related to accessibility, it would be
worthwhile to determine what other digital literacy training opportunities are
available in the rural context and to what degree these are equally accessible to
rural residents and entrepreneurs. On this basis, we could determine whether
there are sufficient opportunities.
Rundel, Salemink, & Strijker
Journal of Rural and Community Development 15, 3 (2020) 2144 38
Acknowledgement
This research would not have been possible without the financial support of the
EU Interreg VB North Sea Region Programme.
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... Several researchers emphasize that many rural places in developed countries are experiencing a decline attributed to a sectoral change [14,20,21]. On the other hand, it is suggested that digital technologies can help rural areas to overcome these challenges. ...
... Price et al. provide a concise guide on how to develop a rural DIH [47], which also offers a good starting point for the study of rural hubs. On the other hand, a study conducted by Rundel et al., makes an important contribution, focusing on the potential of rural digital innovation hubs within communities in Europe [14]. Otherwise, the typology of rural hubs consists of four types of (rural) digital innovation hubs; however, it is important to underline that identified types often overlap: (1). ...
... On the other hand, the typology of Rundel et al., compared to the research of Price et al., is even more detailed, including the so-called "business" dimension. Rundel et al. propose to differentiate between rural DIHs for businesses, rural DIHs for communities, and rural DIHs for businesses and communities [14]. Further diversification is preceded by proposing subcategories of each of the above-mentioned categories: enterprise and innovation hubs, PIAPs and training hubs, and fab labs [14]. ...
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One of the possible solutions of rural development is rural Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs). Rural DIHs represent an efficient way of improving local environments in a more sustainable way, by affecting local businesses, people and local authorities. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the concept of a rural DIH by exploring the following elements: business model, digital technology and competences, and the policy instrument. We investigate the above-mentioned conceptual elements by conducting a literature review study and synthesizing the findings. Additionally, we provide a case study of the Divina Wine Hub Šmarje as an example of a rural DIH, whose activities are aimed at supporting rural businesses and individuals. The results show that a rural DIH does have a positive impact on local businesses, in particular regarding their sustainability aspect. The local DIH explained in the case study provides possibilities for local businesses to use innovative technological solutions, by supporting them with the right technological equipment and skilled people. From an economic point of view on sustainability, this resulted in business processes optimization, cost reduction, employment opportunities, as well as the strengthening of sustainable consumption and marketing for the winegrowers. Furthermore, it adds to environmental sustainability by adequately assessing the conditions in the vineyards to determine the optimal time and location of effective action, resulting in reducing the environmental footprint. All of this together also contributes to social sustainability by providing fairer distribution of social opportunities and digital inclusion. In this manner, we conclude that rural DIHs should be part of the Smart transformations of rural areas and included in rural development policies.
... Finally, in recent years, digital hubs are recommended as a digital operating model to enhance the local digital environment and build digital collaborative communities that foster both social connectivity and economic change in rural areas (Price et al., 2018;Rundel et al., 2020;Merrell et al., 2021;. They are often used as co-working spaces to attract and retain digital entrepreneurs and young talent . ...
... However, these digital hubs are often located in larger cities and urban areas, which could be difficult for businesses in rural areas to access, especially with current cost of travel (Merrell et al., 2021;. Therefore, if these digital hubs are established in rural areas, rural firms can use them as the catalyst of a whole range of digital-related initiatives and activities to build social capital and networks in rural communities and enhance business performance and growth (Rundel et al., 2020). ...
... In addition, simpler signposting to digital support and IT information, such as local guidance, should be created for rural businesses seeking appropriate digital and IT support (Salemink et al., 2017). Similarly, it is important to create more digital enterprise hubs for better access to digital support in rural areas (Rundel et al., 2020;Price et al., 2021). Rural businesses can use or visit the hubs for better connectivity, start-up workspace, hot-desk space and digital training (Rundel et al., 2020;Merrell et al., 2021. ...
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Unlocking the digital potential of the UK's rural areas is important for the future of rural businesses, rural communities and the UK economy as a whole. The use of digital technologies is yielding new opportunities for businesses, including those located rurally, to enhance business growth and economic development, which significantly contributes to UK prosperity. However, businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in rural areas are often digitally disconnected due to inferior digital connectivity and digital exclusion, including lack of internet access and lower levels of digital literacy. Therefore, this paper provides a better understanding of the rural digital economy, highlighting key digital challenges and opportunities for rural businesses in the UK. An extensive review of both academic and non-academic literature is conducted to identify key digital challenges, digital opportunities, and solutions to overcome the digital disadvantage for rural businesses in the UK in the digital age. Our review emphasises the effectiveness of public sector market interventions in developing broadband infrastructure and smarter digital training and skills development to help address digital deprivation in rural areas. A series of policy recommendations is then formulated to support rural business growth in the digital age and contributing to debates regarding smart rural development in rural areas. This paper has potential limitations due to a non-systematic literature review. Therefore, we recommend applying a systematic review as well as empirical and place-based research to explore the emerging themes of this study for future research.
... Either pre-existing, publicly accessible buildings can be used or stand-alone solutions can be created, for example, a shared business space for entrepreneurs working with various digital technologies. Rundel et al. (2020) provided insights into various types of so-called rural digital hub setups, which establish and assist in gaining knowledge, forming networks and exploring business opportunities regarding digital technologies in different ways. This, in the end, can foster digital developments and digital inclusion in rural areas. ...
... Examples of such places can be schools, libraries, community centres and cafes. Seen more from an economic perspective, innovation and co-working spaces can be added (Rundel et al., 2020). ...
... Most digital hubs cannot be categorised within a single category of activity, but carry out a combination of these'. We add to the definition that a digital hub should specifically lay focus on digital technologies, for example, by aiming at the improvement of digital literacy levels or offering better internet connectivity (Rundel et al., 2020). ...
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The transition to a digitally inclusive and knowledge-based rural society can be challenging. Digital hubs are often proposed as a way of overcoming digital exclusion in rural and small-town contexts, yet studies into how to set up such a hub in these challenging contexts are scarce. While hubs are usually associated with an urban environment, this case study deals with the development of a rural digital hub over several years in a small town in East Groningen (NL). In the context of an Interreg project, observations during project meetings, in-depth interviews and document analysis were conducted to closely monitor the hub's development process. Initially, the hub initiators aimed at stimulating business activities and innovation linked to digital technologies. Thereby, an originally urban digital hub concept was copied into a rural context without a rural translation. Along the way, they were forced to adapt and scale down the scope of the project while at the same time, a broader target group had to be formulated. Moreover, the municipality lacked an overarching digital strategy, which compromised demand aggregation and supply synchronisation-two essential ingredients for rural digital hubs.
... Consistent with the telecentre literature (Moriset, 2011), in their recent analysis of rural digital hubs, Rundel et al. (2020) note that such hubs can be organised into hubs for businesses, hubs for communities, and hubs for both sets of stakeholders. Similarly, they may be standalone or co-located in libraries or community centres (Rundel et al., 2020). ...
... Consistent with the telecentre literature (Moriset, 2011), in their recent analysis of rural digital hubs, Rundel et al. (2020) note that such hubs can be organised into hubs for businesses, hubs for communities, and hubs for both sets of stakeholders. Similarly, they may be standalone or co-located in libraries or community centres (Rundel et al., 2020). They also note that while the ENRD (2017) aspired for rural digital hubs to play an active role in improving digital literacy, in reality few offered such services or indeed recognise themselves as a digital hub, and where offered these services required payment (Rundel et al., 2020). ...
... Similarly, they may be standalone or co-located in libraries or community centres (Rundel et al., 2020). They also note that while the ENRD (2017) aspired for rural digital hubs to play an active role in improving digital literacy, in reality few offered such services or indeed recognise themselves as a digital hub, and where offered these services required payment (Rundel et al., 2020). As a result, accessibility issues may not be addressed satisfactorily. ...
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... However, these spaces are vital for their communities and tenants. Many of these hubs are a base for providing other community services, such as library services and information and communications technology (Rundel et al., 2020), cafes and social spaces, drop-in services (e.g., Citizens Advice, health clinics, business support), tourist information and childcare services which appear more pronounced in rural areas. ...
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This article in Regions ezine looks at the differences between urban and rural enterprise hubs and coworking spaces, with data drawn from my PhD thesis and recent publications
... This editorial introduces a Special Issue that examines why 'Hubs' of various types have become so pervasive in regional development, innovation and local economic policy-making (see, for example, Dovey et al., 2016;Price et al., 2018;Rundel et al., 2020). The selection of articles herein allows us to explore different interpretations of 'hubs' across different places and different types of activity. ...
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In the arena of rural development, a number of initiatives have adopted the idea of a hub to deliver improved services, promote business development and support local communities. This editorial sets out the rationale for a Special Issue that seeks to understand the additional value that hubs can provide. In particular, we assess their overlapping social and economic goals and the implications for networks and strategies to create, develop and sustain successful hubs. Additionally, we explore opportunities for innovation and new collaborations among different types of hubs with different organisational models and conceptualise how best to develop the ‘spokes’ that are essential for connecting hubs to both their local communities and to wider stakeholders.
... Policy makers may see preserving Indigenous culture as a benefit in its own right, related to preserving the country's identity and to long-term social and economic opportunities at regional levels (Price, Shutt, & Sellick, 2018;Rundel, Salemink, & Strijker, 2020). As Indigenous entrepreneurial ecosystems evolve, preservation of Indigenous culture through entrepreneurship cannot be assumed as a broader range of business models and opportunities become available. ...
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Indigenous entrepreneurial ecosystem development is not addressed in research. We define and characterise Indigenous entrepreneurial ecosystems and their evolution based on a qualitative study comparing Indigenous entrepreneurship in Chile and in Aotearoa New Zealand. We draw on interviews with 10 Mapuche entrepreneurs in Araucanía and 10 Māori entrepreneurs in the Bay of Plenty, observation, and a literature review to address the question – how does an Indigenous entrepreneurial ecosystem develop along with the social, economic, and political development of mainstream society? We find that Indigenous entrepreneurial ecosystems evolve with the economic and social environments of their countries because of an internal imperative towards cultural continuity and the resilience of culture to change. We find that mature Indigenous entrepreneurial ecosystems are associated with higher states of development and support a broader range of business models. Implications for policy, practice, and research are discussed.
... Many of the names for hubs are used interchangeably despite differences in their target user group. Rundel et al. (2020) outlined variation within rural digital hubs and classified them based on who the hub was aimed atbusinesses, communities or both whilst Toivonen and Friederici (2015) identified four key features that defined the role of innovation hubs. ...
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Rural Enterprise Hubs (REHs) are mechanisms for bringing together rural businesses. The co-location of businesses drives innovation through knowledge exchange, where face-to-face contact still matters. They provide additional opportunities to network, acquire knowledge, form new collaborations, and create synergies between tenants. REHs can also act as a platform through which business support organisations can deliver their support. This review provides an overview of what are REHs, and the academic literature on their benefits and factors affecting their performance. It identifies that hub managers play a vital role as knowledge providers, brokering collaborations and sign-posting tenants to necessary support. REHs bring multiple benefits to their tenants, some of which are economic (improvements to their businesses and productivity) whilst others are more social and psychological (improvements to well-being).
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Governments move away from their roles as providers and take on roles as facilitators and enablers. Such transformations provide opportunities for individuals to play an active role in improving the resilience of their communities. However, the effects of such transformations may not be experienced by all communities equally. In the light of the emerging enabling state, which entails a more proactive type of community, this article examines whether community projects can enhance the resilience of hard-to-reach rural communities. Analysis from 345 interviews with rural residents from six communities shows that successful completion of community projects can positively change perceptions of resilience, whereas uncompleted projects negatively affect perceptions of resilience. We conclude that for some hard-to-reach communities, in order to build their resilience, continuous funding support needs to be in place. To enhance the resilience of rural communities, the state must also create opportunities for effective community participation.
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This report presents the results from the 'diagnostic survey' that the University of Groningen/Faculty of Spatial Sciences conducted within the EU Interreg 5B project CORA: COnnecting Rural Areas. Results from rural regions in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom were gathered, covering issues of digital connectivity and digital adoption and usage. The report also suggests some guiding measures for other regions that are also dealing with issues surrounding the urban-rural digital divide. Suggestions for transnational learning and cooperation are also provided.
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Over recent decades, people’s (rural and urban) communities are facing numerous social and economic changes and challenges. Some of those challenges have been increasingly addressed through the lenses of technological developments and digitalization. In this paper, we have made a review of already existing practices while focusing on the existing implementations of the Smart Village concept and the importance of digital transformation for rural areas. We give special attention to EU policies that we are using as an already existing framework for understanding our own forthcoming examples. We have shown the parallels between the findings and insights from different regions and made an evaluation of presented practices. Our main argument stems from our own previous experiences and experiences of other research approaches, and is grounded on the argument that rural areas are not uniform, and that smart rural development has to be applied in combination with place-based approach. We present the cases of Slovenian pilot practices and support our argument by proposing the FabVillage concept.
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This chapter is prepared to explain important aspects and factors to be considered in PIAPs-related projects, especially implemented in country-level. It is likely a guideline offering step-by-step and systematic approach for successfully implementing PIAP projects. The content of the guideline is divided into following sections: Potential PIAP Types, PIAP Services, Management Structure, Operational Structure, How to Create Public Demand, and Critical Success Factors.The content of the chapter is as follows: first, related literature is briefly explained to review important PIAP implementations in the world; then, trends in PIAP projects in the world are examined and discussed based on the findings of investigation over 21 PIAPs implementation in the world; after that, the guideline is explained with all details; and finally, the chapter ends with future research directions and the conclusion section.Keywords: Public Internet Access Points (PIAPs), digital divide, ICT services, e-transformation, e-government, telecenters, kiosk, mobile PIAP, multi-purpose PIAP, mini-PIAPs.
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The purpose of this paper is to analyze Public Internet Access Points (PIAPs) established by 17 different initiatives. Analysis focuses on variety of PIAP related issues mainly under operational, management and financing headings. The factors affecting sustainability of PIAPs, problems causing PIAPs to not to operate effectively are also dealt with this paper. The principle value of this paper lies in creating the understanding of trends to establish PIAPs and provide guides for their operation in an effective way. This has been accomplished by performing a comprehensive analysis and obtaining general conclusions based on analysis of 17 different PIAP cases.
Chapter
Rural economies have undergone major changes in recent years as traditional rural economic sectors declined and shifted. At the same time, digital technologies emerged and rural communities experience profound transformations. In this chapter, we analyze how technological change leads to changing rural economies in a Swiss mountain community. Although Switzerland has one of the highest national coverage of broadband in the world, there is a lack of knowledge regarding the transformation of its rural economy due to digitalization. The community case study’s 46 qualitative interviews show that digital connectivity in peripheral mountain communities is experienced differently by various actors. On the one hand, digitalization offers new economic opportunities to larger businesses, larger hotels, schools and health service providers. On the other hand, particularly smaller businesses struggle with the high cost of becoming digital and their owners tend to become more cautious and stressed as competition and price transparencies in the digital economy become intensified. In terms of spatial aspects, we argue that digitalization reduces cognitive distance between core and periphery while physical distance between the urban and the rural still exist.
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This paper examines the public conversation surrounding two failed technology businesses in rural Vermont communities, documenting a particular techno‐development discourse. Engaging with the literatures of rural development and science and technology studies (STS), the paper frames this discourse as a mechanism of power exercised by private capital. It analyzes how perspectives shared in news and social media functioned to attribute financial, technological, and moral authority to developers while dividing communities and scapegoating the state. Our work highlights the need for scholars to be conscious of techno‐development discourses that prioritize capital interests over community interests. Rather than using hegemonic conceptualizations of technology, we advocate for development that advances more flexible, local understandings of technology. And rather than centering high‐tech development as a vehicle for extending prosperity across space, we propose that greater attention be paid to extending high wages across industrial sectors.
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The last 15 years have seen major changes in the availability and usage of broadband in the UK. Despite these improvements, rural areas continue to lag behind urban areas for broadband connection speeds – a divide that is exacerbated by lower rates of broadband adoption among rural Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). This paper examines the experiences of SMEs that have participated in a publicly funded programme designed to stimulate demand for broadband in the rural region of Lincolnshire, UK. Drawing on interviews conducted over two periods of policy intervention (2003–2006 and 2010–2015) it examines the variety of business support approaches used and identifies the effects of these on use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) innovation, and sales within participating SMEs. The results show that while training events provide entry-level support for broadband use, more intensive support such as 1:1 advice and ICT grants leads to the significant changes within the business. Direct access to new technology in spaces such as Technology Hubs is identified as particularly important for rural SMEs. The paper concludes by identifying some common features of the business support that bring about the greatest benefits to SMEs in rural areas.