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ICTs for rural development: potential applications and barriers involved

Les TIC au service du développement rural : applications potentielles et difficultés d’adoption
Anastasia Stratigea
p. 179-204

Résumés

L’évolution de la ruralité occupe actuellement une place centrale au sein du débat politique. Il s’agit à la fois de répondre aux besoins spécifiques des populations rurales, et de saisir les opportunités économiques pour le développement local. Cet article revêt une double ambition : d’une part, apporter un éclairage sur le rôle que les TIC peuvent effectivement jouer en faveur du développement rural ; et d’autre part, comprendre quelles sont les principales difficultés d’adoption dans cet espace si singulier. La première partie met l’accent sur l’existence d’un nouveau référentiel politique de développement rural intégrant désormais les TIC en tant qu’outil essentiel de son élaboration. La deuxième partie met en discussion les facteurs décisifs permettant un développement numérique rural efficace. La troisième partie pointe les difficultés d’adoption généralisée des populations et des entreprises vis-à-vis de ces nouvelles technologies. Dans une dernière partie, nous présentons l’ensemble des critères qui nous paraissent décisifs à la réussite des politiques publiques engagées en matière de numérique dans les espaces ruraux.

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Introduction

1During the last decades we are running the era of a new industrial revolution, driven by the developments of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and the Internet, which have considerably influenced patterns of working, living, socializing, producing, marketing, cooperating, interacting, etc. The core of this revolution is relating to the convergence of Information and Communication Technologies, which enables the collection, processing, storing, transformation, retrieval and finally transmission of information, in whatever form it may take - oral, written or visual – removing thus barriers of distance, time and volume/type of information. The new regime is characterized by Kastells (2010) as “… informational, global and networked”, attributing its distinctive intertwining features.

2The potential offered by ICTs has created large expectations in many groups of the society as to their ability to deal with challenges and threats in the new era. More specifically, ICTs have created expectations, among others, to (EC, 2004):

  • Citizens and consumers in respect to the improvement of the quality of their life and the options available for getting access to better services and entertainment.

  • Remote and peripheral regions in respect to the improvement of their access to opportunities in a competitive world and the removal of any kind of barriers relating to geographical distance/isolation.

  • Governmental and administrative bodies in respect to their potential to serve the needs of citizens, businesses and other bodies in a more efficient, transparent and responsive way.

  • Businesses and small-medium-sized enterprises in respect to the potential offered by ICTs for more effective management and organization structures, direct access to employees’ training and other services, direct on-line interaction with customers and suppliers, chances for cooperation, etc.

3Rural regions, accounting for about 75% of the land and almost a quarter of the population in OECD countries, are nowadays facing problems of decline and out-migration, ageing of their population, a lower skill base and average labor productivity, etc. (OECD, 2006), which strongly affect their competitive position in the new era. In order to deal with the above deficiencies, rural development policy needs to be readdressed towards a direction that will be based on the effective and more sustainable exploitation of available resources and human capital, as well as the better coordination and interaction among sectors, levels of government and public and private actors. Towards this end a new, society empowering, place-based, cross-sectoral, integrated rural policy paradigm is coming to the fore, having at its core the more effective exploitation of the endogenous potential of rural regions and the creation of various types of partnerships, which can be heavily drawn upon ICTs developments.

4Increasing accessibility of rural regions to ICTs and their applications seems to be a promising policy option for the future development of rural regions, with beneficial influences to citizens, firms and rural communities as a whole, due to their potential of establishing an open platform for effective and efficient interaction and intelligence gathering, that serves both the micro-level (individuals and firms) and the macro-level (rural regions) towards the enhancement of their competitive position in the new economy context.

5The focus of the present paper is twofold: on the one hand it attempts to shed light on the role of ICTs and their applications as enabling tools, supporting rural development perspectives; while on the other hand it explores the barriers appearing towards the adoption and use of ICTs in rural regions. In such a context, Chapter 2 elaborates on the newly evolving rural development paradigm, distinguished by a society empowering, cross-sectoral, place-based and integrated development approach. Chapter 3 explores the range and potential of ICTs applications that can serve the implementation of the new policy paradigm in rural regions. Chapter 4 presents the steps that are needed in order to develop value-added ICTs applications in rural regions and the barriers appearing in the adoption and use of ICTs in these regions. Finally, in Chapter 5, some policy recommendations are presented, which could reinforce the adoption and use of ICTs serving rural development objectives.

Towards a new rural development policy paradigm in the information economy

6New economy has been perceived as “… a fundamental transformation of the economy via globalization, new technologies and a noticeable shift to more knowledge intensive activities” (Copeland, 2003, p. 7). Under these new circumstances, policy making in general, but also rural development policy in particular, needs to readdress its focus and direction in the new era, in order to be able to deal effectively with sustainable rural development objectives, namely social cohesion, competitiveness of the rural productive systems in a globalized world and environmental protection.

7As many researchers claim, rural development nowadays cannot be considered as identical to agricultural development, especially in the developed countries (AGRIBLUE, 2004; OECD, 2005a, 2005b; OECD, 2006; Pizzoli and Gong, 2007; Bollman, 2007), although the role of the agricultural sector in rural regions is fully acknowledged as ‘environmental safeguard’ [COM(1999)22; COM(2005)304; EC, 2005; Walls, 2006]; and as a sector that can support the development of other sectors of the rural economy [OECD, 2005a; COM(2005)304 final; Giaoutzi et al, 2008]. This is most evident in the manufacturing and food sectors (Hall, 2004; Clark and Chabrel, 2007; Fennell, 2008), but also in the tourism and leisure sectors, as many of the beautiful landscapes are in fact farmed landscapes (Scarpa and Cicia, 2000). According to Bruckmeier and Tovey (2009), rural development, in a broader interpretation, has to be approached in a way integrating its social dimension, as a creator of sustainable livelihoods; its economic dimension as a redistributor of economic and other resources enabling a socially inclusive development process; and its environmental dimension, as a navigator of the link between social and ecosystems.

8Rural regions, although rich in natural and cultural resources, they are often seen as regions with certain deficits in knowledge capacity that constrain efficient exploitation of these resources. The emergence of the Information and Knowledge Society and its power in gathering, processing, storing, retrieving and transmitting knowledge and information at a distance, seems to create new promising perspectives towards the future development of rural regions. Knowledge and Information Society nowadays are taking a variety of forms across rural Europe, with considerable impacts on the development perspectives of rural regions (Bruckmeier and Tovey, 2009). As empirical evidence from the European territory shows (Tovey and Mooney, 2006; Bruckmeier and Tovey, 2009), contemporary trends in sustainable rural development are revealing a changing nature of development processes in the EU rural regions. These processes are heavily based on the effective gathering and processing of information and knowledge and their use by the social actors involved in rural development, towards the achievement of the EU sustainable rural development objectives, namely: the pursuance of economically competitive rural societies; the shift towards more pluralistic (inclusive) societies, built upon the consensus of a broad variety of social actors, with their respective interests, knowledge, views, values etc.; and the pursuance of an environmentally responsible rural development perspective, placing less burden on the environment and the natural and cultural resources.

9Rural development policy nowadays needs to deal effectively with a number of challenges that are relating to the:

  • Differentiation of rural regions based on both resources and history, tradition, values, etc. of local societies, the effective exploitation of which calls for a place-based multi-objective approach, falling into the general planning goal of sustainable development.

  • Shift from an agriculture-based rural development approach to a multi-sectoral development perspective that will pursue the sustainable exploitation of the whole range of resources available in rural regions (e.g. small-scale food processing, new alternative forms of rural tourism, non-agricultural rural economy), which calls for a cross-sectoral approach.

  • Need to establish interaction among sectors in order to develop synergies and reap the benefits out of them for the whole region, which calls for an integrated approach.

  • Need to mobilize all actors involved (citizens, businesses, administration, institutions, etc.) by establishing proper communication platforms for the exchange of ideas, seeking for a wider consensus on future rural development paths, which calls for a society-empowering approach, based on participation.

  • The need to get access to information and knowledge sources that will increase knowledge capacity in rural regions, which calls for an inclusive information and knowledge society approach.

10Apart from the above challenges, policy making for rural areas is also nowadays largely framed by the following key factors (OECD, 2006):

  • The increasing value attached by the society to amenities, both natural and cultural, certain of which are not only locally consumed, but are of importance for the society as a whole. Rural areas are definitely disposing a wide range of non-agricultural resources, such as important antiquities, historical sites and other recreational amenities, which are increasingly appreciated as attracting features that can be properly managed and marketed to the benefit of the development of rural regions. In this respect, policy makers need to move beyond the narrow focus of multifunctionality of agriculture and adopt a new rural policy paradigm that will identify and valorize the whole range of amenities and account for positive and negative externalities, associated with different activities in rural areas.

  • The increasing pressure towards the reform of agricultural policy worldwide that emanates mainly from: the distorting effect of the subsidization of agricultural products on trade; and the economic burden exerted by the provision of subsidies on the budgets of the different nations. This pressure has gradually shifted the emphasis of agricultural policy from an incentive-oriented to an investment market-oriented agricultural policy.

  • The last key factor is relating to the decentralization trend in regional policy. Such a trend has been largely supported by both the theory and the practice of regional policy and the ascertainment that traditional approaches, based on financial redistribution, did not succeed to deal effectively with regional disparities in rural regions. In this respect, the effectiveness of the present agricultural policy is argued, as to the emphasis it poses on farmers rather than on places, focusing on a small segment of rural population; and the subsidization of production (e.g. CAP) that leads to the disturbance of territorial cohesion, by favoring the most productive, accessible and geographically smooth agricultural regions. Based on that, there is a need for a more decentralized rural policy approach that will identify and target local opportunities, which are capable of mobilizing local assets. Key issues in such an approach are the focus on: an inclusive decision making approach, assuring the participation of all stakeholders involved at the local level; a better exploitation of the endogenous assets and knowledge; and a new collective / negotiating governance approach, namely a cross-cutting and multi-level policy approach assuring better coordination of governmental agencies (horizontal between and within agencies as well as vertical across the various levels of government), where local government has a dominant role to play.

11In Fig. 1 below is presented the shift from the traditional to the new rural development policy paradigm.

Fig. 1. From traditional approaches to a new paradigm of rural development policy

Fig. 1. From traditional approaches to a new paradigm of rural development policy

Source: OECD, 2006

12The above challenges and key factors have been, in the one or the other way, incorporated in the rural development efforts of various countries around the world. Examples are the rural development policy of (OECD, 2006): Canada and Finland, distinguished by the integration of the local and central governmental levels, with the local level in a protagonist role in setting policy priorities; Germany and United Kingdom, where rural policy has a more locally-focused orientation, based on the creation of local strategic partnerships (LSPs); Mexico, adopting an integrated approach to rural development based on highly participatory approaches; the Netherlands, where the integration among local and central government policy objectives is taking place, with central government at the role of setting policy targets and local government at the role of translating these targets into action and integrating them into the local and regional development plans; etc. It is also worth noting the positive results of the EU LEADER Community Initiative for the development of rural regions and the promotion of local partnerships, based on an integrated approach to rural development, driven by the endogenous potential of these regions.

13According to OECD (2006), four important policy areas are of relevance for shifting from a mono-sectoral policy approach (agricultural sector) to an integrated (multi-sectoral) approach, namely:

  • Transport and ICTs infrastructure development that will support the increase of interaction potential of rural areas.

  • Provision of public services.

  • Identification and valorization of amenities (both natural and cultural); and

  • Provision of support to small businesses in rural regions (entrepreneurship).

14Based on the above described challenges and key factors, driving the new rural development policy paradigm, as well as the policy fields of importance, in the following section the discussion will be concentrated on the exploration of the range and potential of ICTs applications, which can contribute to the development of rural regions, driving a society empowering, cross-sectoral, place-driven (based on the specific characteristics of rural regions, development potential, knowledge and capacities), integrated new rural policy paradigm. ICTs, in this respect, are considered as mechanisms reinforcing digital inclusion, bridging thus the digital divide between rural and urban regions, and creating network value through knowledge and information diffusion that is critical in pursuing sustainable rural development objectives.

ICTs applications adding value to rural development perspectives

15Within the new, society empowering, cross-sectoral, place-based, integrated policy paradigm for rural development, of critical importance is the interaction taking place among the various actors, namely citizens / society, businesses and administrative units, both within a rural region and between the region and the outer world. ICTs can support a two-directional interaction among the main actors in rural societies (see Table 1 below).
The range and potential of ICTs applications that are serving these types of interaction in rural regions, but also add value to personal, business and rural regions’ development perspectives are presented in the following, classified as to their contribution to the individual / societal, business and administrative level (see Fig. 2 below).

ICTs applications at the individual / societal level

16In this section are presented ICTs applications that can apply to the individual / societal level.

Provision of community services

17A number of ICTs applications can be identified that allow citizens of rural regions to enjoy access to those basic services that are necessary for the improvement of the quality of their life, decreasing thus inequality in access to services between rural and urban population. As such, can be mentioned (see Figure 2 below):

18-e-Health services: distant, non-stop medical support of rural population is of importance, especially for the elderly or disabled groups, mainly due to the limited access of rural regions to sufficient health services. ICTs are offering a great potential in this respect and a great progress can be marked in the field of e-health applications. In-house video-phone equipment allows direct communication of rural citizens with properly equipped health centers, where they can send video information and receive care support from specialized staff. This staff can monitor citizens’ health via ICTs equipment (e.g. a GIS and a CRM system keeping historical clinic information) and properly intervene in case of critical incidents. Portable devices (e.g. cell phones) can also be used, which enable population to be real-time monitored by specialized health centers (see relevant application in www.trikalacity.gr). Moreover, e-health applications can also be used for both disease management and prevention.

Table 1: Types of interaction enabled by ICTs among the main actors in rural regions

  • 1 The framework of Palvia and Sharma (2007) for e-government and e-governance is adopted, where e-gov (...)

To

From

Individual/Citizen

Business

Administration

Individual / Citizen

C2C

Citizen to Citizen

e.g. social networks, e-communities

C2B

Citizen to Business

Citizens as clients – access to mar­ket­places or busi­nesses

Citizens as emplo­yees

C2G

Citizen to Government

e-government

(access of citizens to public services e.g. tax offices)

Business

B2C

Business to Citizen

e.g. e-marketing,

e-commerce, e-banking

B2B

Business to Business

e.g. e-commerce,

networking - virtual enterprise

B2G

Business to Government

(access of businesses to public services)

Administration

G2C

Government to Citizen

e-government – provision of public services

G2B

Government to Business

e-government

G2G

Government to Government

e-government1

G2E

(e-governance2 – government to employee)

Stratigea Anastasia

19-e-Learning services based on ICTs: aim at reducing barriers to the access of rural population to education / training services. e-Learning applications are quite useful both at the educational level (school) and the community level. At the educational level they can provide an e-learning platform that supports the teacher’s work (e.g. organize and upload pedagogical material, create an on-line library of the courses); the student’s work (e.g. on-line access to the library; on-line clarifications and cooperation); the group work e.g. access to remote laboratories for experimental work. Moreover, they increase familiarization of young people and development of skills in ICTs. At the community level, each individual has the possibility to use on-line learning services (e-courses) offered by various providers (companies, universities, private and public institutions, etc.), developing thus new skills and competencies that lead to personal empowerment and increase of skills and knowledge of employees in rural regions, adding value to labour productivity and competitiveness.

20-e-Libraries: offering access of rural population to knowledge and information sources. Joining networks of libraries enables local population (students, professionals, etc.) to share a larger amount of knowledge resources. As an example, the municipal library of Trikala-Greece is one of the 30 selected libraries in Greece that joins the Greek National Network of Public Libraries, getting access to catalogues of all Greek public libraries, to special Web portals, but also to a "digital depository of books and periodicals" developed at the national level (www.trikalacity.gr). Users of the municipal library can, by accessing an in-house helpdesk, view or order articles and books in a digital form.

21-e-Culture: ICTs applications are offering rural population access to museums, cultural events etc. These are interesting applications, especially for young people in remote rural regions, keeping them on-line with exceptional cultural assets and events all over the world. An interesting application of e-culture has, among others, taken place in the rural region of Kastelli-Crete, in the context of the EU project Rural Wings, addressed to students of primary or secondary school (http://ruralwings.rd.forthnet.gr/​).

22-m- e-banking: improving access to financial services is vital for rural regions, especially the more remote ones. e-banking and m-banking applications can revolutionize the provision of formal services of the banking sector, offering new cost-effective ways of delivering traditional services, with huge benefits for users.

Fig. 2 : ICTs applications in rural regions at the individual/societal, business and administrative level

Fig. 2 : ICTs applications in rural regions at the individual/societal, business and administrative level

Societal level – e-Inclusion

23-Social networking: the development of ICTs has largely contributed to the increase of social interaction taking place between individual to individual, individual to group, group to individual and group to group communication. ICTs and the Internet can be characterized as highly e-inclusive technologies, allowing people to establish links with the rest of the community or other communities as well. e-Inclusion is of paramount importance for rural regions, especially for those which are geographically isolated, leading to the creation of social networks. Such networks are vital for the strengthening of social relationships among citizens of rural communities, but also can be considered as important platforms for information dissemination and increase of awareness on various issues of concern at the local level.

24-Social learning – knowledge-sharing platforms: the unlimited potential for interaction among various partners based on ICTs is marking the growing capacity of multiple-actor networks to develop and perform collective actions (HarmoniCOP Project, 2003), assuring both e-participatory potential and network-run (web-based) technical processes.

25-Participatory decision making is a promising option provided by ICTs and relates to the most sophisticated level of e-Government, characterized by “networked presence” (Palvia and Sharma, 2007). Rural citizens, in such a context, are deliberatively involved in a two way open dialogue with governmental institutions, and express their views, visions, expectations etc., playing thus an active role in the decision-making process. Various examples of successful implementation of ICTs for participatory decision making are encountered e.g. smart cities. Trikala – Greece is an exceptional example of such a city, where a variety of ICTs applications for public involvement is established (www.trikalacity.gr).

26-Teleworking: is an important application of ICTs and a promising one in the rural context. ICTs are key drivers, among others, for the greater flexibility of jobs in time and space (Vescoukis et al, 2003). New, location- and time-independent working structures are now offering the potential for decentralization of work through various teleworking schemes. Teleworking, as a powerful tool for “breaking down barriers between people, places, roles and activities” (EC, 1999), can benefit rural regions by rendering them attractive locations for the development of teleworking schemes e.g. televillages, with considerable consequences in terms of new job creation, based on the geographical dispersion of businesses; strong job growth in the service sector (Korte and Wynn, 1996; EC, 1999); restructuring of socio-economic pattern of rural regions; production and consumption patterns; commercial and social interactions (EC, 2001).

ICTs applications at the business level

27In this section are presented the range and potential of ICTs applications that can apply to the business level.

e-Agriculture - Farm-specific ICTs applications

  • 2 “e-Agriculture”: an emerging field in the intersection of agricultural informatics, agricultural de (...)

28In the 21st century, a new knowledge-based farming system is emerging that, based on farm-specific ICTs applications (e-Agriculture2) can support the: profitability at the farm level; production of competitive, market-oriented, qualitative food products; decrease of environmental and climate change impacts; and energy efficiency (FAO, 2005; Downey, 2006). Knowledge and information are key requirements that enable farmers to deal with contemporary challenges, particularly as the new agricultural technologies become more “knowledge-intensive” (Abdon and Raab, 2004).

29As Engelhard (2000) claims, agriculture nowadays is an information-intensive sector, drawing upon an infinite number of sources of widely dispersed “locally contextualized knowledge” and a considerable body of research material. Moreover, it relies upon the continuous flow of information from local, regional and world markets. The rise of ICTs, with their wide variety of applications, holds a great promise for agricultural development in rural regions.

30ICTs farm-specific applications can be roughly distinguished into: on-farm support services; management and decision making support services; and on-site support services, all delivering appropriate knowledge and information to farmers in rural regions. These are presented as follows:

  • 3 PDA – Personal Digital Assistance equipment.

31-On-farm support services refer to the provision of on-farm personalized information via mainly wireless communication. Remote rural farmers can get access to special agricultural support services by use of mobile and wireless networking technologies, integrated to the satellite broadband channel (FAO, 2005). By these means, farmers can get: access to on-farm support (consulting services) by directly linking to agriculturalists; and information on specific problems at the farm level. The end users (farmers) can be located in remote areas (e.g. farms or greenhouses) and, by using mobile devices (Tablet PCs and PDA3s), they are able to raise questions to agriculturalists; transmit digital information in real-time; and get immediate diagnostic feedback. Interaction can be either synchronous e.g. transmit digital photos of infected plants in real-time and wait for immediate diagnostic feedback; and asynchronous e.g. raise an issue, ask questions to agriculturalists or to other farmers, upload high resolution pictures relevant to the issue raised and gather knowledge on the issue at hand.
Moreover, the convergence of different technologies e.g. nano-biotechnology with ICTs, has created effective new technological products that are now available in the market, which claim to resolve various kinds of problems. Examples are nano-sensors embedded in the ground, which, combined with ICTs, can provide valuable information to farmers on the variations in soil quality, the water table and crops on a day-to-day basis (SCAR Foresight, 2007).

32-Management and decision-making support services aiming at the enhancement of farmers’ knowledge for management and decision-making purposes. As ICTs applications, serving this purpose, can be considered:

  • Precision farming: advanced e-Agriculture application, where ICTs, computers and satellite technologies are used to better manage farm resources (FAO, 2005), based on the identification, analysis and management of spatial and temporal variability of soil and plants (e.g. through digital field records) that are supporting efficiency and sustainability objectives (rational use of resources, such as water and fertilizers).

  • Access to information and knowledge systems: supports the acquisition of various kinds of farm-specific information, e.g. weather information for irrigation, seed options, information for field work purposes (Thysen and Detlefsen, 2006), but also information on commodity prices, developments in farm machinery, pesticides and chemicals etc. that aim at supporting decisions at the farm level and improve farm management. As various studies show (FAO, 2005), farmers involved in such processes migrate quickly to Web-based transactions.

33-On-site support services delivering knowledge and information to farmers. As such can be mentioned the following:

  • On-site training services by agriculturalists - e-Seminars - available either in real time or in recorded video. These provide useful knowledge on various themes of agricultural interest, e.g. new and improved ways of cultivation, sustainable production, management issues, advisory services on new technologies in farming, cost effective techniques, new and upcoming agricultural methods, and agricultural events.

  • e-Marketing – e-Commerce that allow farmers to directly access either traders or customers in order to: market and sell their products; identify targeted audience; collect and track client/customer information on preferences; provide on-line information on product updates at a minimum effort and cost; etc.

  • Access to e-Libraries that helps farmers to acquire specialized knowledge in respect to issues of interest, which enhance local knowledge in agricultural issues e.g. sustainable agricultural practices, organic farming, new production techniques, marketing approaches, agricultural policy framework.

  • Access to e-communities via which farmers and other professionals in rural regions can get access to professional networks, crossing geographical boundaries and exchanging information with other members of the community that contributes to the increase of their knowledge and experience or the pursuance of mutual interests (networking) and objectives within the e-community.

Food quality and safety

34The increasing concern of consumers as to the quality and safety aspects of food is reflected to their demand for improved traceability of food in the whole chain of production, processing and distribution (from "farm to plate" chain). Traceability is becoming a mainstream commercial requirement and will continue to be a key requirement for exporting agricultural production e.g. to EU and the USA, based on the introduction of the EU General Food Law and the US Bioterrorism Act 2002 that have made traceability a mandatory requirement for market access (Babria, 2003). Moreover, there is already considerable evidence that the demand for certified safe and traceable food will continue to rise also for domestic production and supply in many countries (Zhillin, 2003).

35Data management, based on ICTs, is the core of the food traceability issue (Zhillin, 2003), relating to the capture, identification, processing and dissemination of relative information, in combination with satellite imaging and mapping to enable real-time tracking and geo-traceability (GeoTraceAgri Project, 2005).

e-Business

36ICTs and their applications are offering a platform supporting businesses in rural regions, both in the agricultural and other sectors, towards the: re-engineering of their production, management and organization processes; support of direct on-line interaction with customers; search for new market opportunities etc., enhancing thus their competitive potential in the new economy. The most promising ICTs applications for rural regions in the business sector are:

  • e-Commerce: ICTs are offering rural businesses the potential to establish an on-line transaction space with their customers and/or other businesses (B2C and B2B interaction).

  • e-Marketing: rural businesses can, by means of ICTs, market their products by establishing direct links with their customers (firms or individuals), creating thus a dynamic and adaptive two-way communication, increasing their potential towards the identification and adjustment to customers’ needs; permeating to new market segments, etc. (B2C and B2B interaction).

  • e-Training (life-long e-training): businesses can get access to distant training opportunities for their employees, which support the upgrading of their knowledge and skills at an affordable cost.

  • e-Marketplace: based on ICTs, rural regions can develop e-marketplaces as marketing and transaction platforms that are based on local enterprises/products. Such e-marketplaces can allocate virtual spaces to all local businesses, so that their products are marketed through the network, providing access to a much larger clientele and bypassing traditional trade networks that often manipulate market prices. Several interesting examples of such marketplaces are developed in rural regions, e.g. B2Bpricenow.com in Philipinnes, Agriwatch in India (Hammond and Paul, 2006), but also in small urban settlements e.g. a B2C marketplace in Trikala-Greece.

New business opportunities

37ICTs, in their function to diffuse information irrespectively of time, place and volume/type, are “enabling technologies”, supporting new business opportunities. ICTs applications in this respect can:

  • At the firm level: support a new, more efficient, intra-organizational structure of firms in rural regions; provide access to operating support, etc.

  • At the market level: enable firms in rural regions (farmers, manufacturers, tourist firms, etc.) to reach new market segments by directly accessing their clients (firms and consumers); and enable business networking as a cost-effective approach for generating new business opportunities e.g. virtual organization based on network interaction (Lockett and Holland, 1996; Lorenzoni and Baden-Fuller, 1993; Powell, 1990; Stratigea et al, 2006). Such business network structures in rural areas can be formed either between farmers, sharing resources, distribution networks, risks, etc. or between farmers and other businesses e.g. in a food chain structure (“from field to table” business agri-food chain), aiming at the strengthening of the position of firms involved against the increasing competition and the more efficient use of available resources.

  • At the sectoral level: enable new business opportunities in various sectors e.g. tourism sector, manufacturing sector, service sector (Stratigea and Giaoutzi, 2006; Stratigea et al, 2008).

ICTs applications at the administrative level

38In the following are presented ICTs applications that can apply to the administrative level.

e-Governance

39ICTs applications are supporting the improvement of the production processes within governmental agencies, by transforming interaction patterns among employees (G2E interaction). As a result, cost-effective public services are produced (Palvia and Sharma, 2007), based on the more effective management of organizational resources (capital, human, materials and machinery).

e-Government

40ICTs applications can effectively support the interaction taking place between governmental agencies on the one hand and citizens, businesses or other bodies of government on the other. In such a context, they consist of a communication platform, along which interaction is taking place in one of the following forms (Palvia and Sharma, 2007):

  • A one way communication, in which governmental agencies are disseminating various types of information, e.g. regulatory services, public hearing schedules, issue briefs, notifications.

  • A two-way communication between governmental agencies and citizens, businesses or other governmental agencies. Such an interaction implies that individuals, businesses or other bodies can engage in a dialogue with a certain governmental agency, in which they can communicate problems, post comments, or requests to the agency.

  • Conducting of transactions such as lodging tax returns, applying for services etc.

41Such a ICTs-enabled communication platform can provide and/or improve governmental services in rural areas by allowing on-line transactions through the development of one-stop e-Government portal (G2C, G2B and G2G interaction). Moreover, it increases efficiency and improves services of governmental agencies in rural regions, assures better accessibility of public to services and improves transparency in decision making and accountability. Many good examples of e-Government can be encountered nowadays, with a prominent example from the Greek territory being the small city of Trikala, keeping one of the first twenty positions worldwide in this effort (http://www.trikalacity.gr/​).

Barriers appearing in the adoption and use of ICTs applications in rural areas

42The following steps need generally to be undertaken in order to develop ICTs applications in rural areas:

43First step: deployment of the necessary network infrastructure, referring to both hardware e.g. fiber optic or wireless public broadband networks, fixed wireless technology (WiFi, WiMax), mobile wireless (m-) reaching directly individual end-users, satellite networks (VSAT) for data transmission, local networks, hubs - terminals for public use (nodes providing access to network services), cable Interactive Digital Television (IDTV), Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), etc. (see Hammond and Paul, 2006); and software.

44Second step: creation of the ICTs applications and content layer, involving all applications and digital services that are best suited to the needs of each specific rural region, together with the content needed for each application, e.g. establishment of e-Government platforms for the provision of services to the citizens or e-training applications, together with the necessary content layers serving these applications. Various sector-specific applications for rural regions can also be developed in this step (e.g. health-care, tourism, training, food industry, agricultural applications).

45Third step: relates to the familiarization of the end-users with ICTs and their applications in order to become active members of digital affairs in the rural community. This step implies the:

  • Familiarization of rural population with new technologies through training on the use of ICTs, that will motivate them to joint the ‘trip’;

  • Familiarization of businesses with new technologies and their potential for supporting new business opportunities; and

  • Preparation of local authorities and administration as pioneers of the whole effort, in terms of both getting access to the proper equipment (hardware and software) and training public servants.

46Based on the above steps, barriers appearing in the effort of rural and remote regions to “log-in” the information and knowledge society can be systematically identified within the following general streams (see Fig. 3 below):

Fig. 3: Barriers appearing in the adoption /use of ICTs in rural regions

Fig. 3: Barriers appearing in the adoption /use of ICTs in rural regions

47a)Barriers relating to the deployment of network infrastructure: ensuring accessibility of rural regions to network infrastructure is a critical issue in promoting ICTs applications in these regions. Barriers relating to the development of network infrastructure in rural regions are mainly associated with the:

  • Costs involved in the deployment of this infrastructure, which, when combined with the lack of sufficient demand, render relative investments financially unsustainable (Hammond and Paul, 2006), e.g. in the case of remote, sparsely populated, rural areas.

  • Diversity of ICTs applications that can serve the needs of rural regions and the respective network infrastructure requirements necessary for serving these applications e.g. e-platforms for community-specific ICTs applications vs m-platforms for personalized farm-specific ICTs applications.

  • Lack of continuous and high speed network connections.

48b)Barriers relating to the development of specific ICTs applications and content in rural regions such as:

  • Lack of access of rural regions to proper equipment, both hardware and software, for the development of specific applications as well as costs involved in this respect;

  • Lack of knowledge of the range of applications that could be of relevance for each rural region due to the lack of a regionally-focused and demand-driven approach to identify specific needs;

  • Lack of skilled personnel to build and run such applications and content;

  • Costs involved in content development, where different needs and preferences of different groups call for a region-specific user-oriented content development, with content developed for or adapted to the specific rural context (FAO, 2005; SCAR Foresight, 2007);

  • Lack of region-specific knowledge and respective needs of the various rural regions from those engaged to develop applications and content. This may result to a mismatch of applications and content developed in respect to the real needs of rural population;

  • Barriers relating to the management of the digital content due to constraints in coherence and inter-operability of data and information sources, from which such information is gathered.

49c)Barriers associated with the adoption and use of technology by the end-users in rural areas (citizens, businesses and administration), relating to:

  • Lack of skilled human resources – limited capacity of human resources as users of ICTs;

  • Lack of institutional capacity and capacity of people involved in the information provision in rural areas to ensure the right information in the right formats;

  • Limited range of e-government services that use open IT standards, which introduces barriers to the end-users relating to the necessity to use commercial technology / software.

  • Low level of entrepreneurship in rural regions;

  • Low level of sector-specific applications in rural regions (health-care, tourism, food industry, environmental industries etc.) that impede ICTs adoption rates at the business level;

  • Lack of training opportunities / structures that offer the chance to rural population to develop skills and competencies on ICTs and their applications, focused on their specific needs;

  • Lack of knowledge on the potential offered by ICTs applications for personal (skill and competence acquirement) and business development (integration into supply networks, knowledge networks, potential for knowledge management) (INVENT, http://mandela.inwent.org);

  • Inability to build various kind of local partnerships, which will ensure that information is accessible by all local stakeholders;

  • Language skills that bound interaction potential of rural population / businesses and limit the benefits reaped out of this;

  • Barriers due to culture and traditions of rural social systems, resulting to a reluctance to shift to a new, less controllable, regime, which impede social anchoring of ICTs in local rural communities. In locally-oriented rural economic systems, such kind of barriers may be stronger, while in open, export-oriented rural economic systems, these may appear weaker;

  • Lack of new technology culture, holding especially for the older age groups in rural regions that influence the propensity to adopt and use ICTs and their applications;

  • Lack of trust to technology at the local society; and

  • Costs involved in getting access to (PCs, mobiles etc.) and use of ICTs for businesses and citizens.

50d)Barriers relating to missing or of limited capacity network infrastructure in respect to the type of applications / content that would serve the needs of rural areas. These are mainly due to:

  • The lack of region-specific and demand-driven approach to network infrastructure and ICTs applications / content development that can lead to a mismatch of network infrastructure on the one hand and ICTs applications / content on the other; and

  • The multiplicity of application-specific network requirements in rural areas e.g. e-platforms for community applications, m-platforms for farmers’ personalized applications, satellite technology for farm management purposes.

51e)Barriers relating to the type of network infrastructure selected for the support of e-applications in each specific rural region. Barriers involved in such a context refer to the:

  • Type of network infrastructure technology adopted that should adjust well to local pattern of communication (Gouscos et al., 2001). Deployment of network infrastructure based on technologies that are not building upon already established communication means within each rural community can place barriers to rural population in joining the ‘trip’, due to lack of familiarity, trust, etc. (FAO, 2005).

  • Close to the above issue is the tendency of deploying network infrastructure, which is focusing more on the technological aspects than the communication and networking potential this can create, i.e. there is a domination of a technology-led service provision approach, with no effort devoted on fostering demand (IIED, 2009). According to Ashton and Thorns (2004), decision making on network infrastructure development should focus more on the generation of good communication links, so that the local community can develop a sense of a social entity, than on the technological attributes of this infrastructure.

  • Lack of establishment of multi-device / multi-channel access, exploiting multiple and diverse communication tools that integrate the full range of existing media (Kastells, 2010) in rural regions, enhancing thus accessibility potential that can influence ‘log-in’ attitude/behavior of local population.

  • Costs involved in using the network infrastructure.

  • Costs involved in getting access to the necessary equipment to join the network.

52f)Barriers relating to the type of applications and relating content that is proper for different types of end-users. Barriers appearing in this context relate to:

  • The lack of a user-oriented knowledge development (content) and exchange strategy (medium) that can deliver a wide range of applications relevant to the needs of different end-users (citizens, businesses and administrative units). Matching ICTs applications / content to the specific needs of end-users is a key issue towards the ‘log-in’ perspective of these users.

  • The lack of effective interaction among researchers as developers of ICTs applications and end-users in rural regions that will establish a demand-driven approach to the applications / content development process (SCAR Foresight, 2007).

  • Lack of users’ involvement in the design of the various ICTs applications / content (co-design of applications) (Lind, et al. 2008).

  • Lack of simplicity of applications. There is an increasing need for applications which, based on open software and peer-to-peer platforms, can provide low cost and easy to use solutions that fit local needs.

  • Lack of a multimodal, multi-channel system of digital communication that integrates all media (Kastells, 2010). This will remove barriers appearing in matching applications offered through a certain technology to the technology disposed by the end-user.

  • The over-focus of ICTs applications on technological aspects than the communication and networking potential they enable (Ashton and Thorns, 2004).

  • Costs involved in the access (PCs, mobiles etc.) / use of the ICTs applications and content.

Policy recommendations for future rural development ICTs policy

53ICTs can contribute to many aspects of rural regions’ development such as the improvement of agricultural production and productivity, the production of safer food, the support of businesses and entrepreneurship, the upgrading of skills and competencies of local labour, the strengthening of bonds in the local society, the social equity in ‘logging-in’ opportunities, the increase of public participation, the more effective and sustainable use of natural resources etc. In this respect, ICTs applications can be strategic tools for the development of rural regions, provided that they take into account the social contexts and offer tailored-made solutions to community needs.

54Policy making needs to take into account the peculiarities of rural regions, by addressing more effort on the promotion of those network technologies that are best suited for rural regions and their transformation into products and services, effectively dealing with region-specific needs. ‘Network readiness’ is of crucial importance in this respect. Based on that, the deployment of case-specific ICTs applications and content for rural inhabitants will increase awareness and take-up of Information Society in rural regions, contributing to their future development (EC, 2003).

55In order to motivate actors in rural regions to log-in the information society, certain policy directions are critical. Towards this end, policy recommendations for the future rural development ICTs policy may concern:

  • The development of user-oriented knowledge and exchange strategies, targeted to address current and emerging needs of rural regions in transition.

  • The development of place-based applications that are adapted to the lack of continuous and high speed connections in many rural areas around the world. Alternative mobile and wireless infrastructure and applications (in particular WLAN technologies, such as microwaves and 802.11 protocol) can be useful in this respect, as well as applications adapted to TV set-top boxes (EC, 2003).

  • The development of location-specific applications, supporting the provision of personalized knowledge and information. In this respect, eGIS (Geographic Information Systems) serving the identification of spatial entities and delivery of location-based services for rural development are important.

  • The setting up of effective communication infrastructure / processes that are focusing more on the outcome they can create than on the technology it self. This is quite important for engaging local people in establishing communication links and contributing their ideas and skills (Ashton and Thorns, 2004). The scope of ICTs development, in this respect, should be the promotion of ICT4D, based on building local capacity, content and acceptance (IIED, 2009).

  • A focus on building e-communities, by addressing research efforts on technologies that support community building and trust, with a particular emphasis on technologies enabling the building of human relationships, acting as a catalyst for knowledge and information diffusion.

  • The development of a multimodal, multi-channel system of digital communication that integrates all media (Kastells, 2010) and adjusts better to the local communication pattern and the varying communication preferences of end-users.

  • The development of proper interfaces for the take-up of ICTs applications. Challenges include: multilingual, multi-modal and adaptive interfaces, natural language interaction, visualization technologies, etc.

  • The strengthening of the efforts devoted to the upgrading of skills of human resources as users of ICTs, by establishing proper life-long learning and training structures in rural regions as well as by facilitating knowledge exchange and mutual learning among communities with similar needs.

  • Finally, of particular importance seems to be the role of local administration as leaders in establishing an ICTs culture in rural regions. A good example is, among others, the municipality of Trikala-Greece (among the first 20 smart cities in the world), where initiatives of the local administration have improved the: involvement of the public in setting the local agenda; and community participation in the decision making process, based on the provision of access to ICTs and the establishment of a new Government to Citizen (G2C) culture of interaction.

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Notes

1 The framework of Palvia and Sharma (2007) for e-government and e-governance is adopted, where e-government is relating to G2C, G2B or G2G (extranet – internet interaction), while e-governance is referring to G2E, better serving management of organizational resources (intranet interaction).

2 “e-Agriculture”: an emerging field in the intersection of agricultural informatics, agricultural development and entrepreneurship, referring to agricultural services, technology dissemination and information delivered or enhanced through the Internet and related technologies. More specifically, it involves the conceptualization, design, development, evaluation and application of new (innovative) ways to use existing or emerging Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) (definition provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization – FAO, 2005).

3 PDA – Personal Digital Assistance equipment.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. From traditional approaches to a new paradigm of rural development policy
Crédits Source: OECD, 2006
URL http://netcom.revues.org/docannexe/image/144/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
Titre Fig. 2 : ICTs applications in rural regions at the individual/societal, business and administrative level
URL http://netcom.revues.org/docannexe/image/144/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 348k
Titre Fig. 3: Barriers appearing in the adoption /use of ICTs in rural regions
URL http://netcom.revues.org/docannexe/image/144/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 106k
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Anastasia Stratigea, « ICTs for rural development: potential applications and barriers involved », Netcom, 25-3/4 | 2011, 179-204.

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Anastasia Stratigea, « ICTs for rural development: potential applications and barriers involved », Netcom [En ligne], 25-3/4 | 2011, mis en ligne le 29 mars 2013, consulté le 21 juillet 2017. URL : http://netcom.revues.org/144 ; DOI : 10.4000/netcom.144

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Auteur

Anastasia Stratigea

Dipl. Eng. – PhD. - Assistant Professor
Dept. of Geography and Regional Planning - School of Rural and Surveying Engineering
National Technical University of Athens – Greece
Heroon Polytechniou str. 9 – Zographou Campus – Athens 157 80 – GREECE
Phone: +30 210 7722672
Fax: +30 210 7722750
E-mail: stratige@central.ntua.gr

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