The first Thematic Group (TG) meeting discussed integrated strategic approaches to innovation in rural services, emerging projects and the role of Rural Development policy in supporting them, with a particular focus on RDP Measures for basic services and LEADER/CLLD.
The meeting showcased four approaches to supporting social and digital innovation in rural services in Italy, Finland, Germany, and France – see the presentations below. These were considered imaginative responses to various rural challenges – such as depopulation, the digital divide, centralisation of public services – creating opportunities by establishing win-win links between rural areas and cities.
The fact that rural services are usually managed by separate national or regional ministries highlighted the need for integrated strategies based on local needs, collaboration among stakeholders from different sectors (health, education, mobility, etc), participative governance structures and a flexible combination of funds. RDP Measures for basic services and LEADER/CLLD can act as catalysts to lever other funds, but they are not sufficient on their own.
In addition, rural networks, European initiatives and research projects – such as the European Rural Parliament, SIMRA project and ERUDITE project – provided a panorama of the wide range of related activity taking place across Europe.
Overall, the discussions demonstrated that there is a wealth of good practices scattered around many different European databases. A clear recommendation for the ENRD website was to become the focal point for collecting, showcasing and linking the initiatives linked to the topic of ‘Smart Villages’.
Finally, participants discussed the next steps for the TG and agreed that the second meeting would focus on social innovation in rural services and the third – on digital innovation.
The meeting brought together over 40 representatives of National Rural Networks, Managing Authorities, Local Action Groups, research institutes, and four key EU institutions: the European Commission (DG AGRI, DG REGIO and DG CONNECT), European Parliament, Committee of the Regions, and European Economic and Social Committee. All expressed their commitment to working together to promote ‘Smart Villages’.