The 2nd meeting of the European Local Innovation Forum (ELIF) and its Territorial Development Thematic Community was successfully held on 22 June, online. ELIF fosters discussions on local innovation, encompassing not only technological advancements but also taking into account local assets, place-based approaches, and the enhancement of democracy. The forum bridges the existing gap in knowledge sharing and collaboration on local innovation.
AEIDL – the European Association for Innovation in Local Development- organised this ELIF event to discuss the role of local actors in driving smart, green, and digital development in rural areas.
The meeting attracted a diverse group of participants, including representatives from local action groups (LAGs), consultants, research centres, civil society organizations and public officials, with a total of 200 registered attendees from 30 countries. The discussions focused on various topics, including the first public unveiling of the FAO Digital Villages (DVI) Readiness Assessment Tool, smart villages and digitalization, community-supported agriculture, and policy gaps for green, smart, and digital rural areas. The event provided valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities in local innovation and highlighted the importance of collaboration between different stakeholders to promote sustainable development in rural communities.
Daniela DiGianantonio from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) presented the Digital Villages flagship initiative (DVI) during the event. DVI focuses on agricultural development and digital innovation to address challenges faced by rural areas. The DVI Readiness Assessment Tool, consisting of 17 questions across three dimensions (digital ecosystem, leadership & governance, and strategic context), provides a comprehensive evaluation framework for communities to assess their readiness for digital transformation. The tool assigns a score from 1 to 5, indicating the DVI Readiness Level. This tool was developed by FAO with AEIDL and a full report will be available shortly. However, you can already test and assess how smart your village is here!
Jorge Caleya from ZWITproject presented the Smart Rural Territory approach. discussed the importance of digitalization in improving the quality of life in rural areas. Digitalization reduces the distance to essential services and enhances access to various amenities. The speaker emphasized the need for basic infrastructure, including human resources, connectivity, management platforms, and open data, to enable smart rurality projects across different sectors such as tourism, local economy, environment, and public services.
Brînduşa Bîrhală, representing ECOLISE and a farmer shared her experience of implementing community-supported agriculture in West Romania. She highlighted the opportunities presented by local and global knowledge networks, affordable land prices, and existing social and physical infrastructures. However, she also noted the challenges of limited budgets, slow adoption of agroecological practices within the local community, and the need for further physical infrastructure development.
We had a very lively discussion including the commentary from various experts. Professor Gianluca Brunori from the University of Pisa and coordinator of two rural digitalisation projects CODECS and DESIRA, of which AEIDL is also a key player. Professor Brunori emphasized the relevance of the DVI in addressing the digital readiness barrier identified in the DESIRA project. He stressed the importance of developing tailored technologies in collaboration with end-users and the significance of smart villages’ strategic capacity to identify and solve community-specific challenges. Eamon O’ Hara from ECOLISE commented on the growing movement of individuals like Brînduşa seeking change and building alternative food systems.
They highlighted the need to recognize and value the contributions of small-scale movements in contrast to the externalized costs associated with larger-scale systems. The systemic barriers faced by these movements, including ill-fitting CAP subsidy models, were also discussed. Mauricio O’Brien, from Eurocrowd, commented on the potential of alternative funding models, such as crowdfunding, to address inequalities in the current financing system. He emphasized the importance of empowering new actors and fostering community engagement for the common good. The panel agreed that innovative approaches are needed to support eco-entrepreneurs and promote sustainable rural development.
The 2nd meeting of ELIF Territorial Development Thematic Community provided an excellent platform for discussing local development, innovation, and digital transformation in rural areas. The presentations and discussions highlighted the significance of the DVI Readiness Assessment Tool, the role of digitalization in improving quality of life, and the experiences of individuals like Brandusa in promoting alternative food systems. The event also identified various policy gaps that need to be addressed to facilitate green, smart, and digital rural development. The insights gained from the meeting will contribute to ongoing efforts to enhance local innovation and drive sustainable development in rural communities. The full event report will shortly be available on the ELIF website.