The “Digital Villages” take stock
In her presentation of the results in Göllheim on Monday, Interior State Secretary Nicole Steingaß, researchers of the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE (Kaiserslautern), and the model regions Eisenberg and Göllheim as well as Betzdorf-Gebhardshain drew conclusions from the five years of the project “Digital Villages”. The vision of connecting people in rural areas better with the help of digitalization and creating new, innovative perspectives for an attractive life in rural areas became a success story. Today, more than 30 municipalities all over Germany participate in the platform solution developed by Fraunhofer IESE.
How can digitalization benefit people even outside large cities? This was the central question that researchers of Fraunhofer IESE posed five years ago. While the potential of Smart Cities was being discussed in many places, it seemed obvious to the researchers of IESE to rather take a look at the typical situation in Germany and find solutions for everyday problems – especially those of the rural population. Germany is a territorial country, meaning that more than 70% of the population does not live in big cities, but rather in more rural areas. This poses completely different requirements and challenges for digitalization than those considered by concepts for metropolitan areas.
Together with the Rhineland-Palatinate Ministry of the Interior and the Rhineland-Palatinate Development Agency, Fraunhofer IESE launched the project “Digital Villages” in 2015. In an idea contest, municipalities from the state could apply as real-world test regions. From the 18 applications, three municipalities were selected in which the opportunities and possibilities of a digital platform were tested: with different services for the population, but also for the municipal administrations themselves. Betzdorf-Gebhardshain, Eisenberg, and Göllheim were the first “Digital Villages” to start as Living labs. Practicable solutions were devised and discussed in numerous citizen workshops and then implemented technically through user-friendly apps developed by Fraunhofer IESE that address various solutions for the topics of local supply, volunteering, and communication.
The first project phase from 2015 to 2016 was mostly about digital support for local supply. In the second project phase from 2017 until today, the focus of the participating municipalities was in the area of communication. In addition to the “DorfNews” as a local online portal, the “DorfFunk” was developed as a communication center for the region. The “LösBar” is finally intended to serve as a link for more direct exchange between citizens and public administration.
Gradually, more and more municipalities throughout Germany are taking advantage of this digital platform. Both the Fraunhofer researchers, above all program manager Steffen Hess and the head of the Fraunhofer IESE Contact Office in Berlin, Gerald Swarat, and representatives of the municipalities acted as facilitators and ambassadors at numerous events, conferences, and trade fairs in Germany and abroad. “As a result, our initial idea quickly established itself: Not only cities must become fit for the future, but also, in particular, the lesser populated rural areas in Germany – and prospectively worldwide. They must remain attractive for businesspeople, families, employers, and employees. The special challenges facing rural areas can only be mastered with smart digital solutions,” declared Prof. Dr. Peter Liggesmeyer, institute director of Fraunhofer IESE.
The Interior Ministry also came to a positive conclusion. “Rhineland-Palatinate links the state and the people. This is demonstrated by the Digital Villages, where many motivated citizens have helped to develop digital solutions tailored to local needs. Such projects strengthen rural areas and revitalize villages. It is therefore the right step that the applications will also be available to all other municipalities, which will also benefit from the project in this way”, said State Secretary Nicole Steingaß.
In the context of the result presentation, she assured further financial support for the pilot regions. The municipalities that cooperate in the project – Göllheim and Eisenberg/Pfalz and the municipality of Betzdorf-Gebhardshain – received funding notices in the amount of 120,000 euros each for the years 2020 and 2021.
The solutions from the “Digital Villages” can be used throughout Germany, meaning that everyone can benefit from the experiences piloted in Rhineland-Palatinate.
More information on the project “Digital Villages” under: www.digitale-doerfer.de