Smart Villagers Drivers of Digital Social Innovations in Rural Areas


Rural areas, particularly in structurally weak regions, are often affected by out-migration, a continually ageing population and a growing backlog in digital infrastructure and innovation dynamics. Those trends reinforce each other and make the day-to-day life in rural areas increasingly problematic – which feeds the circle again.

But there are villages that come up with their own solutions. Even, innovations have been traditionally connected to cities and urban environments. However, digital social innovations aren’t limited to urban space. In rural areas it is often the inhabitants themselves who start and push digitalization projects to develop problem-specific local solutions.

In consequence digital social innovations such as care and community apps, smart community centers, digital education courses or digitally supported tourist attractions also emerge in rural areas. Still not much is known about the main actors: Who are the digital social innovators in rural areas and what is their role?

This qualitative empirical research seeks to better understand the individual main actors that take on the responsibility for the digitalization processes of their villages. Its aim is to empirically describe the key figures within their role, their characteristics, ideas and motivation. Another focus will be on the associated village community, its specifics and structures of engagement. Important is also to consider the support network that can include professional actors from the outside or a political stimulus.

The theoretical foundation consists of theory of digital and social innovation and will be supplemented by considerations of mediatization of social action.

Based on semi-structured interviews, document analyses and field notes the focus is on two cases in rural Germany. Even both have clearly identified main actors, they have under 1000 inhabitants and shrinking and they are both affected by the deterioration of the infrastructure. Their aim, approach and circumstances are still quite different.