Publish Date: 02.02.2024

Category: News from the University

Photo: Andrea Franceschini

Europe's rural areas are facing processes of depopulation, particularly of young people, which is leading to an ageing demographic profile. This is causing a number of structural problems, such as fewer jobs, deteriorating infrastructure and a shrinking supply of services of general interest. On the other hand, development of digital technologies and the increase in remote work have also led to a reverse trend of rural in-migration, which was most evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. These trends can be harnessed for rural growth through smart adaptation strategies, development of new integrated solutions, and the integration of local knowledge and cultural heritage. 

The SMART ERA project - SMART community-led transition for Europe's Rural Areas, funded through the Horizon Europe programme, will work over the next four years to reduce these vulnerabilities and, above all, to strengthen Europe's rural areas. With a budget of €6.8 million, the project involves 25 partners from 10 countries, including University of Ljubljana, concretely Laboratory for Telecommunications at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, and Rotunda Centre, a social centre in the Littoral region, which will coordinate activities in Šmarje development pilot.

Photo: freepik.com
Photo: freepik.com 

The project is based on the Smart Villages approach, which puts people and community at the centre of its methodology. At the same time, it focuses on the analysis of negative socio-economic dynamics in rural areas through the collection of publicly available data. Project's main objective is to improve the well-being of rural communities, strengthen their resilience and stimulate innovation through smart solutions. Through these, participating organisations aim to enable more effective addressing and solving of socio-economic and environmental challenges.  

By working intensively with local communities, the project will develop innovative sustainable digital solutions for rural areas, but with the clear understanding that digitalisatin is not just a technological process, but a broader socio-economic and cultural process.  

By integrating a range of technological, managerial, business, social and political solutions, partners will pursue the following objectives:

1. They will establish the first large-scale pan-European solutions for systematic rural data verification and smartness analysis.
2. They will develop innovative methodologies and co-design techniques to engage citizens and stakeholders in the creation of new data sources.
3. They will develop uniform methods for assessing smartness or digital maturity.
4. They will provide recommendations for upgrading.  
5. They will promote cooperation between the six project pilot regions and between the four EU macro-regional strategies, the Alpine (EUSALP), the Baltic (EUSBSR), the Adriatic-Ionian (EUSAIR) and the Danube (EUSDR) regions, and improve the capacity of rural communities to address socio-economic and environmental challenges through smart and sustainable solutions.

The University of Ljubljana as one of the partners will coordinate the project with the help of Dr Nina Cvar, however in intensive collaboration with Dr Bojan Mevlja from the Rotunda Centre Institute, focusing on sustainable mobility and the circular economy.  

Bibiliography:
Eyes on Europe 2020, https://www.eyes-on-europe.eu/nobody-lives-here-rural-depopulation-in-the-eu-and-citizen-engagement-in-emptied-spain/.
Martinez-Gil, J., Pichler, M., Beranič, T., Brezočnik, L., Turkanović, M., Lentini, G., ... & Belet, C. (2019, September). Framework for assessing the smartness maturity level of villages. In European Conference on Advances in Databases and Information Systems (pp. 501-512). Springer, Cham.  

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