Our Digital Village initiative is designed around analyzing key policy recommendations for growing Scotland’s rural communities, and providing the technology platform to implement those recommendations.
The fundamental goal of Digital Villages is to enable greater digital participation and social inclusion for rural communities.
This has many aspects, ranging from simple user skills, through facilitating a local digital community for residents to participate in and providing rural small businesses with the tools needed to be part of the new digital economy.
This can be achieved through each site acting as a digital community that facilitates a first virtual contact point that leads to more physical engagement. Often it’s easier to meet new people online and these connections can evolve into friendships developed face to face.
Through structured activities this can also play a part in ‘bridging the generational divide’ too – For example digital skills training for the elderly could be fulfilled by local youth and schoolchildren, thus enhancing both digital and social participation simultaneously.
As well as being a signatory of Scotland’s Digital Participation Charter, our goal is to bring a range of innovations and best practices from around the world to Scotland’s rural communities.
Local People Leading
The Scottish Community Alliance is a collaborative consortium of Scotland’s community sector, coming together to define how the sector can grow and develop, a vision published into this report.
The primary recommendations were threefold, defining an overall systemic change that empowers local communities to become more self-reliant, through:
- Local Democracy – Transform local democracy such that communities become central to the planning that impacts them.
- Public Services – Enable more commissioning of public services from local suppliers, and effect the transfer of local assets.
- Grow the Community Sector – Develop self-organising, mutually supportive community networks, and the rebuilding of a national community development infrastructure.
The main thesis is one that the solutions local communities need to address challenges such as economic deprivation and political disenfranchisement will not come ‘from above’, from central government bodies, but will originate from within the communities themselves.
They cite many ways in which local communities are increasingly taking ownership of their own affairs, from land and housing, through their own energy production.
Empowering local democracy
Digital Villages are intended as a direct enabler and accelerator of greater local digital democracy.
This is achieved through providing a core foundation of general digital participation and collaboration; Digital Villages equip each small town with their own web site community, with integrated forums for enabling more online participation in their local affairs.
As usage momentum grows we’ll be adding more powerful features for digital democracy, from simple polls through advanced voting systems, providing the tool set that the report calls for:
“Communities must have confidence in the planning system and believe that their input to the process is as valued as that of any other stakeholder. This requires a more equitable planning process, with new procedures ensuring the needs of communities are more fairly weighed alongside other interests. Central to this should be the part played by communities in shaping the content of the local development plan.
Communities and their local partners should be encouraged to draw up locally agreed Community Plans that reflect a collective vision for the future social, physical and economic development of their area.”
This makes it ideal for modern community engagement activities such as Participatory Budgeting, a form of local democracy, where communities vote to decide how funding is spent to meet their collective needs.
Scotland is a particularly advanced adopter of Participatory Budgeting. For example this EU project describes how Montrose divided up £8,000 to spend on local community initiatives. PB Scotland offers this 60 second intro guide. and there is this quick overview presentation.
Communities can use the Collaborative Documents and Forum features of Digital Village sites to organize their own PB activities. They’re led ideally by organizations such as the local Community Council.
Community Councils, and also Trust organizations, are a key feature of improving Local Democracy, as they provide some scale and tools for digital participation in general.
Digital Village web sites can help Community Councils conduct and publicize their work, through simple tools like Community Forums and document upload and share, to make the meeting minutes accessible, with follow on Q&A online for those who couldn’t attend the meetings.
Empowering Local Commerce and Services
Furthermore each site is equipped with functionality for providing local artisans with e-commerce stores, and similar features for local service providers to offer online capabilities, such as booking apps, again all within this overall context of local digital community.
This set of apps will enable what the report defines as the ultimate goal:
“this is about encouraging locally controlled and sustainable ways of organising economic activity – local energy, local banking, local currencies, local shops, and so on.”
In short Digital Villages are self-contained ‘digital ecosystems’, that are intended to catalyze and empower this bottom up self-organizing approach, with the tools required for them to become entirely self-reliant.