CAP Network Ireland participated in the Smart Rural 27 project’s online National CAP Network Meeting on 7 February 2024. This project was launched by the European Commission in late 2020 with the aim to “prepare Member States and rural communities for the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post-2020 as well as other EU policies and initiatives, which could potentially support the emergence of additional Smart Villages across the European Union”.
The purpose of this meeting was to present the Smart Rural 27 and Smart Rural 21 projects; explore the tools developed as part of these projects that CAP Networks can avail of; understand the current state-of-play of CAP Network support for Smart Villages; and look ahead to the Smart Rural 27 Final Conference.
What is a ‘Smart Village’?
Smart Villages (and Smart Rural Towns in an Irish context) are rural areas and local communities which build on, and enhance, their existing strengths and assets through creative thinking and by embracing innovation to create desirable places for rural people to live and work. In creating a Smart Village, community groups and individuals often overcome local challenges by exploring and implementing practical and tangible solutions. Whilst digitisation is key to the creation of a Smart Village, social innovation (thinking smartly to create vibrant and sustainable rural communities) is also paramount. The concept of Smart Villages therefore is not prescriptive and there is an acknowledgment that there is ‘no one size fits all’ model that can be applied universally.
Ireland’s position in relation to the development of Smart Villages and Rural Towns, is that it can be greatly enhanced through the successful delivery of the LEADER Programme, through its community-led approach to rural development. Creating synergies between the LEADER Programme and smart projects / initiatives in Ireland, through increased levels of collaboration, has the potential to greatly improve the quality of life for people who live and work in rural towns and villages. In fact, the three indicative core themes of the Irish LEADER Programme 2023-2027 ((i) Economic Development and Job Creation (ii) Rural Infrastructure and Social Inclusion & (iii) the Sustainable Development of Rural Environment and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation) are particularly relevant for the successful realisation of Smart Villages.
Smart Rural 27 National CAP Network Meeting
The Smart Rural 27 project’s most recent meeting facilitated positive exchanges on how CAP Networks can best support Smart Villages across European Member States.
Edina Ocsko, Smart Rural 27 Project Coordinator, highlighted 3 key roles that CAP Networks continue to play:
- Dissemination / communication of good practice smart examples;
- Capacity building, networking and exchange; and
- Improving the implementation of the CAP Strategic Plan (CSP).
Presentations from the Austrian and Finnish CAP Networks followed, which provided a valuable insight into their past and planned support activities on Smart Villages.
Michael Fischer (Austrian CAP Network) spoke about the importance of ‘agenda setting’ over the past number of years – both in defining and communicating the message around Smart Villages to relevant stakeholders. Plans for 2024 for the Austrian CAP Network include creating a Smart Village Lab which will have the aim of showcasing the added value of the Smart Village approach. In practice, the Network will issue a call asking communities for the main issues facing their areas. From this, a number of communities with similar issues will be selected by the Network. These communities will then be brought together and connected with experts in the chosen field, in the format of a 1.5-day hackathon, to overcome the pre-identified issues.
Ann-Sofi Backgren (Finnish CAP Network) carried a similar message as Michael in relation to the need to communicate and promote Smart Villages in recent times. Ann spoke about, for example, a competition that was held in to find Finland’s ‘Smartest Village’, which generated significant publicity. Current and future plans for the Finnish CAP Network include hosting morning coffee webinars to inform and exchange on good practices related to specific thematic areas such as: youth, digitalisation and mobile services, international cooperation, smart culture villages, housing, and wellbeing.
As part of the meeting, all CAP Networks in attendance were asked to contribute ongoing Smart Village support activities in their country. A summary report and a range of interesting presentations will be available soon on the Smart Rural 27 project website.
The final conference of the Smart Rural 27 project takes place in Brussels on the 18-19 March 2024. Find out more here.
Image source: Smart Rural 27