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Smart societies: interregional cooperation boosts digitalisation in rural areas

By Platform

Policy improvements powered by Interreg Europe

Since 2005, in Norway, the Trøndelag County Council’s policies are prioritising the digitalisation of the economy and the society, according to the following pillars: Digital Infrastructure, Digital Municipality, Digital Innovation, and Digital Skills. Today the different measures are bundled under the roof of the Smart Societies strategy.

For almost a decade, the Trøndelag County Council uses the opportunities offered by Interreg Europe (previously Interreg IVC) to collaborate with other regions and learn from their experiences. This is especially the case in the field of digital business development. As illustrated below, different projects building on each other’s learnings have strongly contributed to fine tune the regional policies to address more efficiently the identified needs.

Diagram describing projects to help on regional policies to address more efficiently the identified needs

Source: own depiction

Eistein Guldseth, Project Manager on behalf of Trøndelag County Council in those projects explains that Interreg Europe provides a 'fantastic opportunity to involve our local policy makers directly into projects, thus accelerating the uptake of good practices and learnings from other regions. The projects and especially the interaction with peers from abroad helped us to anchor the importance of digitalisation in our policy making.'

The example of the Industry 4.0 Trøndelag action

Considering the overall Norwegian policy landscape and the specific barriers observed for micro-enterprises (less than 10 employees) to access sophisticated programs supporting the digitalisation of businesses, the county defined its main strategy for Digital Business development around the creation of a platform for cooperation between the existing regional support organisations, such as local business gardens and incubators, the R&D environment and the public financial mechanisms in the region. The platform aims at increasing the digital maturity, and hence increasing the development of micro and small enterprises in the region. They represent over 90% of the total regional enterprises and about 23% of the employments.

In the framework of the Interreg Europe SKILLS+ project,  a new policy measure was designed, which addresses this strategic objective: the Industry 4.0 Trøndelag scheme. It is a 3-year project (2019-2022) financed by the county and other national sources, with two additional optional years in case of positive impact. The project's budget amounts to € 1,4 Mio., of which € 450.000 EUR are financed by the County Authority. 

Industry 4.0 Trøndelag aims to:

  • increase the level of digital competence in 400 micro and small companies,
  • inspire them to digitally transform their businesses and cooperate with others,
  • help them recruit the right personnel, and
  • get the possibility to participate in low threshold pilot/R&D projects with highly specialised partners and the national financing institution Innovation Norway.

The delivery of the services to companies will be ensured on the operational level by local business support organisations also co-funded by the County Authority: five business gardens and three business incubators. Those organisations have a close relationship to the local companies and a good knowledge of their needs. Each of them will therefore develop a specific work programme in a bottom-up approach, adapted to the local businesses.

The new project is adopting approaches identified in the policy-learning phase of SKILLS+, notably the ICT Strategy of Saxony-Anhalt (Germany) as well as experiences shared in the promotion of an ICT Cluster Central Germany. Both good practices were studied by staff and stakeholders of Trøndelag during a peer review visit.

An ongoing policy improvement process

Whereas the activities performed in the SKILLS+ project and implemented through the Industry 4.0 Trøndelag scheme focus on the initial steps of a business’ digital transformation, the Trøndelag County Council works already in the framework of the Interreg Europe project DigiBEST on developing more sophisticated schemes. They shall support businesses moving forward in their digital transformation journey by integrating advanced digital technologies, such as big data, advanced manufacturing, robotics, 3D printing, blockchain and artificial intelligence, and adapting further their business models to remain competitive.

Image credit: Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash