Any village can become ‘smart’. By defining the exact nature of ‘smartness’ (e.g. linked to a certain level of digital, economic or environmental development), there is a risk that a number of villages - that otherwise have innovative and relevant solutions to modern rural challenges - are getting excluded from the 'smart village' concept. Therefore, we think that an operational definition of 'smart villages' is required that is focused on the process of becoming a smart village rather than on the specific village characteristics.
In this context, smart villages are those that:
Assessed and are aware of their own characteristics (that often distinguish them from others);
Are able to articulate, describe, and ideally quantify, the challenges that they face;
Have recognised new opportunities for development based on an assessment of their local assets;
Have developed smart strategies and/or approaches and tools that can help to implement change;
Achieved tangible and ideally quantifiable results in response to the challenges and opportunities identified.
How to become smart? Much depends on the specific social, economic and environmental context of the village (e.g. size, population and distance from the nearest town or city). The trigger to become ‘smart’ is often linked to challenges that are specific to a rural village or area (e.g. depopulation, young people leaving the village, lack of entrepreneurship and job opportunities and low educational and skills level).
Smart villages can overcome their challenges and turn their situation around by building on their local assets, such as location, natural assets, cultural assets, local produce, existing infrastructure and services, knowledge, skills and technology; and most importantly the local people and community.
There are infinite ways in which villages can provide smart solutions building on their most valuable local assets and opportunities identified. Smart solutions include digital (e.g. digital hubs and access to new technologies), environmental (e.g. eco-villages), economic (e.g. new value-added products and access to new markets) and social (e.g. social enterprise and social innovation) solutions; or the combination of these (e.g. improved connectivity through the provision of specific services). Furthermore, the implementation of smart solutions often requires the use of smart approaches & tools, including good local governance, bottom-up community engagement and networking.
4. Ultimately, smart village strategies should improve the situation of villages in economic, environmental and/or social terms. Smart villages need to achieve and reflect on the results of smart solutions, approaches and tools. Smart villages need S.M.A.R.T. - specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound – results.
The Smart Village Network will soon provide its members with a website tool (Village Platform) to collect and present information about villages and village strategies. This tool will allow searching for solutions and exchanging experience among villages across Europe. Further information and updates will follow shortly.