3 mins

Supporting cities and regions in measuring and monitoring digital transformation

Martin Gauk

Digital transformation and the scaling up of digital innovation are current topics in the global arena as well as for the EU and its Member States, regions, cities and communities. They also form one of the central elements of the new cohesion policy, the priorities and strategic agenda of the new European Commission and global and European commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals and living-in.eu declaration.

Within the next programming period, the EU will invest billions of euros to benefit from the digital revolution, to support the roll-out of the digital single market and the development of data platforms, and to help our cities and communities recover from the economic crisis, build resilience, meet their climate targets and reduce their environmental footprint while fostering citizen participation and bringing prosperity to businesses, including SMEs and start-ups.

“The success of transformation relies on local and regional communities and governments, and their capacity to manage this change”

Although the technological revolution holds great promise, the transformation can take many paths. It can make our continent more prosperous, more competitive, more just and greener if it is driven by the voices of citizens and local communities and delivered under fair market terms. However, it may also increase inequalities and inefficiencies, reduce the number of opportunities and infringe upon many European values we currently uphold if it is left to be shaped - unchecked- by the powerful global dynamics.

The success of this transformation relies on local and regional communities and governments, and their capacity to manage this change, largely through multi-level governance mechanisms and cooperation with other actors from other cities, regions, countries and the EU, within a common market, through joint agreements, investments, projects and public procurement. So far, the main beneficiaries of this digital revolution have been the most open and agile cities and communities with a strong vision, leadership and networks and collaborative mindsets. Although these pioneers and early adopters praise the positive impact of digitalisation, large-scale holistic uptake and upscaling remains slow and uneven across the continent.

The key elements in this process are shared knowledge, vision and action. As a result, initiatives and political commitments, such as the living-in.eu declaration, are crucial to its delivery. The process brings together cities to scale up good practices related to finances, technical and legal issues, education and capacity building, and monitoring and measuring. Developing and validating local key performance indicators and data collection procedures for common and transparent monitoring and being able to compare smart city solutions across European cities is a crucial horizontal element in all digitalisation efforts. To promote the digital transformation and the scaling up of digital innovation in cities and communities, we need to know what different actors are doing, what works, and what does not work and why.

ESPON also plays an important role here. We aim to support digital transformation efforts across Europe by providing the necessary evidence of what is happening at local and regional levels to help different cities and communities benchmark themselves against others to develop better policies and actions. We are currently developing a holistic monitoring framework called LORDI (Local and Regional Digital Indicators) that will help cities and regions develop and steer the relevant policies, fulfill commitments and actions and support access to different financing opportunities.

This set of indicators maps cities and regions into five broad categories:

local digital infrastructure; 

local digital skills and capacity building

local digita economy and services;

the digital single market and  governance;

socioeconomic context .

The LORDI framework is being co-designed with cities and regions, the European Commission, the Committee of the Regions and key networks and organisations, such as living-in.eu signatories and the Open and Agile Smart Cities network.

In parallel, we have recently launched an applied research project called DIGISER (digital innovation in governance and public service provision). This activity will provide evidence of how different public administrations across Europe are going about their digitalisation efforts, and a handbook to assess digital maturity and provide advice on designing better policies and actions. The DIGISER project will be closely linked with the LORDI framework whereby both activities will support each other in terms of methodology and indicators.

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This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL