4 mins

Measuring digitalisation in regions and cities, matching the targets of the 2030 Digital Com pass

Anke Schuster

 Marek Bobiš

The COVID-19 pandemic has convinced even the fiercest critics of digitalisation that the use of digital tools and services has become essential and that digitalisation alleviated the immediate shock of the pandemic and economic crisis on citizens. Accordingly, the digital transformation in Europe has now become a top policy priority for the EU institutions as part of the green and digital twin transformation.

When it comes to local and regional levels, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) prioritises conveying the need for digitalisation to the CoR members and relevant stakeholders. The CoR therefore highlights the concept of digital cohesion as an essential additional dimension of the traditional concept of economic, social and territorial cohesion enshrined in the Treaty on European Union. The CoR's EU Annual Regional and Local Barometer, last published in October 2020, emphasised the immense needs in terms of infrastructure development at local and regional levels. Before the pandemic, the gap in digital infrastructure between rural and urban regions was significant: 85 % of urban households had access to high-speed internet (30 Mbps) vs 56 % of rural households ( ).

On 9 March 2021, the European Commission put forward a communication entitled 2030 Digital Compass: The European Way for the Digital Decade (COM(2021) 118). The communication sets up a vision for the digitalised economy and society by 2030 that is based on four pillars and outlines very ambitious targets. The targets are set at national and EU levels; therefore, they need to be translated into more granular and detailed objectives to be achieved at local and regional levels, including the way they will be measured.

But how do we actually measure the degree of digitalisation of cities and regions? Not only for infrastructure, but also for, for example, services provided online? Which factors would distinguish a digitally literate, or so-called smart, city or region from a 'beginner' city or region in terms of digital transformation? The CoR has been tackling these questions since the beginning of 2020, together with the European Commission and statistical experts of the ESPON 2020 Cooperation Programme. We are jointly developing the local and regional digital indicators framework that will help cities and regions to develop and steer relevant policies, meet commitments and support access to different financing opportunities. This framework maps cities and regions in five broad categories:

"The CoR highlight s the concept of digital cohesion as an essent ial additional dimension of the traditional concept of economic, social and  territorial cohesion"

local digital infrastructure, local digital skills and capacity building, local digital economy and services, (governance and digital single market and context

indicators. In addition, CoR is actively participating in the development of the ESPON Digital Innovation in Governance and Public Service Provision project as a member of the Strategic Advisory Group. The project aims to analyse digital innovation in governance and public service provision in 150 cities across Europe.

As part of the framework of this cooperation and within the initiative of Living-in.EU - a movement to boost sustainable digital transformation in cities and communities in the EU -  ESPON, Open & Agile Smart Cities, the European Commission and the CoR have been developing a joint DIGISurvey to map the current state of play of digitalisation in cities. The aims of the (replicable) survey are to provide policymakers with comparable information on digital transformation in their constituencies and to inspire digital transformation processes.

"We are jointly developing the local and regional digital indicators framework that will help cities and regions to develop and steer relevant policies"

It will look at different aspects of digitalisation, divided into four parts, by gathering information on digital innovation strategy and procurement, data management, citizen engagement and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey, launched on 7 June, will be available during June and July 2021, with the objective to analyse results over summer.

The first results from the survey, and links to the 2030 Digital Compass, will be discussed at the next meeting of the Broadband Platform with members of the CoR who represent local and regional authorities. ESPON experts will participate and illustrate the significance of achieving digital cohesion.

The CoR is also running a study and a survey on changing business models, in particular with regard to small and medium-sized enterprises, as a result of the pandemic, and on how local and regional authorities can support businesses in their recovery. The study includes case studies on successful cooperation between businesses and local and regional authorities from eight European regions, which the CoR hopes can inspire other regions.

The survey aims to reflect on the perceptions of regions, cities and/or chambers of commerce on the situation and needs of small and medium-sized enterprises with regard to digital transformation and to collect evidence on the challenges that business and authorities are facing. The study and survey results will be presented at a webinar on 23 June 2021. Interested parties are invited to email for further information.

Anke Schuster and Marek BobiŠ work for the ECON commission secretariat of the Committee of the Regions

This article appears in Rural areas: an eye to the future

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