19 May 2023

DESIRA is nearing its conclusion

Written by: Professor Gianluca Brunori

Over the past four years, half of which occurred during the COVID pandemic, we have experienced the effects of digitalisation on our lives. In rural areas, we have seen both the potential positive and negative effects that digitalisation can generate.

Through DESIRA, we have built a community of scholars, practitioners, and policymakers committed to the principles of sustainable digitalization and our research has shown that the ecological and digital transitions cannot be pursued separately, and we have contributed to the growing understanding that technology development should be guided by the principles of Responsible Research and Innovation.

We have learned that the digital and ecological transitions are interconnected with a third transition, the social transition and in order to harness the transformative potential of digital technologies for sustainable development, we need users who can engage with technology developers with a clear understanding of their needs and the potential impact of digital technologies.

We believe that the EU should not support digitalisation for its own sake, but instead should support digital strategies that accommodate people’s transformations and respect the needs and interests of all stakeholders. Social processes of communication, agreement-making, and collaboration can help establish clear roles and responsibilities for different actors and balance costs and benefits for all parties.

Through our policy roadmap, we have identified several objectives that EU policies at all levels should pursue and the tools that can be used as leverage points for change and we believe that bottom-up, multi-actor initiatives are key leverage points for transformation and can serve as embryos for local digital ecosystems.

We have experimented with the Living Lab concept and believe it is a suitable approach to back the necessary transformation and we also believe in governance arrangements that build more legitimate, bottom-up, and stable digital transitions. Policies should encourage, support, and monitor these initiatives, and allocate more resources to collective initiatives such as networks, operational groups, and partnerships. These initiatives should be considered as social experimentation for system innovation, and institutional learning should be organised to capitalise on local outcomes and scale them up.

We are aware that the speed and direction of digital transformation can vary widely depending on countries and regions within the complex policy system of the European Union, so to avoid distorting effects or neglecting what is already in place, European digital policies in agriculture need reality checks:  More effort should be given to monitoring the level of implementation and supporting lagging behind regions by building capacity and empowering change actors.

Rural communities need to develop strategies, monitor outcomes, and intervene when disparities emerge.

We have highlighted the need for strengthening a strategic and integrated approach at all levels, particularly at regional and subregional levels. The strategic capacity of rural communities, local and national governments, and enterprises should be improved; Strategies should address coordination and integration issues and should be enacted by effective institutional entrepreneurs.

Through our ethical code, we have identified values and principles that should guide innovation policies, technology development, technology assessment, and policy evaluation, and should be incorporated into the social responsibility of enterprises and our findings provide the foundation for a research agenda on the socio-economic impact of digitalisation.

This agenda should address the digital divide, provide tools and methods for technology assessment, develop appropriate technologies for new agricultural paradigms, develop the principles of ethical design, study the economy of data and interoperability, explore the role of digital ecosystems, and study the governance of digitalisation while activating learning on bottom-up digitalization strategies and initiatives.

DESIRA is coming to an end, but it marks the beginning of a new challenging phase.

This article was retrieved from the DESIRA project official website, at this link.