Regions crucial for driving move to digital, says EU forum

An EU policy forum on digital entrepreneurship has emphasised the role that cities and regions have to play in digital transformation.

In a report that aims to be a blueprint for regions, the forum – set up by DG Growth – says that, even in the digital age, physical proximity is “increasingly crucial to our collective prosperity”.

“European cities provide up to 85% of the region’s GDP, providing a high density of interactions among citizens and creating digitally-enhanced opportunities for education, specialisation, creativity and shared services that increase productivity, efficiency and well-being,” it said.

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The report sets out four areas in which cities can act as launch pads for digital transformation – leadership, digital skills, technology and infrastructure.

Leaders, the report said, need to create long-term digital strategies and focus on building good relationships with a range of people and organisations.

“In an interconnected, volatile and rapidly changing world, partnerships, networks and joint ventures are critical,” the report stated.

However, it added, the launch of digital initiatives often creates competition from interested parties, and local leadership will be essential in managing those relationships. The report indicates that they should take on the role of “digital ambassador”.

The forum also highlighted the importance of building up a regions’ digital skills, recommending investing in entrepreneurship programmes for schools and developing better ways of retaining local digital talent.

Further recommendations include developing smart cities strategies, opening up data for the public and businesses to use and investing in secure digital infrastructures.

Commenting on the report, David Jones, a public services consultant based in Cardiff who has advised local and national governments on digital transformation, said it was “hard to argue” with its recommendations.

However, he said, it “feels a bit dated and slow” and misses out some crucial considerations for the digitisation of public services, for instance the need to design services that put the user first.

“In 13,000 words, there are no references to user needs,” Jones told PublicTechnology. “You always need to ask yourself what the point of what you’re doing is when you start designing something.”

This is now usually hammered home in UK government strategies, he said, and it was generally accepted that this is the best starting point for designing public services – for example it may even tell you that you don’t need the service at all.

But he added that the report would be a useful document for those who are not immersed in digital transformation full-time, as it covered all the relevant areas that need to be addressed by cities and regions.

The EU strategic policy forum on digital entrepreneurship was set up in 2014 to advise the European Commission and its members include representatives from businesses across Europe as well as research institutions and universities.


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