Topic: Smart villages – smart solutions and social innovation in short food chains
According to the now emerging ‘Smart Villages’ programme of the EU, “smart villages are communities in rural areas that develop smart solutions to deal with challenges in their local context”. The working definition of the concept strongly refers to participation, empowerment, sustainability, co-operation and using existing resources for local development. Thus, it heavily builds on the best traditions of integrated (endogenous/sustainable/bottom up, etc.) rural development, embodied in the history of the LEADER Programme in Europe. The only real addition is the use of digital solutions in all this, made available by the rapid spreading of ubiquitous technology in every area of life. Nevertheless, technological changes can only bring cultural, economic, social changes through changing social practices. A good example for this is how ubiquities information (our smart phone and the Internet in our packet) has changed our customs and behaviour, how we travel, buy goods, arrange meetings, communicate, etc. Nevertheless, if we want to use such innovations for enhancing (rural) development, then social learning and finding innovative ways to use the available technology in reducing disadvantages is a crucial factor. In other words, technological and social innovation should be explored and understood in connection with each other.
In this paper we explore the smart village concept, what part of it is novel and how it connects to social innovation. We will focus on the actual processes of social innovation and new technologies in a few particular cases in rural Hungary, in the field of short food chains and rural tourism. We found that the application of new technologies (GPS, smart phone application, video) attracted much attention and greatly helped social processes and the reinforcement of social networks. At the same time, the social learning involved in the project was an essential part of enabling the local community and particular individuals to use new technology in their everyday work. The projects gave ample opportunities for rural development action, however, to make it a real development tool for sustainable tourism, benefiting local businesses, a better marketing and communication strategy should have been applied.