Topic: Scenario development as a method for understanding outcomes of rural digitisation: the case of the Scottish Crofters
Digitisation offers development opportunities for rural communities facing social and economic challenges. In Scotland, small-scale sheep ‘crofts’ are important for the development and resilience of remote rural areas, including maintaining populations and providing a secure base for the development of small businesses. Yet crofts face numerous challenges – they lack economies of scale and are more likely to be occupied by older, less commercially-oriented farmers. Crofting regions are marked by an ageing population and are remote, making it difficult to access inputs and market products. Digitisation offers opportunities to change the way crofts are cultivated, how crofters access inputs and how they market their products.
Whether digitisation delivers on these kinds of promises, however, will depend on the capacity of land managers, local government, researchers and innovators to anticipate its impacts (whether negative or positive), as well as to identify appropriate pathways for development. Digitsation is a game changer – it reconfigures social practices and has complex repercussions, creating winners as well as losers. Those most likely to benefit are those already equipped to do so, including younger generations and those with more exposure and access to new technologies (particularly in urban areas). Conversely, those likely to be digitally marginalised include older generations, and those living in remote regions with poor access to technologies. Given that crofting communities are remote and increasingly ageing, they are potentially more at risk of being digitally excluded and becoming “losers”– for example by becoming more distanced from (rather than getting closer to) business inputs and new markets.
Horizon 2020 project DESIRA is a multi-actor project bringing together 25 partners, 16 European countries and a wide range of relevant stakeholders. The DESIRA network will co-produce knowledge pathways to mitigate digitisation risks and promote desirable technological futures for rural regions and sectors across Europe. Scenario development workshops will explore future implications of technologies in given rural contexts. For example, in Scotland we will work with crofting communities to develop “what if” scenario narratives. We will explore the external drivers (outside of scenario actors’ control) and internal drivers (within scenario actors’ control), and consider the winners and losers in different scenarios. Focusing on the case of the Scottish Crofters, we present the scenario development method adopted in DESIRA as an innovative approach to a) understanding digitisation outcomes and b) co-producing knowledge pathways to desirable digitisation outcomes in different rural scenarios, which can inform policy recommendations for rural digitisation.