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Danish Centre for Rural Research - CLF

The project on digital exclusion in rural areas is off to a good start: Here are some of the challenges and opportunities

The REACT project explores how volunteers can counteract digital exclusion among older and digitally disadvantaged people in rural areas. The partners have now identified some of the challenges and opportunities.

By Camilla Wissing Mortensen, , 2/27/2023

2023 has seen the kick-start of the EU project REACT.

The project investigates how to overcome exclusion from health and welfare services in rural areas by training volunteer e-health facilitators to support elderly and digitally vulnerable citizens in the use of digital solutions.

On the kick-off days, the project partners held a stakeholder workshop where participants identified the needs of volunteers and municipal staff, and the challenges and opportunities for implementing e-health facilitators.

- The project is strong because it is based on real needs in the municipalities. The more digital the welfare state becomes, the greater the risk of exclusion for people who cannot keep up. It's great that we can come together and make a difference for this group in the rural areas.

- We've had some good initial days and I'm looking forward to getting to work, says project manager Barbara Fersch.

See the needs, challenges and opportunities identified by the participants below.

What characterizes the problem?

1. We know that there are people who need our help, but we don't know who they are and where they are.
2. How do we find the people most in need of help?
3. There are a number of demographic challenges.
4. Citizens have a lack of digital skills - and the shame associated with it.
5. Citizens lack confidence in the tools.
6. (Lack of) awareness of need - those who need help may not know they have it.
7. Motivation and capacity of older people.
8. There are differences in the health status of citizens.
9. The language aspect of digital competences - certain technological concepts, often in English.

What are the challenges?

  1. How do we adapt the teaching material for different volunteers?
  2. How do we ensure that volunteers are reliable?
  3. Geographical aspect - where does the training (of the volunteers) take place?
  4. How do we share responsibilities and resources between municipalities and volunteers?
  5. What are the boundaries between volunteers and municipal professionals?
  6. The social aspect of volunteering - is it a (too) lonely task?
  7. How do we ensure data security for volunteers and for citizens?
  8. How do we motivate volunteers?
  9. The municipality/organization must ensure a sense of belonging/purpose/recognition
  10. How do we interact in a correct and supportive way
  11. How can we raise awareness that it is a win-win process?
  12. How do we identify those we want to help?
  13. Where do we find the volunteers?
  14. How should we organize the volunteers?
  15. Who will provide the necessary resources - finances, volunteers, time, place?
  16. Can better digital skills lead to poorer social relations?
  17. Age of volunteers - do they have the necessary skills to help others?
  18. Digital infrastructure is poor in rural areas
  19. How do we get in touch with our target group?

What are the potentials?

1. Lots of volunteers in Denmark - different volunteers in different contexts and the other countries
2. Broad cooperation
3. We can reach more people
4. Long-term cooperation
5. potential in matching younger volunteers and older citizens
6. Creating new connections/networks/relationships between people in local communities
7. Improving quality of life
8. To promote health equity
9. More social inclusion for end users
10. Being able to become part of (university/college) education

The next step

The next step in the project is to explore the concrete needs in further detail, so that the researchers can develop the training programs on a solid basis. This will be done by interviewing municipal staff in all participating countries, Denmark, France, Portugal and the Netherlands.

About the project

The REACT project has received 3 million DKK in funding from the EU's Erasmus+ education program. It was initiated by Nordfyns Kommune and the South Denmark European Office.

In the project, the Centre for Rural Research at the University of Southern Denmark, together with a number of partners from Portugal, France and the Netherlands, will investigate how we give older and digitally vulnerable citizens the skills to use digital health services.

The kickoff days were attended by the project partners, Nordfyns Kommune, Haderslev Kommune, Frivilligcenter Nordfyn and KFUM's social work.

Read more about the project here

Editing was completed: 27.02.2023