Regional policies can help tackle the digital divide

#CriticalThinking

Digital & Data Governance

Picture of Markku Markkula
Markku Markkula

President of the European Committee of the Regions

Digitalisation is driving change in the global economy, and convergence on the digital services that businesses offer is speeding up. But Europe isn’t equipping its workforces with the proper ICT-skills, nor are EU countries producing ICT graduates in sufficient numbers to satisfy the needs of society and industry. This is true of the skills needed for using ICT in general, as well as the deep expertise we require from specialists and managers.

A wide range of professional capabilities is needed if Europeans are to exploit the opportunities provided by ICT in both public and private sectors. We also need a strong shift towards entrepreneurship, with a special focus on ICT. What, then, are these capabilities? Not just ICT but especially systems and design thinking that will span a variety of disciplinary boundaries and so enable new forms of co-creation.

These requirements apply to a broad variety of e-skills, and also to e-leadership. The knowledge society has brought systems intelligence to the core of business success factors, because it holds the key to managing logic chains and networks. To succeed, an activity must consciously or subconsciously orchestrate the value chains and value networks in its own field and in its operating environment, and that also applies to the networks of persons and communities that operate in them. My key message in using the word “orchestrate” is that the value chains and networks are in a constant state of flux, making it impossible to manage them in traditional ways.

Some EU member states and regions have tackled the ICT challenges better than others, demonstrating that success depends on implementing key policy statements. Arguably, Finland’s recent history has shown the way. Back in 1997, the Finnish parliament, thanks to work carried out by its Committee for the Future, defined four success factors:

  • Globalisation and internationalisation are pre-requisites for a successful knowledge society.
  • Information and knowledge are fundamental to future success.
  • Innovation in the services, industrial and administrative sectors are all essential for the success of both individuals and society at large.
  • Good governance is key in today’s era of rapid and radical transformation.

The focus of Europe’s new programme for 2014-2020 needs to be on bottom-up action. Regional strategies based on “smart specialisation” open new avenues for using structural funds to promote innovation and capacity-building. And Europe’s regions need new arenas for innovative co-creation – hotspots attached to universities and other educational institutions. These can be described as “innovation gardens” and “challenge platforms” for developing e-skills, and creating favourable conditions for start-up and high-growth entrepreneurialism.

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