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Boost rural economies through cross-sector digital service platforms


Proposals are expected to develop and demonstrate cost-efficient and flexible cross-domain applications through large-scale pilots. These should build on an open, API-based, interoperable and federated IoT architecture and include a reference implementation supporting flexible integration of heterogeneous services. Pilots should bridge the interoperability gap of the smart object platforms and create markets for service - and application providers as well as platform operators, supported by a vibrant ecosystem of developers, service providers and user communities.

In developing the pilots, proposals are expected to address all of the following aspects:

  • The integration of data and information across different platforms for sustainable and efficient service provision, where appropriate based on Artificial Intelligence. The approach should showcase platform interoperability in line with relevant standards.
  • To develop an open marketplace with an open application interface for cross-cutting services to cater for new business opportunities
  • Reference implementations including proof-of-concept, large-scale demonstrations and validation leveraging on platforms developed elsewhere
  • To create innovation ecosystems based on ‘Platforms for Connected Smart Objects and Services’, to support citizens and businesses for a multiplicity of novel applications.
  • The development of pilots demonstrating benefits, cost-efficiency, flexibility and realistic business models required in rural areas around existing infrastructure, and to utilise links to other European, national or private funding sources to leverage infrastructure delivery.
  • Potential application areas could include one or more of the following: public services, energy, autonomous robotics transport, logistics, education, tourism, health and care. The applications should support the implementation of the smart villages concept[[]] oriented towards relatively underdeveloped and remotely located rural areas and communities. Innovative and technical inspiration could be sought in previous work in the following domains: smart cities, smart living and ageing well, smart - and/or social farming, forest management, distributed energy, smart logistics and mobility and e-governance.

Pilots should follow an evolutionary agile, well-delineated, and lean approach. The developed platforms should be concurrently validated in at least three large-scale regional pilots in rural settings involving partners with strong relation to public authorities. The Pilots should propose scalable technical solutions capable of meeting social and economic targets relevant to boost new rural services and business.

Key performance indicators should be defined to measure progress on citizen's benefits in rural areas, quality of life, economic growth, job creation, new business development etc.

Proposals may involve financial support to third parties, particularly for SMEs. Conditions for third parties support are set out in Part K of the General Annexes. Consortia need to define the selection process of organisations, for which financial support will be granted. Maximum 20% of the EU funding can be allocated to this purpose. The financial support to third parties can only be provided in the form of grants. The respective options of Article 15.1 and Article 15.3 of the Model Grant Agreement will be applied.

The development of the pilots should follow a participatory approach using where appropriate well-functioning existing societal groups (including for example Local Actions Groups, Rural networks, public administrations responsible for Rural Development Policies) and liaise with territorial digital dynamic development. Proposal should develop strategic approaches that will help policy makers, rural actors, citizens and project promoters on the ground to deliver results, considering the comparative strengths and needs of their respective territory, to improve the implementation of EU policies in rural areas. When necessary, internet providers should be involved in the project to ensure connectivity, which is a prerequisite for rural ICT exploitation.

For this topic, the four activities described in the introductory section 'Platforms and Pilots' must be applied. Pilot projects are expected to contribute to the consolidation and coherence work that will be implemented by the CSA supporting the activities defined under the topic ""DT-ICT-13-2019: Digital Platforms/Pilots Horizontal Activities"".

The Commission considers that proposal requesting a contribution from the EU of up to EUR 15 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposal requesting other amounts.

Rural areas represent most of Europe's territory (91%) and population (59%). When measuring against socio-economic indicators rural areas tend to lag behind urban areas. Lower population and business density make it more challenging to develop private businesses and public services in rural areas.

Rural areas are key to solve many of the big societal challenges such as climate change or the sustainable provision of food, biomass and energy. European rural areas are places of great assets and they can become more attractive if the provision of jobs, basic services, including health and care, connectivity, smart transport, and energy solutions, as well as a favourable climate for entrepreneurship, are ensured. Among the priorities to be addressed, overcoming the digital divide between rural and urban areas and developing the potential offered by increased connectivity and digitisation of rural areas must receive particular attention.

In particular, one key challenge is to overcome the barrier of missing interoperability of smart object platforms and service platforms that share and exploit data between them. This should trigger the emergence of a dynamic rural ecosystem, which in turn can lead to the development of cross-platform applications that ultimately contribute to increasing economic growth in rural areas and support their contribution to tackling societal challenges.

For this topic, the impact criteria described in the introductory section 'Platforms and Pilots' have to be applied in addition to as many as possible contributions to the following impact criteria:

  • Validate the brokerage platforms illustrated by an increase of cross-cutting applications and services
  • Demonstrate and show-case cross-sectorial platforms interoperability.
  • Demonstrate the benefits of data sharing across platforms from different sectors.
  • Exploration and validation of new industry and business processes and innovative business models validated in the context of the pilots.
  • Overcome the digital divide between rural and urban areas, and to develop the potential offered by connectivity and digitisation of rural areas.
  • Improve quality of life in rural areas, higher standard of living and services for citizens.
  • Creation of opportunities for entrepreneurs, notably SMEs, by promoting new market openings, providing access to valuable datasets and direct interactions with users, creating new businesses in rural areas.