Rural areas get fit for the future through tailored Open Innovation

AUTHOR: Astrid Bonk

Rural areas are crucial for for Austria: except for Vienna and its surroundings, there are no urban spaces, only rural areas or mixed forms. Due to the expansion of the Alps, only 40% of the land surfaces can be populated. Both residents and visitors therefore make intensive use of the living, economic, working, natural, cultural, and recreational spaces in the rural areas.

At the same time, those areas are simultaneously challenged: migration (especially from young females), ageing, climate change – to name only a few challenges – put pressure on municipalities, residents, and companies to come up with new solutions. Therefore, the topic innovation is a focus area within the agenda of the network “Zukunftsraum Land LE 14-20”, an initiative in the framework of the Austrian programme for rural development aiming to connect different players in rural areas and to support them in their development.

In the network “Zukunftsraum Land LE-14-20”, under the guidance of Gertraud Leimueller, winnovation is in charge of the topic innovation. Here, special focus is put on bringing innovation to rural areas with the help of progressive Open Innovation principles: “We use modern Open Innovation and User Innovation methods in order to connect people requiring new problem-solving approaches with people who already have ideas. Digital tools facilitate this process considerably. The common goal is to open up rural areas and to create new interconnections to facilitate innovation and create new spaces in rural environments” Leimueller says.

Besides having Johanna Stieblehner act as an Innovation Broker to connect people and institutions around specific problems (see Zukunftsraum Land) , winnovation brings its expertise in Open Innovation also in other activities to the table: One example of an Open Innovation activity is the “LE-Ideenpreis: Junge Ideen furs Land” (Rural development idea award: Young ideas for rural areas”), which was presented on Oct. 12 during the annual conference of the network “Zukunftsraum Land”.

How can life and work be improved considerably in rural areas? With this central question, a crowdsourcing project targets younger people wanting to become involved in rural areas and having innovative ideas. The idea contest which was proposed and realised by winnovation and NVS got positive responses from the beginning on. Until the end of January 2017, innovative ideas to concrete problems can be posted on the online platform. Thereafter, the best ideas will be selected and rewarded.