Many towns in Ireland are in deep trouble. Even before Covid-19, towns were struggling to deal with trends such as new shopping centres on the outskirts of town, Amazon enticing consumers with online shopping, the allure of popular foreign websites, the loss of post offices, bank branch closures, the flight of young people to the cities and to the college towns. These developments meant that many previously vibrant towns were already being hollowed out.
Understanding what makes a great digital town
We have seen some great examples of towns that are using digital to fight back and use online resources to help renew and invigorate their local town. Gorey and Sligo town are exemplars. In 2018 and in 2019 respectively, as we celebrated their digital successes, we looked to see if there was a template to follow, which could motivate and encourage other towns. We found plenty of research on “Smart Cities”, but there was no available research on what makes a great digital town.
We commissioned Dublin City University (DCU) to undertake research to answer these questions. The research process was rigorous, and the framework developed by DCU is academically robust:
- Unique: The first research project of its kind in Europe
- Rigorous: Academic rigour applied to the research, and development of the framework
- Insightful: Weightings devised and applied to the scores, to provide emphasis to the critical metrics
- Empirical, fact based: The researchers used official data sources and statistics for a Town and its environs (CSO, GeoDirectory, ComReg etc)
- Qualitative: The researchers incorporated local surveys, to capture qualitative assessments to fill data gaps.
This research will be of particular interest to the following groups:
- County Councils, LEOs, Chambers of Commerce, Government policymakers, town planners, Enterprise Ireland.
Our objective is to provide a guide to data that matters, and enable access to the most relevant official data. We also advise on how to do town surveys, to add qualitative assessments to the empirical data. Ultimately, the .IE Digital Town Research will help towns assess their digital readiness.
Key issues addressed
There were a number of key issues addressed by the .IE Digital Town Research, including:
- What defines a Digital Town?
- How do a town’s needs differ from those of a Smart City?
- Why do Digital Towns matter?
- Roadmap – where to focus your efforts and what to work on.
- Blueprint – what is the “profile” of different types of digital towns.
- Data – which data elements really matter for decision-makers (and how to apply weightings).
- Benchmarks – what measurement criteria can be used to assess results against targets (what gets measured gets done).
The findings will also be of particular interest and benefit to:
- Town leaders of gateway towns, which have a responsibility for their satellite areas.
- Organisations representing chartered surveyors, architects and town planners.
- Broadband suppliers and traditional ISPs, to assess local demand for services
At a local level, the .IE Digital Town Research helps to identify a framework and some tools which can be used to assess your town’s digital readiness. It helps a town to rate itself on issues that matter to the town’s residents and stakeholders:
- Do you want to be a tourist town? What matters? The research finds that websites and social need to adopt a whole-town approach with comprehensive event guides with integrated ticketing and even transport vouchers/tickets/sat nav links. In addition, towns need to embrace sophisticated functions such as digital signage, free town wi-fi, mobile apps, QR codes and, for the digitally advanced, smart kiosks.
- Do you want to leverage being a commuter town? What matters to families in your town? What should you be doing, planning, funding. The research finds that provision of high quality broadband coverage and presence of a digital hub for remote working are key facilitators.
- Do you want to improve social services for town residents? The research finds that e-Government services such as e-prescriptions and provision of local government services through online form submission are key factors.
Accumulating data and qualitative information:
- Where can you find the specific official metrics? We can guide you to the links to the official data sources and statistics. (CSO, GeoDirectory, ComReg etc)
- How can you add the qualitative layer? We can provide access to helpful survey templates (coming soon).
How to rate the quality/performance/usability of a town’s digital services and assets? Through surveys which ask locals for their experience, what they need, want and value from local businesses and service providers.
Other research we have developed
- Our .IE Tipping Point research shows that the Covid-19 crisis has encouraged consumers to look closer to home for goods and services. Covid-19 has prompted Irish people to show solidarity with SMEs and shop local – either in person or online. Covid-19 has broken the mould and proven that services can be delivered online – including GP medical consultations, legal and financial appointments etc.
- Our SME Digital Health Index examined SMEs’ capabilities in three categories of communicating, transacting and boosting online.
- Our .IE Domain Profile Report identified that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a noticeable effect on new .ie registrations in the first six months of 2020, which are up 26% YoY.