By Eoin Costello, project director, DigitalHQ clg
Member of the Enterprise Digital Advisory Forum
Chair Dun Laoghaire Town Team
Digital Champion at Digital Ireland Network
We believe that the ‘Digital First Communities’ framework we have evolved in Dun Laoghaire town can help facilitate the twin green and digital transitions which all enterprises must address as well as enhancing regional development.
Digital HQ’s - The hub of a locality in the 21st century
Sustained social change at scale has always required a physical presence at the grassroots level. As part of rural electrification the ESB had retail outlets operating in many rural towns. Until the 2000s the ESB operated 100 shops across Ireland bringing the promotion of the practical use of electricity to localities across the country.
Perhaps one of the most significant catalysts of social change, and a long standing institution in many rural localities, is the Carnegie Library. Between 1886 and 1919, Andrew Carnegie donated today’s equivalent of $1.2 billion to fund the construction of more than 1,500 public libraries across the United States, 80 were funded in Ireland. Carnegie libraries were a new source of scientific, technical, and practical knowledge accessible by all citizens regardless of income or social status. Research has proven that in communities where a Carnegie library was located there was a tangible increase in innovation activity (as measured by patents) not just through the access to information but also the community-building mechanisms of the library.
"To have a portal to the enablers of the 21st century, every high street in rural Ireland needs a digital hq, a hub for all things digital where locals and new arrivals can coalesce around the benefits of all that being a ‘Digital First Community’ offers. " Eoin Costello, DigitalHQ
As the national broadband plan connects more and more rural areas to high quality broadband a catalyst on the ground is essential to enabling localities to get the most from the ‘electricity’ of the 21st century and empower local businesses to get the most from digitalisation.
The prime candidate for this job is the local hub. As a result of the pandemic the concept of a coworking hub exploded into public consciousness. However for the traditional coworking hub the common experience is that it is difficult to make a typical co-working space financially sustainable due to the expectations of landlords, upward-only rent reviews and the covenants expected by property owners.
Since its creation ConnectedHubs.ie, the flagship initiative ‘Our Rural Future’, is making rapid progress in creating a shared infrastructure for hubs that will deliver real benefits across the country. Building on this success there is now the opportunity to reframe what a hub is about, a hub should provide office space but also be what its name suggests, a focal point around which a locality’s vibrant ‘Digital First Community’ can thrive in the 21st century.
By embedding a digital hq within their hub, localities can mobilise around their economic development at scale in a sustained way with the hub being at the heart of this. The primary job of a digital hq is job creation and increasing job resilience.
Achieving this requires three key functions:
Acting as the focal point - Coordinating and mobilising stakeholders through a @Digital <Locality> steering group, increasing resilience by monitoring the mix of job creators (between B2C, B2B, Innovation Driven Enterprises and Social Enterprises) in the locality and seeking to fill vacant buildings with new remote worker friendly coworking spaces. At DigitalHQ we believe that by 2030 coworking will be the second highest use of formerly vacant space in our towns.
Digital Visibility of the Locality - Just as digital marketing is a key function in any company or organisation to attract new customers and staff, the collective digital marketing of localities to attract investment, remote workers, home buyers, shoppers and visitors will become an essential role for a hub in the 21st century. The digital visibility of a locality will become increasingly important and includes factors such as its appearance in Google search, visibility of the locality’s hashtag in Twitter and Instagram, its presence in Wikipedia and Tripadvisor etc.
Digital Empowerment - Digital visibility is directly linked to the level of digital skills and the effective use of digital tools that is taking place in the locality. When people in a locality are ‘thinking digital first’ they act in a way that maximises the digital benefit of the things they do each day. Upskilling the different job creators (B2B, B2C, Innovation Driven Enterprises and Social Enterprises) in the locality, persuading and helping “old economy” SMEs across the country to adopt digital technologies and creating osmosis between the different cohorts is a key job for a digital hq.
For more information about our ‘Digital First Communities’ framework please see https://www.digital-ireland.ie/digital-first-communities/