[ Contents ]
Rural Development in
the Information Society
"Introducing IT in Longford"
Monica O'Malley [Longford LEADER, Ireland]
The County of Longford (30 296 inhabitants) has been a crossroads of Ireland since Celtic times ; three national major trunk roads currently cross it. However, Longford has neither important industries nor higher education establishments, which could both serve as levers for the wide-scale dissemination of information and communication technologies (ICT).
The area's demographic decline, its insufficient level of facilities and the reduction in the number of public services go a long way to explain the poor investment in the area. With many local actors arriving at these same conclusions, an awareness campaign on the use of ICTs had already been launched at the beginning of the 1990s. Among the various actions implemented were the integration of IT classes in school curricula, the creation of a "Computer Training College" in 1994, the development of a business centre and the installation of an Internet server in the County library.
This approach gradually helped to familiarise people with these technologies, but it lacked an overall strategic plan in order to really and sustainably establish activities linked to ICTs in the area. This plan was included among the priorities of Longford's LEADER II programme.
In February 1996, the local action group began by organising an "Internet Conference" which enabled the opportunities offered by IT to be better defined in the specific context of the County. The event led to the formation, a few months later, of an "Internet Community Co-operative", whose aim was to use the Net to promote the areas in the County, to communicate with the diaspora and to promote the use of IT. The cooperative firstly created a website, making Granard the first Irish parish present on the Internet.
In March 1997, the Chamber of Commerce formed a task force responsible for identifying the concrete perspectives relating to the use of advanced communications technologies. The task force comprised 18 representatives from different categories of the population and sectors of socio-economic activity in the area : businessmen, farmers, teachers, cultural event coordinators, women, young people, etc.
Five thematic working parties were then set up to look at the possible uses of ICTs in five areas considered to be priority areas : business, farming, education, health and voluntary work.
A survey of 259 households and 77 local businesses was carried out. The results were the subject of a report, published in July 1997, a real mine of information on the use of ICTs in local development.
The survey and report cost ECU 45 970, ECU 36 800 of which were financed in the context of LEADER II. These amounts include an estimate of the amount of voluntary work but not the contribution of the Chamber of Commerce, who provided important technical-administrative support and made offices as well as video-conference facilities available.
The survey also provided the opportunity to renew links with many migrants originally from Longford, who have suggested a number of interesting lines of work. A consultancy firm specialising in communication technologies also identified a significant competitive advantage for Longford : very affordable property prices, a factor which proved to be decisive in the creation of a software company, "Longview Technology", in January 1998. Its initial workforce of 10 employees already increased to 16 in April and will reach 35 by the end of the year. Between 100 and 300 jobs could be created over the next few years.
The lessons from the survey and the success of Longview Technology have considerably facilitated the introduction of new technologies in the County of Longford. In 1998, for example, the following were set up :
- the "Longfordonline" Internet site and database, which notably enables links to be maintained with the diaspora ;
- an on-line service for farmers, the result of cooperation between the local action group and Teagasc, the Irish office for farming and rural development ;
- a commercial database for local businesses in conjunction with the County Enterprise Board ;
- mobile training courses at various locations throughout the County
- the action, financed by LEADER, involves installing 11 computers in a village for six weeks at a time to enable 30 people to learn basic IT skills (at the end of June 1998, 175 people from four different villages had attended the courses).
source: LEADER Magazine nr.19 - Winter, 98-99