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Rural Development in
the Information Society


METASA, MIND, IMAGINE...
Europe helps small towns get connected:
the example of Parthenay

The banality of IT in Parthenay, a small town in a country where use of the Internet is still relatively limited, takes its roots in the "Digital Town" project undertaken by the municipality in 1994 and aiming to "make the citizens creative actors in the town" (1).

METASA (2) was implemented in 1996. This one-year pilot programme, initiated by Directorate-General XIII of the European Commission, consisted in :

  • making several small European towns into a life-size experimentation laboratory for new information and communication technologies (ICT);
  • adopting a so-called "social-pull" approach, associating the citizens to the project as much as possible, basing it on their needs and ensuring that they were co-creators of services and not merely "consumer-guinea-pigs".

In addition to Parthenay, METASA concerned Arnedo (La Rioja) in Spain and Weinstadt (Baden-Württemberg) and Torgau (Saxony) in Germany. Several large IT companies, as well as six universities and research centres, also took part.

"To identify people's needs, we sent a questionnaire of approximately 20 pages to 7 500 households," explains Hervé Denudt, responsible for economic development in the District of Parthenay. "25% of them were returned, which was very encouraging. The answers enabled us to identify seven types of attitudes towards new technologies, which correspond to three psychological profiles : the 'utopians', the 'wait-and-see partisans' and the 'refractory partisans'. Based on these profiles, three homogeneous discussion groups - 300 people in total ! - were then formed. The results of these exchanges enabled three main fields of use for information technologies for the general public to be identified : culture, the economy and social affairs."

In 1997, Parthenay benefited from a European programme to promote awareness and demonstrate the use of ICTs : in the context of the MIND (3) project launched by the Directorate-General for Industry (DG III), interactive IT services were installed in the town. The operation was to trigger the creation of an Intranet network and six "digital resource centres" (see main article).

In the same year, the municipality of Parthenay launched the "Mille Micros" (1000 PCs) operation : in view of an appropriation of ICTs by the population, this involved enabling each citizen to purchase a microcomputer at a reasonable price. In order to do this, the town held talks with France Telecom and a large computer manufacturer. For approximately ECU 1 000, each Parthenay inhabitant was able to purchase a computer and enjoy 200 free hours of communication on the Internet for two years.

In 1998, another programme of Directorate-General XIII was implemented : IMAGINE, an extension of METASA.

At the same time, the education and training sectors were also mobilised : all schools in the district were henceforth connected and working parties were set up to develop joint actions using ICTs : pooling documentation centres, creating a "package" of educational services... Even without these projects having taken shape, we can see that the "digitisation" of Parthenay is already having a positive "educational effect", particularly in terms of socio-professional insertion, the most spectacular example being that of a young person who was failing at school and who discovered a passion for the Internet, put his poems on the web and was contacted by a German publisher who wanted to use them in school textbooks he was printing...

"Here, all companies are dependent on new technologies", concludes Hervé Denudt. According to the Head of Financial Services for the District of Parthenay, the impact of all the projects taking part in the "digital town" approach is considerable:

  • existing companies are being strengthened - this is the case, for example, of a hundred-year-old local company, a joke and novelty manufacturer that has been considerably expanding throughout the French-speaking world for two years now;
  • new services are appearing - in addition to the "virtual supermarket" experiment, which has created three jobs, a large DIY chain is setting itself up in the mail-order business from Parthenay. A system for centralising orders, which are passed on to small shopkeepers via the Internet, is also planned in the context of the necessary revitalisation of businesses in the town centre;
  • new companies are setting themselves up - 12 IT firms have established themselves, creating 30 jobs, while a large furniture distributor has chosen Parthenay to try out a new organisation of its "just-in-time" type sales;
  • new innovative micro-activities are being developed, such as the case of the local businesswoman who rents out mobile homes all over France to mainly Dutch clients on the Internet ; or the shoe salesman who, after becoming a net surfer, discovered a market niche for very large sizes, and now receives orders from Switzerland, Spain and elsewhere...

Web : www.district-parthenay.fr

PAYS DE GÂTINE LEADER

Surface area : 1 585 km2
Population : 64 198 inhabitants
LEADER II funding : ECU 2 500 000
EU : ECU 880 000 - Other public funds : ECU 1 530 000
Private funds : ECU 90 000

Pays de Gâtine
SMAEG
3 rue Henri Dunant, BP 505
F-79208 Parthenay CEDEX
Tel. : +33 5 49 64 25 49 - Fax : +33 5 49 94 21 22
E-mail : michenotbe@district-parthenay.fr
Web : www.gatine.org


(1) Michel Hervé, Mayor of Parthenay, in "Le Monde", 9 December 1996.
(2) METASA : Multimedia Experimental Towns with a Social-Pull Approach.
(3) MIND : Multimedia Initiation of Digital Towns.
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source: LEADER Magazine nr.19 - Winter, 98-99


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