New Research Project

Digitalisation is a mega trend highly relevant for society and for economic geography. Not least in the debate about "left behind" regions and the large differences in regional living conditions, especially between rural and urban regions, it is considered a great opportunity. Since digitalisation is changing the importance of distances, it brings new opportunities for the population and (new) companies in rural regions and could offer them the opportunity to catch up economically with urban regions. Digitalisation could thus contribute to the equivalence of living conditions and to cohesion within society. The question of whether Internet expansion and digitalisation can actually lead to an economic catch-up of rural to urban regions, or could result even in an increase in differences, is the subject of the new research project "The spatial effects of digitalisation and its regional and spatial planning policy implications" in the Department of Economic Geography.

Research on this issue has so far produced inconsistent results. One of the reasons for this is that digitalisation has opposed effects. In addition to increasing productivity, companies in rural regions could benefit in particular from new information, cooperation and sales opportunities. Companies in urban regions could, possibly more than companies in rural regions, benefit in particular from a variety of innovation opportunities, which is why spatial differences could also increase. There is agreement in previous research that, regardless of the region, it is not the existence of the infrastructure but the regional attitudes and digital skills of the population and the workforce in the established and start-up companies that are central to generating digitalisation benefits. In order to be able to make statements about the future spatial economic effects of digitalisation, it is therefore necessary to record the regional digital competencies and better understand their role. Reliable regional recordings of these competencies are still lacking and, in particular, the significance of different aspects depending on the spatial context has so far been largely unexplored.

In the recently awarded five year funding of the named research project (team members are Prof. Rolf Sternberg and M.A. Lukas Häfner) the focus will be on the regional economic effects of digitisation and their implications for regional and economic policies. The aim of the new research project is, therefore, to comparatively record and analyze digital competencies using qualitative and quantitative methods. The findings from the research project are intended to help decision-makers in politics, administration and companies to shape the rapid digital transformation in a way that is oriented according to socially desirable goals.

The research project is part of the future lab for Society and Work (Zukunftslabore Gesellschaft und Arbeit in the Centre for Digital Innovations Lower Saxony (Zentrum für digitale Innovationen Niedersachsen (ZDIN). Researchers from various disciplines cooperate in this future lab to shed light on the effects of digitalisation on forms of work and employment as well as the future organisation of the society and to provide help for the implementation of digitalisation. In addition to economic geography, representatives of computer science and legal informatics, communication management, cultural studies, sociology and economics are represented in the future lab.