[Translate to English:] Ein Landwirt steht in einem Feld und hält ein Tablet in der Hand

Digital Land Pioneers – Policy recommendations for progressive provinces

The initiative Digitale Landpionier:innen (Digital Land Pioneers) pools the experience and knowledge of many engaged people whose efforts and ideas are moving rural areas forward. In our policy paper “Digitale Landpionier:innen – Politikempfehlungen für eine Progressive Provinz” (Digital Land Pioneers – Policy recommendations for progressive provinces), we provide answers to the challenges currently confronting rural regions. Our goal: to use the opportunities digitalization brings to improve public services and quality of life outside of major cities.


Foto Mario Wiedemann
Mario Wiedemann
Senior Project Manager


Many large cities in Germany have reached their growth limits. The supply of available housing can no longer keep up with the demand. And even if the country’s governing coalition plans to build some 400,000 new apartments each year, the question remains of where they will be located. Many metropolitan areas no longer have the space to accommodate them.

At the same time, significant numbers of people are again moving to rural regions in Germany. For many communities (though not all), this is the chance to respond to a major challenge, namely demographic change. Yet the quality of life in the communities must be seen as sufficiently attractive if long-term residents are to stay and city dwellers are to join them.

Digitalization can help local communities here in two ways:

  1. Digital solutions in the area of public services have now been tested and successfully deployed in numerous contexts, such as health care, mobility and education. They have the potential to increase quality of life in rural areas. 
  2. The digitalization of work and the resulting possibilities for doing many jobs from anywhere are providing rural regions with new prospects. People who no longer need to commute dozens of kilometers each day can move “farther out” to the countryside.

Progressive provinces tap into digitalization’s potential

Such prospects are possibilities – not a promise. The situation will not improve automatically in many places. Considerable effort is required on the part of local decision makers instead, who must be open to new ideas and willing to implement change. This can create the image of a “progressive province” (a term coined by the think tank Zukunftsinstitut, see e.g. this interview) which is actively tapping into digitalization’s potential and transforming itself into a livable, community-oriented place that is attractive to both locals and potential new residents.

In many places in Germany, creative people are shaping their neighborhoods and surroundings to benefit the common good. They are pioneers in that they recognize and utilize the possibilities available in cities and the countryside. On the one hand, there are digital pioneers who bring urban life to so-called KoDörfer (Co-Villages) where they operate co-working spaces or enrich village life as recent arrivals providing new cultural offerings. On the other hand, traditional villages are also changing. They are building bridges between established ways of doing things and modern methods, and they want to use digitalization’s opportunities pragmatically to improve their public services, quality of life and future viability.

Initiative combines extensive experience and practical knowledge

People in smaller towns in outlying regions can get involved and make a big difference – more than they could in a large city. Some of these digital land pioneers have already gained years of experience in communities across Germany. They know how to create a spirit of optimism and change among residents and how digitalization’s potential can be used to advance rural areas in ways that reflect local needs.

The Digital Land Pioneers initiative brings together the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Smart Country project, the KoDorf, and the Dorf.Zukunft.Digital (Village.Future.Digital) project of the Diemel-Egge-Weser adult education association to pool the experience of the people and institutions that are advancing rural areas through creative ideas which make use of digitalization and its possibilities. Our initiative includes representatives of civil society and business development organizations, as well as mayors and academic researchers. We are a group of engaged stakeholders who have come together to shape the future of rural areas and ensure their ongoing viability through the use of digital and social innovations. Working together, we have developed a number of policy recommendations based on the practical experience gained by digital pioneers in rural areas in recent years.

Additional information

The initiative Digitale Landpionier:innen (Digital Land Pioneers) was launched in October 2020 in the district of Höxter by the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Smart Country project, KoDorf (Co-Village) and the Dorf.Zukunft.Digital (Village.Future.Digital) project of the Diemel-Egge-Weser adult education association. The content that served as the basis for this policy paper was jointly developed at four digital workshops and one in-person workshop. The initiative’s participants are listed at the beginning of the policy paper. The paper also describes several of the projects or organizations represented by the participants.