Smart Solutions

DorfFunk Smartphone App

DorfFunk is a smartphone app to support information exchange and communication in rural communities.

Implemented inLemgo

Country : Germany


What’s the solution?

The DorfFunk smartphone app provides local news and information through various thematic channels. It enables local businesses, services, organisations and authorities to communicate with local people about the services they offer and the latest news and events.

It also enables local users to network with other people in their area, including through a chat feature. In addition, users can sell, purchase or lend items using the ‘offer’ and ‘search’ functions.

The DorfFunk smartphone app bundles various thematic channels including local news, information on services and events, as well as chats – a digital place for exchange and communication to experience community even in times of physical distance.

In addition to finding local practical information and news, local users can network with other people in their area through the app. For example, using the ‘offer’ and ‘search’ functions, users can sell, purchase or lend items.

In addition, the ‘chat’ area of the app offers the possibility to safely exchange information with one another at any time. Topic-specific and partially closed groups can be created using the group function, so that not every user can read the messages.

The second component of the solution is a village and community website. Engaged members of the community, clubs and associations as well as the town administration can provide information about the activities, current affairs and events taking place locally to be uploaded on the website and connected with the app.

The website is set up to be filled with content by both a community editorial team and the town administration and uses a structure that can automatically integrate various sources of information. Contents of the website such as news and events can be displayed in the DorfFunk app.

What makes it smart?

The solution is smart because

  • The DorfFunk app gives near universal and timely access to local news and facilitates and coordinates mutual help in communities. It is a digital solution to the difficulty of coordinating needs and resources in a community that, while small, is too large for everyone to know each other personally and coordinate face to face.
  • Integration of website and app means citizens only need to look in one place to find out what’s happening, while the editors of the website don’t need to separately feed information into the app.
  • A village website based on DorfNews requires less effort and provides better integration than a typical individually made website.
  • Digital technologies are used as a means of strengthening cooperation and participation in the town (digital space as a new social space) thereby reinforcing social structures (e.g. neighbourly exchange and help)
  • Digital technologies are also used to empower citizens (training on the design of the DorfFunk website lemgo.app and app use)
  • It combines solutions for specific local needs with mutual cross-regional learning because villages are part of the 'Digital Villages' network
  • The solution was developed in a bottom-up process with citizens in village conferences and thus meets the specific needs.
  • It is 'smart' to bring older and younger generations together through digital solutions: a joint project also strengthens social cohesion.
  • People consume the digital content that really interests them.
  • The use of digital media (e.g., creating contributions on the websites) is being learned and directly consolidated.
  • The full-time staff members provide the framework that can be shaped by the volunteers.

How is the solution implemented?

  • Seek engagement of the local authority with the idea of a local app
  • Engage and exchange with local people about needs and preferences
  • Identify local volunteers to support implementation of the website and app
  • Secure funding for app procurement/licensing, administration and maintenance of website and local app features
  • Seek collaboration with an appropriate service provider
  • Train local people in providing web content on the village
  • Develop draft content and test its use;
  • Spread awareness of the app amongst local people as well as the local administration and encourage engagement with it
  • Seek to expand the geographic coverage of the app into neighbouring villages/municipalities.

In what local context has it been applied?

The municipality of Lemgo is a small town in the rural Lippe administrative district, located in the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia. Outside the core town centre and Brake area, Lemgo is characterised by many much smaller and more rural communities (smaller parts with populations <200).

Almost all facilities are located in the town centre. This includes shopping facilities (local supply, but also a lively shopping street with various retail offers), educational facilities (various types of schools, university and adult education centre) and cultural and leisure facilities (e.g. swimming pool, fitness and dance studios).

Although the town centre is easy to reach from other parts of town thanks to the good infrastructure (especially town bus lines), there is still a need to involve citizens from all parts of town in processes, events and information on an ongoing basis. Participation of citizens is especially important, because even the smaller parts of town have a lively landscape of associations and strong village communities.

Who was behind the implementation?

  • The initial impulse for the solution came from local citizens who expressed the wish to the local administration
  • The Lippe administrative authority provided project management (coordination and monitoring of processes, training, communication with various stakeholders, feedback loops with technical providers)
  • Additional key stakeholders included:

    • An external technical service provider (Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering – IESE, located in Kaiserslautern)
    • Local volunteers.

What was the local journey?

Engaged citizens in Lippe started to take an interest in the rural digital solutions proposed by the ‘Digital Villages’ project in nearby Rhineland-Palatinate.

Some local citizens became interested in the ‘Digital Villages’ project launched in 2015 by the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering (IESE) in Kaiserslautern - with support from the Rhineland-Palatinate Ministry of the Interior and Sport and the Rhineland-Palatinate Development Agency.

The project sought to explore digital solutions to some of the challenges facing rural regions and worked in a pilot phase with three municipalities in Rhineland-Palatinate. From this project, various digital village solutions were developed, including:

  • BestellBar’ - a completely new type of online marketplace, combining the advantages of online shopping with those of shopping at a local retailer. Retailers in the region present their products, which citizens can order online to be picked up later.
  • ‘LieferBar’ – a community-based delivery service through which volunteers who can see which packages ordered from the local online shop ‘BestellBar’ need to be picked up and delivered for their neighbours – in exchange for digital ‘credits’.
  • ‘DorfNews’ - an online portal providing quick-access to local information on events, current news, opening hours of local services, and local weather.
  • ‘DorfPages’ – a local village website, based on an adapted WordPress system, with which a village can present itself and its own special features and history, provide a directory of local shops and services, as well as showcasing current news, upcoming events and articles by residents on village life.
  • ‘DorfFunk’ – a local platform for citizens to offer their help, post requests or just casually chat with each other.
  • ‘LösBar’ – an online tool for facilitating exchange between citizens and the local administration – notably for local people to provide suggestions and requests.

Preliminary talks with the administration

  • The idea to use the DorfFunk app in Lemgo started with preliminary talks between the administrative authority of Lippe and the local impulse-givers behind the idea (committed local citizens following the digital villages project). These discussions identified a particular interest in the DorfFunk and DorfNews modules of the digital villages project.

Securing funding and collaboration with the Digital Villages project

  • The Lippe administrative district decided to take the idea forward as part of the Smart CountrySide (SCS) funding project (2016-2019) supported by the State of North Rhine-Westphalia and EU (ERDF) and in collaboration with the Digital Villages project which aimed to sell its solutions to interested villages.

Village workshop / SCS project info event:

  • The possibilities of DorfFunk were presented and discussed with local people in an initial public meeting on the possibilities of the Smart CountrySide (SCS) project. Topics included: the possible use and functions of the DorfFunk village app and website and how they would be connected; good practices examples of places already using DorfFunk; and the implementation process, costs and timeline.
  • Local people were asked to express an interest in participating and a contact person in the local authority of Lemgo was confirmed

Meeting to determine topics, actors and authors:

  • A second local meeting with those that volunteered during the first village workshop worked to clarify specific responsibilities in different areas.
  • The group also worked towards a collective definition of the overall editorial direction and thematic priorities for populating the website structure provided.

Training of authors (WordPress):

  • Volunteer authors were provided with an initial training in how to use WordPress for publishing online content. This included the following topics: Getting to know the basic functions of the village websites (CMS: WordPress): How do I write posts? How do I post events? How can I present my part of town/my association etc.?

Posting the content as a draft on the website:

  • During a working phase, the volunteer contributors generated their draft content for the website and tested the functions online

Going Live:

  • Check of the website (technical and content)
  • Publication of the website lemgo.app
  • DorfFunk is being opened to new localities of Lemgo

Feedback phase:

  • What needs to be changed?
  • Feedback from the public
  • Advertising measures (e.g. postcards)

Transition to continuous operation:

  • Regular meetings with the editors for evaluation and clarification of current issues

What have been the main outputs & results?

  • The project has been running successfully since 2019 and supplements the local press with contributions and events directly from the different localities of Lemgo.
  • DorfFunk in Lemgo has a high profile and includes not only small associations but also 'larger' and well-known institutions that use the platform for exchange.
  • The Lemgo town administration is also continuously involved in the process and supports the project, also using the platform to announce news concerning the town.
  • The app's user numbers in Lemgo are the second highest in the entire DorfFunk district of Lippe.
  • Even the small parts of town (which have a less extensive range of events, etc.) use the platform to position themselves (independently, but also as a part of Lemgo) to the outside world, and provide information about events and news, for example village festivals.
  • Older people also participate in the digital processes around the DorfFunk app, breaking down barriers to using digital hardware and software and using digital empowerment to further integrate and participate in their hometown.

What does it bring the village/community?

  • Intergenerational collaboration in the digital process
  • Strengthening the sense of community, on the one hand within/among the parts of town, but also as a joint project of Lemgo 'to the outside'
  • Networking independent from time and space, to inform newcomers or commuters about the active village life; and even supra-regional networking with neighbouring communities (e.g. Dörentrup)
  • Sense of home: What makes my district worth living in? What do we have to offer?
  • Digital empowerment
  • Social encounters and 'we-feeling' in the digital space: e.g., seeking and offering neighbourly help
  • Informational function
  • Active participation in development! Close to citizens ('from citizens for citizens') - topics of importance to citizens are presented. Only supported by the administration
  • 'Role model' character: because other cities and communities also want to become a 'Digital Village'

What’s needed

Financial resources

Main types of cost:

• Set up /Investment costs: the total development costs for the entire Lippe administrative district amounted to EUR 90,000

• Ongoing costs: EUR 1,000 per year for use, maintenance of the website and app

Financial needs:
Funding received:
SourceAmountFunded
State of North Rhine-Westphalia and EU (ERDF)91,000 €• Development costs • Personnel for development, implementation, introduction, marketing, training, participation process

Human resources

Full-time staff:

• Lippe administrative district: Project management (coordination and monitoring of processes, training, communication with various stakeholders, feedback loops with technical providers)

• Contact person at the town of Lemgo

• External: Technical service provider (Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering – IESE, located in Kaiserslautern)

Volunteers:

• Contact person for volunteers

• Contact persons for IT administration

• Contact persons for neighbourhood work

+ Volunteers and coordinators from the different parts of town

Physical resources

• None

What to do…

  • Support from the respective town/municipal administration
  • Clarify responsibilities
  • Realistic timeline
  • Spread the work of implementation over many shoulders
  • Support networking with other municipalities and towns
  • New error culture: digitalisation is a testing ground

and not to do

  • Don’t assume you know the needs of the local community.
  • Don’t make excessive demands on the local volunteers.

Contact

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