Within the framework of the ESPON 2006 Programme, ESPON project 1.2.3 was concerned with the analysis of spatial occurrences and trends in relation to the information society – and more specifically the knowledge economy – in the EU 25 plus Bulgaria and Romania and including Norway and Switzerland as non-EU ESPON countries.
The information society has not explicitly been formulated, neither in literature nor in official documents of the EU. On one hand, the information society is described as a telecommunication society and on the other as a learning, innovative and creative society. Yet, regardless of the definition diversity, important shifts in the global economy can certainly be witnessed – from an industrial towards a more knowledge based or information economy. Against this background, several spatial trends can be identified in Europe.
Firstly, with respect to the knowledge based economy paradigm, the regions in which competitive and innovative firms are concentrated tend to attract new investments and are able to improve their technical and institutional infrastructure. In contrast, the territories less accessible, with obsolete social and economic structures, lack these advantages. Thus, secondly, the chances for the more backward regions seem to be even smaller in the knowledge based economy than it had been in the previous model of industry based growth. Thirdly, an increasing number of firms working within and for the internet are even more spatially concentrated. Thus, the expectations that the internet will allow for a more even spread of economic activities have not materialised.
Fourthly, the national policies in the EU vary strongly with respect to information society implementation. Several countries have long ago recognised the importance of the wide use of information and communication technology as a factor supporting their development. Some other seem to be delayed in this respect, and their activities rely more on programming than on real actions. And lastly, the Lisbon Agenda, though promising and challenging, has in fact been implemented at a slow and unsatisfactory pace, revealing much weaker effects on the EU and its nations and regions than anticipated.
Against the background of these spatial trends, ESPON project 1.2.3 aimed at
- a characterisation of the information society from a territorial perspective;
- an analysis of its territorial aspects at different spatial levels;
- the development of policy options at different spatial levels in order to identify possible policy initiatives supporting cohesion in the field of the information society.
The analyses differentiated between three dimensions of the information society: a technological, an economic and a social dimension. By means of composite index formulation the project developed an understanding of the territorial dimension of the information society. Among others the analyses furthermore included a review of information society related policies at different territorial levels as well as the application of e.g. information and communication technologies (ICT) was investigated from various perspectives, such as by public institutions, private enterprises and the education system.