Key industry and community players in northern inland NSW have highlighted the importance of a cooperative approach in raising the digital and technological readiness of regional Australia.

A new report by the Regional Australia Institute and Vodafone examines how the northern inland region – which comprises 13 local government areas and 183,000 people – organised itself to pursue digital economic goals.

The region is located in north-east NSW and counts Armidale and Tamworth among its largest towns.

The report notes that it is the combined efforts of “a number of different groups and individuals” that helped to raise the profile of the digital economy in the region.

This included efforts by governments, telcos, the University of New England (UNE), Regional Development Australia Northern Inland, local councils and community groups.

“It is probable that any of these groups working independently would struggle to achieve the levels of success the region currently enjoys,” the report noted.

The report highlights government initiatives including the NBN rollout and the funding of additional mobile towers under a telecommunications blackspot scheme.

UNE, meanwhile, had taken an active role in digital enablement trials. It has set up a ‘smart’ farm that “showcases the latest in on-site farm technologies aimed at improving productivity, environmental sustainability, safety, workflow and social and business support networks”.

It also runs a ‘smart’ house in collaboration with a number of other organisations that looks at technology for aged care.

“Opportunities are currently being explored to move three PhD students into the house,” the report states.

“These students will identify and test household automatic and monitoring technologies to improve the quality of life for older people who remain in the family home.”

Other regional players created digital strategies, taskforces and “hubs” where people could improve their digital literacy.

“This study of the Northern Inland region shows a complex system, where a number of diverse groups are working together to improve technological readiness,” the report said.

“Overall it is a strong example of the potential success cooperative development can achieve.

“Cooperative development is an opportunity for all parties to identify their shared aspirations and work together to achieve them.

“A cooperative approach enables service providers and communities to work together to help fast-track development and achieve better outcomes.”

The report noted the importance of grassroots community support and advocated a ground-up approach to building out a digital economy strategy.

“Positively engaging the local community enables project proponents to have a wide support base and a large pool of potential resources which they can draw upon,” it said.

“Communities likewise need to be proactive in identifying opportunities for future development and communicating their aspirations.

“This will enable them to better take advantage of opportunities to collaborate when they arise.”