The paper deals with the role of ICT and the related infrastructures to induce innovations for sustainable rural development. In particular, it focuses on the innovations induced by ICT in farms and in new rural firms, and on how digital infrastructures support and generate social innovation mechanisms, leading to the consolidation of entrepreneurship and dissemination of ICT-based innovation in rural areas. The hypothesis is that the presence of digital infrastructures generates a double effect: overcoming the concept of geographical proximity (relevant for remote rural areas) and promoting social innovation. In particular, this paper examines the role of social innovation to create a new demand for products, services and organisational models for farms and rural enterprises, promoting further innovation. To target the objectives, the work analyses three case studies of new business models (BMs) based on ICT innovation. The analysis focuses on the most important interactions, learning and organisational processes within the new enterprises and among the new farms/enterprises and the other economic and institutional actors, and on how they were shaped and changed by the use of ICT, relating them to a conceptual model. These three cases, although pioneering, are important since they give an original response to some of the main problems and needs of remote and inner rural areas, as for the access to high value segment of food market, the information deliveries about attractiveness of landscape and countryside for foreigners, investors and tourists and the creation of new stable relation with consumers/citizens in the urban areas. The three cases have been analysed with the aim to identify how the ICT, and the related innovations, create an interconnection between four characteristic elements of the BMs (value creation, supply chain, customer interfaces, financial model) and the restructuring of proximity dimensions (cognitive, institutional, social, geographical, organizational). The work shows how these three cases have several communalities, but also different aspects with respect to our objective of analysis: there are different ways in which the four characteristic elements of the BM are constructed and also different in the role that the different dimensions of proximity play in structuring the innovation process in each one of them. More generally, the results of the work also lead to consider a new role for public investments in ICT infrastructures: public administrations should intervene in order to create a coherence within projects of public and private initiatives.
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