ArCticles - Arctic Centre Papers

Digitalising High North – On Whose Benefit?


Mirva Salminen

Digitalisation is often approached as an uninterrogatable external force of nature which turns structures, practices and processes around. Those to excel in the turmoil are those willing to adapt to its conditions and requirements. What becomes forgotten, is that the appearance and outlook of digitalised societies is an outcome of manifaceted human policies, negotiations, bargaining and calculations.

An ongoing research project at the Arctic Centre examines the many faces of digitalisation in the European High North and asks on whose benefit – and on whose detriment – the development is taking place. The normative starting point lies in the human security approach according to which the people and communities experiencing the effects of digitalisation in their everyday life should be able to participate in the steering of the development. At best, inclusive digitalisation can mitigate people’s fears related to accessing and operating in the online environment as well as empower them to reap the benefits for their wellbeing.

Digitalisation in the High North takes place within the frameworks provided by the European Union as well as the states of Norway, Sweden, and Finland and their mutual cooperation. Digital agendas provide the goals, means and expected risks of the development, whereas cyber security agendas present how the progressing digitalisation is safeguarded. Protection of information, and of the critical infrastructures dependent on its free and secured flow, is the prime societal aim. The interests and needs of the people and communities having to adapt to the development become too often bypassed, which leads into reinforced or novel digital divides and inequalities.

Mapping the digital terrain in Lapland

As one of its first tasks, the project contacted people within the regional administration in Lapland to discuss the stage of the digital development in the region. In a meeting with the Regional Council of Lapland, Lapland Hospital District, and the Centre of Excellence on Social Welfare in Northern Finland it became quickly clear that digitalisation is producing benefits in people’s everyday life, for example, in the form of improved access to services, lessened need for travel for work or transacting with public authorities, as well as teleconferencing and online learning. In particular, the availability of various social and health services that can be used online and hence irrespective of one’s physical location became highlighted. However, a lot remains to be done.

Even if a proportion of people is fast at coming up with suggestions of how digital development could improve their daily lives, advancing the ideas is dependent on resources and the flexibility of the existing structures, practices and processes. In addition, a proportion of the people does not see any benefit in digitalisation and prefers pulling out of the development. What will happen to these people when the welfare state is gradually turning into an online platform for individual service provision and there no longer are offices to visit? A response has been the building of physical service points at which support and guidance in using online services is always available. Furthermore, a mobile service back can be picked up from the social and/or health care professionals when one’s skills develop, yet interest or resources do not suffice for acquiring own equipment and connection.

In addition to people’s lacking skills or will to engage in digitalisation, insufficient infrastructure still forms a major cause for concern. Lacking or labile mobile network, gaps in coverage and restricted access to fixed broadband cause frustration, non-access, difficulties is running the heavy service platforms and restrictions in people’s movement. Lack of mobile applications or inadequate fitting of websites to mobile displays have similar implications. Advancing digital development in sparsely populated areas is costly and takes time, so the development of services and applications ought to serve the interests and needs of those who will be using them as the likelihood of suboptimal utilisation of digitalisation’s opportunities otherwise grows high. In the same process, chances for improving Nordic cooperation ought to be re-evaluated.

Mirva Salminen studies digitalisation and cyber security in the European High North, focusing on the human security perspective. The research project is carried out at the Arctic Centre.


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