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Working visit to the Lower Normandy region, France

The visit was organized in cooperation with the Center for New Technologies – CTN as an opportunity for sharing experiences and examples of good practices in applying ICT (information and communication technologies) in the area of active citizen participation and in the development of democracy on a local level.

The visit encompassed meetings with representatives of institutions and organizations working on the application of new technologies for the benefit of the citizens from all three departments (counties) of the Lower Normandy region.

The region is famous worldwide for its cultural heritage – in the Middle Ages it was a starting point for the conquests of the Normans who played a key role in the history of Europe and the Mediterranean, and it is also famous for the crucial battle in the Second World War (the landing of the allied forces in 1944) – and as an area where distinguished persons from French history, such as Guy de Maupassant, Gustave Flaubert and Marcel Proust had lived. Main economic branches of the region: agriculture, food processing/cuisine and tourism, along with energetics (nuclear and wind energy) and the automotive industry, which is heavily impacted by the global financial crisis.

In the Calvados department, where Caen – the capital of the region is also located, the representatives of CTN presented the system of more than 100 public access points to digital technologies (espaces publics numeriques – EPN) coordinated by them, and financially supported by the regional and local authorities.

Among other things, the priority of these points for public access to digital technologies is providing access to the internet, as well as adapting the population, particularly the adults, to using new technologies through trainings. These access points are bridging the digital gap and provide assistance for access to e-learning systems (P@T) which facilitate the prequalification of the unemployed.

The support from the local authorities is of particular importance for the work of these public access points, in terms of providing premises and covering the costs for equipment and personnel. Although there is standardization on a regional level, each of the points has a great autonomy in regard of the application of technological and content solutions based on the local needs.

On the 4th of March, we visited the Manche department, (St-Lô city), the rural municipality St Georges Montcocq and the monument of culture Mont St Michel.

In St-Lô, the public access point for access to digital technologies functions within the city library. One feature of the public computer access points in this area of Lower Normandy is that the department has financed the establishment of accessibility technology (special desks and other equipment) enabling people with disabilities to use the computers. The municipal administration is largely relying on the use of free and open source software, and Linux is the mostly used operating system, as well as the OpenOffice.org office software (localized in French).

One of the applications enabling citizen participation in the development of local e-contents is the project WikiManche dedicated to providing information about the cultural, social and economic characteristics of the department, and providing information to the tourists.

One of the functions of a public access point is to incite socialization among the citizens, who may be able to establish contacts during regular activities, overcoming the alienation appearing in modern society. Among other things, sessions for mutual participation in online role-playing games are also used for this purpose.

St Georges Montcocq is a small municipality with less than 1000 residents enabling the work of a public access point for digital technologies within the municipal building. Among other things, the point is also providing equipment with which the citizens can convert their VHS videos to digital format, which contributes to the increase of the interest for using other practical functions as well

On the 5th of March, we visited two public access points in Argentil, the capital of Orne, the third and southernmost department of the Lower Normandy region. The first public access point is under the direct authority of the municipality and is mostly visited by young or mature citizens, and is offering courses for using computers and access to the municipal e-services. One of the newly introduced services of the municipality is enabling the citizens to connect through structured small advertisements in order to satisfy their everyday needs.

The second public access point is situated in the City Library “Francois Miterrand”, right next to the building of a former church. The basic goal here is to enable all the generations, from the youngest to the oldest, to efficiently use all the existing resources of the library in combination with the new technologies, especially for research purposes during their education. Same as the other libraries in the region, this one is actually renamed to a media library, since it is not only providing access to books, but to other media as well – CD music, movies in DVD format, etc. The public access point uses a system of banks of disks providing quick access to content without risking their damaging with manual use.

The afternoon was used for visiting two institutions in Caen. The first one is Ingénium, which is part of the polytechnic institute in Caen for creation of e-contents, combining digital technologies and film, creating comprehensive multimedia courses intended for e-learning. Part of these courses are being promoted through the public points, strengthening the working capacity of the population in the region, and the transfer of knowledge for the production process itself can contribute significantly to the development of e-learning in Macedonia. All of these courses are based on the recording of lectures by renowned experts from the given areas, providing credibility and use of practical experiences, supplemented by learning materials, tests and other interactive tools.

The last visited institution in Caen was the seat of the regional authority, based in the former women’s monastery established by the Norman duke and later English king William the conqueror and his wife Matilda (1066-1083), whose grave is located in the church, within the complex.

Despite its use for administrative purposes, the regional authority enables free access to all the people interested in the cultural and historical aspects of the building, which is open for the public and is also a venue for exhibits of contemporary artists. The representatives of the regional authorities expressed their willingness for further cooperation with Macedonia on all levels, as well as for combining the positive experiences from both access points in improving the lives of all their citizens.

Cooperation opportunities resulting from the visit:

  • Including the newly established contacts in the implementation of the projected activities for raising the capacity for active citizen participation in Macedonia and synergy with the project of Metamorphosis for inciting the development of local e-contents.
  • Developing a system for creating e-learning contents in cooperation with the Civil Servants Agency of the Republic of Macedonia and Ingénium, knowledge transfer about the methodology of creation through practical work – localization of existing courses and creation of new ones which are of common interest to the citizens of Macedonia and France, for instance, and for the European Union.
  • Organizing activities for raising the capacity for active citizen participation in Lower Normandy, based on the experiences from NGO activism for local and national issues from Macedonia.
  • Raising the capacity for development of local contents in order to provide transparent, quality and continuous information and interaction.

o Citizens’ journalism (blogs, videos and digital storytelling) using the experiences and support from Metamorphosis,

o Wiki sites for the needs of municipalities and groups of municipalities, created by using the experiences on wikimanche from St-Lô as a good practice example.

  • Development of standards about the work of public internet access points in order to increase the degree of inclusiveness for the more mature population, strengthening of the social cohesion in Macedonia and the transparency of the local authorities, by using the experiences and practices established in Lower Normandy. Applicable for the network of Digital Clubhouses, and for the network of internet cafes opened by the Macedonian Government, with a possibility to include the local libraries, even the private ones, as well as commercial internet cafes from Macedonia.
  • Development of a content filtering system which could be voluntarily used by the public internet access points, and by parents from Macedonia for protecting their children from negative influence (black list), and for recommending useful content (white list), using the experiences of CTN.