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Call: Smart solutions for smart rural communities: empowering rural communities and smart villages to innovate for societal change

Type of Fund Direct Management
Description of programme
"Horizon Europe - Cluster 6 - Destination 6: Resilient, Inclusive, Healthy and Green Rural, Coastal and Urban Communities"

Places and people matter to the achievement of a more sustainable Europe. The Sustainable Development Goals and the ecological and digital transitions brought forward by the European Green Deal [[]] and digital strategy [[]], alongside the recent pandemic, bring challenges and opportunities that differ for different places and people. Rural (including mountains and sparsely populated areas) and coastal areas, play a key role in managing, protecting and using natural resources. The provision of both private and public goods from these areas depends on the resilience and attractiveness of rural and coastal communities and the capacity of people who live and work there to access a sufficient level of well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted deficiencies in digital infrastructures and economic opportunities that hamper resilience. Urban communities generally offer better access to many services but are also more vulnerable to supply-chain disruptions, as shown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, they have a key role to play in fostering sustainable production and consumption as major demand drivers. In all communities, social and behavioural drivers play an important role in enabling or slowing down transitions. Knowledge and innovative solutions need to be developed to enhance every community’s resilience and capacity to contribute to and benefit from the upcoming transitions in an economy that works for all territories and ensures a fair and just transition leaving no one behind.

Under this destination, transdisciplinary R&I with a strong social and behavioural sciences dimension, and attention to gender aspects, will foster a sustainable, balanced and inclusive development of rural [[R&I will support the implementation of an EU-level long-term vision for rural areas to be published in the 2nd quarter of 2021.]], coastal and urban areas in three different ways. Firstly, it will aim to increase our understanding of the differential impacts of climate, environmental, socio-economic and demographic changes on rural, coastal and urban areas in order to identify ways to turn these changes into equal opportunities for people wherever they live, enhancing territorial cohesion and enabling a just transition. Secondly, it will explore innovative ways to tailor policy responses to the place-based challenges identified at various levels of governance. Thirdly, it will support bottom-up community-led innovation to empower communities to develop, test and upscale solutions that answer global challenges in locally adapted ways. Achieving policy goals require providing people with more equitable access to the knowledge and skills required to make informed choices and be actively engaged in the sustainable and circular management of natural resources, from production or service provision to consumption. Rural, coastal and urban communities, in particular women, youth, the most vulnerable groups like indigenous people and those hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, need to see their labour conditions, quality of life and long-term socio-economic prospects improved in the context of major transitions and rising threats to climate, resources and health. Their capacity to drive community-led innovations must be enhanced and their resilience increased across the diversity of European territories including remote places such as mountains and sparsely populated areas. Mobilising the forces of digital transformation, start-up ecosystems, nature-based solutions, as well as social and policy innovation will facilitate necessary changes and support smart, environment and climate friendly and resilient lifestyles.

Activities under this destination are complementary to Cluster 2 activities with attention to spatial differences and specifics in relation with democracy (Destination ‘Innovative research on democracy and governance’), socio-economic transformations (Destination ‘Innovative research on social and economic transformation’) and cultural heritage (Destination ‘Innovative research on the European cultural heritage and the cultural and creative industries). They are also complementary to Cluster 5’s Destination ‘Cross-sectoral solutions for the climate transition’ on cities and communities that should explore place-based approaches to climate, energy and mobility specifically for all places.

To maximise the intended impacts and to ensure uptake by the communities, actions in the cluster should aim for high standards of transparency and openness for the solutions developed, going beyond ex-post documentation of results and extending to aspects such as assumptions, processes, models and data during the life of projects.

Expected impacts

Proposals for topics under this destination should set out a credible pathway to contributing to resilient, inclusive, healthy and green rural, coastal and urban communities and more specifically one or several of the following expected impacts:

  • Rural, coastal and urban areas are developed in a sustainable, balanced and inclusive manner thanks to a better understanding of the environmental, socio-economic, behavioural, cultural and demographic drivers of change as well as deployment of digital, nature-based, social and community-led innovations.
  • Rural, coastal and urban communities are empowered to act for change, better prepared to achieve climate neutrality, adapt to climate change, and turn digital and ecological transitions into increased resilience to various types of shocks, good health and positive long-term prospects, including jobs, for all including women, young people and vulnerable groups.
  • Rural communities are equipped with innovative and smarter solutions that increase access to services, opportunities and adequate innovation ecosystems, including for women, youth and the most vulnerable groups, improve attractiveness and reduce the feeling of being left behind, even in the most remote locations like mountains.
  • The sustainable development of coastal areas including coastal protection and resilience reaps the benefits of social, digital and community-led innovations, to deliver nature-based and scientifically validated solutions to existing coastal socio-economic and environmental threats. In this way, applications of new social, economic and governance frameworks are enabled.
  • Tourism, recreational and leisure activity development in natural and coastal areas respects long-term environmental carrying capacity, and social goals.
  • Urban and peri-urban communities – including the most vulnerable individuals and families – can access, afford and choose healthier, nutritious and environmental-friendly food.

When considering their impact, proposals also need to assess their compliance with the “Do No Significant Harm” principle [[as per Article 17 of Regulation (EU) No 2020/852 on the establishment of a framework to facilitate sustainable investment (EU Taxonomy Regulation)]] according to which the research and innovation activities of the project should not be supporting or carrying out activities that make a significant harm to any of the six environmental objectives of the EU Taxonomy Regulation.

Topics under this destination will have impacts in the following impact areas of the Horizon Europe strategic plan for 2021-2024 [[[Link to the strategic plan]]]: “Climate change mitigation and adaptation”; “Enhancing ecosystems and biodiversity on land and in water”; “Sustainable food systems from farm to fork”; “Good health and high-quality accessible healthcare”; “A resilient EU prepared for emerging threats”; “A competitive and secure data-economy”; and “Inclusive growth and new job opportunities”.

Link Link to Programme
Smart solutions for smart rural communities: empowering rural communities and smart villages to innovate for societal change
Description of call
"Smart solutions for smart rural communities: empowering rural communities and smart villages to innovate for societal change"

Expected Outcome:

The successful proposal will contribute to fostering a sustainable, balanced and inclusive development of rural areas, supporting the implementation of the European Green Deal, in particular its fair and just transition component, the European digital strategy, the European pillar of social rights and the EU long-term vision for rural areas. It will do so by supporting digital, social and community-led innovations and by equipping rural communities with innovative and smarter solutions that increase access to services, opportunities and adequate innovation ecosystems, including for women, youth and the most vulnerable groups, improve attractiveness and reduce the feeling of being left behind, even in the most remote locations like mountains. The increased availability of smart solutions and support to community-led innovations will empower people to act for change and get prepared to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, adapt to climate change, and turn digital and ecological transitions into increased resilience, good health and positive long-term prospects, including jobs, for all including women, young people and vulnerable groups.

Project results are expected to contribute to all of the following expected outcomes:

  • Enhanced capacity of rural communities and rural people to innovate for change thanks to the specific outcomes below;
  • Enlarged set of smart solutions for rural communities (practical and transferable innovative solutions to challenges faced by rural communities in a variety of fields e.g. social services, health, energy, mobility, climate adaptation and mitigation, biodiversity and ecosystem management, education, access to culture, etc.).
  • Upgraded approaches, methods, tools and skills to design, implement, monitor and evaluate community-led innovations contributing to the implementation of smart village strategies and social innovation initiatives improving i) rural people’s well-being, ii) rural community resilience to shocks, iii) rural contributions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and to the EU long-term vision for rural areas.
  • Strengthened human capital, including networks, enhanced relations and knowledge exchange between smart villages and rural community innovators on transferable innovations and innovation processes.


Proposals should start from past work conducted in the framework of i) EU action on smart villages, including the related preparatory actions; and ii) Horizon 2020 projects dedicated to social innovation in rural areas. Proposals should support a large number of rural community-led, social innovation or smart village pilot initiatives in a set of locations in the EU and Associated Countries representative of the diversity of social and geographical contexts. They should prototype, test, pilot and demonstrate innovations that answer the most pressing rural challenges found at these locations, with particular attention to social and environmental challenges.

Proposals should explore various forms of innovations: technical, technological, business, organisational and social. Social innovation is recommended when the solution is at the interface between social and technical solutions and requires social change, new social practices, social ownership or market uptake. Proposals should exploit in particular the potential of digital technologies to answer rural communities’ challenges, respecting the principles of the declarations on “joining forces to boost sustainable digital transformation in cities and communities” and on “a smart and sustainable digital future for European agriculture and rural areas”. Proposals should build on the work of projects funded under the topic DT-ICT-09-2020 and avoid duplications.

Criteria for selecting the pilot initiatives supported should include the contribution to rural people’s well-being, rural community resilience to shocks, Sustainable Development Goals and the EU’s long-term vision for rural areas as well as the potential transferability or replicability of the innovations to other European villages facing similar conditions. The experience gained from supporting these community-led innovation pilot initiatives should lead proposals to formulate upgraded approaches, methods and tools that should be widely disseminated in close coordination with the ‘expertise and training centre on rural innovation funded under HORIZON-CL6-2021-COMMUNITIES-01-02. Proposals should also capitalise on i) rural innovation processes and knowledge and innovation systems or ecosystems needed to support rural community-led or social innovation and smart villages; and ii) lessons learnt to improve policies and governance frameworks, especially on instruments supporting the development of social capital, social networks, social economy and social innovation and with attention to various needs of various target groups.

Proposals must implement the multi-actor approach, bringing together scientists alongside rural community organisations, action groups or networks with a demonstrated ability to connect to a large number of local communities and disseminate and exploit project results. The consortium should bring together a multiplicity of competences and science disciplines with an effective contribution of SSH disciplines, to ensure a skilled accompaniment of a wide range of innovation areas likely to come from the pilot initiatives (climate mitigation and adaptation, social care and services, energy, mobility, culture, education etc.) and innovation approaches and technologies (technical, organisational, social, digital…). It should demonstrate substantial prior experience in facilitating community-led bottom-up innovation initiatives.

As an option, proposals may provide financial support to third parties, particularly for SMEs or entities who would develop specific innovative solutions needed in the pilot initiatives. Consortia who decide to use this option should define the selection process of entities for which financial support will be granted.

Proposals should include a task to cooperate with other projects funded under this topic, other relevant innovation projects and with the ‘expertise and training centre on rural innovation’ funded under HORIZON-CL6-2021-COMMUNITIES-01-02 from the beginning of the project (taking up tools and training kits) until its end (dissemination of upgraded tools and smart solutions) and with the projects funded under HORIZON-CL6-2022-COMMUNITIES-01-01 for issues related to women-led innovation. Proposals should also foresee close coordination with the common agricultural policy networks to maximise the contribution of project activities to the achievement of future common agricultural policy (2021-2027) objectives, in particular in relation with smart villages. Finally, proposals are encouraged to liaise with the relevant European Institute of Technology knowledge and innovation communities.

Link Link to Call
Thematic Focus Research & Innovation, Technology Transfer & Exchange, Capacity Building, Cooperation Networks, Institutional Cooperation, Clustering, Development Cooperation, Economic Cooperation, Circular Economy, Sustainability, Natural Resources, Agriculture & Forestry, Fishery, Food, Administration & Governance, Rural & Peripheral Development, Regional Development & Regional Planning, Demographic Change, Migration, Equal Rights, Human Rights, People with Disabilities, Social Inclusion, Health, Social Affairs, Sports, Employment & Labour Market, Competitiveness, SME, Community Integration, European Citizenship, Shared Services, Mobility & Transport/Traffic , Green Technologies & Green Deal, Climate, Climate Change, Environment & Biodiversity, Disaster Prevention, Resiliance, Risk Management, Children & Youth, Education & Training, Art & Culture, Cultural Heritage, History, Media
Funding area EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
Origin of Applicant EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
Eligible applicants Research Institution, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, SMEs (between 10 and 249 employees), NGO / NPO, University, Enterprise (more than 250 employees or not defined), Lobby Group / Professional Association / Trade Union, Public Services, Microenterprises (fewer than 10 employees), Start Up Company, Education and Training Centres, Federal State / Region / City / Municipality / Local Authority, National Government
Applicant details

eligible non-EU countries:

  • countries associated to Horizon Europe
At the date of the publication of the work programme, there are no countries associated to Horizon Europe. Considering the Union’s interest to retain, in principle, relations with the countries associated to Horizon 2020, most third countries associated to Horizon 2020 are expected to be associated to Horizon Europe with an intention to secure uninterrupted continuity between Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. In addition, other third countries can also become associated to Horizon Europe during the programme. For the purposes of the eligibility conditions, applicants established in Horizon 2020 Associated Countries or in other third countries negotiating association to Horizon Europe will be treated as entities established in an Associated Country, if the Horizon Europe association agreement with the third country concerned applies at the time of signature of the grant agreement.

  • low-and middle-income countries

Legal entities which are established in countries not listed above will be eligible for funding if provided for in the specific call conditions, or if their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority.

Specific cases:

  • Affiliated entities - Affiliated entities are eligible for funding if they are established in one of the countries listed above.
  • EU bodies - Legal entities created under EU law may also be eligible to receive funding, unless their basic act states otherwise.
  • International organisations - International European research organisations are eligible to receive funding. Unless their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority, other international organisations are not eligible to receive funding. International organisations with headquarters in a Member State or Associated Country are eligible to receive funding for ‘Training and mobility’actions and when provided for in the specific call conditions.
Project Partner Yes
Project Partner Details

Unless otherwise provided for in the specific call conditions , legal entities forming a consortium are eligible to participate in actions provided that the consortium includes:

  • at least one independent legal entity established in a Member State;and
  • at least two other independent legal entities, each established in different Member States or Associated Countries.
Further info

Proposal page limits and layout:

  • Part A to be filled in directly online  (administrative information, summarised budget, call-specific questions, etc.)
  • Part B to be downloaded from the Portal submission system, completed and re-uploaded as a PDF in the system
Page limit - part B: 45 pages - This call is subject of a two-stage procedure. In the first stage, applicants will be requested to submit only an outline application of 10 pages.
Type of Funding Grants
Financial details
Expected EU contribution per projectThe Commission estimates that an EU contribution of around EUR 7.00 million would allow these outcomes to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of a proposal requesting different amounts.
Indicative budgetThe total indicative budget for the topic is EUR 14.00 million.
Typ of ActionInnovation actions (IA)
Funding rate70% (except for non-profit legal entities, where a rate of up to 100% applies)
Submission Proposals must be submitted electronically via the Funding & Tenders Portal Electronic Submission System. Paper submissions are NOTpossible.

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