Digital Divide Observatories by European cities

27 October 2022

Not every city in Europe can afford to take part in discussions on digital transition and transformation – some municipalities don’t have the time or the means to work on such important topics.

Therefore, networks such as the Eurocities Digital Forum and projects such as Living-in.EU, CitiMeasure and UserCentriCities (UCC), are of the utmost importance to help cities achieve their goals while also collaborating, learning with and from others, teaching, sharing experience and learning from each other’s mistakes.

Digital projects

One such case, that of Bordeaux, is a perfect example.

A dream becoming a project

Sophie Woodville, Project Manager Open Innovation, Bordeaux Metropole
Sophie Woodville, Project Manager Open Innovation, Bordeaux Metropole

During the Eurocities Digital Forum, Sophie Woodville, Digital Policy Officer, Bordeaux Metropolitan Area, proposed the creation of local observatories of the digital divide “to work together as a community of cities for the benefit of the larger community out there. And, at the end of the day, for all the citizens in Europe who are being left out of the digital era. A project to address the issue of Digital divide at European level.”

She notes that everyone present at the event was privileged as they all had “the resources and the time to meet and share, to maintain this link between us, to build new and exciting projects. We have been able to do this because our cities have developed a culture around this topic, because our mayors and our institutions are showing an interest in the matter and because our citizens pay attention.”

The project was immediately embraced by the cities of Ghent and Barcelona.

Joan Batlle, Project Coordinator at the Department of International Relations of the City of Barcelona, explains that his city has already set up a digital divide observatory. “This helped us to understand what we needed to work on in order to fight the digital divide, and what kind of digital divide we had. Thanks to this, we set up a pilot project ‘Connectem Barcelona’ together with colleagues from the Department of Social Rights.”

The Bordeaux project, he further explained, “can help us to consolidate the observatory, as well as to synchronise with other urban observatories. Together we can make better progress. We are now waiting for Bordeaux to send us more information to see how we can contribute. But the interest is undoubted.”

Finding solutions and sharing experiences

And the feeling is also mutual in Ghent. Maria Euwema, Manager Digital Inclusion, Work & Labour Department, City of Ghent, explained that she went to Madrid “hoping to find other cities working on the theme of digital inclusion. Since Ghent is a front-runner in Belgium, it is interesting for us to see how other European cities are handling all the problems that come with this theme.

We already take on this role in Flanders. What the digital divide looks like on a local level. Personally, I’m very interested in the subject of training social workers, as it is part of my projects. So we were really happy with Bordeaux’s very concrete question.”

Maria Euwema, Deputy Executive Digitalisation Digibank U-Connect, City of Ghent
Maria Euwema, Deputy Executive Digitalisation Digibank U-Connect, City of Ghent

And Ghent’s expectations are high. The city hopes to share experiences with other (and larger) cities that are already a bit further ahead, like Ghent, and are working on the same issues so that “together we can reinforce our own digital inclusion programmes, and also share our experience with cities that are just starting,” said Euwema.

She added that “we have 15 years of expertise, so as Laia Bonet, Deputy Mayor of Barcelona said, ‘we have the knowledge, we have the tools, but we need structural funding on a European level.’ It would be a very valuable extra to have more impact on the European agenda if we combine our forces as cities.”

And Euwema’s remarks were welcomed by Woodville, who noted that “we know that not every city in Europe is in the same situation. We know that most of them know very little, or nothing, about this topic. With this privilege comes responsibilities. Until now, only a few cities have developed policies and expertise to reduce the digital divide. Most cities need incentives and opportunities to start their own agenda, learn from others and receive kick-start funding before they develop their own budget and framework on this topic.”

A project becoming a reality

Therefore, the main objectives of Bordeaux’s proposal are:

  • Advocating before the European Commission for a framework of cooperation on the digital divide
  • Targeting specific funding so that additional resources are deployed on these topics, in the form of calls for projects

And they have outlined two projects that may involve several cities:

  • the funding of local city observatories: “Cities need to understand how the digital divide is taking shape among their population in order to address it.  Nevertheless, analysing the digital divide, even at a local level, is a project that requires expertise, time, and money, and many cities do not even think of it because they lack the means, and the guidance to know how to do it. We believe this is a type of project that could be supported at the European level: a framework for analysis, a sharable tool to help cities create their own observatory of the digital divide.”
  • the outlining of a training curriculum: “Another issue for most cities is about the training of our social workers and digital trainers. They are our boots on the ground and are doing every day tremendous work. But the training of these trainers is not adapted, we need to be able to implement relevant training and guidance for social workers who will have to solve digital skill issues in their daily context. The main issue is that there is no existing description of what a training curriculum for digital divide counsellors should be. A European skills grid and training description could be funded by the EU and would help cities tackle the divide. ”

Bordeaux’s goal is to create a funding line for a pilot project with selected cities, coordinated with other existing initiatives such as Living-in.EU or the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights, in order to contribute to help to bridge the digital divide at a European level.

Eurocities’ EU-funded project CitiMeasure supports the application of ‘citizen science,’ where local people collect data on their environment. The project will create smart, sustainable and inclusive cities by developing three instruments: An inventory to support comparability between air quality initiatives; instructions to safeguard inclusivity for measurement initiatives; and guidelines to support the development of policy recommendations with the insights of initiatives.

Eurocities’ EU-funded UCC provides a platform for local authorities to compare performances and share lessons on user-centricity and helps cities implement the principles of e-governance.

Eurocities’ EU project for governance, Living-in.EU, will bring together European efforts on finance, technology, legislation, education and capacity building, and monitoring and measuring.


Raphael Garcia Eurocities Writer