The three finalists of the UserCentriCities awards have been announced, and tomorrow we’ll know the winner. In the meantime, Murcia’s Digital Officer, Kasper van Hout tells us why it is important that cities participate in such an award and what they can gain from it, even without winning.
The UserCentriCities Award is the first of its kind. Why should it exist?
I think it’s important, not so much the award itself, which is a recognition, but that we highlight many good practices through the process and the ceremony. It’s not just about the winner, but about everyone who participates.
It’s a positive way of sharing knowledge and gathering interest in the topic and the work that cities are doing. It also has the potential to reach people in general, outside of the project partners and institutions. And that’s just fantastic because the work that we do is for them and their benefit.
Has Murcia submitted their projects?
We have submitted three projects.
The first is a streaming platform, like Netflix, where users access audiovisual material free of charge. It showcases content uploaded by local musicians, artists, creators, and designers. The content is either the result of projects promoted by the municipality, or it was submitted by their creators and must go through a review process.
Another project is our participatory budget. Typical participatory budgets allocate a sum, for example, a few million. Based on surveys with the citizens, they distribute this sum to different sectors based on the percentage of answers. For example, if 30% of respondents think mobility is a priority, 30% of the budget will go to projects related to mobility. That’s not how you should do a participatory budget, in our opinion.
We published a call for ideas. The proposals could cover the whole extent of the city or be as localised as a neighbourhood. We allocated €5.2 million and received over 950 submissions, with more than 300 eligible projects. Then, citizens vote for the initiatives they want to be implemented.
We are trying to make the best of these ideas because they will make people’s neighbourhoods and day-to-day lives better. It’s an excellent way to get citizens involved.
The third one we submitted is our city app, TuMurcia, but I don’t reckon that we’ll win any prizes for it. It’s a good city app, but all my colleagues have their city apps. The approaches may differ slightly or offer different services, but most cities have something comparable.
You spoke about how your projects allow citizens to participate in decisions. Is there a difference between citizen participation and user-centricity?
Citizen participation and engagement are processes that can be applied to almost anything. They are about the city interacting with citizens for decision making and planning. Technology allows us, as cities, regional and national governments, to connect more easily with our citizens compared to 40 or 60 years ago.
User-centricity is more specific. It means to design the services you provide as a municipality based on the user’s point of view, needs and knowledge. A service is considered user-centric if it’s as easy as possible for the user, if it does what it’s supposed to do, and if the user has a good experience.
As part of the design process, you can organise citizen participation activities, like a working group, an evaluation panel, or a test group for a beta version. Engagement is a part of user-centricity, but user-centricity is about the philosophy and how municipalities design the services.
So, how are your projects user-centric?
For example, we had a control group that tested the beta version for the streaming platform. We asked them if it was appealing, clear and well structured.
For the city app, we looked for similar input. How easy is it to use? Is it intuitive? Because you can put many features that may not be useful while missing one everybody needs. You must engage and test before you release an app; otherwise, you might launch something that doesn’t meet people’s needs and requirements, and they’ll deinstall it right away.
In UserCentriCities, we try to expand this thinking to everything cities offer. We have to improve our services. For example, we can improve how accessible the information is for people on public transport.
What’s Murcia’s role in UserCentriCities? And why did you join?
We decided to join because this is one of the topics we are interested in as a city. We are already part of the Eurocities Digital Forum and the Digital Citizenship Working Group. We are also partners in the CitiMeasure project on citizen science, and we published our smart city strategy. We are working on our digital transition. As the seventh biggest city in Spain and the regional capital, with almost half a million inhabitants, we feel the responsibility to be at the forefront of these issues.
In the project, we actively contribute to all the project deliverables and have been one of the first cities to fill in the good practice catalogue. We have worked directly on the Tallinn declaration to make it more tangible and applicable to local services and the local context. This served as a base to select the indicators used in the dashboard that we are about to launch.
What’s the dashboard? And what’s its purpose?
The dashboard is a set of indicators that compare cities’ user-centricity.
Each city selects ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘doesn’t apply’ for each indicator. This gives them a sense of how accomplished they are. The indicators can be expanded or changed in the future, but we chose them because we find them the most relevant to measuring user-centricity.
Cities can compare their performance and maybe see where they are doing great or lagging a bit behind. It also allows them to see which cities excel and ask for or offer help depending on their experience. It’s not to create competition. It’s a tool to see where cities can learn from each other.
You mentioned the good practices repository, which has recently been launched. The idea is to collect as many good practices as possible during the project’s lifetime. How would you invite other cities to submit their initiatives?
Information is power. Knowledge is power. Cities should be interested in what’s going on in the repository. They should be curious to see what other cities are working on. And once they read some good practices, a little light will turn on and they’ll realise “Oh, my city also has something interesting I could share here”.
In the general European context, many colleagues see it that way. As cities, we face the same problems in slightly different contexts. That’s why sharing knowledge and good practices is essential.
If you contact any of us on any example, we’ll be happy to provide more information or the blueprints. We would be glad to talk about how we did it and why. We want to grow, and the more cities are willing to collaborate or give input, the better.
Can you share some learning points and expectations for the project’s future?
Through the project, we saw the need to revise our services internally. It will be a long process, but we’ve started it by creating an internal working group at the municipal level.
We also realised we need policy change. We might have to suggest changes to internal procedures, protocols or regulations.
In terms of expectations, we want the project to grow. I see the positive synergies that we are creating between partners and cities that want to follow the project.
And we’re also looking forward to the first in-person meeting we’ll have on 7 June in Espoo at the awards ceremony.