According to the Eurobarometer, only 44% of Europeans judged the provision of public services as “good” in February 2021, down by eight points compared to the summer of 2020. A worrying trend considering that the pandemic has put public services under the pump as more and more people rely on them for crucial sustenance and support. While the pandemic has increased online public services – 38% of Europeans used such services in 2020 – the number is low compared to the private sector uptake – 65% of Europeans used online services for their purchases.
As 20% of the €724 billion recovery and resilience fund is dedicated to digital projects, it raises the question of how to use it so that all European citizens can feel the benefits. Part of this question is: are online public services readily accessible and designed with citizens in mind?
“With great budget comes great responsibility,” reads the UserCentriCities policy brief published during the project Summit on 10 November. And “user-centricity does matter – a lot. Services that are not built around user needs are typically not used; hence they represent a bad way to spend public money.” Additional consequences of poorly designed services costs governments credibility and ultimately leads to a lack of trust in official institutions. More importantly, it can “lead to negative social outcomes, including impaired public health, reduced growth, more deeply entrenched poverty and exacerbated inequality.”
Therefore, the work of projects such as UserCentriCities that aim at putting user-centricity into practice at the local level is more important than ever. Sara Mendes from Porto Digital shared Porto’s reasons for joining the project, current plans for user-centricity and how the city plans to take advantage of the project for innovation that benefits everyone.
Why did Porto decide to join the UserCentriCities project?
The President of Porto City Hall says that the citizen and their challenges are always at the centre of innovation and transformation in the city, and he wants to make the city into a living lab.
Porto intends to stand out in the national and international panorama as a city of innovation and creativity. The city wants to become an innovation aggregator, where the municipality functions as a living laboratory. Porto intends to become a place where citizens challenge businesses, entrepreneurs and the administration, and where these exchanges foster real problem solving, positively impacting the city.
We base our work on ‘the innovation in the city’s transformation’, and we want to show the direct impact of innovation on improving citizens’ quality of life. It will also contribute to creating innovative projects within the entrepreneurship area and affect the city’s potential for new developments.
That’s why it’s important for us to join the project.
Could you give an example of user-centricity in Porto?
We created a citizen card. It is a card that identifies its holder as a citizen of the city of Porto and allows them to enjoy a set of advantages and benefits in accessing the experiences and services of the Municipality. In addition to the physical card, we offer a digital platform.
So, this solution combines a physical card with a digital experience offering access to municipal services and interaction tools – from museum tickets to traffic notifications, from cultural events to city maps etc.
This solution guarantees the promotion and integration of municipal services, allowing a quick and effective interaction, appealing to new audiences, and thus developing a greater spirit of citizenship. The card has become an identity symbol for Porto citizens.
The card responded to a specific challenge from an internal department of the municipality. The city analysed the challenge and identified the needs. At the same time, Porto Digital worked with co-creation tools, involving the citizens and technicians of the municipality in the design of the solution that best responded to this challenge.
The pandemic has put extra pressure on good online public services. What impact did it have in Porto?
The Citizen Card was an example because the pandemic brought a lot of questions to create effective interactions and online accessibility and integrate them into as many public services as possible.
The pandemic transformed the city’s relationship with citizens, so we want to create an omnichannel experience. In the long run, the objective would not only be to help citizens but also to anticipate challenges and improve services.
How is Porto working on building trust with its citizens?
As Bostjan Koritnik, Minister of Public Administration of the Republic of Slovenia said at the UserCentriCities Summit: “With digital technologies, trust is a must.” And knowledge brings trust, so it’s essential to give information to the citizens to trust us.
For example, we have the Porto Innovation Hub, which acts as a facilitator of open actions and activities, which promote the principle of co-operation with citizens, employees and managers of the Municipality.
Through the various initiatives, the Porto Innovation Hub proposes the creation of new scenarios and innovation opportunities at an urban scale, contributing to the city’s innovation culture and encouraging the citizen to take part in the innovation.
Porto Digital works with different teams in the municipality to give them tools to bring their projects to life. The final aim of the Hub is to become a platform for the city’s innovation and the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
In Porto, we speak about ‘in-house’ innovation and ‘stepping out’ innovation. ‘In-house’ innovation addresses the redesign of public services. Porto Digital works with colleagues from the municipality – for example, we have workshops in December with about 40 people from the City Hall – to give them a toolbox, an ‘innovation’ mindset, that they can then apply to their projects. ‘Stepping out’ innovation involves citizens and invites them to know more about the city.
What are your expectations from the project?
We are looking forward to running our own ‘UserCentriCafé’ in January or February.
The ‘UserCentriCafé’ is an informal get together where a partner from the project presents a user-centric initiative at a different stage of its development. For example, during the last café, Rotterdam did a live demonstration of its Digital Counter. Espoo presented My Espoo, a single portal for digital services that is still a work in progress. The city picked other partners’ brains for ideas, suggestions and opinions on how their project was coming together.
Through the project’s community, we have already learned a lot, for example, at the Summit.
Porto Digital is an association created by the municipality by the university and by the Business Portuguese Association, meaning it’s not all public. Does that bring a specific mindset to the table?
I think it’s an advantage for us. We have a mindset that is more similar to the one of a start-up. We want the best for our city, so we benchmark many other cities and get inspired by them.