Arnis Gulbis is the Director of Riga Digital Agency, established in 2022 to support and promote the digital transformation processes of the municipality, providing innovative, high-quality and safe information and communication technology services.
Ahead of next week’s Digital Forum meeting, the Eurocities team sat down with him to discuss Riga’s smart city journey.
How is the Riga City Council Digital Agency improving digital services and driving innovation for the citizens of Riga?
Riga City Council recognises the importance of digital transformation. In 2022, the new Riga Digital Agency was established to modernise and streamline government processes by implementing digital technologies, such as online platforms, e-services, and data analytics.
As such, Riga Digital Agency focuses on enhancing the quality and accessibility of government services for citizens. This includes the creation of user-friendly websites and mobile apps for various municipal services, enabling online transactions, and eventually providing self-service options for residents.
Riga Digital Agency aims to foster innovation within the government, promoting the development of new digital solutions that can improve efficiency and effectiveness. This may involve partnerships with tech startups or research institutions as well as close cooperation with all municipal departments.
Data-driven decision making is also one of the core elements. Riga Digital Agency has started an active process to collect, analyse, and further share data that can inform decision-making processes, allowing city officials to respond more effectively to the community’s needs.
To promote transparency and accountability, Riga Digital Agency fosters that the government data becomes more available to the public in open formats, allowing citizens and businesses to use the data for various purposes.
Considering a very volatile geopolitical situation with Russia as an aggressor being our neighbour – cybersecurity and protecting citizens’ personal data and government systems from cyber threats is a priority. Riga Digital Agency collaborates with IT security experts to ensure robust and agile cybersecurity measures are in place.
Riga Digital Agency also works on smart city initiatives to enhance urban living through technologies like IoT (Internet of Things) sensors, data analytics, leading and coordinating the initiative of 5G for smart communities on the local level.
What is Riga doing to create testing grounds and living labs for green technologies, and how do you see the agency’s role in promoting sustainability in the city?
Riga City Council, as a member of the EU’s Mission “100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030” has established three pilot territories (at VEF, Torņakalns un Ķīpsala) for startups to test innovative projects to showcase green technologies. These areas serve as living labs for sustainability solutions, attracting startups and researchers. Projects involve creating Positive Energy Districts with multi-sectoral smart solutions, various smart mobility pilots and new innovations for education. Riga also has created an Innovation Fund intended for projects, programs and events of municipal institutions to support the implementation of innovative ideas to improve and modernise already existing municipal services.
How does the Riga City Council Digital Agency ensure the availability, security, and effective use of data in its digital initiatives for a smart city?
To the availability, security, and effective use of data in its digital initiatives for a smart city, the Riga City Council Digital Agency has started the implementation of a comprehensive data governance and management strategy. General approaches that we have decided to adopt different aspects.
For example, we are establishing a clear data governance framework that defines roles, responsibilities, and processes for data management. This framework will include data collection, storage, sharing, and access control policies. Fostering data sharing and collaboration between different municipal departments, agencies, and stakeholders will improve the effectiveness of smart city initiatives and promote data-driven decision-making.
We want to ensure data availability, accessibility, and privacy, making it available to authorised users when needed. This involves designing data architectures that support real-time access and ensuring that data is stored in a structured and organised manner, complying with relevant data privacy laws and regulations.
How do you envision Riga’s role in Europe’s digital decade and its contributions to a sustainable Europe through new, green, digital technologies and initiatives?
In our opinion, all the European municipalities have a pivotal role in Europe’s Digital Decade and its vision of a sustainable Europe. Cities are on the front lines of delivering public services, implementing innovative solutions, and fostering collaboration within their communities. By embracing digital technologies and sustainability initiatives, municipalities will contribute significantly to the EU’s broader green and digital transformation goals. For example, Riga city is aspiring to lead the way for digital transformation and development of public services on the national level, making them more efficient, user-friendly, and sustainable. This includes online services for permits, licenses, and payments, as well as e-government platforms that enhance citizen engagement. To ensure that the benefits of the digital decade are accessible to all citizens, Riga City is also looking to promote digital inclusion efforts, providing digital literacy by training, bridging the digital divide, and ensuring that vulnerable populations have access to digital services and technologies.
What are your expectations from the Eurocities Digital Forum meeting in Riga?
The main expectations of Riga city experts and politicians at the Eurocities Digital Forum meeting in Riga are diverse. We look forward to learning, networking, and finding ways to enhance Riga City’s development, policies, and sustainability efforts. We look forward to gaining insights and knowledge about best practices, innovative solutions, and successful case studies from other European cities. We are also very keen to learn from Eurocities peers’ experiences to improve our city’s policies and initiatives.
DAF 2023 will have valuable opportunities for networking and building relationships between city officials, experts, and stakeholders. Ideally, new long-term collaborations will be established, and ideas shared for future cooperation on projects or policy developments.
The Eurocities Digital Forum meeting will take place in Riga between 27-29 September 2023. Find the agenda and all the relevant information here.