Cities are finding ways to make the most of their digital tools to help people access public services more smoothly, participate in local decisions, and propose ideas. Until now, their work has passed under the radar. This is about to change, as the UserCentriCities project is getting ready to crown the first winner of the award for best user-centric service in European cities and regions.
The award aims to raise awareness and recognise the outstanding achievements made by European cities and regions in developing user-centric services for their citizens. A high-level group of experts from international institutions, the public sector and academia had the difficult task of looking at 32 submitted projects. Their evaluation was based on the user-centricity principles for the design and the delivery of digital public services as outlined in the Tallinn Ministerial Declaration on eGovernment. Three finalists stood out.
Helmet.fi Web Library – Espoo
The culture sector has taken one of the biggest hits during the Covid-19 pandemic, yet it has also been one of the most reactive, bringing culture to the people through online services. Espoo’s libraries had gone digital well before the health crisis. Since 2012, the city has involved its citizens in ideating, designing, beta-testing, and giving continuous feedback on their dreams’ electronic library (e-library).
The result is a joint e-library service catering to over a million residents in Espoo, Helsinki, Kauniainen and Vantaa. The service is available in multiple languages, such as English, Finnish, and Swedish, and can be accessed through the Taskukirjasto-application, which means Pocket library in Finnish.
From e-books to e-magazines to music and training courses, the over three million items catalogue is free and open to everyone. Users can browse and renew their loans through their account, reserve library materials, save their reading histories and checklists, rate library materials, save search phrases, and update contact information.
Helmet.fi is an excellent example of digital services complimenting the offline offer, increasing possibilities for learning and cultural experiences. It makes library services more flexible and accessible to more people. Of the 30 million visits to Helmet libraries per year, 17 million are online, and a survey from the city revealed that the app can boast a 98% acceptance rate among citizens
Pre-Primary Education Allocation (Proactive) – Helsinki
Most parents know what it means to struggle to find and apply for pre-primary education. In Helsinki, they are getting a hand. They receive a text message offering allocation in a nearby pre-school and can accept the proposal by responding to the SMS. Compared to an app, this solution takes into account different digital literacy levels and connection accessibility. It also is extremely simple to replicate since it only involves sending a text message.
By removing the need to fill in forms, make calls to pre-primary education providers and process applications, the city is making life and work easier for parents and day-care centre directors alike. A child’s application is confirmed in minutes rather than weeks.
The offer is a proposal, which means parents are under no obligation to accept it, and they can choose a different option. Since 2021 the service can be used anywhere in Helsinki, and in January of that year, 5,591 families received text messages suggesting pre-primary education places for their children. Nine out of ten families accepted the offer.
“In the future, Helsinki aims to offer an increasing number of its services proactively and automatically, or at least to make personalised service suggestions,” says Mikko Rusama, Helsinki’s Chief Digital Officer. “The proactive operating model should be utilised especially in statutory services to which residents are entitled. Proactiveness and personalised services save time and money for everyone.”
Helsinki wants to facilitate the day-to-day lives of residents, and to do so, it aims at anticipating their service needs and providing them at all times without binding them to specific schedules or service points.
Mijn Rotterdam (My Rotterdam) – Rotterdam
Rotterdam’s digital solution aims to bring the neighbourhood feel online. Mijn Rotterdam is a digital meeting place where Rotterdammers, can participate, discuss and decide what is crucial for them.
What projects exist in your neighbourhood? Can you get involved? Do you want to propose a project? All this is possible with Mijn Rotterdam. Starting from its name, the platform was created with direct support and input from residents and has been operational for the past year.
By accessing the information on Mijn Rotterdam, residents are better informed about what’s happening and how they can participate, therefore giving them more control over policy- and decision making at the local level.
Users of the platform can give their opinion through polls, propose ideas and vote on existing ones, read news about the city and its projects, organise meetings, and apply for funding for their project ideas. With increased participation, residents will also feel a stronger sense of ownership and belonging to their neighbourhood and the city.
Mijn Rotterdam will keep evolving, always keeping the growing needs of Rotterdammers in mind. As a participation tool, new features will be added to the platform continuously.
Other forms of user-centricity
While we wait to know which of the three finalists will win the UserCentriCities Award – the winner will be announced during the UserCentriCities ceremony in Espoo on 7 June – more inspiring examples can be found on the User-Centric Services Repository, a unique online inventory of best practices. Get inspired by more solutions, and maybe next year you’ll want to submit your service for the UserCentriCities Awards.
For more information about UserCentriCities and how to join, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org