Technology to the rescue

16 December 2022

Kyiv has been relentlessly operating and delivering services to its local population throughout the nine months-long conflict with Russia. For its ability to adapt and efficiency, the Ukrainian capital has become a modern symbol of resilience and courage.

For a large part, this adaptation is taking place online. Five years ago, Kyiv launched a broad digital strategy whose rolling development has been accelerated by the war. Petro Olenych, Deputy Mayor and Chief Digital Transformation Officer in Kyiv, says that the city has adjusted its digital services to keep the government running and provide trustworthy information to residents to avoid mass panic.

An app to save lives

Since the onset of the conflict with Russia in February 2022, Kyiv has adapted its online systems to allow citizens to access government services that ultimately help to save thousands of lives. Some examples are air raid alerts, humanitarian aid, housing and public utilities.

Oleg Polovynko, Chief Information Officer of Kyiv, at the UserCentriCities Summit

The Kyiv Digital app works as a smart city ecosystem. In case of an air attack, for example, the app provides real-time information to residents, instructions on where they can find shelter and how they should behave in this situation.

To this date, Kyiv Digital boasts two million users, almost all of the city’s adult population. In Olenych’s words, “Kyiv Digital City is a cornerstone of critical national infrastructure and trusted scale proposition for the country”.

Oleg Polovynko, Chief Information Officer of Kyiv, advises other cities on how to anticipate citizens’ needs and test services beforehand. This is essential to help manage a crisis and save lives during a war, natural disasters, and other dangerous situations. “If you start early, you save lives in the future,” he adds.

When it was first launched in peaceful times, Kyiv Digital’s goal was far from offering help in times of war. Since 2017, the scheme has developed a comprehensive approach with an array of online services. Among them is  LoRaWan, a network of CCTV cameras that, Olenych says, “improves the fight against crime and makes the city safer.”

Other services range from smart parking options to e-governance initiatives such as public budgeting projects.

Petro Olenych, deputy mayor and chief digital transformation officer in Kyiv, at the UserCentriCities Summit

From adaptation to transformation

Elsewhere in Europe, southern Spain offers a different story on adaptation. Nuria Espuny i Salvadò, Director General for Digital Transformation and Organisation in the Catalan Government, says that digitalisation inspired a journey to transforming the administration.

The task is not just about digital conversion but an overall transformation, Espuny i Salvadò explains: “The key point of this is not technology, but change. Change in how we deliver services, change in how we use data and change in our thinking.” The main goal is to change the mindset inside their organisation and all public administration, she adds.

With this in mind, Catalonia’s approach to digital government is based on redesigning all of its processes, using new methodologies, co-creation design and making the most of this data. The aim is to create real user-centric and proactive services, meaning delivering the assistance to people in need (personalised) when they need it (proactively).

In 2019, the government developed an extensive data study to find a correlation between the services that residents requested and the time in which they did so. Even though a data bias due to local and sectorial procedures weakened the report, the study found some valuable correlations that helped to create the first proactive services, such as application alerts for grants, public job offers, and pre-fill forms.

Gather and share data

Municipalities are now focussing on an additional step, that of creating a secure database that can be shared and reused within the local administration to provide more proactive services to the local population.

Speakers and participants at the UserCentriCities Summit

Thomas Lehtinen, Helsinki’s Head of Data, showcases the Finnish capital’s experience in turning from a reactive to a proactive city on citizen’s terms.

National laws require Finnish municipalities to provide 535 mandatory services; Helinski delivers an extra 200-300 of them, ranging from healthcare to rule enforcement and inspections.

Some of these services have been gathering data for almost 30 years, making the Finnish capital a pioneer in proactive service delivery. An example is Helsinki’s pre-primary education allocation service, winner of the 2022 UserCentriCities Award. Since 2021, the city has sent parents pre-primary education allocation proactively through text messages, saving time, easing the process and avoiding bureaucracy.

“Data provides more value when utilised. On the other hand, data collected with great effort but unused is the most expensive kind of data”, points out Lehtinen.

These practices from the Catalonian government and Helsinki are highlighted in the policy brief ‘Help Where It’s Most Needed: How Leading Administrations are Using ‘Proactive Public-Service Delivery’ to Aid Citizens’. UserCentriCities officially launched the document at the 2022 UserCentriCities Summit.

The 2022 UserCentriCities Summit featured city chief information officers, digital government experts and policymakers to share experiences, analyse evidence and brainstorm together at the cutting edge of digital government and the crucial role of cities and regions.

Participants discussed how governments increasingly rely on digital technologies to provide proactive assistance to residents, particularly those most in need, and to make services more accessible and responsive.


Marta Buces Eurocities Writer