Do it digital

Digitisation is a complex phenomenon, and Turku is working hard to get to grips with the possibilities it is creating and how it’s changing the way people are behaving. “If we’re not doing that,” says Turku mayor Minna Arve, “then we’re creating old fashioned services, and we are on the wrong track.”

That doesn’t mean going full-tilt into the latest fad, however. Arve is conscious of the importance of ensuring access for those with limited digital literacy, “we have to be sure that all our citizens are involved, and they have the know-how and education.”

It is not just a shift in tools, but also a shift in perspective that must come with digitisation, according to Arve. “We have to do those digital services really customer-oriented, not from our administrative point of view. Cities are gathering a load of information, and we have to figure out how to use all this data to improve our citizens everyday lives, to make it smooth.”

The quantity of data collected also means that privacy concerns need to be kept in mind, with cities ensuring that user data is anonymised and gathered with the consent of those whose lives it is to be used to improve.

Arve is also concerned with establishing data standards “not only in one city, but at least at national level, maybe even on the European level.” ‘Standards’ relates to the language software and digital infrastructure speak; if standards are not aligned, cities can find that the technology they use to deliver one service cannot easily communicate with that used by other services. When this happens, your technological solutions are actually locking you into administrative siloes, rather than making a holistic approach more manageable.

Interoperability is key, and Turku is demonstrating this in many projects, including via its single transport card, which allows people to use all of the different types of public transport in Turku, from bike-sharing to water taxis.

The company that developed this card is a Turku startup that is now providing the same service to other cities. This means that opening the data has not only improved lives for citizens, but also spurred business innovation and boosted the local economy.

An open data policy has another important function, according to Arve: “Opening the data should be opening the decision making, making it more transparent.” Thus, if your city says it is going to do something, like becoming carbon neutral, open data lets people see just how you plan to actually achieve it, how the city is allocating resources to this goal.

Knowledge is power, as the old adage goes, and by collecting and opening data, cities can empower themselves and their citizens to create a brighter future.

Anthony Colclough Eurocities Writer