Code for Poland event in a business incubator, STARTER. Photo credit: Jerzy Pinkas / gdansk.pl

The glass city hall

The openness policy of Gdansk was an idea of the city’s late mayor, Paweł Adamowicz, who five years ago initiated a move for the city hall to be more transparent to citizens.

“It was a very bold and courageous political decision because no one could predict whether it would be good or bad for the city,” says Krzysztof Garski, an expert on open data in the IT department of the city hall of Gdansk.

“But after assessing the risks, we decided to go for it,” Garski continues. “It worked well because it built trust with citizens.”

It was a very bold and courageous political decision because no one could predict whether it would be good or bad for the city
— Krzysztof Garski, an expert on open data in the IT department of the city hall of Gdansk

Clear communication

Founded on a few pillars (transparency, technology, education) the mayor’s ambition for the openness policy was to give people better access to information on the workings of the city hall. This has included, for example, publishing a daily register of all invoices and expenses made by the city hall, no matter whether it concerns buying pencils or investing in sports activities for children.

“People were becoming more and more active on social media, the internet, and the feeling was that the city needed to adjust, be ready to communicate with citizens in a new, more open way,” says Garski.

Indeed, as Garski comments, “this was a big thing for the mayor: working with citizens.”

Essentially, all of this means making use of, and making available, various sources of open data, and necessitates a determined investment from across many city departments.

By sharing datasets whenever possible citizens can ask questions and answers are provided directly by the city on a dedicated portal. For example, the city expenditures mentioned above are published in an interactive, graphical and easy-to-understand manner. And the raw data can also be made available for those who want it.

This was a big thing for the mayor: working with citizens
— Krzysztof Garski

The city has also developed its own web applications to show the possibilities of open data but prefers to encourage independent IT professionals and private companies to do so, believing they have better know-how on making this user-friendly. Such apps make it easier for residents to find where they can plant a tree in the city or see when the next bus is due.

The city is always careful to ensure that anything linked to personal data is excluded from aspects of the openness policy. The very idea of using open data is a way to increase transparency, public trust and efficiency of service delivery by involving citizens in policy developments and allowing them to see what is at stake. Residents now have a more direct connection with the city and its elected representatives.

According to Garski, “we have information on things like the real estate market – for example exact transaction prices, exact locations, but we do not disclose this data because it could be traceable.”

The aim is always to make city services that bit better. One initiative, known as the Crunch project, is doing just this. The city council is collaborating with the local technical university and the Olivia Business Centre to understand how water, energy and food resources can be managed efficiently and interlinked.

“For us, it is the first time of collaborating in this way” says Garski. This has involved the construction of an experimental pavilion, which will test solutions for the sustainable management of resources. The pavilion will be equipped with numerous sensors to monitor the consumption of resources or energy generation. All sensor data sharing will be in the form of open data.

Paweł Adamowicz (photo credit Grzegorz Mehring / gdansk.pl)
A screenshot from ztm.trojmiasto.pl - the most popular news outlet in Gdansk and the region, which made use of real-time open data on timetables
What Works Cities meeting in Gdansk - experts from Michael Bloomberg's foundation visited Gdansk to discuss data management issues with the city hall staff (photo credit Grzegorz Mehring gdansk.pl)

Next steps

Going forwards, the city hopes to strengthen links to its activities in the area of open data and citizen engagement.

More than 3,000 inhabitants participated in the roundtables organised by the city on a future Gdansk 2030 strategy. Among other initiatives, there were civic panels held with residents and experts to discuss topics like climate change and a participatory budget.

Children were also invited to participate in the public consultation. The city organised roundtables to discuss problems and vote for possible solutions together with residents, but also experts, members of the scientific community and the city hall.

As far as the use of open data is concerned, according to Garski, “the next stage is to offer information on available parking spaces as well as traffic congestion.”

More partnerships, such as mentioned above in the Crunch project, and developing useful apps together with the IT community from city data, are also in the future planning.

And reaching out to new audiences: Garski is ready to share his knowledge in schools, for example, by teaching about how the city monitors air quality (although this project was put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic). And the city is reaching out to older people, to give them the capacity to make use of new technologies.

Now, five years after the policy was first enacted by Paweł Adamowicz, Garski says that making use of open data, sharing it, and using it to improve services for people, has become a normal part of the day to day work of the city hall. Not a bad legacy.

Author:
Alex Godson Media Coordinator

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