24th Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg, 19-21 March 2013)
Debate on “E-democracy and smart cities” - Smart cities: new technologies serving democracy
Speech by Raimond Tamm, Deputy Mayor of Tartu, Estonia
20 March 2013
Good morning, dear Ladies and Gentlemen.
Please kindly receive warm greetings from the City of Tartu, which is the second largest city in Estonia. Thank you very much for the possibility to participate the debate and share my experiences and points of view regarding E-democracy and smart cities. In my speech I will concentrate mainly on issues related to e-engagement, e-participation and smart electronic and mobile solutions.
Estonia is well-known as one of the most advanced e-societies in the world. As a traditional university city and a city of youth (in fact 50% of our inhabitants are less than 35 years old), the City of Tartu has always targeted to be as innovative as possible in the field of e-solutions and smart city activities. Collaboration between forward-thinking city government and pro-active information and communication technology sector has resulted in rather wide range of e-solutions which are beneficial for local citizens.
Discussion with citizens is essential. It is becoming more and more challenging for our city to raise interest and receive feedback from local citizens. Probably we have the same tendencies also elsewhere. In Tartu we have clearly understood that nowadays, when people are overloaded with various information, it is possible to reach people more easily if the information is also somehow entertaining. Infortainment is actually what people more and more require from public sector in modern world. Therefore we have to address extra efforts and resources to exploit modern technologies that could help us to communicate with citizens more efficiently.
Despite that I have to emphasize that usage of e- and m-solutions should never be an aim on its own. It should also be kept in mind that the e- and m-tools used to involve citizens should be as simple and easy to use as possible. Engagement has to become inseparable part of everyday governance, but the success of the engagement process depends a lot on the choice of proper tools. We have to face the reality that the new generation does exist. The old times we had before the information society will never return. What we also have to acknowledge is the fact that social media gives people remarkably more power. Differenet topics and different target groups require different channels to approach them efficiently. For example to engage younger generation the e- and m-tools are often the most resultive tools to use, but in case of elderly people traditional public face-to-face meetings might work much better than any kind of modern e-applications.
When speaking about e-democracy and usage of e- and m-tools to involve local citizens, the most critical issues are definitely the rate of penetration for internet and mobile phones. Currently it is evident that the penetration of mobile phones is increasing at higher speed compared to internet penetration. Therefore I can foresee that development of mobile services and applications might be in the future the most efficient way to engage citizens.
In case of local municipalities it should be always the main challenge to serve its citizens in the best possible way. Therefore also in Tartu we are continuously working on the modernisation of public services. The main aim is of course to make the public services for the citizens as easily accessible as possible. In Estonia about 80% of the population aged 16-74 years uses the internet and about 71% of households have internet capabilities. There are also more mobile phone contracts than residents in Estonia - 139 contracts per 100 people. Therefore it is of course reasonable in our case to concentrate on development of e- and m-services.
At this point I would like to stress that availability of open data is also one of the critical issues when development of efficient e-solutions is considered. Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from mechanisms of control. Easy and free access to necessary data enables municipalities and our collaboration partners to spend essentially less on the development of e- and m-services.
Because of the given time-frame it is not possible for me to more in detail introduce different e- and m-services that have been implemented in our city, but the services are covering the fields of public parking, public transportation, street lighting, different payments, communication with schools and teachers, library services, city council meetings, neighbourhoodwatch etc. There are also several developments that we currently have in the pipeline. For example electronic information system which could help to involve citizens in law making process and let them initiate draft laws. We have also just started with preparations to implement participatory budgeting process in our city. It means that in the future the citizens of Tartu will have the possibility to decide how to allocate part of municipal budget.
Based on the experience we have received in Estonia, I have to admit that the budgetary restrictions have to some extent affected the realization of e-solutions. Specially in case of smaller municipalities the costs related to designing and piloting of new e- and m-solutions are quite often not reasonable compared to the expected benefits. In my opinion there is a need to concentrate on more centralized development of e- and m-tools which could be later on adapted by different municipalities with essentially lower and affordable costs.
Therefore I would like to highlight one of our recent developments, which enables our city to work with the smart city concept even more systematically and intensively. In 2012 a new cluster called Smart City Lab was established in Tartu. The cluster is designed to create in Tartu an innovative environment which will boost the competitive ability of companies by bringing together businesses, citizens, public authorities, R&D institutes and structures that support innovation. Smart City Lab operates as a test centre or so-called living laboratory. The main activities comprise of planning, testing and implementation of a range of e- and m-applications. The solutions created will all be scalable and will eventually be introduced in other towns and cities elsewhere around the world.
Currently I would like to point out some of the cluster activities which are also related to the present debate. For the first we have started with mapping and analysis of the public services offered in the City of Tartu. Following the first discussions we have agreed to concentrate on development activities related to contemporary technical networks and infrastructure, intelligent transport solutions, digital TV solutions, e- and m-services related to tourism and urban life and last but not least inclusive and effective governance services. The development activities are conduction of survey, development of demo solutions and initial testing in the Living Lab. The creation of the Living Lab is in progress and the aim is to reach a diverse community of at least 1000 registered users. As we have all together in Tartu 100 000 inhabitants, we are trying to involve at least 1% of the population in the Living Lab.
Learning from each other experiences is another reasonable way to introduce new e- and m-solutions. Recently our city participated in an international project “eCitizen II – Towards citizen-centered eGovernment in European cities and regions”. The main aim of the project was to support European cities and regions in their joint efforts to accelerate eGovernment through exploiting established networks, gained experiences and good practices. Improved interaction between citizens and public authorities and better involvment of citizens in local decision-making was also targeted in the frame of the project. One of the main outcomes of the project is PanEuropean Best Practice Manual on eParticipation. In this tool eParticipation practitioners all over the Europe share their best practices about the eParticipation processes and tools implementation in the European cities and regions. All cities are welcomed to upload their own case study and share experiences with other experts. The online manual is publicly available on www.eparticipation.eu.
As my last statement, I would like to point out that also political support measures addressed to designing, piloting and implementation of e-solutions could help to accelerate the process and finally will result in active, well-informed, participative and happy citizens. The possibilities are all in our hands.
Thank you for your kind attention. Please remember that you are always welcome in the City of Tartu.