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Roadmap to a better Social Media Governance

16 August 2016

How Social Media can help the collaboration between Public Administration and Citizens

"There is a lot of power in people to self-organise around a specific issue and if they'd like to use technology to mobilise themselves, they should have the capability and the choice to do that.”
Juliana Rotich, founder of Ushahidi, 2011

Interactive Cities explores how digital, social media and user-generated content can improve today’s urban management in European cities of various sizes.

Interactive Cities at work

This challenge is tackled in two ways. Firstly, the network is an opportunity to redefine and deepen the concept of citizenship and civic engagement today, providing a path to spark cohesion and shared values as well as increasing a sense of place. In other words, it allows making the most of the new communication channels to revisit the relationship between the individual and the local community in the digital era. Secondly, the network offers a potential to improve the quality of public services in terms of efficiency and transparency, and to widen the current services provided by local authorities.
Interactive Cities focuses not so much on the technological side of new communication tools but more on how this kind of innovation can be concretely useful for local authorities and urban residents, promoting better urban governance, citizen participation and economic growth resulting from multi-stakeholder cooperation.

The cities involved in the Network look into the opportunities of using social media to improve the governance of urban spaces, resources and services. By launching new platforms, applications or channels to enhance communication between administrations,citizens, knowledge institutions and the private sector or enabling a better use of technologies and solutions already existing on the market (such as social media platforms and apps with relevant urban functions), the network helps the participating cities develop a local ecosystem of social media-based tools in order to better respond to existing and emerging challenges. Highlighting the potentials of the city as a hub for creative exchange of information among various stakeholders is one of the main objectives of the network.

As a matter of fact, the role of social media and digital tools in municipal communication is by no means limited to the transmission of messages by administrations. On the contrary, they potentially serve as bi-directional exchange channels, restructuring not only public communication but also the municipal governance models. Many of the platforms or digital tools that transform the way we live, experience, use and create cities are not initiated by local administrations but civic organisations, research institutions or private enterprises: however, they create important links between public, civic, academic and private stakeholders. The role of public administrations in this process is manifold: besides creating, commissioning or triggering, they also need to accommodate innovation and help all their partners in adapting to economic and social changes by redefining their digital strategies. This requires building up eco-systems of digital communication and knowledge exchange. In order to improve public services and create an innovative milieu with the help of incubators, open data platforms, sharing and exchanging tools, hackathons or competitions, administrations need to help urban actors establish their networks.

Even though there is a growing attention towards the potential benefits of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in our cities, many Public Administrations struggle in making the most of it. Often they collaborate with service providers that deliver very technologically sophisticated but difficult-to-manage products. For this reason, Interactive Cities aims at exploring the benefits of digital communication in cities by using already wide-spread technology: social media. Such approach is relevant not only at local level for everyday practice within cities but also to the European Policy level. In fact, we believe that Interactive Cities can contribute to the development of various European-wide policies.

The European Commission has recognised the potential of such social media usage within its flagship initiatives for Europe 2020 and has elaborated the Digital Agenda. This is one of the seven pillars of the EU 2020 Strategy which sets objectives for the growth of the European Union in the coming years: it proposes to better exploit the potential of ICT in order to foster innovation, economic growth and progress. Social media are hereby seen as valuable tools available for citizens, businesses and administrations to support and reboot Europe’s economy and participatory culture. In fact, Interactive Cities will particularly contribute to enhance digital literacy, ICT skills and the inclusion of marginalised social groups, like youngsters, lower income groups or the elderly, sections of society that often struggle in accessing crucial services and making their voices heard by joining the urban discourse. Interactive Cities seeks to plug into various ongoing European initiatives to promote (especially youth) employment, as those supported by the European Social Fund (ESF). At the same time the project will support the use of smart technologies for society, exploiting the potential offered by the use of ICT in a wide variety of sectors, therefore also tapping into other thematic policies.

Interactive Cities also gives an important role  to Open Data, seen as a valuable tool for fostering innovation and competitiveness. The ownership and capitalisation over the availability of urban data are very sensitive issues, especially in regard to large tech companies like  Facebook or Google, as evident in the case of Vienna, which has not given full access of its mobility data to Google Maps. In order to create a more transparent data management practice, citizen initiatives have developed OpenStreetMap, a platform for open source cartography where citizens can freely upload and edit data under the Creative Commons License. With a very active and diverse debate over Data, today the range of possibilities is extremely wide, and public administrations must be aware of the data management and privacy consequences of their communication strategies. The Interactive Cities will test the potential of Open Data through social media by organising hackathons and other events with the local digital communities.

Very recently, the European Urban Agenda was approved, a document that aims at developing a Europe-wide agenda for the sustainable development of cities, by improving regulation, financial instruments and knowledge. To reach this objective, mixed partnerships of member states, municipalities and thematic stakeholders are working on different topics in order to deliver practical guidance to the Commission on how to improve our cities. The topics are Urban Poverty, Migrant and Refugee Inclusion, Affordable Housing, Air Quality, Circular Economy, Circular economy, Jobs and skills in the local economy, Climate adaptation (including green infrastructure solutions), Energy transition, Sustainable use of land and Nature-Based solutions, Urban mobility, Digital transition and Innovative and responsible Public Procurement. The Interactive Cities network will be able to contribute in particular to the discussion related to Digital Transition, given the specificity of the theme, but also to many of the other themes because of the different ways social media may be applied to them. The Interactive Cities project was present and active during the Amsterdam Summit as some partners presented within the event “We Make Europe! Cities and City Makers enhancing the (Im)Pact of Amsterdam”.

The Interactive Cities network is therefore developing a model potentially transferable to all the cities of the URBACT Community aimed at fostering the creation of local communication ecosystems, meant as a basis for a true participation of citizens and stakeholders around the topics of integrated urban development. The realisation of this model involves different parts of the local authorities and gives them the opportunity to create, through their Local Social Media Governance Plan, networks and links among actors who would not normally interact among each other: developers, institutional stakeholders, different types of residents, influencers, stakeholders of the business and tourism sector, urban planners, social media users and so on. This new concept of using social media, apps and digital platforms can inspire cities that face a wide range of challenges, from the promotion of urban sustainability to integration of migrants and social inclusion. It will show how the mixed use of these tools can contribute to foster the participation of residents and new forms of relation with local authorities, enhancing local democracy and fostering a better governance of urban processes. The Interactive Cities partners have expressed a variety of approaches to the broad theme of digital communication to improve the governance of our cities.

Communicating a city as an attractive tourist destination aims at strengthening its image both locally and internationally. Tourism involves a variety of stakeholders, such as hotels and restaurants, tourist operators, airports and ports authorities, culture institutions, sharing economy stakeholders and many others. Experiments to bring together these stakeholders in creating a common city narrative have been carried by the Social Media Team in Genova, but how to ensure that territorial marketing is substantiated by real quality services in the city? How to make the different stakeholders understand that the improvement of the city has a direct effect on their business? How to coordinate the cooperation of stakeholders within the Administration when so many Departments are involved (Culture, Economic Development, Urbanism…)? How to involve locals and tourists in the promotion of the city through social media? How to design specific use of social media and apps to promote the city and help tourists and city users? All these challenges are shared by Genova, Varna and Alba Iulia.

Communication in the service of business promotion aims at strengthening the city’s  economic conditions through the support of existing and emerging local companies. Local businesses have the potential to animate the local urban tissue and make the city attractive to residents and companies alike, with a variety of already available instruments, such as Business Improvement District of Ghent or the Vital’Quartier program in Paris. The real challenge of these instruments is to reach local businesses, shopkeepers and the wide audience: How to include local business owners in the design of innovative services started by an original use of social media and apps? How to make business, especially small ones, understand the value of teaming up to develop joint communication and a cooperation with their competitors? How to make them acknowledge that the improvement of the city is a direct benefit for them? How to connect universities and other educational actors with future employers? These are the challenges that will be dealt by Semaest in Paris, EDB in Debrecen and Ghent.

Communicating urban development aims at making understandable to a wide audience often very complex technical matters, balancing the involvement of inhabitants in the decision making process and explaining why plans have been approved by the administration. Such participatory processes have been already developed by the Bip/Zip program in Lisbon or the Participatory budgeting program in Tartu, but how to enhance them through the use of social media? How to communicate complex processes without flattening the content? How to create two-way communication channels related to urban development projects? How to ensure that all stakeholders are involved in the decision making process? How to communicate updated information on urban transformation process through social media? As urban planning is a lengthy process, how to pursue the involvement on the long term? As citizens often have many valuable suggestions, how to ensure that input is addressed within the Administration in an effective manner? How to manage a flow of comments/reactions by the users on technical matters? Such challenges will be dealt by Lisbon, Murcia, Palermo and Tartu.

The Integrated Social Media Governance Plan, to be developed by each partner city, will contribute to make urban communication driven by local authorities more efficient in terms of the use of internal and external resources and more capable to harness exchange with their local communities. On a medium term, the aim is to see concrete changes in the way local authorities communicate to citizens and interact with them, providing schemes which make them able to adopt innovative technologies and approaches in a fast and effective way, rapidly adapting their communication to the development and growth needs of an urban area. This is only the beginning and we invite you all to follow our updates on our Facebook page and Twitter account!

For further information please refer to the

Daniela Patti, Levente Polyak, Simone D’Antonio

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