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Study visit in Helsinki

23 June 2017

The City of Helsinki has been at the fore of digital communication in the past decades.

Home of many successful communication and technology companies, as well as research institutions, Helsinki has created an eco-system for innovation and for cooperation between the municipality, the state, private companies and start-ups, research organisations, civic initiatives and citizens.

Exploring this eco-system: this was the ambition of the study visit to Helsinki organised by the Interactive Cities URBACT Action Planning Network. The visit was focusing on the Helsinki Municipality’s strategies for digital communication, participation and user-oriented services. In order to explore these strategies and the related practices, partners in the [IC] network met representatives of a number of municipal departments, as well as municipal companies and connected organisations.

The setting for most of the meetings were provided by Laituri, Helsinki’s Urban Centre that is in the core of the city’s participatory processes. Laituri’s work was introduced by Reetta Heiskanen from Helsinki’s Urban Planning Department, who also explained the city’s procedures for citizen participation in planning and the role digital communication and social media play in it, also highlighting the importance of physical meetings.
Besides citizen participation in urban planning and development, the use of open data was another focus of the meetings. Jarmo Suomisto presented the city’s interactive 3D model system that brings together different kinds of datasets and applies open data. Tanja Lahti from the Helsinki Region Infoshare explained how the municipality opens its datasets and accommodates user-generated data in order to create transparency in the city’s functioning, on one hand, and economic opportunities through providing access to this data, on the other.

Digital communication and services have been an integral part of Helsinki’s strategy to cooperate with different stakeholders, to design better services and to create economic opportunities. Ville Meloni introduced the work of Helsinki Digital Services and the new Helsinki app, followed by Anu Mänttäri from the Economic Development Department who spoke about how the municipality has been recently reorganised and its services rethought through an user-oriented design approach.
To understand the Municipality’s cooperation with other actors, the [IC] network met with representatives of the municipality-owned company Forum Virium: Hanna Niemi-Hugaerts, Pekka Koponen and Sami Sahala explained how innovation is triggered in Helsinki by an ecosystem of public and private actors in the field of mobility and smart development and how public companies act as experimental laboratories to test new strategies, approaches and services before implemented by the municipality.
Throughout the visit, a lot of emphasis has been on education and the empowerment of youth through various mechanisms of cooperation and inclusion in the decision-making. In order to make these mechanisms more tangible, the last visit was organised to the offices of the Ruuti Youth Participatory System where Ville Leino and an elected youth representative explained the programme in which the Helsinki Municipality invites young people aged between 14 and 18 to articulate their needs and represent their age group in decision-making and urban policy.

From Urban Centre and the urban planning department through open data and digital services  to service design and youth participation, the various meetings confirmed an overall municipal strategy in which municipal departments cooperate with each other and with public and private companies, research institutions, civic initiatives and citizens along the key values of equity, social inclusion, transparency, participation and emancipation.

Levente Polyak
Ad Hoc Expert
Interactive Cities