The city of Oulu took part in international Digiplace project during 2019-2022. Oulu´s aim in Digiplace project was to integrate user feedback and citizen participation in the process of digital service creation and maintenance. To get there we needed technical tools for collecting and monitoring user experiences. We also needed to encourage other service units thorough the city to take the methods in use. In addition to better technical solutions, we needed more contacts with citizens and citizen organizations. Not only to understand the different needs of user groups, but also to ensure better support for citizens who have trouble using the services. Based on all this, we have recognized four actions.
During Urbact DigiPlace we made small steps (Small Scale Action or SSAs) to clarify our plan within each action. Based on the results of SSA we outlined an action table for the future. We had the following findings during the Digiplace project.
Oulu area has a good digital ecosystem and digital solutions are being increasingly implemented to services, but we need to get citizens more involved in the process. It is important to continue searching for tools that can enable participation and make feedback easier to give. Monitoring user satisfaction and increasing communication is in many cases easiest and most efficient to achieve trough digital tools.
We need to remember the role of digitalization though: that it is a tool, not an intrinsic goal. It is important to keep a critical mindset and evaluate which service channel serves the customers’ needs best in a particular situation. To create accessible and fitting services, we need to hear the users’ feedback and ideally co-create services to an extent. Moreover, it is important to recognize that users are not a single coherent group but consist of different preferences and levels of ability. Active participation process is needed to ensure that all different needs are met. This way we can develop better digital services. Well designed and developed digital services also help us optimize our resources so that we are still able to provide more traditional service channels to groups that face challenges with digital services or have particularly complicated problems to deal with.
Our action plan is very much about a cultural change in the organization: Our vision is to make the service development process more citizen-centric and to include citizen participation. In addition, we aim to fade lines between service units and create more cooperation to create more coherence in the service structure from the customers’ point of view. To extend this, we also need to network with actors and service providers outside of the city organization.
The cultural change is gradual, and in our action plan we have defined important steps towards it. The city has good premises for this development: we have a new cross-governmental development model for customer service in place, and an actively developing central customer service unit that can act as a test bed and advocate for good practices. Moreover, we have channels to connect companies with citizen participation. The digital ecosystem in the city is already strong, and trough better collaboration between city units and companies, we can bring companies and citizens closer together when looking for development solutions.
Inclusion and digitalization are both big and current themes in city planning and policies. The integrated action plan for citizen-centric digital service development is part of important trends that Oulu needs to be a part of.
Oulu´s results can be read in more detail from “URBACT DigiPlace Integrated Action Plan in Oulu, Finland”