The Six City Strategy shares the best urban development practices between Finland’s six largest cities and other actors. The over 80 million euro financing venture encourages the cities and other actors operating within their areas to develop smart service infrastructure and to enhance competitiveness through agile experiments.
 
“In the Six City Strategy quite a decent sum of money is available for doing something together,” Ville Meloni, the programme manager of the Six City Strategy Office says, addressing the attendees of Forum Virium Helsinki’s seminar at the Design Museum.
 
Programme managers Ville Meloni and Sari Luostarinen are presenting a new strategy, which aims to result in six reinvented, open and smart Finnish cities. The Six City Strategy is realised with development funding, and primarily through open calls for project proposals. The funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for the seven-year execution of the strategy is about 80 million euros. Uusimaa Regional Council serves as the authority giving out the ERDF funding. In the Six City Strategy funding is also available from the European Social Fund (ESF); however the total amount for this has not been defined in advance. 
 
“When cities invest one euro in a development project, they’ll get two more back,” Meloni explains the rules of funding.
 
“We are still a long way from every Finn having access to consistent and compatible digital services,” CEO Jarmo Eskelinen says. “That needs to be achieved step by step.”
 
Those little steps are developed as part of the Six City Strategy. The results of the strategy’s implementation projects, such as improved city services, are shared by all the cities and other actors. 
 
Forum Virium Helsinki supports the six cities in the overall coordination of the strategy with a five-person Six City Strategy Office. 
 
Open up the data
 
Open data and interfaces is one of the three focus areas of the Six City Strategy. Helsinki Region Infoshare (HRI), a partnership project of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen, has been a major pioneer in this field.
 
The lessons learned from creating the HRI data catalogue, which already includes over a thousand open data sets, have also been useful for the state administration’s data portal (avoindata.fi). Following the example of the capital region, the state administration has made all public data available through a single online service. 
 
Thanks to the Six City Strategy, the experiences from opening up data in the HRI project can now be leveraged in cities all over the country.
 
“The six cities have made a good start in opening up data. Now we have a chance to learn from each other, as well as develop shared practices and interfaces for application developers,” Ville Meloni states.
 
“With the logic of open data, we hope to speed up the development of municipal information management and service development.”
 
The cornerstone of this logic is the fact that information becomes more valuable when it’s shared. The larger the group of citizens using the information provided by municipalities the better. The Six City Strategy is based on the collaboration of the entire urban community – residents, companies and the public sector. The aim is, for example, to standardize cities’ data interfaces so that the same applications will work in different cities.
 
“The larger the number of potential users, the more enthusiastically companies and residents will utilize the data and develop new services,” says Meloni.
 
Another focus area of the Six City Strategy is open participation. In this focus area, the aim is to develop multi-channel services with a customer and end-user oriented approach. The ultimate goal is a more agile public administration: getting more and better services with the same tax income.
 
“The third and final focus area is open innovation platforms; ways to get companies and residents to participate in city and service development,” Ville Meloni says.
 
Funds for creative urban development 
 
Cities’ finances are currently tight. Even when innovations are needed, they are often postponed due to lack of funds. Hopefully the more than 80 million euro funding for the Six City Strategy will make it easier to start innovative urban development projects. 
 
The biggest challenge is to motivate cities, companies and educational institutions to get involved in hands on development. Ville Meloni calls for a drive for getting things done. “Once we have that, actions will soon speak for themselves,” he says. 
 
Even the funding model encourages collaboration. Funding is given primarily through open calls for proposals to many kinds of projects, and to different kinds of project consortiums. Based on the scoring of the proposals, the management group composed of representatives of the six cities presents the projects selected for funding to Uusimaa Regional Council.
 
“No one can apply for funding alone. There have to be actors from at least two of the six city areas involved,” Meloni explains.
 
The leadership of the six cities discussed the essence of a smart city at the Millennium pavilion in 2014. The event was organized by Forum Virium Helsinki, Fortum, KONE, Nokia, Tekes and Technology Academy Finland.
 
Improving cities’ digital foundations
 
The first meetings with the development and IT staff of the participating cities filled the leaders of the Six City Strategy with enthusiasm.
 
“Lots of innovation oriented people who want to see things happen and feel frustrated with the slow progress in opening up data, for example,” Ville Meloni describes his first impressions.
 
Many cities have added opening up data as part of their official goals. For example, the information management strategy of Vantaa states that all the city’s data systems must have an open and developer friendly interface and data available under an open license.
 
In practice, cities’ information management staff is often in a difficult position. Even though current data systems do work, data is stored behind lock and key in closed systems. This means opening up data is time consuming and municipalities are closely tied to system suppliers.
 
Today the objective is to stop being dependent on suppliers and move towards open interfaces. Cities already aim to build open interfaces into new public data systems as a standard practice. No wonder the IT staff of the six cities of the programme are interested in the results of the Code Fellowship experiment in Helsinki.
 
“It seems that everyone wants to hire Code Fellows now,” Meloni laughs.
 
What will the Six City Strategy achieve in the next five years? The list is long: improving cities’ operating processes, creating new business opportunities for companies, saving taxpayer money with electronic services and making cities’ data systems more compatible.
 
“The digital foundations on which cities’ electronic services will be built will function a lot better within five years,” Meloni predicts.
 
#6aika
 
 
Text: Petja Partanen, Tarinatakomo
Picture: Jyrki Komulainen