Building a smart and open city

In April Forum Virium Helsinki gave a review of its current operations at an event held at Design Museum in Helsinki. The agenda of the event included the ongoing preparation of the 6Aika Strategy to be shared by the six largest cities of Finland; the latest news about the Fiksu Kalasatama (“Smart Kalasatama”) project; new digital tools to promote democracy developed in the D-CENT project; the Code for Europe fellowship programme; opportunities for multiple uses of the travel card and street displays; and a growth coaching programme targeted at growth-oriented small and medium enterprises. 

Building an open city
Forum Virium Helsinki realizes the City of Helsinki strategy programme. One of the important pillars of this programme is Open Helsinki to strengthen democracy and participation. Pauliina Smeds of Forum Virium Helsinki said in her presentation that the pioneering work with open data carried out in the Helsinki Region Infoshare (HRI) project is one of the important contributions of Forum Virium Helsinki to meet the goals of Open Helsinki. Also notable is HRI’s success in integrating itself into city operations. Established as a temporary project, HRI’s project phase has now been closed.

Further, Open Helsinki has been promoted by increasing the transparency of decision making. Open Helsinki has taken important steps forward with an open interface to the City decision making system and with applications that allow anyone to browse City decisions including Ahjo Explorer. The main coder for the open interface to the City decision making system was Juha Yrjölä, a Code Fellow at Forum Virium Helsinki in the Code for Europe fellowship programme.

Forum Virium Helsinki’s EU coordinator Marja Mattila reviewed the possibilities of the Code for Europe fellowship programme and how the programme has been used successfully to introduce developers into the City organization as change agents.

The Code for Europe fellowship programme has helped the City organization to manage technological change by bringing totally new type of know-how into the organization. The fellowship programme is now being expanded into Code4Finland, a programme joined by the Ministry of Transport and Communications. All solutions produced by a Code Fellow are based on open source code, and key to the programme is promotion of open approaches.

The City’s development unit
Communications and Development Director Pauliina Smeds said in her presentation that Forum Virium Helsinki could be described as a tool for the City to promote innovation, also in areas that are not entirely clear. Forum Virium Helsinki’s projects seek to put all competencies of the City community to the most productive uses, and Forum Virium Helsinki strives to produce innovations that are progressive even on an international scale. In addition to Helsinki Region Infoshare, the Open Helsinki theme embraces projects like CitySDK, which has taken many pioneering steps. The cities participating in CitySDK have developed shared operation models and introduced shared open interface standards. The goals are to accelerate the City’s development cycle and to promote the culture of experimentation with various projects.

Working towards Smart Kalasatama
One area where to promote the culture of experimentation is in Kalasatama. Project Manager Veera Mustonen told the audience about Fiksu Kalasatama (“Smart Kalasatama”), a model district for smart urban development. Kalasatama is a test ground for smart and sustainable solutions for everyday urban living as well as for creating a low-threshold experimentation and development environment. The district’s current and future residents, as well as representatives of local businesses, have already been recruited to formulate ideas for their own areas.

The Smart Kalasatama project involves some of the key players of the Helsinki City Group and a group of enterprises with development activities in the district. Smart Kalasatama is the first pilot site of the Witty City programme of Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation.


Joonas Pekkanen talking about the D-CENT project at Design Museum on 17 March 2014

New tools for self-organization and participation
In addition to promoting pioneering work with open data and transparency in decision making, Forum Virium Helsinki is involved in a project to create new tools for online citizen participation. Joonas Pekkanen of Forum Virium Helsinki presented the D-CENT project, which develops a shared participation platform to enable open online cooperation between the public sector and citizens. The project strives to increase democratic participation and to create a new type of tool kit for self-organization and participation.

The development of the D-CENT participation platform aims at a safe and sustainable alternative for commercial platforms. D-CENT is based on open source code, and it utilizes existing, tried and tested solutions. The platform is built together with app developers and other users. Experiences utilized in the development work are gathered from Finland, Spain and Iceland, countries where tools for direct online democracy are already in use.

Other concrete pilot projects and services for growth-oriented small and medium enterprises
Susanna Ollila of Forum Virium Helsinki talked about the positive experiences and results from pilot projects testing multiple uses of the Helsinki travel card. In addition to extensive, several-year-long and international projects, Forum Virium Helsinki’s project portfolio includes more focused technological experiments and pilots. The travel card pilot project tested the use of the Helsinki Region Transport’s travel card as a library card, envisioning a resident membership card. Ollila also talked about tests carried out with the interactive street displays in the Helsinki city centre. The displays have been used to test voting and distribution of materials produced by residents. Street displays offer one more interesting new channel to engage residents and to increase openness in the city.

Kaisa Sibelius reviewed the services offered within the Growth Coaching programme for growth-oriented small and medium enterprises in Helsinki. More than 200 such enterprises have already been coached. The next round of applications for the programme will be in May. Growth Coaching organizes regular Open Forum events. The theme of an event in March was Data Driven Business: How to create new business from data.

Finland’s largest cities to cooperate closely
Toward the end of the event, Programme Manager Ville Meloni explained the 6Aika Strategy for 2014-2020, now under preparation. This strategy is for the development of smart service infrastructure that stems from the needs of the participating cities. The strategy also seeks to promote economic growth. The participating cities are the six largest cities of Finland, that is, Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Turku, Tampere and Oulu. Forum Virium Helsinki supports the preparation and coordination of the strategy.

6Aika offers the cities a new opportunity to deepen their cooperation and to multiply the benefits of existing best practices and completed successful projects. The six cities define the content of the strategy and the projects to be financed. Their goals are to initiate new projects, to develop further and to strengthen ongoing projects, and to distribute new findings among other cities. The programme’s total budget is about €79 million. The strategy in making will rely on practice-oriented pilot projects and experiments. Challenges are solved in three different areas: open innovation environments, open data and its interfaces, and open participation. 

To conclude the event, Jarmo Eskelinen, CEO of Forum Virium Helsinki, summarized the meeting:

“Cities are important agents enabling progress. Forum Virium Helsinki builds a more open city and urban innovations in cooperation with a versatile team of players. We often promote broad issues by approaching them from more concrete, narrower angles: concrete showcases are often the most effective means to produce change, whether we are talking about opening data, opening processes and operation methods, or opening interfaces.”


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