Participating in development of matters of common concern gets easier

22.12.2021 - 12:53

Text Heta Jyrälä

Residents make the city, and they are the best experts in their own neighbourhood. The aim is to develop a dialogue between the residents, office holders, residents’ associations and other organisations on an inclusive digital skills platform.  The digital platform will be introduced during the year 2023.

People have many ideas, thoughts and wishes, but still the trend in participating in elections is steadily declining. However, feedback is given on social media and personal views on topical questions are easily shared there.  So there is a desire to influence matters of common concern, but how can all these ideas be brought to the attention of the decision-makers?

– Active and participating residents will find the correct channels of influence if they so wish.  On the other hand, the voices of the youngsters and the elderly, as well as people in challenging life situations, for example, are not always heard, says Kati Vähäsarja, Head of Civic Services in the City of Kuopio.

– For instance, young people exert less influence on mutual concerns.  Going to school in the morning may create anxiety, because the school bus is always full.  Or school meals could be improved.  Youngsters may have many annoying things on their minds every day, but they just put up with them, says Vähäsarja.

Many everyday problems would be relatively easily solved, if only they were known about. A few Kuopio schools have run small-scale pilot programmes on how young people’s voices can be heard.  Would it be easier for young people to use a digital platform, such as a web page or an app?

– Workshops have been held in schools, and the plan is to have decision-makers and youngsters sit down together to discuss everyday issues. Together with the youngsters of Karttula we have also tested the functionality of a digital platform on paper and have considered what functionalities are required for the platform and how the service will be successfully introduced, says Irma Savolainen, a Planner who is preparing the platform for digital participation in the city of Kuopio.

Towards a digital meeting place

Participation adds to people’s well-being, safety as well as confidence in the future. It is, at the same time, a feeling of a person being a part of something bigger or belonging to a community.

The vision of the Human-Centred Digital Municipality (IDK) project has been to implement a digital platform of inclusion, that will increase the interaction between office-holders and residents. The project coordinator Tiina Taskinen-Viinikainen says that the aim is to create a transparent platform where one can freely share ideas to be developed.

– These ideas would be visible to everyone, and they could be, for example, supported by a ‘thumbs up’ function.   Ideas that have received a lot of support can be taken on for further development.  Taskinen-Viinikainen thinks that through the platform one could also, for instance, invite a certain group onto the panel, to share their view of a matter under development.

The digital meeting place helps to bring together residents, office-holders, residents’ associations and organisations.  The platform would bring together, for instance, the town planning, cultural and physical activity services as well as early child education. 

– We already have a lot of good and functional ways to make an impact, but they are scattered around, Taskinen-Viinikainen points out. 

Fragmentation was noted and the matter was addressed in many places over the autumn of 2021.  The IDK project compared the ways of influencing and inclusion practiced in other cities.  At the same time, the City Council of Kuopio and the Grassroots democracy unit initiated the preparations of the Suburban Programme of the City of Kuopio.  The aim was to implement the Suburban Programme with the broad participation of the residents and actors, so it was natural to start by designing a digital platform that would enable participation. 

– I put together the existing practices with earlier development work. There are already many successful and functional models of participation in Kuopio, such as the city’s feedback channel, as well as the parish councils operating in the rural areas of Kuopio, Savolainen cites as examples. 

Vähäsarja says that besides the digital platform it is important that the residents are also provided with other options for participation and personal encounters. Especially after the period of the pandemic face to face contacts are also of utmost importance.  Savolainen reveals that she has compared existing methods and has conducted discussions e.g. with the cities of Helsinki, Tampere and Reykjavik.

– We are now outlining what approaches are effective for different user groups.  For example, young people benefit from joint workshops where it is possible to reflect and brainstorm together about the development of the immediate environment, Savolainen says.

Also new actions and openings are being made. Taskinen-Viinikainen says that in the Civic Services small-scale participative budgeting has already been tried in the events industry in the city.   It is hoped that crowd-sourcing will activate people and encourage them to organize different events and campaigns.

– The ways to participate vary in the different service areas of the city.  For instance, within the zoning section operations have long been clear and well established according to the rule of law, Taskinen-Viinikainen mentions. At the same time, development of participation requires a change in culture, in order to get people involved in planning at the initial stage.

Platform to become part of OmaKuopio portal

The digital services of the city of Kuopio are currently being compiled into the OmaKuopio portal. This portal is a part of the OmaKunta project that offers the municipalities a technical platform as well as the ability to develop the e-transaction services so they can be found more easily. 

– The intention is to open the portal in October 2022.  The existing online services will be linked there.  New services, such as an inclusive platform, may be integrated, if desired, directly into the portal, says the project manager Ari-Jukka Niiranen from Istekki Oy.

According to Niiranen it is like a home base for all digital services that directs the user to the right place.  Among other things, a safe, strong identification is embedded in the portal, so that all services can be accessed smoothly, with a single login.

– The most important task of the portal is to facilitate the accessibility of services.  Consequently, the right service can be found easily by the users with familiar search criteria to describe the service, Niiranen says.

Funding for the concept development for the OmaKunta online transaction and e-transaction services (9.12.2020-31.10.2022) is provided by the Incentive scheme of the Ministry of Finance for Promotion of Digitalisation of municipalities, the City of Kuopio and the Municipality of Siilinjärvi.   

Funding for the Human-centric Digital Municipality project (IDK) (1.1.2020-31.12.2022) is provided by the European Social Fund, Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment of Southern Savonia, the City of Kuopio and the Savonia University of Applied Sciences. 

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