Cities and municipalities are basically systems for delivering services for the benefit of their citizens. An experimental project demonstrated how improving the flow of data between these services could save a lot of time and taxpayer money.
Emilia Rönkkö is an architect who worked for the Finnish city of Kuopio. Besides that, she is a Docent of Urban Planning at the University of Oulu.
“In Kuopio, my job included doing architectural programming for public investments and service network reviews. More specifically, surveys about Growth and Learning Services that were focused on daycares and schools,” Rönkkö explains. “Typically, a service network review with manual data collection procedures takes place every three to five years. I and other functionaries involved in the process wondered if there might be a better, more efficient way to do the reviews.”
Developing Through Experimentation
Rönkkö had learned about KIRA-digi, a national digitalization program that supported quick experimentation projects. Kuopio decided to apply for the program and partnered with a consultancy called FCG. Together, they submitted a project proposal titled Operating model for dynamic network planning for municipalities. It received government funding in February 2018.
“We did not think of digitalization as carrying out manual processes with electronic tools. The main part of our project was about devising a model for dynamic service network planning,” says Rönkkö. “We were out to change the way we operated, using digital tools as enablers.”
Service networks consist of functions and their facilities. There are a variety of municipal functions: daycare, education, social services, healthcare, libraries, youth centers, public parks, and so on. The new operating model that the project modeled is horizontal, crossing the boundaries of organizational silos. It covers the core function–education, for example–and all connected activities, like city planning and building projects.
Anticipation Is a Key Success Factor
“While doing grassroots work, I noticed that the planning can be a wiggly process. If we cannot anticipate that in five years there will be a certain number of children in a particular area, we end up putting out fires,” says Rönkkö. “In autumn, just before school starts, we realize that the children don’t fit in, and we need to set up temporary–and costly–facilities.”
Rönkkö points out that even small cities like Kuopio spend hundreds of millions of euros on growth and education services. Understanding how to optimize welfare services is a huge money-saving opportunity.
Rönkkö talks about “societal forethought,” which is the ability to anticipate changes and adjust land use and building planning accordingly. Existing planning processes are not dynamic enough to serve this purpose. That’s mainly because there’s no easy and quick way to aggregate data from various municipal sources.
From Data to Scenarios
The team started the experimentation project by identifying the data needed for service network planning. They then tried to locate the data within the city’s organizations. Once that was done, they figured out how to make the data flow into the user interface they had envisioned. The project team created the prototype of a digital tool that collects and visualizes the data, for example, on a map.
The other half of the project was the development of the optimized operational process. The project team created flowcharts of the process, starting with the city’s strategy.
The project organized a workshop with Kuopio’s officeholders and councilmembers and came up with five scenarios for future service networks. They used the digital tool to simulate various aspects of the networks, including investment costs of the alternatives.
“In optimizing service networks, you must work your way from the network strategy to planning and projects,” Rönkkö advises. “An element that’s been missing is the monitoring and benchmarking of the network’s performance with key indicators–for example, cost per pupil.”
The experimentation uncovered a demonstrated need for a tool that the project had prototyped. Inquiries from several cities confirmed that finding.
Consequently, Rönkkö, with a team of developers, started Locia Solutions in early 2019. With Rönkkö as the CEO, the company will further develop and commercialize the tool.
Locia has chosen Platform of Trust as a strategic partner since it provides tools to harmonize the vast amount of data needed in service network planning and access to a digital ecosystem that allows Locia to scale up. Rönkkö doesn’t want to limit her company to the public sector. She believes that Locia’s solution can serve any service organization around the globe.
“Our solution is all about managing a complex entity. It covers service structures, city structures, even smart cities. With our strategic partner, I don’t see any limits to how much information we can manage,” says Rönkkö. “I can envision a future where services are not provided top-down. Instead of production-based service networks, we could have human-based networks. We want to be the experts in that vision.”