Putting user needs first: a throwback to the User­CentriCities Summit 2023

A small look around Europe will tell you that a lot of effort by countries is being put into putting user needs first in governmental services. The UserCentriCities (UCC) network consists of many professionals around Europe who aim to make governmental services inclusive and accessible. Together. During the UserCentriCities Summit 2023 that collaboration was celebrated and user-centric services were awarded. Which countries within UCC were most successful in putting user needs first?

Members of the UCC community have tried to consider user needs first in a variety of services. But an expert judging panel concluded 3 services stood out.

The UserCentriCities members who attended the 2023 summit.

Talk London

Talk London is a civic engagement platform aimed to engage Londoners in City Hall policy and programme making. With a tagline of “Your city, your say! Let’s make London better together!”, the overall goal is to empower Londoners to have a meaningful impact on the decisions that affect their daily lives while actively contributing to transforming their city.

Any Londoner can become a member of Talk London. The platform seeks to reach and engage a wide and diverse audience to guarantee all groups are represented in decision-making processes. Its guiding principles include: making it easier to get involved; making City Hall more accessible, demonstrating impact, making the design process more transparent, and rewarding users for getting involved and addressing the reasons for engagement.

To help City Hall policy teams engage with Londoners, surveys, discussions and idea-generation activities are run regularly. The process provides background information and extra context to allow its members to get involved in an informed way.

Learn more about Talk London

Proactive services in Ghent

Ghent is working on transforming governmental services with proactive services, especially targeting citizens in vulnerable and underserved situations. With 3 use cases, Ghent aimed to turn around service processes.

  • Reduction of school fees for low-income families
  • Free garbage bags for citizens with lower incomes
  • “UiTPAS”, a culture pass granting a reduction of fees on the city’s cultural activities.

By utilising available datasets to check if the citizen meets the specific criteria, the city offers these services proactively, eliminating the need for the citizen to provide its data, but automatically gathering it from federal databases checked against the Business Rule Engine set up by the Flemish administration. Ultimately, the citizen benefits from these services without having to apply for them.

This has had a significant impact on the reduction of the city’s administrative burden, making space for a more efficient process, while reaching more beneficiaries by offering the services proactively.

Learn more about Ghent’s proactive services

Meld’R Rotterdam

The third nominee for most user-centric service was one from the municipality of Rotterdam. The Meld’R app is a user-friendly, easy and intuitive app that allows Rotterdam citizens to easily report on issues or enquiries of the city. Whether it’s about litter, accessibility barriers or pest control, the Meld’R app streamlines the reporting process while allowing the city to resolve any issues efficiently and effectively.

Co-designed with the input from 50 Rotterdam citizens and based on extensive research, Rotterdam discovered that reports about public space are essential to citizen’s perceived quality of life and should be addressed quickly and properly. The app design principles focus on providing social benefits to citizens by ensuring their reports are handled efficiently. The app has changed the way people report problems in the city. As of now, 70% of all reports are made through app.

Learn more about Meld’R here

There can be only one winner

However wonderful the various user-centric service may be, only one service could receive the award for most user-centric service. And that price was well earned by the colleagues of Ghent in a unanimous vote. The acceptance speech and remarks by the deputy major of Ghent during a panel earlier in the summit illustrated why. Where many colleagues rightfully spoke about the value of collaboration, the value of data, and the necessity for connections between private and public parties in user centricity, it were the colleagues from Ghent who stressed: ‘It’s about the user. What do they want? What works fort hem? That should be our starting point for governmental services. This requires a different mindset.’

Special appreciation for Ukraine

After the award ceremony Oley Polovynko took the stage to formally close the event. The chief information officer from Kyiv City, Ukraine, received a special appreciation for their efforts in digital governmental services. With 1 application citizens of Kiev can benefit from technologies in the city. What is the air pollution rate in specific parts of the city? What parking spaces are available and at what rate? To highlight a few examples.

But that was not the main driver for the appreciation for the Kyiv app. In times of war, putting the user needs first has gained a new meaning entirely. The Kyiv app saves lives. In an incredibly short timespan the Kyiv app has been enriched with data from the federal government and national army. Users of the app can find shelter from rocket strikes in real-time, see where attacks are expected and how and where they can get to safety as quickly as possible by possibly evacuating the city. It’s hard to applaud app functionalities that one would hope not to ever need, but applauding Ukraine’s achievements with the app becomes all the more easy when we realize this saves human lives daily.

The app is part of a broader strategy for a digital government in Ukraine, initiated by president Volodymyr Zelensky. That strategy was presented during the opening of the day by a demonstration of Ukraine’s Diia app.

Read more about the Diia app. And about the Kyiv app.

UCC will be facilitated by User Needs First (Gebruiker Centraal)

Oleg’s presentation marked the end of the UCC summit and the project in its current form. But the UCC will continue. A European network that collectively works on putting user needs first in indiviual countries and regions, and across borders is to valuable a community to let go. Therefore, the community will be taken over by User Needs First. User Needs First will facilitate the network and set and explore new activities with the members. Join the discussion and sign up for the UCC community.