Towards a better use of digital technologies in the communication and service provision by the municipality of Oudergem?
Is Oudergem finally adopting a more modern use of new digital technologies in the organization of its municipal services and communication towards its citizens? Some signs emerge recently that at least there’s at least a growing consciousness towards exploiting the potential benefits of new digital tools in this area. In december 2015, the municipality of Auderghem launched its own mobile application, called ‘Auderghem Oudergem’ (downloadable via the Apple’s app store or Google’s Play store) with which one can at least consult important information about the town hall, about events taking place in Oudergem and about interesting point of interests such as restaurants, shops and stores in one’s immediate surroundings. Moreover, the 3 year plan of the majority, approved at the council in December 2015, mentions that the municipality will work on its website, will start investigating the use of social media and will reorganize its current office plan in the town hall in order to improve the direct contact between administration and citizens.
As openVLD Oudergem we already pleaded with the last municipality elections of 2012 that the communication of the municipality and organise of service should be more citizen oriented and make use of new technologies. In that sense, I’m happy with these plans mentioned in the 3-year plan and the arrival of the mobile application. However, the crucial point is not to mention some plans, but to also execute them and execute them also in such a way that their implementation truly benefit citizens’ of Oudergem. Therefore, for the openVLD Oudergem four points are now crucial:
1. When reflecting about the implementation of new technologies (website or social media) or further elaborating the mobile application, involve citizens and local actors: It is important to have a clear insight into the current needs and expectations of citizens who will be the ultimate users of the services. All too often development of technologies still remain a too ‘internal’ affair, meaning that administrations often think they have a clear idea about what citizens want or need. While we don’t deny that administration do possess a lot of knowledge on the matter due to their daily interaction with citizens, this does not automatically imply that their knowledge or suppositions are 100% correct. Involving citizens and local actors from the start is thus an important step into assuring that there is a shared understanding of needs and expectations and that ultimately the municipality does not end up with a flashy tool but that is not user friendly nor useful for citizens.
2. Think in terms of interaction between digital and physical/offline service provision: Although we believe that digital technologies will play a far more important role in the future, we believe rather in a complementary than a substitute story: On the one hand, for a part of the population, e-government will still remain something odd and therefore they might be comfortable with finding information on a website, but for the actual service still want to go to the town hall’s office. On the other hand, not all procedures are the same: some require, due to the confidentiality of the process, more interaction with an administration than others. So it is important to rather implement your digital processes at strategic points and clearly know what you can do digital and what not and in case of the latter, which kind of offline procedure is necessary. These insights are necessary for the plan to reorganize the offices at the town hall.
3. Elaborate a clear communication and development plan: most applications launched by governments often run dead after one year. Once the hype of the new is over, hardly any use has been made and the conclusion then often made is: people don’t need them. This is often a wrong conclusion. It means that you had no clear vision on what you actually want to do with the digital technologies and you are not aware off what your citizens want. Therefore, point 1 is so important: it will bring you the necessary insights to know when and what you communicate best via social media, via the website or via the application and how you further elaborate the services that are needed. A plan also makes sure responsibilities and tasks are defined, so that it is clear for the administration when to take actions. Thirdly, a plan allows you to set targets and monitor progress towards these and or identify when corrective measures should be taken.
4. Create a specific focus for Oudergem and look for synergies on a regional level: It makes no sense that Oudergem for example will create an application that just reduplicates existing ones on a regional level such as FixMyStreet (for registering bad road conditions) or Irisbox (for getting documents such as e.g. birth certificates). Nor does it make sense that Oudergem tries to do everything by itself: look what other municipalities and the region in Brussels are doing and work within that common framework, or, if this does not exist yet, try to be an advocate for having such a common framework. People in Brussels often move from one place to the other: common and thus recognizable procedures across the region makes the life more easier. It avoids that a citizen should discover every new municipality website again and find out that information X in one municipality is under the rubric of ‘sports’ and in the other under the rubric of ‘entertainment’. In the case of the mobile application: try to elaborate a specific focus on information that matters to citizens (if you involve them as mentioned in point 1, you got this information very quickly) and bring an extra added value as applications of regional bodies (such as the one for public transport) or those in the market don’t provide them yet or not at all. Recently, a lot of so called ‘open data’ – useful information about for example the playgrounds, parking spots, libraries etc… – were published by the region and developers can you them for free (taking into account some rules) : you can imagine that it might be useful to have for example an overview on a map of parking spots or a view on playgrounds or pharmacies and doctors in our municipalities when walking around in Oudergem.
OpenVLD Oudergem sincerely hopes that the development of digital applications and tools in our municipality will be executed along these four axes. It is a guarantee to realize better communication and service processes between the administration and its citizens and the key factors for success in other Belgian and European towns.