The Digital Agenda Assembly 2013 – Afternoon Session

29th June – Workshop ‘Going smart and accessible in public services’

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Smart Cities – Empowering Businesses and People

Prof. Siobhan Clarke, Director Trinity Smart and Sustainable Cities Research Centre, Trinity College Dublin, began by describing the huge growth of cities, only 100 years ago there were only a handful of cities of more than a million people and by 2050 more than 70% of the world population will live in cities. With the growth of cities comes strain, strain on transport, water and power delivery systems, as well as introducing increased environmental challenges. Using big data and analysis, sharing information between cars, water systems et al. we can reduce the strain on resources but the data has to be trustworthy and timely for it to be useful for the technological and social challenges we are going to face.

Padraig Kenny, ICT Consultant at Arup, highlighted the need for strong political leadership and vision to deliver smart cities, highlighting Boris Johnson’s work in London but stated that smart city networks and infrastructure have to be economically viable for them to be successful and sustainable. After their 2011 earthquake, Christchurch New Zealand took the opportunity to redesign their city along smart lines. By 2015 they plan to have a complete city monitoring system in place and to be delivering a smart infrastructure in governance and health.

Peter Finnegan, Director of Economy and International Relations with Dublin City Council, began by showing a video of ‘Digital Dublin’.

 

Digital Dublin is designed to help the public and businesses to become co-creators, creating a roadmap for the future. The roadmap has to be designed to be adaptable as the future is constantly changing. Finnegan stated that the focus has to be on participating and expanding the economy with digital, using digital to expand public services.

Veronica Haunold, CEO of TINA Vienna, spoke about the way the apps have had an impact on Viennese city life. For Vienna ‘technology is not the goal but rather a tool’ to improve quality of life for citizens, stating that there is no point in having a high-tech building no-one can afford to live in or an app that simply tells you your bus is late. Two examples of the sort of apps that have been launched in Vienna are the ‘A to B’ app, which not only tells you the time a journey will take but how long it will take you to park, worked out from data gathered from previous experiences, and an app that controls all the appliances and electrical equipment in your home, meaning you can turn off your lights and put on your washing machine remotely. Haunold is careful to state that not everything will work and that you can’t be afraid of failure.

Carlo van de Weijer, Vice President Intelligent Transport Systems, TomTom, rather than talking about smart infrastructure focused his attention of smart mobility, highlighting the recent and forthcoming improvement in cars, claiming that cars are becoming ‘iPad on wheels’. The improvement in vehicles has meant there are fewer accidents resulting in injury and the pollution levels produced will continue to reduce over time. Flexible working hours in the Netherlands has also meant that people can use smart monitoring to judge when not to drive, preventing idling time in cars and further reducing pollution. Van de Weijer, unlike many of the other speakers, does not see complex smart infrastructure as the option, in fact he believes that traffic rules and regulations need to be simplified and the ‘smartness should be in the vehicle’. Cars are beginning to solve the problems they created.

Tommaso Roselli, Safety, Environment, Quality and Energy Efficiency department of Enel Distribuzione, focused on information and use analyses data. Providing people with smart meters that mean they know their overall consumption and change in consumption raises awareness of use. Roselli also stated that we need to analyses the cities through metering, discovering it’s needs and the needs of the administration, he also said that one of the most vital aspects of planning was flexibility of infrastructure so that we are prepared for new and future services.

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Questions and Answers

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What does it take to be a world leader in EU government?

Services need to be user-centric with a greater balance between the needs of the provider and the user. The service needs to be open as well as adaptable and fluid, evolving with the needs of the citizen. Focus should be on training departments and workers, who should be able to exchange data and share information as well as open-sourcing the information they need to build the best possible service. The main areas the delegates identified for improvement were transport, education and health.

What are the key elements to build the ideal digital public administration?

The digital public administration needs to be user focused, constantly renewing and redoing based on information gained looking at user experience. The feedback and improvement must form a feedback loop to build good data and trust between user and provider. Technological solutions are not always one size fits all and users with different needs will need different channels of communication

The old system is paper driven, simply applying technology to paper-processes cannot work, we need to look at different ways of doing things through data. Websites should be dynamic, not simply static pages. Information must be shared between governmental organisations, information should only need to be submitted once. Although departments need to share information, there should be clear guidelines for public authorities, they need to know their rights and responsibilities as well as security regulations. Trust is vital and hard to win back once it is lost, we must be transparent and open about what we are doing.

Digital by default: what’s in it for me?

A digital system is easier, more flexible and convenient, it can increase openness, transparency, democracy and lower costs for the provider. For users the service is better, creating flexibility and saving time. Digital democracy can also provide business opportunities but may have a negative impact on employment figures in the public sector. Another drawback is the limitation on access amongst the public, many people have neither the access or skills to use digital services in this way.

When procuring a website, how can public sector ensure to get an accessible website & what is important to keep it that way?

Some delegates didn’t understand what accessibility meant and didn’t know where they could get the information they would need to begin to. People need training and people who already have these skills available on the market so they can be hired. We also need to ensure that web-developers know how accessible it needs to be in tender and are aware of the international standards.In the past tenders have been made which asked developers for accesibility but it was only added in the later stages, we need a constant feedback loop to ensure from the very begining accesibility is written in to sites. Once websites have been built they need to be independently tested for accessibility, engaging with users and making sure to constantly renew services to maintain the highest standards.

Public service providers are not good at simplicity. Often it is a matter of comprehensiveness versus simplicity, where this is a lot of information public service providers feel they need to explain, the challenge is to achieve simplicity for the user whilst remaining comprehensive.

How can open data help implementing, monitoring & reporting on web accessibility?

Open data could allow us to see what groups are accessing websites and for what purpose, as our understanding of use grows we can improve usability in accordance. Open data would also allow organisations to create bespoke services for different users by seeing at what point users are finding the websites too difficult to navigate and whether screen-readers are easier to navigate for users than web browsers, such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. It could also allow us to see whether apps would work for specific user groups, though this has the risk of allowing organisations and departments to shirk responsibility to the private sector.

It is impossible to make some documents accessible, such as PDFs which cannot be screen-read, this is another reason data can be infinitely more accessible than documentation.

Some delegates said that open data cannot help accessibility in it’s usual incarnation/understanding, but if you interpret open data differently, for instance as Leon van de Ven’s statements about inaccessibility from the morning session, then it can be used to compare websites and create a level of competition for improvement. It could make it easier to share experience through and between organisations.

How can public sector & web developers engage with end users when developing & maintaining websites to ensure maximum accessibility, regardless of age, ability or disability?

Emphasis on accessibility needs to be ingrained into the organisation before a web-designer or developer is even approached, convincing departmental heads through the economic as well as the social benefit and workers should be fully trained before approaching their keyboards. Groups of users must be identified, but those user-groups must be involved in their identification and definitions. To access these user groups other consultants, outside ICT groups must be brought in, building bridges between providers, designers and users.

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