The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the adoption of digital tools in the governance of cities. An entirely new field has thus been developed, called civic techs. Intended for use by and for citizens, they present themselves as alternatives to traditional spaces for dialogue. Whether through the creation of self-help platforms, or city councils held by videoconference, online initiatives have spread throughout cities. However, the players involved have agreed that digital technology should not become an end in itself, at the risk of falling into “techno-solutionism”. The aim of the discussions was to determine more precisely the role of local authorities in a sector already largely pre-empted by the private sector, while continuing the existing dialogue.
In Brussels, neighbourhood councils have been set up, held on the Zoom application. They brought together local actors and associations in order to identify the needs of the inhabitants. These meetings were part of the continuity of public action, and encouraged citizens to find out about possible local solutions. Information meetings on transformation projects and works were also held with a view to informing citizens. The issue of access to the Internet remains at the heart of the concerns, as it is profoundly unequal according to age groups.
The Eurocities Digital Citizenship Working Group presented its support for local digital transition initiatives. The group’s programme is to achieve full digital inclusion, participatory decision-making and enterprise development. To achieve this, three objectives have been identified: development of digital know-how and information sharing between member cities, better use of social networks and better visibility for the working group.
The cities of Murcia and Rotterdam also gave their vision and use of civic tech. The city of Murcia has developed a platform dedicated to the cultural offer of the city (museums, theatres…) in order to fight against the decline of the cultural sectors during the crisis. Open to third party developers and secure for user data, this project aims to boost the local cultural sector. The city of Rotterdam has developed several digital tools enabling citizens to get involved in its democratic life. In particular by encouraging citizens to propose local initiatives and projects that they would be able to carry out, and by allocating funds to these entrepreneurs. The digital reconstruction of several places in the city, including the town hall, has also been carried out to make them more accessible.
The speakers agreed on the need to pool and share local solutions. Digital technology has an essential place in cities, especially in Nantes where it has truly transformed and improved the effectiveness of public action. The priority today is to ensure that everyone benefits from the digital tool, which is a real driving force for including citizens in public action.