Living-in.EU movement takes stock after its first two years of existence

Signatories' meeting

Nóirín Ní Earcáin
European Commission DG CNECT

Living-in.EU 8th plenary meeting with signatories, 27 January 2022

At this meeting of the Living-in.eu movement, the founders and signatories took stock of the achievements in the last two years and reflected on plans for its future. The signatories are still enthusiastic about the movement and see it as a source of learning and opportunities in their digital transformation. They ask for more peer-to-peer interaction and welcome the developments for increased monitoring and measuring of the digital transformation at local level.

Launched in December 2019 in Oulu, with a signing ceremony held soon afterwards at the Cities Forum 2020 in Porto, Living-in.EU now has 110 signatories at local, regional and national level, representing 37 million EU citizens. It also has over 100 supporters from businesses, research institutes and civil society organisations. What next for the movement?

Eddy Hartog, Head of Unit C3 at DG CONNECT, welcomed participants, reminding them that the movement engages not only with cities, regions or countries, but with a broader ecosystem by working with its supporters, addressing both the demand and supply side for digital solutions which are aligned with the values and objectives of the Join, Boost Sustain declaration. As well as holding its own events and events with its partners, Living-in.EU also had the chance to team up with other organisations, for instance the Covenant of Mayors and the Intelligent Cities Challenge (DG GROW, DigitALL Public Conference (DG DIGIT) and the EU Public Administration Conference (DG REFORM). Living-in.EU has also featured during sessions at partners’ events such as the European Week of the Regions, Digital Living Labs Days, City by City Festival, Eurocities KSI Forum and others. More recently effective links have been made with Horizon 2020 projects such as AURORAL, Drural, DUET, LEAD, and with DT4Regions, and the Mission for 100 Climate-Neutral Smart Cities. As a result, the movement is increasingly visible.

With the lockdown hitting soon after the launch of the movement, he congratulated members for keeping the movement alive virtually. Having relied on committed volunteers for its first 2 years, Living-in.EU will soon enter a new phase with funding from DIGITAL Europe Programme. This will support the governance of the movement and fund related initiatives such as the creation of a data space for smart communities to facilitate cross-sectoral data sharing, and a digital toolbox to help cities to deploy Local Digital Twins.

Founding Members’ discussion

A panel discussion, moderated by the EC‘s Nóirín Ní Earcáin discussed why they established the Living-in.EU movement, what makes it different from ‘other’ smart cities initiatives, the most significant moments to date and hopes for the movement for the future.

Oulu was the first city to sign the ‘Join, Boost, Sustain’ declaration in December 2019. Anne Rännäli-Kontturi, the city’s International Affairs Manager, explained how Oulu was one of the coordinators of Urban Agenda, Digital Transition 2017, precisely with the focus of supporting cities and businesses to exploit the possibilities of digitalisation. While working on this, they saw the need for better regulation, better funding and better knowledge, which is very much in line with what LI.EU offers. In order for the digital transformation to succeed at local level there is a need for partnerships, to learn from each other, to share and co-create. Committing to a declaration like Living-in.EU is the perfect tool to achieve this. For the period ahead she is hoping for the development of accessible financial instruments which cities can make use of to adopt and scale up digital solutions.

Paulo Calçada, CEO of Porto Digital, spoke about Porto’s motivations for joining the movement, explaining the need for a sandbox in the ecosystem, to fill gaps in the puzzle of the digital transformation. EU entrepreneurs and SMEs have a role in helping cities to move forward and increase the pace of their work. For the future he is looking forward to the work on the MIMs, the creation of a market for digital solutions, and the development of indicators to measure digital transformation.

OASC’s Executive Director, Geni Rajtisoja, shared this view. OASC is global in outlook but born in Europe, and proud of that heritage. OASC was created to meet cities’ needs from a technologic perspective, and the MIMs (Minimum Interoperability Mechanisms) are a way of doing exactly that. The end goal is to create a single market for digital services, working with the demand side (the cities) and the supply side. The MIMs are being developed taking into account cities’ needs. There is no one size fits all solution but the MIMs approach aims to ensure cities can move forward in their digital transformation regardless of their resources or size. Living-in.EU and OASC aim to help cities to avoid vendor lock-in or technology debt. The network, the community of Living-in.EU are priceless to reach this. A short-term aim is to adopt version 5 of the MIMs Plus which brings is us a step closer to bringing the tech capabilities cities need. For the future she hopes to help the cities that are looking for off-the-shelf solutions based on open standards. She sees Living-in.EU as blue print for the world – EU values call to everyone.

Evdokimos Kostantinidis, Chairman of ENoLL talked about the importance of Living-in.EU working based on European values and principles. He highlighted the positive impact of not only on cities, but also organisations working together for the public cause, with a constant emphasis on the benefit to the citizen. Living labs can identify solutions to tackle the specific city’s needs by taking the quadruple helix approach. For the future of the movement, ENOLL wants Living-in.EU to continue creating tools that can be used by cites.

Federica Bordelot, Senior Policy Advisor at Eurocities acknowledged that there are different cities with diverse capabilities and funding, and there is not a one size fit all. However, a significant common challenge cities face is data - easier access, better use and improved sharing. Data is necessary for more informed decision making in cities. Living-in.EU sees different stakeholders siting around the table and will work towards the development of a governance framework for a shared data space, with agreed rules, principles, and definition of data sets. Living-in.EU is part of a paradigm shift around data, one not of competition, but of collaboration. In terms of achievements of the movement, Federica is particularly proud of the work done in the B2G data sharing workshops.

Marek Bobis, Policy Officer at the Committee of the Regions considers Living-in.EU to be particularly important in light of the pandemic. A digital divide persists in the EU between rural and urban, regions with better digital skills, and those with greater or lesser access to funds. The pandemic saw an unprecedented acceleration of digitalisation, which exacerbated the digital divide.  In tandem, a rise in conspiracy theories, cyber-attacks, misinformation, mean that renewed efforts are needed towards digital cohesion. To reach these objectives we need to speak to each other and learn from each other’s experiences. Living-in.EU is developing a methodology to measure the digital transformation at local level, LORDI. This will be a useful tool to identify current gaps. In the future, he hopes Living-in.EU can better reach smaller communities and rural areas and help breach these gaps.

Signatories have their say

After the panel, cities had the chance to make their voices heard in a session facilitated by the EC’s Serge Novaretti. Working in small groups, they discussed the way forward for Living-in.EU and presented their conclusions to the plenary.

The discussion was focused around what Living-in.EU had delivered to date and where it should focus efforts in the future in order to better respond to signatories’ needs.

According to signatory cities and communities, the Declaration itself is seen a valuable asset, providing a focus for the work of the community. All groups agreed on the importance of being part of a network, a community with which to exchange solutions and best practises. The Living-in.EU community is seen as a source of information on opportunities and allows for collaboration between members on relevant topics such as data sharing or local digital twins. The movement also allows for an easy connection between cities and the Commission, and with organisations such as ENoLL, OASC or Eurocities.

All of the groups highlighted the importance of interoperability. A common wish was for support to peer-to-peer discussions and sharing of solutions between cities, in order to enhance the transferability of solutions and start a scaling up process. Some wanted to see the continuation of the work on digital twins, AI and transport solutions. Also mentioned was the wish for of a mapping of opportunities, best practices and funding programmes. Finally, cities would like help in the form of indicators to measure their progress on digital transformation.

Suggestions included having all the information stored in one place, a monthly newsletter, improved guidance for newcomers, including city mentoring. Cities were also interested in a better overview of the work done in the sub-groups to see where they could best contribute. The importance of facilitating individual level networking between those with specific roles was also highlighted; a “dating” app for cities to connect people within certain domains of expertise. Finally, the push for including regions and communities in addition to cities was welcomed.

The meeting closed with the announcement of upcoming events and a promise to follow up on the feedback and suggestions made by signatories.

 

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