Background - 26.09.2019 - 00:00 

How Vitali Klitschko is turning Kiev into a “smart city”

Administrative units are supposed to become more citizen-oriented and more innovative through the use of digital technology. On the occasion of the Swiss Smart Government Day, Kiev’s mayor Vitali Klitschko explained what such a smart city looks like in practice.<br/>

26 September 2019. “If you don’t fight, you can’t win,” said Vitali Klitschko on the Swiss Smart Government Day of the University of St.Gallen. Klitschko should know: he was a professional boxer for 17 years and world heavyweight champion twice. Since 2014, the six foot seven giant has been mayor of Ukraine’s capital Kiev, where he has been fighting for the establishment of a smart municipal administration.

In a speech he gave in German, Klitschko told a roughly 300-strong audience in St.Gallen’s Einstein Congress Hotel that the challenges in this respect were huge. “When I started, Kiev was practically insolvent and its administration had the Soviet stamp on it: vast, slow and inflexible.” Thanks to the introduction of various digital services, the administration of the four-million city had become more efficient and been able to save approx. EUR 1.2bn in four years.

In addition, the introduction of a digital “open budget” enabled citizens to trace all the money flows in the public sector. “This creates transparency and thus trust,” said Klitschko.

Relieve people’s fears of digital change

Kiev is a concrete example for the topics of the Swiss Smart Government Day, which focused on the question as to how public administrations could become more citizen-oriented and more innovative thanks to digital technology (cf. also box). “This is about developing the next generation of administration,” said Kuno Schedler, Director of the Smart Government Lab at the University of St.Gallen. “The issue causes insecurity. We want to relieve these fears with constructive discussions,” said Schedler. Klitschko, too, said that he had encountered a great deal of scepticism. “This is normal when big changes are in the offing. I’m still trying to convince people and have meetings with politicians and citizens.”

Besides financial transparency, projects were implemented in Kiev which affect citizens’ everyday life very specifically. Thus underground tickets are automatically bought through smartphones, the municipal administration has switched to digital correspondence and set up a large-scale surveillance system. “The city area is monitored with about 8,000 cameras. It is clearly shown where they are,” said Klitschko. This had reduced crime by more than 50 per cent.

Furthermore, the city relies on smart street lighting, which is only switched on by movement in the quieter quarters, and it encourages start-ups in the field of IT. “In Kiev, 50,000 mostly young people work in the IT industry. We need their ideas in order to move forward together,” said Klitschko.

Digitalisation is additional stress

At present, academics and public administrations from Switzerland, Germany and Austria are also working on joint ideas and projects: nine cities and municipalities forged an alliance with four universities to set up the Lake Constance Smart Government Academy. The University and the City of St.Gallen are members. The initiative, which was launched in May 2019, aims to exchange knowledge and experience.

After Klitschko’s speech, representatives of this Academy met for a panel discussion. All of them agreed that digitalisation was a major effort for public administrations. “Digitalisation causes additional stress in everyday work,” said Ines Mergel, Professor of Public Administration at the University of Constance. A paradigm change was looming. “The logic of administration must be rethought – from the angle of citizens rather than from that of law,” said Mergel.

Several participants in the discussion pointed out that the challenge was to reach all citizens if possible in spite of new processes. “We may be able to set up digital channels, but we can’t close down the old ones in the foreseeable future,” said Siegfried Ehrlinspiel, the IT officer of Constance. “Otherwise there is the danger that we won’t reach older people who make less use of new technologies.” At the same time, there was a great deal of political pressure to drive digitalisation forward, said Klaus Lingg, Head of Digital Management of Dornbirn. “But people often forget the complexity of the tasks which administration has to fulfil.”

Nonetheless, the panel came to the conclusion that the digitalisation of administrative processes was important. “However, this conversion can’t be achieved in two years. Changing the philosophy of administration takes time,” said Ehrlinspiel. Jens Schuhmacher, Professor of Global Corporate Networks at FH Vorarlberg, added: “Companies don’t see digitalisation only as a bundle of new media any longer, but as a creator of fundamentally new processes. This way of thinking is still lacking in public administration.”

A conference on smart administration

The 2019 Swiss Smart Government Day at the University of St.Gallen  dealt with smart administration, with the focus being on issues such as citizen-centred design, digital identity and confidence in artificial intelligence. Speakers included Vitali Klitschko, former professional boxer and current mayor of Kiev, the St.Gallen National Councillor (Liberal Democrats) and IT entrepreneur Marcel Dobler, as well as Christian Geiger, Chief Digital Officer of the City of St.Gallen.

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