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Developing building blocks for smart, open cities

Forum Virium Helsinki
Forum Virium Helsinki acts as an innovator and catalyst for new types of cooperation between companies, public sector organisations, and the man and woman in the street – aimed at creating internationally competitive digital services based on the real needs of real users. Smart cities, open data, and innovative procurement are among Forum Virium Helsinki’s key themes and focus areas.

Forum Virium Helsinki was founded in 2006 and has become known for pioneering the open data movement in Finland and for initiating and coordinating a growing number of innovation projects. It does this by working in close cooperation with partners drawn from the public sector, particularly the City of Helsinki, the business world, and end-users, and by encouraging greater interaction between everyone involved to drive the implementation of new ideas that have the potential to act as true ‘game changers’.

Forum Virium Helsinki’s role in innovation projects varies and can range from initiating a project, acting as an advisor, and implementing trials and pilot projects to taking overall responsibility for the full execution of a development project.

Forum Virium Helsinki has been actively involved in organising developer events to promote open data application development work, and in arranging an annual open data application competition – Apps4Finland – in cooperation with the Finnish Association for Online Democracy and other partners.
Some of Forum Virium Helsinki’s most well-known projects include Helsinki Region Infoshare and the Apps4Finland competitions. Initiatives like these are designed to boost the city’s innovativeness by opening up and utilising public data sources and engaging application developers and other members of the urban community to get to grips with and solve future challenges, and address new business and scaling opportunities in particular.

An open data pioneer

Forum Virium Helsinki has been at the forefront of the open data movement in Finland over the last couple of years – most obviously through the Helsinki Region Infoshare (HRI) project and its mission to open up public data from the Helsinki region to everyone.

The HRI project was launched in 2010 as a joint initiative by four cities in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, and is operated by City of Helsinki Urban Facts and Forum Virium Helsinki.

The project is aimed at generating greater governmental efficiency, new business and innovation, greater transparency, and enhanced democracy. The project’s open data themes cover areas such as statistics and estimates, geospatial data, financial data, public transportation data, and public decision-making data – in fact, any type of public data that you can think of.

Empowering and harnessing innovation

One key goal of Forum Virium Helsinki is to help the city and other organisations empower and harness the innovative capabilities of the entire urban community – by promoting cooperation between the application developer community and the rest of the city’s ICT ecosystem, for example.

To help achieve this goal, Forum Virium Helsinki has been actively involved in organising different types of developer events and arranging an annual open data application competition – Apps4Finland – in cooperation with a wide range of partners. The competition will be organised for the fifth time in 2013 (apps4finland. fi/en).

Other initiatives are also under way to foster cooperation between application developers and various stakeholders. Open and mutually compatible digital service interfaces, processes, guidelines, and usability standards are being developed through the CitySDK (City Service Development Kit) project. By harmonising open digital interfaces and cooperation processes, the toolkit offers a new way to break down unnecessary barriers to greater innovation and help everyone utilise the know-how that exists within the developer community more effectively.

The CitySDK project involves eight European cities (Helsinki, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Istanbul, Lamia, Lisbon, Manchester, and Rome) and focuses on opening up data interfaces in three domains: participation, transport, and tourism. A large-scale pilot will be organised in each domain in one of the eight cities. The lessons learned from these pilots will be applied to additional trials and user tests in other partner cities as the project progresses to promote the transfer of future smart city solutions.

The Helsinki pilot is focusing on smart participation, which is seen as a key component and enabler of the open, smart city of the future. The key idea is to offer citizens the opportunity to report issues via widely used virtual platforms – Sanoma’s Metro.fi portal in this case – and ensure that the information they provide is automatically delivered to the correct recipients in the city organisation.

New agents for change

Forum Virium Helsinki’s role in innovation projects can range from initiating a project to taking overall responsibility for its execution – and everything in between.
Forum Virium Helsinki is also involved in the Code for Europe fellowship programme aimed at matching creative tech talent with innovative cities to take government to the next level. In addition to Helsinki, five other cities (Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Manchester, and Rome) will each host a fellowship.

Code fellows will do more than just code, their job is to act as change agents and research, create, and develop complete solutions. They will be provided with direct access to city officials and government data sets and will work together with code fellows in other cities to share skill sets, new solutions, ideas, and resources.

Opening up public data makes sense

The aim of the Helsinki Region Infoshare (HRI) project is to open up public data for everyone to use at no cost.

The public data opened up as part of the HRI project covers areas such as living conditions, economics, employment, and geospatial data, and is intended to:

  • make data easy to find, access, and utilise
  • promote an open data activity model
  • boost innovation
  • share lessons learned
  • make city government more effective and save on public expenditure, and
  • increase transparency.
(Published in HighTech Finland 2013)