CIO‘s Diary: My first months as Bratislava’s Chief Innovation Officer


March 18, 2019
Petra Dzurovcinova, Chief Innovation Officer Bratislava

Let me start with a disclaimer. I have never been a public servant before. I‘m no stranger to public policy, but being on the other side is different.

Taking my entrepreneurial mind into this role makes the journey worth pursuing. My first month was full of discoveries, meeting people, finding out about the projects the city is already running or those that are planned.

But there is more to it.

Starting with the first principles

With every task at hand in this position, I need to look at the first principles. Whom do we serve? How are we currently serving them? What kind of projects do we run? Can we do it differently? Would it be better?

For any innovation project to work, you need three key ingredients: the ability to act, money, and people. It all came together in the CIO’s mission to deliver valuable and progressive services to citizens to make Bratislava a modern, well-functioning city with the highest possible quality of life.

And the vision? Make Bratislava open to technologies, collaboration with business, academics and third sector and enhancement of the digital services to ensure for the citizens to lead satisfying life in a sustainable environment reaching the full potential of the city.

As a CIO, the goal is to support Mayoral priorities, deliver on them and then monitor their impact.

As with any larger institution, the Bratislava City Hall is fairly siloed. Thus, internally, we need to introduce innovation as a mindset. Our colleagues want to cooperate and work together (integrated approach), and we want to help them do it effectively.

In a search for a business case

The CIO role is about listening and finding solutions for problems by deploying skills such as research, innovation strategy, product and experience development, design and prototyping to accelerate city initiatives. Let me draw an example.

The city of Bratislava has a city card that has been introduced in 2009 as a unique proposal of the city, banks, and MasterCard. The card was a combination of resident’s ID card to get discounts at the ZOO, sports centers, museums or when using public transport, worked as a bank card and offered discounts at local stores.

Photo by Maros Misove on Unsplash

Historically, there hasn’t been a business case attached to it. The previous city administration thought the card was a tool to convince the residents to sign up for permanent residency. However, no one ever challenged it or proved it with data. Additionally, no one ever asked the users why they are using the card and what kind of services do they wish to have attached to it.

With the team from marketing and innovation, we took a step back and looked at the WHY. Why do we have the card? What is our reasoning as a city? What do our customers want? Do they get it?

For some of these questions, we haven’t found the answer internally, so we decided to ask the users and residents. This is something I learned in the startup world. You think you know something about your customers, but do you really? Every assumption needs to be validated and proven with data. Then we can make better decisions.

Open Data community and city hackathon

First, we need to understand what has been done previously, how can we build upon it, who and what do we need to make things happen. How do we start? The simple answer is: by listening and collaborating.

Since innovation is mostly about applying technology to real-world problems and solving them more efficiently, our natural twins in the City Hall are the IT and data departments. Together, we have started to review the existing infrastructure.

Petra at the Primate's Palace, the seat of Mayor of Bratislava
Petra at the Primate’s Palace, the seat of Mayor of Bratislava

Few paragraphs ago, I talked about evidence-based decision making. For that, we need to have relevant data. Informally, there have been groups of data experts working together, but Data Governance Policy, as well as Data Strategy and Plan to collect, evaluate and use data available to the city, were missing.

From the internal and external discussions came the first document with principles of Data Governance. You can see the document here. A few days ago we had an informal meeting with the Open Data community. Next on the agenda is my presentation at PyCon and our joint hackathon on March 24th. You’re invited to help us hack Bratislava.

How do we make all this work?

We also act as partners towards academic circles, business, and third sector. Our goal is to be a partner for them and work together. The hardest question we’ve been asking ourselves, our friends at JASPERS (experts on urban agenda) and networks like Eurocities is the HOW. We need to start with the basics: whom do we need to serve and what are their needs. Then build a business case around it.

We plan to create a city lab and a platform where we can collaborate with our partners. There are many models we can see in other cities. Just around the corner is Vienna with advanced urban innovation agenda, or Brno with its smart city office and South Moravian Innovation Centre, or Amsterdam with its smart city private-public partnership, Barcelona with test beds, and the list goes on.

This is a hot topic on our priority list. If you want to be part of it, reach out to us. We would love to hear from you. We are not starting from scratch, however. There already are some great projects around sustainability, climate resilience, and support for the entrepreneurial mind.

Decision making supported by mobile data

The project with Market Locator helping us identify flows of people across Bratislava by using anonymized and aggregated telecom data is a good starting point. The last census happened in 2011. The dynamics of Bratislava changes rapidly, and we did not have enough data to support our decisions.

Bratislava's Main Square (Image by Vladimír Ješko from Pixabay)
Bratislava’s Main Square (Image by Vladimír Ješko from Pixabay)

This is one of the ways to get more in-depth understanding of how, when and possibly why people use certain roads, places and not the others. Only then we can think about shifting or adjusting their behaviors.

This pilot will help us validate if we can support our decision making with mobile data and what kind of use cases might work for us. As with other topics, these should be combined and evaluated with other available data in mathematically and statistically relevant way.

Innovative ecosystem support

The other project that caught my attention and fits into our goals is Urban M prepared together with the partners from Birmingham, San Sebastián, Vilnius, Zagreb, Krajn, Lazio, and Lisbon.

The aim is to support collaborative makerspaces through policy change, sharing best practice and support from the city. We want to know how to use innovative and experimental technologies and establish innovation-friendly data policy as well as support the innovation ecosystem as a whole (for example by providing infrastructure to them).

Next time, you‘ll have a chance to look at the Innovation Manifesto stating our short- and long-term goals, activities planned for 2019 as well as where you can join us and shape the future of Bratislava.

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