The charming city of Arad is Romania’s 12th largest city and home to the most important transportation hub on the Mures River. Whilst the city prides itself on it’s historic roots which attracts many tourists, digitalisation is a crucial focus area for Arad. Laura Bocancios, Project Manager for Arad, provided the Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC) with an update on the city’s progress on its digital journey since last year as it follows the Citizen participation and digitalisation of public administration thematic track. You can read Arad’s previous article on its ambitions here.
The need for digital skills continues to be of great priority in a world accelerating towards digital dependency. Despite the hardships of COVID-19, the forbearance of administrative authorities in the face of adversity brought a newfound drive in the city’s ambitions.
Arad initially embarked on this journey during the Digital Cities Challenge, proving foremost that Arad could bring together actors from different areas of city life to create something long-lasting and impactful. As a result, the Digital Transformation Strategy became a cornerstone which established the importance of SMART CHANGE with the help of digital solutions.
The idea of ‘Digital Arad’ carried on within ICC, renewing the necessity of transitioning to digital services. This challenge increased exponentially due to people being confined within the walls of their homes, therefore conducting most of their tasks from behind a screen – work, grocery shopping, payments, and so on. This sort of forced approach revealed a gap in digital skills among not only citizens, but city employees as well, and when confronted with novelty, the responses were either to adjust accordingly or rejection.
To aid people and mend the discrepancies, Arad’s goal to develop employees’ and citizens’ digital skills strengthened.
The first measure came in the form of an EU funded project under the Administrative Capacity Operational Programme – “Efficient strategic planning and implementation of e-solutions in order to decrease bureaucracy within the City Hall of Arad”, which ended in February 2022. The project tied with the ICC initiative of increasing the degree of digital service usage by providing a portal for e-services that requires a one-time registration for users to access and have their documents verified online, including the ability to use e-signatures and carry all communications electronically. The City Hall’s main website has also been upgraded to a friendlier interface, and streamlined, making it accessible on smaller devices such as mobile phones and tablets too. Internally, the current solution used by the City Hall to manage documents has been updated and extended.
However, no matter the amount of innovation, digital wise, it would be futile without ensuring these systems are visible and understood. The project included training courses for 80 employees, with practical sessions that allowed them to rapidly adapt to and utilize these solutions. Citizens that still choose face-to-face interactions are given guidance and demonstrations on these digital alternatives and their advantages, such as freeing their schedule, from not wasting time on queues, and quicker access to vital information through a simple click.
It has been over a month since the end of the project, and with its success, the next step is to extend the digital services to other institutions under the City Hall, such as the Directorate of Social Assistance and the Local Police. Using the same blueprint, Arad is going to replicate the success through another EU funded project within the same programme, currently awaiting signature, and additionally train 100 more employees in digital skills.
These may not seem revolutionary, yet with the way the City has been progressing at a faster pace after DCC and ICC, and the current national push into the digital sector, it is safe to assume that Arad is on the right path.
The focus now is on providing more support for citizens through tutorials, a digital helpline, partnerships with NGOs and other institutions to lend their expertise to citizens, and other actions, as identified with the ICC team. The elderly and underprivileged families, notably disadvantaged children/youths, are especially exposed to a lack of digital knowledge and skills, and require different means of reskilling, such as day centres or the involvement of educational institutions.
Ultimately, with technology as an essential part of our everyday life, it is vital that we remember these means are there to improve the quality of life and give opportunities to everyone, regardless of their social status. ICC has highlighted that synergy through peer learning and collaborations, and how to tackle each challenge individually to reach a consensus. It is these examples and tangible results that give people faith in not only their city, but themselves to do better. From here on, nothing is impossible.
The ICC praises Arad for sharing its progress update and encourages the city to continue its digital journey!