27 March 2024

Democracy Technologies: Can you explain the basic idea behind Košice 2.0? What problems in your community did it seek to address?

Michal Hladký: The basic idea was to increase the well-being of citizens by improving the services the city provides. We knew that the city is facing some major challenges, such as economic issues and brain drain. But in a more concrete sense, it is also faced with the challenge of how to practice better decision making, how to understand data, how to introduce data management, collection, and its accessibility.

Our aim was to take a holistic approach. For this, we used different tools such as participation, education, capacity building, business support or acceleration, and hackathons. We also supported civic society through funding and support of several projects, which enabled citizens to bring their ideas to the public space.  

DT: Where did the motivation for the project come from?

Hladký: In recent years, Košice experienced a lot of development in the cultural and creative industries. This is connected to the city being the 2008 European Capital of Culture, inclusion in UNESCO Creative Cities Network in 2013, and UNESCO Media Arts Cities in 2017.

The project Košice 2.0 was funded by the Urban Innovative Actions initiative, which supports innovations in municipal environments. The call was very interesting to us because it dealt with cultural heritage. Our team approached it from the rather unconventional perspective of contemporary cultural heritage. In Košice, the question of cultural heritage is strongly connected to the European Capital of Culture, and it covers the intensive cultural production we experienced in the last decade.

DT: One of the project’s main outputs was developing an open data portal. Can you explain what this portal is?

Hladký: There are many cities that already have open data portals, but Košice didn’t have anything like this. We decided that the data we collected, or the data the city or other sources are collecting, should be made public. We decided this for several reasons. First, it’s simply a good practice to have all data in one place. Second, it’s also good to have data available and accessible for third parties, be it a business, universities, research institutions, or other entities.

Sometimes cities collect data simply because it’s possible or because they have to, but they don’t have the capacities to do anything with it. The portal allows us to make data open and accessible. This can bring innovation, but most importantly it also enables transparency of public institutions.  

DT: Can you describe the process of developing this portal?

Hladký: The process itself wasn’t that complicated. The city put out a public procurement and found technical support. For our part, we started with identifying which data sets are available and what condition they were in. Sometimes, the data was not clean enough to be published, and we had to get it into shape. After that, the portal was up and running. Categories of data sets range from demographic data, culture, tourism, to environment. The city now has a specific department responsible for selecting and maintaining data sets.

DT: The private sector is one of the most important re-users of open data. Was gaining knowledge of the specific needs of the private sector’s open data usage one of your concerns?

Hladký: Yes, the needs of the private sector were one of our concerns. We specifically designed an acceleration program for that. We started from the premise that the city faces certain challenges which it doesn’t necessarily have the capacity to deal with. Sometimes, a solution to this challenge already exists in the private sector. We decided that in our acceleration program, we will formulate challenges and invite businesses, companies, or startups to present their solutions. Through this, the city became one of the first test beds for their products or services.

DT: Users working with open data require specific skills to unlock its potential. How did your project address this need for skills?

Hladký: Although we didn’t focus only on the general public, we did have an educational program aimed at teaching people how to work with open data, or with a given dataset, and how to collect data. Our idea was to help the participants collect data with hardware, and teach them how to work with the data and how to visualise it. We also conducted several education programs for people working in public administration.

DT: A lack of interest and skills among public administration workers is often a barrier to establishing such platforms. How did your project address the need for public bodies to acquire the necessary technical knowledge? What was your experience with public servants’ interest in open data?

Hladký: We ran several capacity-building education programs for public administration workers. Our general idea was to find people in public administration who are already interested in working with open data. We ran a call within the municipality to find people who are interested, so the program wasn’t in any sense imposed on them. We simply asked who is curious, what topics interest them, and we worked with that.

In the initial stages, we worked with around twenty people who were very eager to go through the programs, so a lack of motivation wasn’t an issue. Afterwards, these people can influence their colleagues who see the positive results, and this also motivates them.

Hladký: Our main challenge was the quality of data, and the willingness of institutions to provide data. GDPR sometimes turned out to be a challenge leading to questions such as how to anonymise data. But our crucial challenge was the quality of data and availability. I don’t mean this in the technical sense, because that was relatively easy to overcome. Rather, what I have in mind are instances when data is not being collected systematically.

DT: What are your recommendations for a city considering implementing a similar project?

Hladký: It’s a must for every city, because as it is often said, you cannot know what you don’t know. Unless cities publish their data, and make it accessible to everyone, we cannot find out what’s possible in terms of data usage.

Another important thing is transparency, which is something every public institution should aim for. In the long-term, I believe such projects really bring about a cultural shift in the sense of being more courageous and innovative as a municipality. It’s also a great experience for everyone involved, and what’s important is that it is still alive, with ongoing activities evolving after the project.

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