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Driving social innovation at a city level - Learning from Gdansk, Poland

On behalf of Mayor Adamowicz and the city of Gdansk, Tomasz Nadolny, the Director of the Mayor’s Office, participated in an interview with Social Innovation Europe to share some insights on innovation in the city of Gdansk.

How can mayors be more involved in driving social innovation at a city level?

First of all, a mayor should show his direct engagement in issues related to innovation. His team should know that the leader accepts the innovation process taking place in the city - that he is ready to listen to people and to discuss their ideas. This is a crucial foundation for the innovation process in a city. Without a mayor’s support it is much harder, if at all possible, task.

The openness of a leader, his understanding of the issue and his direct engagement are fundamental for shaping long-term strategy for the innovation in a city. Creating a friendly environment takes it further from creating a city strategy and other documents to the next step of creating various pro-innovative city policies. The most important of them are: the policy of openness and open data, education policy, social care policy and smart city policy. Well-defined policies can help create or widen a space for innovation in a city. They are the background for city’s officials to cooperate with partners (NGOs, activists, start-ups etc.), to listen to their ideas and help them develop social innovation.

Could you give us an example of an innovation that your city has been involved in?

Gdansk seeks for innovations that make people feel more responsible for their city and shaping its future. The most important innovations in a city are the ones that: help solve issues important for the inhabitants; increase the level of social engagement in city affairs; build trust among people; and strengthen the civil society. Here are a few examples:

  1. Our participatory budget is one of our most important innovations. It is a platform for residents to have a discussion on what improvements they expect in their districts and what is most important for their neighborhoods.
  2. Shaping our strategy Gdansk 2030PLUS, we took an effort to make public consultation as wide as possible including many meetings with residents and experts, discussions in the media and on social media, and conducting surveys. These led to creating a well-balanced strategy.
  3. We also launched a web application called BAND, which allows city inhabitants to pinpoint on Google Maps the best locations for planting new trees. The application supports more sustainable, eco-friendly development of the city. You can just visit the website, select a location, choose preferred tree species, provide your contact details and that’s it! After the request is sent, it is analysed by the city hall and a tree could be planted.
  4. BAND and other actions are parts of a wider strategy. Gdańsk seeks for ways of increasing trust among people and engagement of its citizens in the city affairs with the use of ICT solutions. One of the tools we use is our openness policy, which set a goal of extending access to data generated by the city. Gdansk publishes daily a list of its expenses – it is the first and only city in Poland to do this. Data can be accessed in various ways:
    1. In a raw format (XML) – developers can create their own IT tools to analyze city financial outflow.
    2. Chronologically on a website: http://www.gdansk.pl/urzad/dane?umowy=tak
    3. General view on the budget of Gdansk (an interactive infographic): www.gdansk.pl/budzet
  5. An important part of the policy is our engagement and support for the project “Code for Poland”, in which coders and other IT specialists are creating applications increasing the quality of life or solving social issues. An example of such an application is a mobile application for a pet shelter, which will facilitate pet adoption in Gdansk, and – hopefully – in all of Poland (the app will be available under open source license and will be available to all interested parties).

Which other cities inspire you and why?

One of inspiring cities for us is Amsterdam with its inclusive and open ecosystem. The city, together with local universities and startup community, work together on new services and cope with issues in the areas of safety, mobility, interactive democracy etc. Among others, they are engaged in creating the City Service Development Kit – a tool for the development of open digital services for cities.

Another source of inspiration for us is the New York City with its NYC 311 service, an exemplary service delivering city inhabitants and visitors with accurate and up-to-date information on city services. NYC 311 is available in many languages, through various channels (social media, web, phone, skype etc.), facilitating the communication between the city, its inhabitants and visitors.


You may also be interested in reading: Driving social innovation at a city level: Mayor Aboutaleb on Rotterdam.