Sustainable future cities implement City as a Service approach and exploit data

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24 Oct 2019

Sustainable future cities implement City as a Service approach and exploit data

Research Data Allianceplenary , 23 October 2019,
opening speech of the evening reception by Päivi Sutinen


There is a common myth that innovations are created by lonely geniuses who come up with brilliant inventions all on their own. In reality, innovations are created by sharing and learning, challenging and verifying, testing and trying, by crossing boundaries together.

We know that an innovation ecosystem needs open collaboration and co-creation at local level, within the community. That is why the City of Espoo is the first city that is striving to implement the “City as a Service” approach across the entire city. Exploiting data is one of the major themes in our development frame.

What this means is that we as a city produce services through cooperation with our partners and take advantage of digitalisation and the existing capabilities, such as premises, equipment and expertise.

The world no longer works in the same way as it used to, for example in the industrial era. Nowadays everything is based on networks – and the networks, the community, are the new basis for development.

The key is citizen involvement in service design. We are also opening up data to enable anyone and everyone to contribute to the development of service technology.

Our open invitation to the City as a Service co-creation process is called “Make with Espoo”. We are co-creating our services with citizens, companies – from major corporations to start-ups – NGOs, universities and research institutes by using data, artificial intelligence and digitalisation. In Espoo, even young school children get to participate in the development of new digital services. One example is an app against bullying.

The new role of cities is to bring challenges and needs together and to offer platforms for citizens to raise issues to be solved, cooperation forums for different parties and real-life testing environments for innovation and development work.

In Espoo, we believe that data and AI are the key factors to tackle urban challenges. Thanks to, for example, our widely used national personal identity codes, Finnish authorities have a great deal of very high-quality customer data. It would be unethical not to use this data for developing the public and private services – that means more effective and proactive services that support people’s health and well-being and prevent severe problems in our entire community.

For example, the data on Finnish health care is of very high quality, and when it is collected in one place, such as a data pool, it can be better utilised with AI to benefit our society, the development of municipal services, health care professionals and individual residents.

This was proven last year when we carried out a unique AI experiment together with the Finnish software and service company Tieto. The result was what we had hoped for: AI can pick out service paths from an enormous mass of data by grouping together the risk factors that trigger the need for heavy and expensive services if found in the same person. This experiment was unique in that data on client relationships in public administration has never before been combined and analysed on such an extensive scale using artificial intelligence.

In this experiment, data was collected on approximately 520,000 people and more than 37 million customer contacts. Personal data was encrypted as early as the search phase, and all the data processing was done with extreme security. Individual persons could not be identified at any stage.

This new data can challenge the city processes. We have also obtained important information on the quality of the data and the registration practices.

One of our findings in the experiment was that preventive child welfare services do not reach our residents with an immigrant background. Within a year, professionals made major changes to the child welfare services and, as a result, the proportion of children with an immigrant background in custody cases dropped from 45 to 24 per cent.

Follow-up work will require, among other things, ethical consideration on whether the data produced by AI could be used as an alarm so that the system would tell the care personnel whenever a customer arriving at an appointment has many risk factors. This is one of the things that we are discussing and investigating with expert organisations such as the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence (FCAI) founded by Aalto University, the University of Helsinki and VTT, the Technical Research Centre of Finland.

Sustainable innovations are very important. As the fastest growing city in Finland, Espoo is using innovation to stay on an already remarkably sustainable path. Strongly committed to reaching the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by 2025, Espoo treasures a strong education system and a sense of community.

We are going to keep our growth innovative, intelligent and wisely sustainable. And we are going to do it together. If we are going to be successful in co-creating a better sustainable world, we need to do it together. A citizen-oriented sustainable community makes sense when we are doing it together. The key words for the wisely sustainable future are community, collaboration and co-creation with customer-oriented value creation in everything we do.

Research and development institutes are vital partners for cities. Together with them, companies and residents we can create a sustainable future.

We wish you all an inspiring Research Data Alliance conference. Make yourselves at home and be innovative in Espoo!


Päivi Sutinen,
City as a Service Director, City of Espoo

Piia Wollstén

Development Manager, City of Espoo