GAVIUS: from co-creation to technological development - interview with Enric Ruiz-Esteller
This is also the case of Gavius which is the result of a joint and cooperative effort between the two City Councils of Gavà and Mataró and a committed group of experienced partners bringing knowledge and expertise which encompass the technological, legal and ethical aspects.
We have interviewed Enric Ruiz-Esteller from Inetum, a global IT company whose primary mission is helping institutions and organisations to get the most out of the digital transformation.
What was the trigger for Inetum to participate in the Gavius project?
Innovation is an inherent part of the DNA of Inetum: we always seek to contribute with our experience in all projects in which we participate, but the case of Gavius is special, since one of the objectives of the project is to bring the administration closer to citizenship, especially to those groups of vulnerable people who demand social care. These citizens often find it difficult to know what the administration can provide them and how they can request social assistance and manage their applications.
A very clear concept that has arisen in the co-creation process is the utmost importance of "making things easy" to the citizenship. This is actually one of the main goals which drive our work. In our daily activities we use and apply innovative concepts, ideas and tools to make things easy. In Gavius, the aim is to make the interaction of the citizenship with the local administration smoother and simpler. Thus, Gavius is far beyond a technological development project: our aim is delivering effective solutions for citizens with a specific focus on addressing the needs of vulnerable groups.
What is your role as partner in the project?
At Inetum, we have extensive experience in innovation and digital transformation in the field of public administration. In Gavius we contribute with the definition, co-creation, prototyping of the technological solutions and execution of the pilots.
What are the innovative features that you can contribute to the project?
At Inetum, we have a network of innovation centres specialised in different technologies. This network of innovation centers allows us to keep up to date with the solutions that are conceptualized, tested and implemented in the different administrations at the European level and that can be exploited by Gavius. With this solid infrastructure, we can develop and test innovative and tailored technologies. Our network of centers provides access to have a wide range of tools and methods that can be tuned to the specific needs and adapted so to obtain concrete and feasible solutions. Actually, feasibility assessment is a crucial aspect as public administration needs are often associated with complex sets of requirements and constraints, thus it is highly important to select and adopt the most suitable technological solutions.
You have played a primary role within the co-creation process. How did you organize it?
Based on our experience in designing conceptualization and co-creation sessions in different projects with local administrations and specifically their Social Rights Departments, there are many elements that must be taken into account to ensure the success of the co-creation process.
First, one of the main factors is that participants understand the purpose of co-creation: what is the objective? Why shall they participate in the sessions?
In this regard, we have invested a considerable effort in undertaking preparatory activities such as delivering visual support materials for the concepts that we wanted to discuss in the different co-creation sessions to give reply to Gavius. These materials have been used to kick start the debate, trigger the participants to give their opinion, illustrate their priorities and preferences in specific aspects of Gavius. We took advantage of visualization aids and materials to make easier for participants to expose their concerns and discomforts when interacting with the administration: this has allowed to clearly identify what is currently working well and what should be improved.
Second, the whole co-creation process has been guided by the user-centricity principle: we have arranged the participatory sessions in a way that has put both citizens and local officials from the social services on the same level as they will be both key end users of the virtual assistants and the whole Gavius system. Thus, they have equally contributed to the definition of functional requirements and the co-creation of the Gavius app and dashboards.
We are confident that this iterative and intense co-production work will allow to generate a solution that will be adjusted to their needs and preferences as much as possible.
How do you value the sessions that have been organized with citizens, entities and municipal staff?
We value them very positively. An element to highlight has been the challenge imposed by the need to arrange all the sessions in virtual modalities and the pragmatic and creative solutions we found to overcome this: we have been working hardly on the development of the content and the design of the participatory dynamics, we have been using appropriate remote co-creation tools and have coordinated the sessions so as to maximise participation and interaction and ensure the citizens get the highest return from their engagement.
We used videoconferencing tools and digital whiteboards: in spite of the careful preparation, we had also to face extra challenges related to the diverse composition of the focus group representatives of the different groups of citizens and their different levels of prior digital literacy.
Overall, the technical, organizational and participatory challenges were high, but we consider the outcome more than satisfactory.
We, developers and researchers, always get lots of learnings from co-creation sessions and we are eager to listen actively and absorb as much as possible what the users feel and think. No matter how well the functionalities and technical aspects of the project are theoretically designed beforehand, all along the process (in both the co-creation and the following testing and piloting phases) the users’ role is pivotal and they may point out different perspectives, unforeseen problems and concerns which could also eventually lead to change and adapt the framework previously defined. Nevertheless, the fact that unpredicted issues may surge is not at all a pitfall in the process. On the contrary, co-creation and user engagement allow to keep an open and continuous dialogue with the users, identify early potential problems and envisage the most adequate solutions.
What are the most important takeaways from the co-creation sessions?
Overall, the key message we got from citizens is they really wish the local administration was supportive and able to help them. They think processes and services should be designed to "make their life easier" and they feel the bureaucratic burden on citizens’ side is still very heavy e.g., when they go through different administrative processes (such as different applications for financial aids) and they have to provide the same data and documentation many time because of the lack of coordination. If we applied a frequency algorithm to identify keywords in the co-creation sessions, the word “easy” would definitely be at the most frequently mentioned word! There are three major things that concern them: to find information, to start the procedures and get notified about the status of their applications. The first concern is finding the right information that suits to their specific case and needs and is delivered in an easy-to-understand terminology. The second main concern is about clearly understanding whether they are eligible and can apply for a certain aid and, if yes, how. The perception is that they generally don't understand the language of the administration and they easily get lost due to the complex jargon, the administrative hurdles or the too many steps that a procedure entails. The third big concern is having easy and quick access at any time to updated and clear information about the status of their requests. These three concerns generally provoke in them a feeling of frustration.
And from now on, what will be the next steps within the project?
Now that the co-creation process is over, we are working to balance the requirements and identified needs of citizens and municipal staff with the technology, datasets, and infrastructure available. This implies an accurate analysis of pros and cons to assess the most adequate solution for each issue to be tackled.
The challenge is not only providing satisfactory responses to the elicited requirements, but also to keep solutions smart, agile and user friendly for people, including certain vulnerable groups of citizens who often do not have sufficient digital skills and are not accustomed to use smartphones to access services or interact with public and private institutions.
As a technology provider, what do you get from the Gavius project?
Participating in the Gavius project allows us to strengthen our innovation expertise and enlarge our experience in projects of digital transformation in the field of public administration, contributing valuable solutions, such as improving the satisfaction and experience of citizens in their relationship with the local administration, facilitating the work of municipal officers, as well as providing analytical solutions that will enable local managers to make decisions and prioritize strategies and policies. It also allows us to deploy and test tools that can bring the administration closer to citizens, especially to vulnerable groups.
Gavius is a great innovation challenge, and it could represent a leading example to demonstrate the huge potential of digital technologies, namely Artificial Intelligence, to transform public services while preserving ethics and human rights.