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tel aviv, Digital Governor
Curating a new digital relationship with citizens: lessons from Tel Aviv Curating a new digital relationship with citizens: lessons from Tel Aviv

An interview with Liora Shechter, CIO Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality

Liora Shechter is the CIO for Tel Aviv Municipality. CITIE interviewed Liora to understand how Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality is using technology to curate a new relationship with its residents.

CITIE: As we look across the cities we have studied, Tel Aviv is a leading example of the way you use technology to interact with citizens. What prompted the city of Tel Aviv to look to start building this new relationship?

Liora Shechter: We view our residents as clients: clients that want to work, socialise and live in Tel Aviv. However, a few years ago we performed a number of resident surveys and the results were somewhat surprising. When residents were asked what they thought about Tel Aviv as a city, most used very positive adjectives: non-stop, lovely and young. But when we asked about what they thought about the government, the answer was very different: bureaucratic and transactional notions such as taxes and parking tickets dominated their thoughts.

“We noted that residents had a growing expectation for online information and participation options.”

We noted that Tel Aviv’s residents had a growing expectation for online information and participation options, and a growing will to influence the city through digital means. It was our desire to provide options for that, a digital solution that would build on trends like personalised services, and that responded to residents’ preferences.We saw this as an opportunity to change the relationship between residents and the municipality and shift away from the perception that the municipality was just about paying taxes. We started pursuing a more resident-oriented city government.

CITIE: How did Tel Aviv manage the transition to a more resident-oriented form of city government?

Liora Shechter: The first stage was to change the way we perceived the resident, what personal information is important for us to have in order to provide them with better and innovative services. It was clear to us that we needed to expand the range of services over the ones traditionally given by the municipality. Our assets were e-governance orientated ICT projects already in place.

It was for this purpose that DigiTel was created – to act as a platform composed of over 30 projects, and allow for the sum of Tel Aviv’s ICT projects to be greater than its constituent parts.

DigiTel launched in 2013 and is a streamlined online engagement platform which has been pivotal in our transition to e-governance.

“Through DigiTel, the municipality is providing customized digital services to residents.”

CITIE: Let’s talk more about DigiTel. What does it offer to residents?

Liora Shechter: Our vision for DigiTel was to provide residents with a single interface with the city; a digital, innovative, streamlined and easily accessible platform through which all interactions between resident and municipality could occur. That’s what we achieved.

DigiTel is a personalised digital communications network, designed for residents with a focus on their interests, location, day-to-day activities and transport options.

Open to all Tel Aviv residents aged 13 and over, DigiTel allows the municipality to build a personalised view of each of the residents. On the basis of this unique view, Tel Aviv is able to offer residents relevant information, activities at their local community centres, special deals on interesting events at cultural venues and sports arenas. The information is delivered via messages and notifications.

CITIE: The personalization DigiTel facilitates is a very unique aspect. Could you give us a view of how this works in practice?

“DigiTel has made some previously burdensome tasks simpler and resident-orientated.”

Liora Shechter: Yes you are right, we believe our personalisation efforts are world leading. Indeed, the ‘Residents Card’ is unique to Tel Aviv and enables the city to learn about its citizens’ interests. Through the card, residents are able to access relevant benefits. It’s an unconventional and uncommon approach for a municipality to tailor benefits for its citizens.

In order to register, citizens are required to sign up at designated sites to self-authenticate, and on registration users are given the opportunity to create a unique profile, indicating their personal and social preferences. Once a profile is generated, the municipality is able to send citizens information, updates and offers of importance and relevance.

For example, residents can be advised of road closures and advised to take alternative routes. Similarly, if a resident indicates an interest in sports they are notified about Tel Aviv marathon and offered a discount on the registration fee.

An exciting joint venture is with local theatres – when and if theatre tickets are not sold, the municipality can use the Residents Card to direct citizens to heavily reduced tickets. This is a win-win situation for the theatre as well as the citizens who indicated they were interested in culture.

DigiTel has also made previously burdensome transactional tasks simpler and more resident-orientated. For example, previously residents were required to physically collect a regional parking validation for their car in order to park freely in their neighbourhood. But through DigiTel, residents can now apply online for a regional parking validation and have it delivered personally to them by courier free of charge.

Ultimately, through DigiTel the municipality is providing customised digital services to its residents – at any time and from any place.

CITIE: Another important aspect of engagement with the public is how the city enables residents to influence policymaking. How do Tel Aviv and DigiTel approach this?            

“If we engage with citizens about future decisions, they become more involved with the outcome and feel responsible for it.”

We understand that if we engage with citizens about future decisions, they become more involved with the outcome and feel responsible for it – ultimately they help us shape a better and more effective the solution. We therefore try to engage citizens from the start, from the first thinking.Liora Shechter: We strongly believe that leveraging the wisdom of the crowd is vital for smart municipal management. Their opinions are taken into account to enable better decision-making.

Through DigiTel residents are now directly influencing a range of municipality decisions. We are increasingly involving residents in urban experience and urban development, with an emphasis on engagement in decision-making processes.

Recently, neighbourhoods were given €300,000 to deliver renovations. The municipality asked residents what they would most like to see renovated in their neighbourhood. The results were then aggregated and published online with cost estimates. Residents were asked to rank a winning combination of ideas. After all, who knows what needs to be changed more than the citizens that live in that neighbourhood?

Finally, another critical part of public participation in policymaking is having an effective feedback loop. With DigiTel, every resident who participates receives a tailored piece of feedback indicating to them how their input influenced the final policy decision.

CITIE: How has the success of DigiTel been measured?

“Our goal is to build an environment where citizens have a constant positive and surprising interaction with the municipality.”

Liora Shechter: To date, over 33% of Tel Aviv’s population have signed up to and are actively using DigiTel. Feedback has been very positive, along with resident engagement and participation. Within the last 18 months, 100,000 people have registered, an impressive uptake.

Our goal is to build an environment where citizens have a constant positive interaction with the municipality; an interaction that is surprising and innovative and was not as apparent three years ago without DigiTel.

DigiTel has also achieved international acclaim – Tel Aviv was distinguished as the ‘Best Smart City in 2014’ at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona.

CITIE: Following the strong launch and uptake of DigiTel, what are the municipality’s next steps?

Liora Shechter: One of the following steps is the opening of public spaces to residents, such as the ability to reserve a football field in the community centre, the ability to reserve a meeting room in a municipal office building and the ability to watch town hall meetings online.

Another venture is to convert the physical Residents’ Card to mobile, enabling the resident to identify themselves and consume benefits digitally.

CITIE: What lessons would you give to other cities looking to follow Tel Aviv’s example?

Liora Shechter: We should change the way we perceive the resident. It’s important that the city sees them as a client we need to keep, a client we need to give simple and accessible services. We look to surprise them with a service level and benefits that can support their lifestyle. In addition to this it’s important to give them as a significant role in the decision making and the development of the city.