One Year of Innovative Sofia: What Was Achieved and What Lies Ahead
Dear Partners and Friends,
One year ago, with the start of the challenging 2020 and on the initiative of the Mayor of Sofia Mrs. Yordanka Fandakova, Innovative Sofia – the Digitalization, Innovation and Economic Development department of Sofia Municipality – was established.
This first year of our activity was not easy, but together with you we’ve learned and achieved a lot. Each and every step has been (and will continue to be) in support of the development of Sofia as an intelligent, digital, innovative and tech city. We will continue to consolidate and guide the city’s digital and smart city projects, establish contacts with other cities around the world, and support high-tech and R&D investors in Sofia. Last but not least, we will continue to focus on increasing the number and quality of municipal e-services, as well as on open data and smart city projects implementation.
We would like to share with you some of the most important moments of our first year and our plans for the new 2021.
Digital Solutions in Times of Crisis
We did not expect the outbreak of the pandemic to rewrite our plans right after the establishment of Innovative Sofia, but crises are opportunities indeed. Soon after the lockdown in March, we launched several projects to help and support the citizens of Sofia.
We launched a Viber channel – Sofia Municipality’s COVID-19 community, which, in a short time, managed to connect thousands of subscribers from Sofia and other cities in Bulgaria and around the globe. To this day, the channel informs the citizens about the latest news related to COVID-19 and Sofia’s city life, with a particular focus on the topics that received the most votes in one of our polls in the channel. If you haven’t already, you can join the community and invite your Viber contacts through this link – https://vb.me/COVID-19_Sofia
The free mobile app of call.sofia.bg, the Contact Centre for citizens’ alerts and one of the largest platforms of the Metropolitan Municipality, was launched. Apart from sending non-urgent signals to the city administration, given the situation in the country, citizens can now also submit signals for violations of the anti-epidemic measures in Sofia Municipality via the special “COVID-19 signals” section that was activated in the app.
We also created the e-Sofia webpage (available on the websites of Sofia Municipality and Innovative Sofia) to help citizens find direct links to Sofia Municipality administrative services available online, citizen portals, links to documents and useful information on how to use the e-services of the city administration.
On the website of Innovative Sofia we created a dedicated page with key weekly and monthly economic indicators illustrating the effect of COVID-19 on Sofia’s economy. You can follow the page here.
We also published an Assessment Report on the Impact of COVID-19 on Sofia’s Economy – an analysis we made in March, only two weeks after the introduction of the emergency measures against the spread of COVID-19.
On the website of Sofia Municipality (www.sofia.bg), we launched Skilly the Chatbot to answer questions and provide up-to-date key information from official sources about the COVID-19 situation. You can communicate with the chatbot by asking it open-ended questions or by choosing from the list of frequently asked questions on various coronavirus-related topics.
These and other projects would not have been possible if it was not for the willingness of the business and technology companies in Sofia to discuss feasible solutions with us. We are extremely grateful for their assistance and support in providing digital solutions completely free of charge and in favour of the city and its citizens.
Digitalisation Projects Related to Municipal Services, Learning and Education, Sustainable Urban Solutions
Sofia Municipality joined and began providing administrative services via the Unified Model for Application, Payment and Provision of Electronic Administrative Services developed by the State e-Government Agency. Four pilot districts – Serdika, Triaditsa, Nadezhda and Bankya, became the first to start offering over 70 electronic administrative services as of June 2020. The remaining 20 districts will join the Unified Model over the next months.
GATE – the only Center for Excellence in Big Data and Artificial Intelligence in the Balkans and Eastern Europe – started work on the creation of a digital twin of the city in partnership with Sofia Municipality. The project is part of the Cooperation Agreement for the implementation of the Digital Transformation Strategy of Sofia, which the Sofia Municipality and the GATE Institute signed last year. Sofia’s first City Digital Twin is to be developed on the territory of the Lozenets district and will be validated in three pilot scenarios, related to urban planning, air quality, and public transport.
At the initiative of the Mayor of Sofia Mrs. Yordanka Fandakova, Sofia Municipality launched the pilot project “School in the Cloud” for the development of digital skills and work in an online environment in partnership with the Regional Department of Education and the Center for Creative Training. The first stage of the initiative already includes over 200 teachers from 16 schools. At the same time, the Second English Language High School “Thomas Jefferson” in Sofia was approved as a Google Reference School – the first in Sofia and the second in Southeast Europe. The school is also part of the pilot project “School in the Cloud”, and is applying the “One-to-One” model for managing the learning process via a device for each teacher and student.
Steps Forward in the Implementation of the Digital Transformation Strategy for Sofia
In June 2020, Sofia City Council unanimously approved the Digital Transformation Strategy for Sofia – a consensus that we highly value. The Strategy was developed under the Digital Cities Challenge project of the European Commission together with EU experts, our team, the team of Invest Sofia and over 100 local stakeholders, including Sofia-based companies with a total turnover of over BGN 3.23 billion and over 17,000 employees.
In October, again with complete unanimity, the Sofia City Council approved the Action Plan for the implementation of the Strategy. The document is a “road map” which outlines the indicative activities for the practical implementation of the Digital Transformation Strategy for Sofia.
The first meeting of the Digital Board of Sofia took place the same month. We are glad that it was attended by representatives of business associations, the academia, and experts from the tech sector in Sofia. You can find out more about the Digital Board of Sofia and what lies ahead here.
Sofia’s Participation in International Initiatives for Innovation, Digital Transformation and Smart Urban Solutions
Innovative Sofia, on behalf of Sofia Municipality, won a place and is currently managing the participation of the city in three international programmes.
The European Commission’s PolicyCLOUD Project aims to create a cloud-based tool for effective policy modelling, testing and management through data analysis and visualization; a variety of pilot projects have been included in the programme activities as well. With our participation in the project, Sofia Municipality will be able to perform simulations, tests and analysis of potential policies by using different categories of data – from both existing sources (the Call Sofia call centre for citizens’ signals) and from new open data sets of the EU, which will be accessible to Sofia and the other 15 European cities participating in PolicyCLOUD. Evidence-based policymaking is crucial for addressing urban challenges in an efficient way, and the PolicyCLOUD project will support Sofia Municipality to address this challenge by adapting the design of its policies, considering analytics’ results that combine information (big data) of sectors, related to a) transport, parking and road infrastructure; b) waste collection and waste disposal; c) cleanliness of public spaces; d) ecology, green systems; e) violation of public order; and others, of importance to citizens.
In 2020, the City of Sofia was invited to take part in ‘Bloomberg Philanthropies Digital Innovation Initiative 2020-2022’ – an international training on digital transformation management in European cities. The initiative is aimed at leaders in urban governance and policies for urban environment digitalization and innovation from 21 European cities. As part of Sofia’s participation in the Initiative, the teams of Innovative Sofia and Sofia Green are working with the consultants from FutureGov for the redesign and optimisation of municipal services, based on Life Events – a goal in synergy with the National Strategy for Development of E-Government in Bulgaria 2019 – 2023. We aim at applying a “need-driven,” holistic, and “one-stop-shop” approach. The hypothesis we work on is that by digitising redesigned resident-facing services and categorising them by ‘Life Events’ we will be able to improve residents’ awareness of, access to and experience of using such services and achieve an improved relationship between residents and the local municipality. At this stage of the project, we focus on the services, related to change of address registration (current or permanent address) as part of the life event ‘Moving to/within Sofia’. We plan its transformation according to a new methodology developed within the project that includes direct consultations with users of the respective service. The active feedback from citizens will help us to apply the methodology to other services as well. More details about the project as well as related news are available here.
After the success of the Digital Cities Challenge (DCC) programme, the European Commission launched the follow-up project, 100 Intelligent Cities Challenge (100ICC) in March 2020. The new project has an even wider scope and involves over 100 cities. Being part of the existing DCC network of cities, Sofia was invited to participate in the successor initiative. ICC will focus on the implementation of strategies, a common open data platform, the creation of a market for smart urban solutions, the realisation of joint investments and the establishment of new mechanisms for international support. The Initiative aims to build a green Europe by fostering intelligent and sustainable growth across European cities. During the 2,5-year project, the City of Sofia will focus on the topic of ‘E-Government and Citizen Participation’, and will receive personalized expert consulting support – in person, online and as part of a community of 100+ cities – to implement its Digital Transformation Strategy, and to develop a concrete project, instrument or process to further foster and facilitate the city’s development as a smart and innovative city.
What Lies Ahead
During our second year, we plan to launch our work-in-progress project, the so-called “Sandbox for Innovative Solutions” – an initiative for testing pilot innovative tech solutions related to urban challenges. Solutions will be sought for environmental, educational, transport, entrepreneurial, and other issues defined by the city administration, with the goal to turn Sofia into a testing ground for products or services developed locally by Sofia-based companies.
In the coming months, we will continue engaging with residents and staff via questionnaires and interviews, in order to continue to get more information and feedback about the services, related to address registration. We’ll start with testing small-scale prototypes that we’ll update weekly based on the feedback we receive. The prototypes will help us analyse what ideas and solutions we could implement so that they best meet the needs of the citizens and the administration. If you’re interested in being part of our upcoming user research and interviews in 2021, please, check the information here.
Since the establishment of Innovative Sofia at the beginning of the year, our team has been actively working on creating a series of sector matrices dedicated to Sofia’s various priority industries (including Congress and MICE Sector, Govtech, Fintech, and Gaming Matrix). To help those who consider settling down in the city or want to explore the business opportunities in Sofia, we published the third edition of the Business Guide Sofia 2020 and the first Sofia: Quality of Life guide. In 2021, we will continue developing new matrixes on different priority industries and publishing more reports and informational materials about Sofia.
This year, again, together with the representatives of the local ecosystem and our colleagues from the Sofia Municipality, we will continue to work actively to build a recognizable brand of Sofia as a modern, dynamic and innovative European city and to promote the city’s success stories, best achievements in various sectors and prominent ecosystem participants locally and globally.
2021 Will be Pretty Challenging!
Make sure to stay up to date with all the news from smart and digital Sofia! We invite you to sign up for our monthly newsletter and to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn if you haven’t already – because Sofia has great stories to tell and we’d be glad to share them with you, and, most of all, because the participation of the citizens and businesses in the process of digitalization is crucial! We can achieve positive change together – and your active attitude, feedback and support is very important for us!
We would like to thank all of you who have been supporting us throughout our first year! You helped us make this year a year of possibilities, despite the unexpected difficulties. In the new 2021, let’s continue making the next steps towards the digital transformation of Sofia together!