Järfälla Municipality wanted to gain more insight into what is important for their community, particularly in areas that faced social and economic challenges. With Parlametric they found a more effective way that introduced them to new technologies and a more digital way of thinking.
Providing narrative analysis using innovative machine learning methods, Parlametric sees the public sector as an ideal customer because municipalities see the inherent value in listening to their citizens. Their work together with Järfälla Municipality allowed over 200 local residents to give their opinions on the municipality and community safety in a more digital way.
“We have to digitize different processes to make it easier for people to participate but we also have to remember not all people can use digital means for dialogue. This is a key issue, but in the long run I hope we can find more ways of working with digital and especially AI,” says Democracy Developer at Järfälla Kommun, Jessika Karreskog.
The collaboration was a positive learning curve and particularly opened up Järfälla’s knowledge of startup companies capabilities and the potential digital solutions they can provide for the public sector. Parlametric were also happy to help the municipality along their road to digitalisation but emphasised the need for continued dialogue.
“It’s important to keep doing continuous analysis and measures. It’s best to do it often so that you are in essence having a dialogue with your citizens and getting to know them; what they want, need and desire,” says Thomas Strandberg, CEO and analyst, Parlametric.
Discovering New Partners and Technologies Through Ignite
Noticing that there wasn’t a non overly technological solution for capturing important insights from communities, Parlametric began in 2017 to create something that was easy for the end user but utilizes complex machine learning to convert a range of information into usable insights.
“We wanted to have a more holistic solution for this, which would make a very non-techy person be able to do really state of the art, impressive and meaningful things,” says Johan Källstrand, co-founder and analyst at Parlametric.
These insights could prove integral to help municipalities better understand what their citizens want, however Johan said it is nearly impossible to connect with the big cities. This is where Ignite can play an important role and introduce them to clients they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
“That is the main reason for investing a lot of time in Ignite. We can see that it has delivered. It takes a lot of time and we have been at many events but there has been a very positive outcome,” says Johan.
On the other hand municipalities like Järfälla are often unaware of what startups and smaller companies can bring to the table. Democracy Developer at Järfälla Kommun, Jessika Karreskog said she often does public tenders but didn’t have the information about smaller companies’ ways of working with AI and technology.
“I wouldn’t have been in touch with them (startups like Parlametric), but now I know several that I could contact if we do a new public tender. I didn’t know this existed and I didn’t know about that kind of technology or what it could do. Maybe I would have found Parlametric (without Ignite) but not in the same way and not as quickly.”
It was through Ignite’s Smart Cities matchmaking event in Kista in 2019 that Järfälla and Parlametric first met and were able to begin a collaboration focused on getting insights from community members that are often not able to have their voices heard.
Addressing Inequalities and a New Digital Approach to Community Engagement
Jessika’s department at Järfälla Municipality focuses primarily on dialogue within the community, children’s rights and national minorities. They brought a number of challenges to discuss with Ignite but their first matchmaking sessions helped them identify a key goal of improving the ways they could reach out to the community. Any solution they chose had to fit into existing structures of the organisation including democracy plans that Jessika’s department has to work from, the desire for innovation internally and what was beneficial to the community.
“It was really interesting to hear about the startups’ approaches and having them present their solutions and technology. I had a positive reaction and felt that there were good meetings but I was struggling for a long while in how I could use it. You need to be open minded,” explains Jessika.
The democracy ambassador program involves citizens in Järfälla who are employed to interview or inform other citizens in Järfälla about current processes in the municipality. They ask about people’s opinions and listen to those voices the municipality don’t usually hear. Jessika saw the introduction to Parlametric as an opportunity to change the way the ambassadors were working.
“As a municipality, we know that the strong voices, the ones with the social and political capital, can make their voices heard but others groups have a harder time to make their voices heard.”
“Previously we have just sent the ambassadors out to talk to people and they have written on paper what they found for answers. Then the person (within Järfälla) transcribed the answers and did the report. This was a way for us to maybe to digitalise the process a little more when our democracy ambassadors go out and talk with people in town,” says Jessika.
Parlametric had a solution that would help digitalise the process and allow the ambassadors and municipality to get better insights into what community members were saying.
“It’s about understanding all the citizens in a city, not by using these survey tools with 1-5 how happy are you living in the city. You want to do exactly the opposite, you want to ask one question and just talk about your city, anything that’s good or bad. Let the stories define them,” explains Johan.
Learning to Work with Digitally and Challenges of Long Term Budgets
The process from there was fairly straightforward according to both Järfälla and Parlametric. It was important to both parties that the solution was adapted to suit their specific needs and train the eight ambassadors to do the interviews.
“They wanted to listen to their citizens and they knew we could do it but then we had to design and decide jointly how. In the Järfalla case, we built a tool for them and then they wanted to collect the data themselves, so we just provided the tool for them to do that and when they had collected the data we did the analysis, so it was pretty straight forward,” says Thomas.
As is often the case, there was a slight culture clash in terms of paces of the organisations. This is common as startups are generally fast-paced and can pivot plans quickly while Jessika notes that public sector budgets are often set well in advance.
“We started the budget process for 2021 in Spring 2020. So if we don’t keep any budget open, it’s hard for us to do anything until one or two years later”, says Jessika.
Changing this dynamic requires a larger cultural shift and support from the leadership according to Jessika.
“I think we as a municipality need to prepare more for these kinds of processes. We often know when exactly we go to public tender and what we need. But we often don’t know what there is out there, so that process with Ignite was really interesting but it can be hard with the limitations I have from how we work in the government and public sectors.
“If we had a decision from politicians and boards that they want to do this and they want to invest and try new innovations, we would have an easier time to engage in specific things that we thought could be good in the future.”
Although Järfälla is aiming to become more digital, it was challenging to get the ambassadors to completely adapt to the new technology so quickly as it was a completely new way of working.
“It was a new way for them to work as they had to write in the answers directly into a tablet but I noticed that a lot of them chose to write it down on paper and later that night transcribe it later at night into the computer,” says Jessika.
This also meant that the answers were not quite as in depth as Jessika had hoped. These challenges allowed her to consider how she would adapt future collaborations.
“Next time I would do it with clearer, longer interviews with fewer and more professional interviewers to use this text analysis better. I think we didn’t get the full result with the method we used this time but we did get a good report and a good collaboration.“
The Value of Listening. Looking Forward to Future Collaborations
Despite the challenges, both organizations thought it was a successful project that gave them some extra experience and learnings to take into future collaborations.
Parlametric finds it beneficial to work with the public sector as they often see the value of the types of insights Parlametric can provide.
“I think in particular the municipalities are extremely interested in listening to and knowing what their citizens have to say. We can show them that we can actually do that (through our previous projects) and it’s really simple. Then it’s just a case of concretizing what we should do,” says Thomas.
Järfälla was also pleased with the results as their report gave them some good insights into how the community was feeling.
“We got a really good result in the report. We had approximately 200 people in our areas with social or economic challenges talk about their feelings on security and how they see our dialogue, and we get an idea that they feel like they can participate in the same way,” says Jessika.
Järfälla is now implementing the information from this report into their new detailed development plans and work with security.
“It has also led to an initiative where we are starting local dialogue groups for citizens in these areas. From the beginning, a main point from the participants has been their desire to meet physically in their own neighbourhood, but this has unfortunately not been possible since Spring 2020. But we are about to go digital and we are continuously talking to people about how they want to communicate with their municipality,” says Jessika.
Thomas was happy to hear about the follow up initiatives as it highlighted how this type of analysis can be put into action.
“It is an extremely important part as data and insights must lead to action, decision and changes to be truly meaningful.”
This positive experience has made Jessika positive about future collaborations with startups throughout Järfälla municipality.
“I’ve got a better knowledge now of this kind of technology from different kinds of survey companies that aren’t so traditional and I got new information about how AI can assist dialogue in the future. I can tell my colleagues about the new ways we can use the technology,” says Jessika.
United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The collaboration works towards United Nations’ Sustainable Development goals 10 and 11 (Reduced Inequalities and Sustainable Cities and Communities).
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