As one of the coordinators of the Digital Transition Partnership in the framework of the Urban Agenda for the EU, Sofia together with the city of Oulu, Finland, and Estonia, developed a joint Action Plan with pilot projects the results of which will serve to improve the European policies in the area of legislation, funding and education in the digital era.
One of the instruments Sofia took the leadership to develop and test is entitled Digital Neighbourhood. In a society where we are increasingly defined by our access to information, no access to technology and skills to use technology well would leave one in the digital dark ages. This is what the digital divide is about, and sealing this gap is critical for the local development.
Sofia Municipality, Sofia Development Association and Sofia City Library held an extended consultative meeting and workshop on March 21, 2019, at SofiaLab, which brought together 30 experts from the local administrations, relevant ministries and national authorities, academia and business. The aim of the seminar was to start the development of specific measures to overcome the digital divide like more renters for community access to technology and digital services, more trained technical staff to serve the citizens, programmes for training and skills building.
Do you remember these floppy disks which were the main means of data transfer years ago? Well, if you have one of them, do not throw them away, because in Sweden they are already quite expensive. But there, they use them for badges. Only a few days ago, the “Digital Transition” partnership meeting of the European Agenda for Europe initiative, which was organized by the Municipality of Helsingborg, was completed. The previous such meeting took place in Sofia in June this year. Sofia together with Estonia and the Finnish city of Oulu are coordinators of the “Digital Transition” partnership.
Together with Veronika Manova (coordinator from Sofia), we participated in the discussions focusing on e-government; New skills and learning of the future; Database standardization and compatibility; Urban planning; Health and social care of the future; New business models accelerating urban growth; 5G and other key enabling technologies. The main objective is to propose specific initiatives to the European Commission for the next programming period in the field of education, legislation and European programs to facilitate the digital transition in Europe.
Our Partnership is in the process of drafting an Action Plan, which is due to be ready by the end of this year. After that, a discussion and deliberation process begins. Our ambition is to be able to test some pilot ideas in the second half of next year. The team of Sofia Development Association administers the participation of Sofia in this initiative and works on the topic of new skills and the training of the future.
Digital technologies and services are evolving so fast that one of the great challenges is the continuous increase in digital skills, especially for the people above middle age. When we received the antique diskettes, already offered for badges, we remembered that it was not long before they were widely used in Bulgaria and that some of our institutions still provide information on such devices. Well, there is a lot of work ahead and we are open to everyone with ideas and ready to partner.
On 7 and 8 June, Sofia Municipality (Sofia Development Association) hosted a working meeting of the Digital Transition Partnership. Sofia coordinates this partnership together with Estonia and the Finish City of Oulu.
The initiative is part of the Urban Agenda for the EU, implemented through an innovative method of broad partnerships between representatives of member states, city authorities, the European Commission, the managing authorities of operational programs, the European Investment Bank, experts, non-governmental organizations and representatives of the private sector.
Its main objective is to improve existing policies in the fields of legislation, education and European funding policies and to increase their effectiveness by introducing new measures.
The Urban Agenda for the EU will create new forms of interaction, focusing on urban issues and challenges with a European dimension.
Thematic partnerships are the main mechanism for implementing the Urban Agenda. Within these partnerships, the European Commission, member states and European cities will work together to strengthen the urban dimension of European policies.
The partnerships will work on 12 priority themes, defined in the Urban Agenda for the EU.
Sofia had applied and was selected, together with Estonia and Oulu, Finland, as coordinator of the Digital Transition Partnership.
The objective of the Digital Transition Partnership is to improve public services for citizens and to create new business opportunities.
The main panel discussions in Sofia are:
• New skills and learning of the future;
• Standardization of databases and compatibility;
• Urban planning;
• Health and social care of the future;
• New business models, accelerating urban growth;
• 5G and other key base technologies.
Elen Gerdjikov, Chairman of Sofia Municipal Council and Chairman of the Managing Board of Sofia Development Association, gave the start of the international meeting:
“We talked about smart cities, now we are talking about a smart society. Cities have the responsibility to play a decisive role in creating a smart society, not only by using and implementing technological solutions and related new services, but also as strong partners and intermediaries of the digital transition.”
More than 40 representatives of local and national authorities from European cities and countries gathered in Sofia to develop an action plan and policy change recommendations to assist and support the process of digital transition in Europe.
Inspiring speech by Plamen Roussev (founder of Webit) to the participants in the Digital Transition Partnership:
“If we talk about the future, we must think about empowering young people because they believe they can change the world.” Plamen Rusev highlighted the enormous potential in Sofia, Bulgaria and Eastern Europe, potential in the field of digital innovations and technologies. “It is not accidental that Sofia is one of the coordinators of the Digital Transition Partnership, because our city has already won recognition as SOFIA - DIGITAL CAPITAL.”
The DG Regio brought together in Brussels all the coordinators of the twelve partnerships as well as representatives of the EU Trio Presidencies (NL, SK, MT) and Secretariat of the Urban Agenda to discus the expected results from the Partnerships as well as the lessons learnt from the four existing partnerships.
Together with Estonia and Oulu Sofia will develop the Partnership orientation paper that will be discussed with the other partners who recently joined in February during the kickoff meeting and submitted to EC for further validation.
Based on the orientation paper the partnership will develop action plan with recommendation in three areas:
• Better regulation: how to improve EU legislation so that it better reflects urban needs, practices and responsibilities ?
• Better use of financial instruments: how to ensure better access to and utilisation of European funds by urban areas?
• Better knowledge exchange: How to improve the EU urban knowledge base and stimulate the sharing of best practices and cooperation between urban areas?