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Covid-19 accelerates community digital adoption

  • Friday, April 10, 2020

  • Blog cover image

    Since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, public authorities have been faced with two major challenges: managing employees' telework and guaranteeing (more than ever) their services and their presence with the inhabitants.

    In this confined environment, digital technology is quickly becoming the most secure and direct link. "We are in an accelerated formation of digital, in a brutal way" stressed sociologist Jean Viard in his recent intervention (online!) organized by Engage For. What if the real digital transition of local authorities and public services was played out here?

    Citizens gathered around a computer

    Ensuring the continuity of public services

    In a few weeks, a few hundred thousand civil servants have found themselves working from home. This is an unprecedented situation. If companies are culturally and materially easier to manage telework, this is not the case for the public service. The first problem faced by the services is [equipment and security problems].( Few business computers available, no VPN, sensitive data that can be compromised without careful attention to the software used (especially for payroll services).

    In the face of this difficulty, some local authorities are better prepared than others. This is the case of the Ile-de-France region and its 10,200 agents, who are used to teleworking since the strikes. "It took us a year to set up teleworking. Now, 100% of our activities can be carried out remotely as far as the region's headquarters is concerned," Fabienne Chol, deputy director general in charge of human resources at the Île-de-France regional council, told the Gazette des communes.

    To overcome this deficit, the State has solicited private companies to urgently set up the Osmose and Plano platforms, specially designed for the teleworking of State employees : video conferencing, document sharing and storage, messaging, collaborative work organization... But they are only available for a part of the civil servants for the moment, in some ministries and administrations. 

    "The crisis we are experiencing highlights the crucial importance of digital technology to ensure the continuity of public service." confided Nadi Bou Hanna, interdepartmental director of digital, to the Europe 1 microphone.

    Sustainable solutions have yet to be found, but the crisis will have had the merit of accelerating the movement.

    Community websites, digital platforms and social networks are flourishing

    If the working tools still seem hesitant, digital communication has taken off. Municipal websites or self-help websites, social networks, citizen participation platforms... Many local and regional authorities capitalize on digital technology to inform, coordinate citizen actions and propose cultural and educational supports.

    In Maisons-Laffitte, the city's Facebook page has listed so many proposals for solidarity that it has ended up becoming a real website dedicated to mutual aid.

    In Versailles, residents can find advice on the city's website and fill out a solidarity action form. Its social networks have recorded a 55% increase in traffic since the lockdown began

    Citizen platforms are also widely used. As early as March 13, the municipalities spontaneously started to organize calls for solidarity on Fluicity, to make the link between isolated people and those who can give their time. For example, the Paris Neuf City Hall was able to connect citizens and associations to facilitate childcare and help isolated elderly people before the confinement. The city of Saran relays participative articles presenting the initiatives set up by its services (sharing of reading ideas by the media library, sports advice by the city hall's sports educators).

    Examples of this type could be spread throughout the territory.

    Illustration of Fluicity's Communities in Solidarity offer: neighbors show solidarity

    "Digital technology has become the only way for elected officials to consult their citizens. As "civic tech" our responsibility is to ensure the continuity of citizen dialogue.” says Julie de Pimodan, CEO of Fluicity.

    To support local authorities, Fluicity has decided to offer its "collectivities in solidarity" service free of charge to all elected officials. This turnkey platform gives the possibility to inform the inhabitants, to answer their concerns and to organize solidarity solutions between citizens and with associations.

    Reduce the digital divide between populations and between territories

    Will tomorrow be decidedly digital? We are not there yet. According to the Mission Société Numérique, "13 million of our fellow citizens remain far from the digital world: they do not use the Internet or use it very little, and feel they have difficulty with its uses." The factors of inequality are multiple and notably territorial: "50% of non-Internet users reside in municipalities of less than 20,000 inhabitants. Only 60% of French people living in rural areas and 65% in medium-sized cities say they are competent to use a computer, compared to 76% in the Paris area.

    Within the framework of Covid 19, the State has deployed two new platforms: Solidarité numérique to help people carry out their essential procedures on the Internet, and La Réserve Civique to facilitate the mobilization of solidarity. Two initiatives created in an emergency, which once again find their full meaning in the long term.

    Elements as concrete as the generalization of the fiber will then have to be put on the table. "The question that will arise in the aftermath will be to know what level of commitment we want to go so that everyone is on board," emphasizes Sebastien Soriano, president of the Regulatory Authority for Telecommunications, Posts and Press Distribution (ARCEP), at the workshop #Lejourd'apres "The day after will be digital or will not be."

    A new form of cooperation between communities and citizens

    The Covid crisis initiated a fundamental movement in the adoption of digital practices, and proved their necessity to "keep the link" at all times.

    More than that, it proves that a new form of collaboration is possible between citizens and communities, starting with a strong capacity to organize and develop common projects - of solidarity and general interest. Communities, in collaboration with civic tech, have the opportunity to sustain this momentum beyond the crisis period and multiply its benefits over the long term.

    This crisis also shows us the importance of citizen mobilization to support public policies. In his confinement, the citizen is at the heart of a national responsibility: to ensure the protection of all.

    Imagining the democracy of tomorrow means designing this alliance of civic responsibility and technological agility. Civic tech has a fundamental role to play in achieving this..