The principles of participation in Helsinki include the utilisation of the knowledge and expertise of individuals and communities, enabling independent activities and creating equal opportunities for participation. The experience of participation strengthens citizens’ trust in the activities of public authorities and in social activities and services in general. It helps to accept commonly established rules and practices and to understand the reasoning behind different perspectives. Promoting participation is particularly relevant to SDG 10 Reduced inequalities, SDG 11 Sustainable cities and communities and SDG 16 Peace, justice and strong institutions, which highlight equal opportunities for participation, resident involvement in urban planning and participatory decision-making.
By global standards, residents’ participation and influencing opportunities and interaction are at a good level in Helsinki. The goal of the participation and interaction model approved in Helsinki in 2017 is to increase the transparency of decision-making and to strengthen customer- and user-orientation aspects in the development of services. The city-level participation and interaction model describes the structures, goals and key areas of participation work. The participation objectives are implemented in ten themes: regional participation especially through the borough liaison and business liaison activities, processing and utilising initiatives and feedback, open data, promoting digital inclusion, opening up the use of the City’s premises, participatory budgeting, divisions’ participation work, volunteering, and aspects presented by governing bodies (Youth Council, Council on Disability and Elderly Citizens Council). In addition to this, the City’s four divisions’ participation plans compile the goals and procedures for strengthening residents’ participation in developing services.
In 2021, the City assessed the implementation of the participation model during the strategy period 2017–2021. The assessment states that the participation and interaction model has clarified the City’s participation work and the work is more systematic and more managed. During the strategy period, Helsinki has developed a variety of participation methods, which are being used extensively in service development and decision-making preparations alike. Helsinki has even gained international recognition for its development of digital participation.
Helsinki offers digital platforms and tools to its residents, which allow them to participate in the planning and development of the City’s services regardless of time and place. The objective of digital participation services is to improve the transparency of preparations and the effectiveness of participation. Digital participation platforms and feedback systems provide the City with data that can be used to develop the City’s services. The City has started development work with the aim of producing a roadmap for the development of digital participation. It aims to promote and support the use of digital participation platforms in the city.
Participation on digital platforms requires sufficient skills and suitable devices, to which not all residents have access. The City’s digital support services at service points and in the form of remote digital support make it possible to lower the threshold of participation. The key objectives of digital support are to raise awareness of free digital support, strengthen the skills of digital instructors and grow the network of digital instructors. These objectives have been achieved by reforming City-level coordination and networks of digital support in cooperation between the divisions and organisations, by raising awareness of digital support through various communication tools and by providing regular training for digital support experts.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has also been seen in the City’s participation work. A wide variety of digital methods have been created for interaction with residents, and hybrid events have been held in accordance with relevant restrictions.
Mediation in criminal and civil cases
The City of Helsinki organises extensive mediation in criminal and civil cases. Mediation in criminal and civil cases is a free and voluntary statutory municipal service for the parties involved in a criminal or civil case. The purpose of mediation is to provide solutions to a criminal or civil case, in addition or as an alternative to the formal legal process. At the mediation meeting, the parties have the opportunity to discuss the crime or dispute between them, guided by mediators, and agree on how to compensate for any harm caused. The City of Helsinki’s development of mediation is particularly focused on the mediation processes of minors. The aim is to resolve various conflicts and wrongs at an early stage and thereby influence young people’s ability and understanding to act amicably and fairly in their communities and shared spaces.
In 2022, 669 mediation initiatives were submitted by 16 December 2022. The initiatives included 1,056 different criminal and civil cases, and 1,579 parties were involved in the initiatives. Minors account for about one third of the parties. During the COVID-19 period, the number of crimes reported to the police in Helsinki has decreased and this, in addition to the general effects and constraints of the pandemic, has affected the number of initiatives submitted to mediation.
Helsinki supports the regional participation of the city’s residents. The City’s seven borough liaisons support residents and various operators in participation, influencing and working together, taking regional needs into account. The borough liaisons operate in the seven major districts, focusing on regional network cooperation and promoting forums that enable interaction. They also promote experiments in participatory approaches and multilingual and multi-channel communication on residents’ participation and influencing opportunities.
Regional dialogue and development have also been supported by participatory budgeting implemented by Helsinki since 2018. Helsinki’s participatory budgeting system is called OmaStadi, and it is implemented fully on a digital platform. Between 2018 and 2021, the city’s residents have had the opportunity to brainstorm and decide how the City will spend more than 13 million euros. Participatory budgeting has resulted in 119 projects across the city. During 2022, the participatory budgeting process was reformed in broad cooperation with the City’s divisions and residents. The aim of the reform was to make participation and implementation simpler and the overall duration shorter.
The Elderly Citizens Council and the Council on Disability promote the non-discrimination and participation of Helsinki residents who are older or have a disability or long-term illness. These councils influence the planning, preparation and monitoring of the City’s activities in matters relevant to wellbeing, health, inclusion, living environment, housing, mobility or the performance of daily activities. During the past term, the Elderly Citizens Council and the Council on Disability have organised visits to meetings by officials and decision-makers, strengthened cooperation between the councils in drawing up opinions and statements, and improved cooperation by organising meetings with relevant organisations and other municipalities’ councils to strengthen the participation and access to information of older people and people with disabilities.
Helsinki Youth Council ensures that young people are heard in Helsinki’s decision-making and in the planning, implementation and monitoring of the operations of the City’s divisions. The Youth Council prepares opinions and statements on youth issues, making young people’s voices heard in the City’s decision-making. Helsinki Youth Council has the right to speak and be present at the meetings of the City’s committees.
Development of work with NGOs
The City supports Helsinki-based organisations, communities and resident groups with around 70 million euros per year. Helsinki is a platform for free civic activities that focus on working together and initiatives from organisations. In Helsinki, NGO cooperation is promoted through a network-based model. The City is looking to strengthen its partnership with organisations and cooperate regularly at the City level. Structures for regular cooperation with organisations have been prepared in 2022. In spring 2023, a City-level steering group for NGO and grant activities will be launched to prepare and coordinate the implementation and interaction of the overall model for NGO cooperation. The participation and influence of organisations will be strengthened in Helsinki by establishing an NGO Advisory Board bringing together Helsinki-based organisations, trustees and experts from the City’s central administration and divisions. The NGO Advisory Board will be launched in spring 2023.
Other work on the development of participation
Helsinki supports the daily lives of its residents by providing various advisory services. The City has decided to focus on the development of closer cooperation between the different advisory networks and increasing the competence of those involved in advisory work, both within the city and in the wider Uusimaa region.
In 2020, Helsinki carried out a democracy trial aimed at providing Russian-speaking residents with information on the different ways of participating and supporting their participation. The experiment trained agents for change, organised participatory budgeting workshops and produced materials.
The City has clarified its communication on various opportunities for participation in 2022 by compiling information in one place on the osallistu.hel.fi website. The website provides information on participation, opportunities to participate in the City’s development and decision-making process and support for working together.
In 2023, the City of Helsinki will organise dialogical resident discussions across the city. They aim to promote discussion and influence on regional phenomena important to the city’s residents in cooperation with different operators. In addition to this, the resident discussions also accelerate the independent development and local activities of the regions, while also improving understanding and dialogue between the residents. The new approach provides the city’s residents with initiative and agency in a socially sustainable manner, creating a new structure and implementation method of resident discussions in Helsinki.
Oma Stadi: Implemented proposals 2021 divided according to the sustainable development goals they implement
- The participation and interaction model has clarified the City’s participation work, and it is more systematic and more managed.
- The City established the NGO Advisory Board in spring 2023, and the City’s new model for NGO cooperation has provided a clear structure for interaction.
- During the strategy period, Helsinki has developed a variety of participation methods, which are being used extensively in service development and decision-making preparations alike.
- Helsinki has even gained international recognition for its development of digital participation.
- Participatory budgeting has increased residents’ interest in participating in and influencing city affairs, and turnout has been relatively high by international standards.
Areas for development:
- Participation and interaction in all of the City’s operations need to be strengthened by promoting an open operating culture and interactive practices, as well as utilising feedback from residents and businesses.
- Multi-channel opportunities for participation need to be developed, combining digital and face-to-face methods of participation.
- Equal opportunities for resident participation and the participation of all population groups in urban development need to be strengthened.
- Multi-channel, diverse and multilingual communications and opportunities for participation and influence need to be promoted, taking into account differences between neighbourhoods.
- The resident and shared use of the City’s facilities need to be developed to better meet the needs of residents.