Better Reykjavik is a co-creation project of the Citizens Foundation, Reykjavik City and its citizens that connects them and improves trust and policy.
It’s a platform for crowdsourcing solutions to urban challenges and has multiple democratic functions: Agenda setting, Participatory budgeting and Policymaking.
Innovations include unique debating system, crowd-sourcing, submission of multimedia content and extensive use of AI to improve the user experience as well as content submitted.
Better Reykjavik is an online platform for the crowdsourcing of solutions to urban challenges launched by the Icelandic Citizens Foundation in May 2010. It has multiple democratic functions which can roughly be split up into three divisions: Agenda setting, Participatory budgeting and Policy crowdsourcing.
Work on the open source platform started in 2008, after the Icelandic financial crash and Better Reykjavik was its first successful incarnation. It opened a week before elections in Reykjavik and was quickly picked up by the Best Party which was as a sarcastic critique of local politics that won the city elections. After the elections Better Reykjavik became an official policy and agenda setting platform for the city.
The website gives residents of Reykjavik the opportunity to submit original ideas and solutions to municipal-level issues within the city. Citizens of Reykjavik are given the opportunity to submit, debate, and prioritize policy proposals and ideas. Moreover, it allows residents to vocalize, debate, and amend a variety of ideas which they believe are crucial, and gives the voters a direct influence on decision making. 450 ideas have been processed through agenda setting part of Better Reykjavik. https://betrireykjavik.is
In 2011 a Participatory budgeting started within Better Reykjavik using the name Better Neighborhoods (later My Neighborhood. There Reykjavik residents and the city administration collaborate to determine capital allocation for construction and maintenance projects within the ten main neighborhoods of the city. Participation has increased steadily with new records reached almost every year.
This 450 million ISK (4.2 million USD, 3.6 million EUR) participatory budgeting initiative enables the public to spend approximately 6% of the city’s capital investment budget. The process for My Neighborhood takes about a year. During a three-week span between February and March, the ideas from all 10 neighborhoods are collected, and from the end of the “idea collection” period to May, the ideas are processed by both the project management team and the political district committees to decide which ones are reasonable and implementable. Close to 700 ideas from citizens have been realized by the city, with the visible and usable results in all neighborhoods which have been made better for their citizens to enjoy. https://betrireykjavik.is/community/973
Better Reykjavik has seen many more projects with the most notable being used to crowd-source policy on education in Reykjavik schools. In 2017 the City of Reykjavík decided to crowdsource ideas to co-create the City’s education policy on Better Reykjavík. This was the first time that a specific policy of any government within Iceland was crowdsourced. The process is ongoing, having completed the first phase of prioritizing educational objectives. The education policy project generated almost 200 ideas and thousands of debate points. https://betrireykjavik.is/community/663 & https://betrireykjavik.is/community/725
The main idea behind Better Reykjavik and its various projects is to connect citizens to the city administration to increase participation and awareness amongst citizens on municipal issues and to lessen the gap between on the one hand elected officials and administrative staff and the general public on the other hand.
There are many innovative elements within the Better Reykjavik platform and one of the reasons for its success and general acceptance is it’s unique debate system which is based on users adding talking points and arguments for and against ideas instead of the traditional comment section which often goes into heated arguments and name callings with seldom useful content which deters most people from participating but encourages extreme views and words. This debate system has been a part of Better Reykjavik since its inception.
Better Reykjavik incorporates an Up/Down ‘voting’ system where users vote up and down not only ideas but also debate points from other users which results in a system that, without moderation or other administrative efforts, presents the city with a list of ideas that are prioritized by its users. But not only that but also with the best points (according to its users) for and against each idea. This makes it very easy for the city to evaluate which ideas are good and which not as they’re in fact evaluated by the citizens.
Other notable innovative elements are the possibility to use video and audio to record your ideas and debate points. This method attracts users that otherwise might hesitate to participate. This benefits both the city and its citizens as their opinions and expertise used to improve the city.
Better Reykjavik uses machine translation as well as AI to recommend ideas and do smart notifications and a toxicity sensor to alert admins about abusive content although our debate system makes this rare. There is also an automatic classification of ideas.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Better Reykjavik allows citizens to improve their city in a collaborative way by adding their ideas on how to improve the city, prioritizing them and collectively finding the best points for and against those ideas. The prioritization is done only by citizens and therefore eliminates the need for administrative staff work on prioritizing the ideas. Allowing citizens to add points for and against ideas in separate columns which encourages citizens to present the best points practically eliminating the common online toxicity in comments.
Better Reykjavik can be used in any language available in Google Translate by translating between languages, which works very well. Other AI uses on Better Reykjavik are recommend interesting ideas and smart notifications. It has a toxicity sensor which alerts admins about abusive content, although as said before, our debate system makes this a rare occurrence. Users can add video and audio content which is automatically transcribed to text.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The innovation is in a mature state after continuous development for over 10 years and has been used by almost 2 million citizens in over 20 countries to make their communities better. Our open source software is considered the state of the art when it comes to mass civic engagement.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Better Reykjavik is a co-creation project by the Citizens Foundation, City of Reykjavik and its citizens which are the major stakeholders. Citizens Foundation brought it’s democratic design experience with the city providing the framework and its expertise in official processes. Citizens provide the content and democratic sorting and monitoring of it. Extensive input from government officials and users is used for evaluating which approaches to take and to improve the design and processes.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Most important here are the citizens of Reykjavik, the government officials of the City of Reykjavik, the elected politicians of the City of Reykjavik and the Citizens Foundation itself.
Close to 700 ideas from citizens have been realized by the city and many more have affected policy, with the visible and usable results in all neighborhoods which have been made better for all citizens to enjoy.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Over 70,000 people have participated out of a population of 120,000 since the site opened and 27,000 registered users have submitted over 8,900 ideas and 19,000 points for and against.
Close to 700 ideas from citizens have been implemented by the city, making all neighborhoods better for citizens to enjoy. Over 450 ideas have been processed through agenda setting part of Better Reykjavik. Education policy project generated 200 ideas and thousands of debate points.
We measure results by server log numbers for participation in idea generation, debate and voting. Tangible results are measured by the number of ideas being realized. Based on experience we can predict that participation will continue to increase in the coming years.
The annual PB online voting has attracted the participation of around 12.5% of the city’s population. In April 2019 the city completed its 8th annual idea generation, with 1053 ideas, 39,000 visitors (37% of the population) and 5,800 logging in - a new record.
Challenges and Failures
The biggest challenge is in getting citizens to participate, as in all crowd-sourcing projects. This has been countered by constantly improving Better Reykjavik on all levels with a particular focus on making it fun and easy to use.
Administrative systems are resistant to change, even with good support from its officials. This has sometimes slowed down the innovation process but is an integral part of working with any administration. The Citizens Foundation has countered this by presenting the city steadily with data showing what works and ideas for improvements based on that data.
Developing cutting edge social media apps using AI, mobile & multimedia is very expensive but the open source nature of the development has enabled the high cost to be shared between Citizens Foundation volunteer work, support from the City of Reykjavik, other governments, NGOs and grants.
There have been no failures during the project but steady improvement in all areas of the project.
Conditions for Success
Apps that work well and are intuitive and fun to use. Make them interesting by regularly adding features that appeal to citizens and that improve the overall output of the project.
Full support by governments that are using such innovation and their respect for citizens work and results. It is important to actually listen to citizens voices and then give them direct feedback, which is very easy on Better Reykjavík.
Financial resources and willingness to properly market the project to citizens. Getting the attention of citizens to let them know about the opportunity to participate is difficult and expensive but if they do not know about they will not participate.
For trust, it has been important that Better Reykjavík is a social innovation project created not for profit but to make the city of Reykjavik better and its residents happier.
Better Neighborhoods has inspired many of the biggest towns in Iceland to do similar projects, including Kópavogur, Garðabær, Mosfellsbær and others. All those projects have been successful and are repeated regularly.
Better Reykjavik’s agenda-setting project, My voice at the City Council, has also been replicated in other towns and municipalities such as Hafnarfjörður, Fljótsdalshérað & Stykkishólmur.
Better Reykjavik and My Neighborhood were one of the inspirations for the Decide Madrid project which we consulted for. The Norwegian Consumer agency uses Your Priorities to connect with the public in Norway to help them prioritize their work. It’s used to crowdsource questions to the government from two majority parliamentarians in France and for projects in Scotland, Norway, Hungary, Croatia and in the Estonian Rahvakogu (People’s Assembly) in 2013 resulting in law and policy changes.
Our open source software & services have been officially used in over 20 countries since 2010.
Make sure that citizens know about your project and its possibilities. Letting citizens know about the opportunities to participate is the most difficult part of any project. Reykjavik has made a conscious effort to invest in using professional marketing companies and a multi-channel marketing campaign to make people aware of the PB process. This has included Google and Facebook ads, and adverts on radio and TV. Comedians have been hired as the face of the process.
When working with public administrations expect the pace to be much slower than in a start-up environment so it’s very important to make sure that there is an understanding and respect on the importance of PR and (mostly) online marketing. Patience is required.
Make sure that the results of citizens work is used and realized by the administration.
Make sure the citizens know that their work is being used for example by communicating about citizen projects that are built and used by citizens or policy that is adopted.
Regularly update and improve both your software and processes. People's expectation today is that social media apps for civic engagement work as well and are as slick as Facebook, Twitter & Spotify.
Use Artificial Intelligence to empower citizens, to encourage higher quality content submissions and to simplify administration. This is going to be more and more important and presents an exciting opportunity to make citizen participation easier, more rewarding and more fun going forward.
The team behind Better Reykjavik has many future plans in place to continue evolving the project and the process. One effort is to attract more citizens from the younger generation. The My Neighborhood platform is making changes to its rules as well, lowering the voting age from 16 to 15 to strengthen democratic thinking within the younger generation, and to get a broader spectrum of ideas.