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Helsinki Smart Region – exclusive interview with Johanna Juselius

Nordic Smart Cities 2017 will be touching down in Stockholm on 24-25 October, bringing together over 50 speakers from cities, municipalities, regions, academia and industry to showcase the very smartest projects from across Europe.

In the build up to the event we will be publishing a number of exclusive interviews with some of the speakers. The first of these is with Johanna Juselius from Helsinki Smart Region. Johanna is a Senior Adviser on the project and gives us some valuable insight into what they are doing to make not only the cities, but the whole region smart.

Hi Johanna, great to be in contact again. The last time I spoke to you was a couple of years back at Smart Cities CEE in Budapest. I am excited to hear how the project has been developing since then. You are giving a presentation about Helsinki Smart Region, can you give our readers a little bit of background on the project?

We connect smart innovators to help set up innovative projects and solutions in Helsinki region and beyond. Our goal is to help make Helsinki region a place where everything works. We want to promote sustainable economic growth and help develop new markets. We also have a strong internationalisation goal. We promote Helsinki region’s most innovative solutions, companies and ‘smart’ ways of doing things. We fund ‘smart’ projects and spin out projects with other EU regions. Helsinki Smart Region helps to create the ecosystem, connects communities to share expertise and kickstarts, accelerates and strengthens new projects that make the cities ‘smart’.

We are active in five different areas in which we bring together people to start innovative projects. They are human health tech, smart citizen, welfare city, urban cleantech and digitalising industry. Helsinki Smart Region has the ambition to become the first point of contact for those who want to know what ‘smart’ developments are going on in Helsinki Region in these 5 areas. This will help us to connect the right people to accelerate the start of projects and tackle the challenges our cities are facing. We work with all the major cities in the region, such as the capital Helsinki, but a total of 26 cities and towns are part of our network. We do this in tight collaboration with all the innovators in the area and they all are available for contact via our website

By challenging parties to submit and execute innovative solutions to urban issues, Helsinki Smart Region connects the right stakeholders and accelerates this progress. This advances the development of new markets and profits for innovative solutions. Where possible, these solutions are rolled out elsewhere in the region and also to other EU countries. Helsinki Smart Region works with everyone who has the energy and ambitions to improve the liveability in the city, these could be companies, governments, knowledge institutions and citizens. Helsinki Smart Region is organised byHelsinki-Uusimaa regional council. We also manage the Smart Specialisation strategy of the Helsinki-Uusimaa Region. It is the role of Helsinki Smart Region to implement this strategy.

Your website talks about Smart Countryside + Smart City = Smart Region. Do solutions and approaches need to differ between the 2 environments?

A region is not really smart if solutions work in the city, but not in the areas in-between the cities. Helsinki Smart region’s goal is to ensure that solutions work there just as well as in the city.

In a capital region the capital of course is a highly urbanised area, but many solutions like transport or energy solutions need to be designed to work over a much larger area. We aim to make cities testbeds, and then connect them to each other. And here we need to pay special attention to the areas that fall in-between the “hot spots”. The cities can be connected smartly by having a smart infrastructure that incorporates all of the cities in the region. The future to us in Helsinki Smart region is about creating a really smart region that combines smart city, smart countryside and smart in-between areas. Our aim is that in the future this will create a community of smart cities and regions.

You are using the quadruple helix approach to the development (Public, Private, People Partnership) – what are you doing to really engage citizens in the development process?

The public-private-people-partnership is described on our website, you can take a look it here.

Activating the citizens is a complex issue. For a smart city strategy to really work, for example with open data, the local people living in the area need to share their data because they know of places, situations and issues which a city administrator does not necessarily know of.

But it has to be said our digital plans are ambitious. We are a leader in this field. We want Helsinki and Espoo and our whole region with all the 26 municipalities to be the most digital in the world.

On a practical level we fund projects which involve people in the partnership. Within the smart specialisation strategy we fund five priorities. Two of them especially focus on citizen engagement projects. You can check these two priorities here: smart citizen & welfare city. People are in these partnerships, in various roles. Some as city administrators, some as entrepreneurs, some are students, migrants, educators or tenants. People from different expertise work on a project together with others from a different background.

Smart Kalasatama (an urban living district in Helsinki) is a good example of a project that we support. Smart Kalasatama actively brings digital services to everyday life. The catch phrase is that people in that neighbourhood save one hour a day by having the smart solutions embedded in their houses, transport, litter system and so on.

DigiSmart is another project we fund. DigiSmart project gathers the network for smart digital citizenship in Helsinki-Uusimaa region in Finland and expands its operation range internationally. DigiSmart researches  citizens’ experiments about digital data, digital products and services as well as networks and their utilisation and impacts using user centric methods. This project especially gives a voice to the young, the immigrants and the elderly.

Can you let us know of a couple of challenges that you have had so far and how you have managed to overcome them?

Raising awareness is a challenge. We entered the branding and strategy process with the idea that we really wanted invite other regions, cities, companies, people and so on to come and work with us in developing smart solutions. We also want to raise awareness in our region about what smart means.

Also, the region is quite a large area. One city is one thing. But with 26 cities and towns and all the players in them, this is a challenge. We have tackled this hands-on by choosing an approach where we focus on implementation and collaboration as much as possible. We have a strategic “will” which is line with the EU, national will, the regional, with the institutions and the people. Thus what we do is a result of a systematic strategic approach and an ongoing strategic process.

Finally, one of your key focus areas is on human health tech, this is a really interesting growth area, how are you bringing health tech to your citizens and what has been the response?

Health technology is not just one of the regional smart specialisation priorities but a genuine source of innovation and an invaluable asset for our health services and delivery.  With many players in the capital area, the Finnish Health Technology sector has been a growth leader among high tech industries during the past years. Finland is also one of the just 11 European countries that export more health technology than it imports. So it is a major export business for us and a large % of the companies in the sector are in Helsinki Region.

Promotion of broadly defined health technologies and related services is done by and with networks: Health Capital Helsinki and the HealthSPA startup network are close partners, the latter being the driving force on the unique Upgraded Life Festival. We have also funded HealthSpa.

Digital health systems and health data integrity are crucially important at a time when the major National Health Service overhaul is in the pipeline, this will bring with it new region-based structures for health and social care delivery by 2020. The Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council funds projects that deal with this transformation of digital health and monitors the related policy evolution closely.

New assistive technologies are vital in tackling the demographic change and health needs of the growing cohorts of senior citizens. Helsinki-Uusimaa region works actively with the local health providers to systematically adapt new ways to improve coping and safety in the home environment.

Thank you Johanna for a great interview, I have a lot more questions running through my head right now, but I will save them for after your presentation at Nordic Smart Cities. Looking forward to seeing you there!

If you would like to hear more about this project then you can find out more about Nordic Smart Cities 2017 on their website:


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