Interview with Paivi Sutinen, director for City as a Service Development in Espoo

  • knowledge society

We took a moment out to catch up with Päivi Sutinen, director for City as a Service Development in Espoo at the recent Nordic Edge Expo.

Share your own views and hear from other local leaders and city changers at our second mayors summit on 20 March. 


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How do you involve your citizens when you make decisions?

The first value of the city is that Espoo is resident- and client-oriented. Open participation and co-creation with our citizens are cornerstones of our city’s strategy, ‘the Espoo Story’. The strategy itself was produced in an innovative way with the active cooperation of our residents. For example, when we first started forming the Espoo Story in 2012, we collected nearly 20,000 comments from our residents, companies and other stakeholders. (For example, kindergarteners had a day as a mayor where they had a chance to tell how they would lead the city.)

The Espoo Story gets its name from the way the strategy is written. It describes where the city is coming from, where it is at the moment and what the vision and future goals are for Espoo.

Digitalisation and new technologies can truly help us to answer the future challenges in a sustainable way, but the change starts with the people, not with the technology. The real question is how we can build sustainable living environments for our residents and companies. Espoo has been for couple of years the most sustainable city in Europe and now we are part of UN’s SDG leading cities programme.

In Espoo we include the whole community, companies, third sector, research institutions and citizens. Espoo’s innovation community ‘Espoo Innovation Garden’ was chosen as the most intelligent community of the world 2018 by Intelligent Communities Forum.

We try to find new digital solutions through experimentation programmes, where we test new solutions and products with companies and citizens. Citizen participation and their feedback is very important not only for the city but of course for the companies. 

Our libraries also do a great job providing residents an access to new technologies such as 3D printers, VR and AR glasses and so on. They also give guidance for customers how to use their own devices, for example how a grandmother can have a Facetime or Skype call with her grandchildren.

City as a service needs open data to fuel the development. We need to communicate openly and work together with citizens to answer ethical questions. Education is of course very important. 

This Autumn Espoo’s upper secondary school students will be allowed to hack the city’s information systems. An ethical hacking course invites students to test the information security of the city’s systems under development. The city of Espoo wants to show its social responsibility by providing young people with the opportunity to develop their hacking skills for a good cause. As a bonus, the city will receive valuable information about possible information security gaps and can utilise it in developing applications.


What are the three main challenges/ issues you had to fix in order to proceed towards your smarter city vision?

It always takes time to build understanding about new concepts and to form the bigger picture. The EU funded ‘Six City Strategy’, 6Aika, was a great way for us to solve the questions about what we mean when we talk about the ‘smart city’ and what it actually is, through cooperation with other big cities in Finland. 

In Espoo we were able to move forward by connecting the smart city development to the bigger picture of ‘city as a service’, that sees development happening through different ecosystems. It’s about smart community. 

Getting the community involved is the key and sharing information. Our ‘Make with Espoo’ slogan welcomes everyone to join co-creation with the city and our Make with Espoo toolkit gives guidance and information for developers.


What would you recommend to other city leaders to consider before they start a smart city project or incentive? 

Every incentive or project needs to be tightly connected to the city strategy. It’s important that the focus is on essential strategical challenges and that all projects are resident and customer oriented.

Work together with other cities, find the best solutions together and share what you’ve learned.

Be brave and try to look more ahead to the future. Espoo wants to be a responsible pioneer and that’s why we find our participation in the SDG cities programme so very important. It’s not about what happens in this electoral term, it’s about what happens 20, 30 years from now.