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City of Helsinki’s participation model, linked to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”

City of Helsinki, Participation and Interaction Model

Helsinki introduced a new participation and interaction model nearly two years ago. The model was designed together with our citizens. The principles of participation included in the Helsinki- model have been established in the administrative regulations, which means that they apply to the operations of the entire City organisation. Helsinki's participation model is based on the knowledge and know-how of the citizens. Helsinki invites city residents and its partners to join the development of the city, its services and areas. Our City is a place of community, influential deeds and encounters. Helsinki enables spontaneous activities of citizens. A positive city experience is also conveyed through a good service culture and interactive communications. The decision-making is open and participatory.

Objective of the practice

Participation and interaction model’s aim is to guide every employee from top to down to reflect how they can include participation in their activities. We see humancentered design and an open and participatory decision-making as the enabler of people’s potential. We in Helsinki believe that in this day and age you simply cannot design/plan and build a city without involving its people. This forms the core for a human-driven strategy Helsinki through which Helsinki aims to become the most functioning city in the world. We want to provide the best possible city-user experience. We are building a city where people, actions and encounters create a great impact.Through design, digitality and dialogue we can create the best possible customer experience.

The future of Helsinki is being drawn through utilising the most modern approaches of co-design. The city is becoming a platform for experiments and business that creates new innovations. It’s is a centre of know-how that is driving well-being through the use of design, digitalisation and dialogue. This is made possible through particatory collaboration with the city’s stakeholders.

• Combining Design, Digital & Dialogue: Using service design methods and digital tools to engage citizens in co-creating better city services with us city-wide.
• The city’s Open Software Development team is at the core of a digitalisation process that runs across the city organisation.

Highlights from the City Strategy:
• To be the world's best city in utilising digitalization. Digital services -first approach.
• Combining design, digitalization and dialogue to build a great user experience to city. User satisfaction a key strategic metric.
• Artificial intelligence and robotics as part of digitalization are new technologies to be explored in renewing city services.
• Digital technologies enriches city’s learning services
• Digitalization is one of the leading themes in internationational collaboration

Key stakeholders and partnerships

Helsinki is a place and a community, and not a bureaucratic machine. We have to involve everyone who is interested in building the city and form strategic partnerships. We want to make sure that in the future Helsinki is a good place for all its people. We are not just listening to people, we are encouraging them to participate and use all their capabilities and passions in making this city the place we together want it to be. Our city is made by its users, and the users are people, businesses, communities, politicians and organisations. Main stakeholders are citizents.

Implementation of the Project/Activity

This model needs to be implemented in all of the city’s operations and activities. It cannot stay inside meeting rooms and event pitches. But how do can we do that as efficiently as possible? The city has over 38 000 employees.

Our solution is having all city employees participate in playing a specially designed “Participation Game” to help them understand what we mean by participation and plan how to use participatory methods as part of their work. The Participation Game to help city employees reflect on participation and to make plans on how they could carry out projects and activities with participatory action.

The game deepens the player’s understanding on participation and introduces tens of participatory methods that they can utilise. It helps to reflect and plan how each employee could utilise participation in their own organisation. By playing the game each unit can create an action plan that can be implemented in practice. It narrows down options by giving focus on where to concentrate and start from. The game can played with co-workers in the same team or with employees from other city organisations. The process is facilitated and you end up with a documented plan or many - of how to participate and bring the users into city planning.

Helsinki has  developed also a card game to help people come up with ideas for how to spend their share of the participatory budget. It’s a kind of gamification of citizen engagement that Helsinki has become well known for — and something cities everywhere can learn from, whether they use participatory budgeting or not. More information about PB cardgame https://bit.ly/2Uv45gJ
How the project/activity has been applied and executed. May include the initiation, planning and execution of the project. What monitoring mechanisms, if any, are in place.


The City residents will perceive the new participation model as an increasing range of opportunities to participate and influence. Participatory budgeting will be allocated EUR 4.4 million annually. The spending of this money will be voted upon, based on proposals made by the residents. The voting age limit is 12. In PB’s first round citizens gave almost 1300 proposal how they want to use public money.

A seven local workers, a borough liaisons, are assigned for each housing area. The coach helps the residents with promoting initiatives and development proposals. Three Business liaisons work in the areas as promoters of business activities. City premises has been more widely opened for resident and community activities and the booking of the premises have been made easier.

Helsinki has created a new model for volunteer activities, though which the volunteering opportunities can be found easily from one place. Digital participation channels are developed. The transparency of City operations is improved through the use of open data. Every city division has made participation programs which are approved by division commitees. The realisation of the participation is monitored in all divisions and it will be regularly reported to the committees.
Engagement and participation isn’t automatic and Helsinki has been using gamification as a new tool to tackle the problem. Helsinki has created two different participation games. Participation game helps city employees consider how the operations and services can be planned to be even better – together with the residents. The particaption game is desiged as a board game. OmaStadi participatory budgeting game is aimed at making the process more inclusive and easy to ideate proposals for all. OmaStadi is a card game and it makes the complex process more approachable and fun for citzens.

Enabling factors and constraints

Although the UN plan of action for sustainable development is a state-level commitment, its success is largely dependent on how successful cities and communities are at implementing it. Cities are expanding centres of life and play a critical role as actors who create and execute change – the world’s most difficult problems will in the future be solved at the city level.

Helsinki wants to stand out as a trailblazer for the realisation of local-level responsibility. There are clear points of resemblance between the UN’s plan of action and the objectives of Helsinki’s city strategy. Submitting voluntary reports on implementation would help raise visibility for Helsinki’s development and would enable comparisons based on the UN’s global indicators. Mayor Vapaavuori has declared that transparent comparisons may point out Helsinki’s weaknesses as well. This kind of information is very important to the city.

The commitment to the plan of action will open up opportunities for Helsinki concerning international comparisons at a strategic level. Additionally, it would promote the city’s international cooperation and relevance. Above all, it would bring the goals of sustainable development to a practical level. The process of reporting should be made easily accessible. Thus, the city’s inhabitants would increasingly be able to follow Helsinki’s level of success with regard to sustainable development.

According to its strategy, Helsinki strives to be the world’s leading city regarding openness and utilization of public information. Helsinki is already a leader as far as openness is concerned, among other things, with respect to making its data available. Submitting itself voluntarily to transparent comparisons is a bold initiative but also one that will benefit the city.

Helsinki’s participation and interaction model was prepared as part of a historic change. The municipality shifted into a divisional and mayoral management model, whose aim was to strengthen political leadership in the city management. The reform also aimed at enhancing the citizen-based approach, which pushed the City Board to institute 13 new positions whose task was to promote participation and interaction at the city level. The funding was guaranteed by way of setting up the positions as permanent ones and through a decision made by the City Council according to which a Participation Foundation was established with a capital of 40 million euros. Out of the foundation, 4.4 million euros enters the budget of participation projects annually. The level is exceptionally high in a Finnish and Nordic context.

As the Helsinki model was prepared, a great deal of attention was given to equality and hence to the promotion of sustainable development. Participatory budgeting is a tool for allowing everybody to come up with proposals, and everybody from the age of 12 is entitled to vote. Helsinki has already previously had an appropriation for the young, called Powder money. The youngsters have been allowed to allocate the money within the youth administration as part of the participatory budgeting.

Sustainability and replicability

The participation and interaction model gives citizens additional opportunities to influence and participate. As openness becomes more prevalent in the management’s decision-making and in the preparation of those decisions, also the citizens will increasingly trust and understand the city’s management. From the point of view of grassroots democracy, the citizens are interested in participating and influencing affairs that are close to themselves. This is also reflected in how the Helsinkians participate in neighbourhood associations.

Joint development and cooperation in the production of digital services (according to the idea of sustainable development):
Helsinki aims to use new cooperative methods in developing and implementing software platforms for participatory processes of the city. At the moment Helsinki is utilizing and developing Decidim, which is a participatory democracy platform that is currently used by dozens of cities and organizations across Europe (originally kick-started by the city of Barcelona). Decidim Helsinki is used to run several e-participation services, e.g. citywide participatory budgeting (omastadi.hel.fi) and Mayor´s idea competition (www.maailmantoimivinkaupunki.fi). Helsinki aims to be an active member of the international Decidim community, which develops the platform together, making use of crowd-based software development methods. The community consists of diverse stakeholders from different countries: entrepreneurs, public servants and individual citizens from Finland, Spain, France etc. Ideation, co-ordination and decision making takes place on an online collaborative innovation platform (Metadecidim). As a result of this cooperation, omastadi.hel.fi -platform consists of internationally developed Decidim core and five modules that have been developed by and for the city of Helsinki.

Helsinki assists coders and enterprises by way of sharing work already accomplished, e.g. in the development of digital services:
Cooperation with developers: Helsinki has set principals of its digital services development. The city offers an online guide for digital sevices development. The guide instructs both the city staff and external agents including enterprises and developers in the design and production of digital city services. The guide includes 10 principles to follow in digital services development: https://digi.hel.fi/digipalveluopas/periaatteet/
The city also offers a Development and Design guide for Helsinki City Design System for developers: http://opencity.design/ Open City Design System is a pattern and UI component library for cities’ services. Components and other UI elements can be combined with city-specific branding. Design and development tools have been combined to make new service creation simpler and easier to approach. The guide promotes a new kind of cooperative design principle in producing digital services for the city. The guise is in early alpha state.


The participation and interaction model supports equal regional development in the city. The funds of the participatory budgeting have been allocated evenly between the neighbourhoods. Cooperation with associations and citizen activists have guaranteed that population groups that are generally more passive and less outspoken have been able to participate in developing the city. We have paid attention to the need for communicating in plain language and multiple languages and hence we have been able to reach e.g. mothers from immigrant communities that previously have not participated in societal affairs.

Supporting the participation of children and the young has been important from the point of view of educating to democracy. Participatory budgeting has also been helpful in making the administrative preparation of municipal decisions easier to grasp and in clarifying the real investment costs to the public. In spite of the fact that the 4.4 million euros allocated to participatory budgeting is just one-tenth of a percent of the city’s annual budget, it is nevertheless an important signal to the citizens about the openness of the management and about the enhancement of citizens’ means to influence.

Joint planning makes the citizens more committed to their neighbourhoods. Common property is taken better care of when projects have been planned jointly. Especially in big cities, integration in society and a sense of community are enhanced by enabling influence at the grassroots level. Many of the suggestions that are brought forward through participatory budgeting include many projects that increase the security and the comfort of the neighbourhoods.

Other sources of information

About using design to promote participation: https://www.muotoilutarinat.fi/en/
Co-operation with Helsinki University researchers: http://www.yss.fi/journal/civic-engagement-3-0-reconsidering-the-roles-of-citizens-in-city-making/
Participation in general: https://www.centreforpublicimpact.org/making-engagement-meaningful-helsinki/
Participation game: https://medium.com/@BloombergCities/how-helsinki-uses-a-board-game-to-promote-public-participation-39d580380280
About PB game: https://medium.com/@BloombergCities/how-a-card-game-can-help-city-residents-suggest-new-ideas-b1da60bb112b

Goal 11
Goal 16
Staff / Technical expertise
Basic information
Start: 01 June, 2017
Completion: 31 December, 1969
Ongoing? no
Geographical Coverage
City of Helsinki, City Executive Office
Type: Regional or Local Government
Contact information
Johanna Seppala, Head of the Unit, Participation and Information, Johanna.m.seppala@hel.fi, +358 40 334 5974
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United Nations