Two young people in masks consult their mobile phones in a shopping center.
BCN Ciutat Digital

Barcelona promotes the European debate on technology for the lockdown exit

Cities are gradually preparing to exit the lockdown. Digital technologies may play a key role at this stage, as a tool for helping us not only build a new normal but also to live with the preventive measures that need to be observed.

The success of this stage depends in particular on the cities and their residents that have to manage compliance with the rules for the lockdown exit. The city’s technology directors and digital-policy advisers are under pressure to provide advice and offer solutions to local politicians and thereby improve the management of this stage.

Hence the joint launch by Barcelona and Ghent of the “EUROCITIES City Dialogue: The Use of Technologies in Response to COVID-19”, debate held on  25 May. Barcelona currently holds the Deputy Chair of the Knowledge Society Forum run by the network of large cities in Europe, EUROCITIES, which organised the meeting. 

Taking part in the debate, which brought together some thirty representatives of European cities, was Barcelona City Council's Commissioner for Digital Innovation, Michael Donaldson.

 

Digital technologies, the central players

Michael Donaldson opened the meeting by highlighting the role technology had been playing during the first weeks of the pandemic by enabling people to work, study and buy products from home. He added that technologies would be playing an even more central role now and would extend to the entire public arena, with tools for tracing our individual and global mobility.

Joan Batlle, in charge of Technology and Digital Rights at Barcelona City Council, explained the goal and scope of the meeting: sharing knowledge and experiences, with the ultimate aim of compiling and co-creating a guide with recommendations from cities for cities. Any cities interested in doing so can take part in this short-term initiative by emailing federica.bordelot@eurocities.eu.

Federica Bordelot, from EUROCITIES, provided a general view of Europe’s digital response to the COVID-19 pandemic: the position of the European Commission, the recommendations from the Coalition of Cities for Digital Rights and the EUROCITIES initiative, among others.

Representatives from Ghent, Bordeaux, Nicosia and Barcelona shared their experiences in dealing with the challenges posed by digital technology in the fight against the pandemic, especially at the lockdown-exit stage.

The Ghent representative explained how their city had somehow adopted a new role as an entrepreneur in its attempt to incorporate technology that could be safely used.

The Bordeaux representative focused their talk on the challenge involved in collecting information consensually with several players, which could sometimes be an obstacle to responding with the desired flexibility.

The Barcelona representative explained how the city, given its interest in managing crowds in public spaces, had launched a pilot plan for counting the number of people accessing its beaches and for sharing data publicly, using solutions based on AI and image processing.

The Nicosia representative explained how their city, for its part, was leading the RISE project, funded by the Horizon 2020 programme for developing the CovTracer application. It was currently exploring other technologies and possibilities for the app.

The following were some of the main perspectives on the challenges identified during the meeting:

  • Flexibility: how to react quickly and adapt ourselves to this new situation.
  • The city’s role in decision-taking.
  • Interoperability between cities and how to achieve this for the benefit of city residents.
  • Cooperation: achieving consensus between various players was essential, but could be very time-consuming.
  • Communication with city residents is key at every political level.
  • Social privacy and safety.
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