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Zero paper objective in public service

Sébastien Deletaille, co-founder and CEO Riaktr
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Sébastien Deletaille

Forget about the present for just a moment and  fast forward 5 years into the future. The year is 2023. The Brussels Region has received the title of “Europe’s most digital region”. Furthermore, Alexander De Croo is now a European Commissioner and proud to have silenced his critics. For many years, Europe could not imagine any countries other than the Nordic or Baltic ones claiming these honours.

On top of these accolades, the people of Brussels are glad. For the first time in the history of their region, their public representatives have a simple objective: making them happier. Every month, the Region’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) calculates the residents’ happiness indicator for everyone individually. First, people have to measure their happiness level by responding to the question “Are you happy?” with a score from 1 to 10. Secondly, they can select 3 ways to make us happier. The CTO’s objective is clear: creating more joy based on the results of the happiness indicator, for which they use analytic techniques allowing them to define the appropriate public measures: collect more data, create focus groups, data mining, A/B testing, etc. Of course, our  privacy laws are always complied with and everything is anonymised.

Our civil servants (across the whole administration) share the same objective. Each morning, when the municipal counters open, they manage as many requests online as they do visits to the commune. They focus on the human experience, which is enriched by digital tools (instead of voided). There is almost no paper, queueing has been reduced to a maximum of five minutes, it is possible to schedule your visit in advance and 95% of all requests can be managed via the website or public app.

The quality of life of our civil servants has also increased and it is clear why. They have seen a huge change in the “raison d’être” of their work, in their mission. Repetitive, administrative and procedural work has given way to communication, mutual assistance and human contact. The CTO is able to prove the link between civil servants’ work and its impact on our citizens. Furthermore, our civil servants receive targeted recommendations to better inform and guide residents. The cherry on the cake? Crises, complaints, depressions and absenteeism have dropped dramatically. The quality of life of our workers is top-notch – they are benefitting from a better Brussels, the capital of Europe and now also a frontrunner of digital transformation.  

Across all layers of society, the people of Brussels have witnessed the value of open data first-hand. Civil servants are trained to interpret this vast source of ideas and continuous improvement more effectively. Citizens participate in the thinking process by submitting their ideas, analyses and votes. Every public initiative is systematically evaluated for the first time in our history – not to criticise the past, but to create a culture of exploration, experience and of course improvement.

How did we become so successful? Well, through radical change. In 2018, a game-changing decision was made. Paper was banned from public services. Every process, every invitation, every form was re-examined and digitalised. Our citizens had to choose their preferred means of communication (email, text message, app, Facebook, etc.), our civil servants did the rest. Finally, at the end of 2018, the CTO published their first study on happiness in Brussels... Averaging a score of 7/10, we became determined to move forward together, and do better.