4. Summary of lessons learned and areas in need of improvement

Helsinki’s ability to improve things every day is critical to achieving the vision of being the most functional city in the world.

The city’s organisational culture, which needed an overhaul following a major administrative reform and in order to build a modern, functional city, has become more customer-orientated. The need to improve the working culture, which was identified in the course of the mid-term evaluation of the strategy, and the measures that were taken in response are also reflected positively in the results. Staff are reporting progress in strategic modernisation and better leadership, and wellbeing at work and staff’s perceptions of leadership and the city’s progress have improved during the strategic planning period. There is, nevertheless, still work to be done to improve cooperation within the city organisation. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated many already established trends and forced the city to function more strategically on the one hand and in a more proactive and agile manner on the other. This has been reflected in closer cooperation between individual divisions and the City Executive Office in managing the pandemic and, for example, in the introduction of a new, more agile approach to developing services for the city’s residents (e.g. coronavirus situation updates and helpline, the distribution of masks, and outdoor dining in the Senate Square). Regarding performance indicators, the percentage of residents who would recommend Helsinki grew from the Helsinki Barometer conducted in the autumn of 2019 to the following survey in the spring of 2020.

Housing, transport solutions, the urban structure, energy efficiency and emissions have developed in line with sustainability goals, and this conclusion is also largely supported by measured data. Urban structure indicators from 2020 show a higher percentage of new residents in areas served by rail transport, which proves that densification is happening as planned. The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on people’s need to move around, and the change in the shares of travel modes in commuting, for example, is consequently difficult to analyse.

The general economic situation and especially the challenges facing the service sector, unemployment and the vitality of the city centre are creating considerable uncertainty in terms of sustainable growth. The welfare gap, polarisation between population groups and segregation between neighbourhoods are becoming significant threats. Regional segregation indicators show that the trend is growing. Despite the city’s quick response, the coronavirus pandemic will cause at least a temporary dip in the wellbeing of children and young people, the elderly and the working-age population alike. Extracurricular activities have been promoted, but there is still plenty of room for improvement in the city-wide objectives and wider actions aimed at ensuring the wellbeing of young people. The pandemic has only highlighted these weaknesses. Understanding of mobility as a public health issue has clearly increased during the strategic planning period. Mobility indicators show diverging trends depending on the population group. While physical activity appears to have increased based on surveys, scientific data do not fully support these findings.

Strategic indicators of the social and psychological wellbeing of children and young people reveal a worrying trend. Seven of the eight indicators of mental health problems and loneliness showed deterioration in 2019.

The city’s services have developed in line with the strategic priorities and become more customer-orientated. Among the city’s success stories are new, more integrated service and care chains in the social welfare and health care sector as well as in early learning and education. Digitalisation has gained momentum, which has enabled a rapid increase in, for example, predictive customer services and more efficient use of information and data.

The following are a few key findings of the City Executive Office’s and individual divisions’ analyses of developing services between 2017 and 2021:

  • Local early childhood education and basic education are now provided as one, continuous learning pathway based on regular customer experience surveys. Unit costs have been brought closer to the average of other big cities.
  • The Culture and Leisure Division succeeded in opening the Helsinki Central Library Oodi without jeopardising local libraries. Oodi is a pioneering example of modern service design. Outreach and detached youth work have increased and a knowledge-based model of positive discrimination has been adopted. The Varaamo booking system has been improved to make public spaces more easily accessible to residents. New, groundbreaking services have been developed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including distance services and a city-wide helpline. There has been considerable city-wide cooperation in promoting physical exercise. The sea has been made into a more integral part of the city. The Urban Environment Division has achieved the targets set for housing production.
  • The new carbon neutrality action plan has created a good foundation for reaching the target of making Helsinki carbon-neutral by 2035. More attention must be given to major sources of emissions and making carbon neutrality a core aspect of everything the city does. Transport network investments and the development of sustainable forms of transport have progressed as planned. The concept of living, distinctive and safe neighbourhoods has been promoted through, for example, infill construction and investments in infrastructure around railway stations. A more forward-thinking and systematic way to reduce disruption caused by roadworks still needs to be developed.
  • The Social Services and Health Care Division has succeeded in giving residents and customers more opportunities to influence the development of new services, and customer feedback has been systematically collected and consulted throughout the coronavirus pandemic. A phenomenon-based approach has been applied to the development of several service and care chains. New online services have been launched and promoted extensively. It will take time to change the city’s organisational culture and fully adopt new operating models. The coronavirus pandemic and the economic situation are hindering the progress and implementation of several development processes. Customer volumes and the demand for services for the disabled and child welfare services continue to grow despite development efforts.
  • The city’s shared functions and services (e.g. communications, budgeting, digitalisation and HR) are now better coordinated thanks to cooperation between the City Executive Office and individual divisions. Progress has been made in respect of asset management and the facilities strategy, but there are still challenges to overcome relating to the availability, health and safety of facilities. The city’s digitalisation programme has advanced, and a new digital foundation for all aspects of the city organisation was adopted at the beginning of 2021 and is now being coordinated by the Digitalisation Unit of the newly established Strategies Division. Local construction management has enabled a high standard of residential development, and the City Council has recently ratified a new action plan for housing and land use. Access to skilled labour remains a problem for the city, even though labour supply has increased with rising unemployment.
  • In respect of industry and employment, high-growth entrepreneurship has been promoted through, for example, the Maria 01 startup concept and business incubators. New service pathways have been developed to manage employment and improve access to training and the job market. A local government pilot on employment was designed and launched during the strategic planning period, which gives the city considerably more responsibility for managing employment. The coronavirus pandemic has increased unemployment especially among young people and non-Finnish speakers.
Boys playing Pokemon Go
Picture: Salomon Marttila

Apart from not hitting the productivity target, the city succeeded in the responsible management of finances during the first part of the present Council’s term of office. Operating expenses have increased faster than the target set in the strategy, and the city is already over budget. The coronavirus pandemic has made productivity targets increasingly important for stabilising the economy. Responsible financial management in earlier years has enabled the city to keep providing services and even invest during the pandemic.

Regarding the promotion of interests, Helsinki has become more efficient and raised its profile both nationally and internationally. The city’s strong brand and increased visibility are success stories on both a national and international scale.

Helsinki’s national impact has grown thanks to, for example, the network of Finland’s 21 largest towns and cities (C21). International partnerships have been established with both the UN and US-based Bloomberg Philanthropies. Helsinki’s global competitiveness has also been promoted by participating more actively in international projects.