6. The Most Functional City in the World

Helsinki’s vision is to be the world’s most functional city. In pursuing this vision, it seeks to create the best conditions possible for urban life for its residents and for visitors. The city’s strategic intent is to do things a little bit better every time, in order to make the life of Helsinki’s residents easier and more pleasant. Helsinki wants to improve things every day.

The strategic vision of becoming the most functional city in the world is both ambitious and multifaceted. It underpins every aspect of the strategy and how the city functions.

Success in pursuing the vision can be evaluated based on this document as a whole as well as the combined implications of the various performance indicators discussed. Analyses based on individual indicators are not, however, very informative in this respect. The success of the vision should be examined in the light of the city’s development in general, modernisation, changes in the organisational culture, and performance relative to key targets and the city’s core mission. Ultimately, the best measures of success are local residents’ perception of the functioning of the city and Helsinki’s performance in competition between cities.

As an internationally oriented metropolis, Helsinki also serves those coming from elsewhere.

The city now has more international school and early learning places. Language tuition has increased. English-language services have improved. The International House Helsinki concept remains active. More international events have been added to the events calendar.

A living and captivatingly original city

The goal of creating a living and original city has been pursued, for example, by investing in events: special coordination teams have been set up for major projects and large public events, a Roadmap for Events has been drawn up, permit processes have been simplified, and an organisation called the Helsinki Events Foundation has been established to coordinate events hosted by the city. The startup ecosystem has been promoted through, for example, Slush and other startup events, International House Helsinki, Maria 01, the building of the new Maria Campus and the development of Meilahti Campus. The number of jobs in the private sector outpaced the target level in the first years of the Council term, which helped to prepare the city for the coronavirus pandemic. Problems that still remain and that have been aggravated by the pandemic include long-term unemployment, youth unemployment, segregation and social exclusion.

True, vivid bilingualism is a great asset to Helsinki.

Bilingualism has been promoted through a special committee appointed by the City Board. The Board reviewed the Bilingualism Committee’s report on 24 February 2020 and instructed all divisions of the city organisation to draw up language planning documents to improve the city’s language services and staff’s language skills.

The city boosts the advancement of viable big events and invests in attracting and creating major cultural and sports events, as well as congresses and conferences. Helsinki is committed to promoting tourism, and encourages everyone to come up with ideas to make the city even more attractive.

Special coordination teams were set up for major projects and large public events in 2018 to ensure city-wide coordination and speed up decision-making. The objective of streamlining decision-making processes and increasing the sharing of information within the city has been achieved for the most part.

An organisation called the Helsinki Events Foundation was established in 2018. The Helsinki Events Foundation is an amalgamation of the former Helsinki Festival Foundation and the events department of Helsinki Marketing, and it is responsible for coordinating the City of Helsinki’s significant public events, such as Helsinki Festival, Lux Helsinki, Helsinki Day, Helsinki’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, Helsinki Baltic Herring Market and Helsinki Christmas Market. The Foundation’s mission is to develop Helsinki into an ever more functional and attractive events destination.

The Helsinki Roadmap for Events was drawn up in 2019 to provide a framework for the continuous promotion of the city’s development priorities. Actions taken based on the roadmap so far include the adoption of shared criteria for prospective organisers of major events as well as participation rules. The permit process for events has also been simplified, and communication and cooperation with event organisers have been increased.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on Helsinki’s tourism industry. Overnight stays by tourists, which numbered almost 4.5 million in 2019, dropped by 64% between 2019 and 2020. Helsinki hosted a total of 395 congresses and conferences in 2019, which was 66 more than in 2018. The number of participants at these events grew from just under 47,000 to a little over 84,000. Statistics from 2020 are due to be published in the spring of 2021.

Helsinki’s tourism industry behaved very similarly to Stockholm and Copenhagen, which were used as international benchmarks, in 2020, with the volume of tourists dropping by more than 60% from the previous year.

Helsinki Business Hub and Helsinki Marketing were amalgamated in 2021 to form a new urban marketing and invest-in company called Helsinki Partners, which now promotes sustainable growth, seeks to attract more investments, businesses, skilled labour and tourists to the city, coordinates international sales and marketing, and builds the city’s global visibility and brand. A new Tourism Unit was established in the City Executive Office’s Economic Development Division, which is now responsible for tourism destination management.

Helsinki’s objective is to be one of Europe’s most captivating locations for innovative start-ups and the most attractive knowledge hub for companies and individuals wanting to make the world a better place to live in.

Cooperation with the Slush startup concept and the city’s startup ecosystem has been deepened in areas such as XR, gaming, health and wellbeing, educational technology and sustainable solutions. Slush and NewCo Helsinki have also collaborated on research related to the startup ecosystem. A joint campaign called ‘4 Reasons’ was run with Slush to highlight the role of startups in finding solutions to major global problems. The City of Helsinki’s role in the campaign was to promote a theme named ‘A Worklife Worth Living’ by educating the public about the excellent standard of living in the city and the importance of a healthy work–life balance.

A public database of startups in the Capital Region was built in cooperation with a Dutch company called Dealroom in 2020.

Internationalisation in general and increasing supply of English-language school and day care centre places help to promote the objective.

The long-term objective of the city’s business policy is for private-sector jobs to increase at least at the same rate as population growth. Work continues on developing the Maria 0-1 area into the largest growth business campus in northern Europe and on strengthening the position of the Meilahti campus as an internationally significant innovation and business environment in the health sector.

The number of full-time jobs in the private sector grew by 2.43% relative to population growth in 2017, by +3.48% in 2018 and by 1.13% in 2019 (the last figure is provisional).

Preliminary data show that jobs decreased by approximately one per cent on the previous year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. In terms of the number of businesses, however, the outlook is positive. Long-term unemployment has been a difficult problem, which the city has attempted to tackle through, for example, more efficient use of customer information. Unemployed people accounted for 14.1% of Helsinki’s labour force at the end of January 2021. The unemployment rate was 5.0 percentage points higher than in January the previous year. The number of long-term unemployed people grew by 51% in Helsinki year-on-year. They numbered 15,922 at the end of January, which was 5,361 more than a year previously. The number of unemployed people aged under 25 grew by 101% in Helsinki year-on-year and the number of unemployed peopled aged 25 to 29 by 88%. Youth unemployment has increased at a faster rate than unemployment among other age groups.

Services aimed at promoting employment have been particularly targeted at groups with the lowest participation in the labour market. The service volumes of One-Stop Guidance Centres for young people doubled between 2016 and 2019. New cross-sectoral joint services promoting employment were also developed in respect of career guidance for young people. A local government pilot on employment was designed and launched on 1 March 2021, which gives the city considerably more responsibility for managing employment.

Maria 01, an entrepreneurial community established in a former hospital in 2016, is continuing its transformation into Maria Campus, the largest startup campus in Europe. Maria 01 is co-financed by the Startup Foundation, which runs Slush, Helsinki Enterprise Agency and the City of Helsinki. Helsinki promotes the launch of business incubators serving, in particular, growing industries as well as fields that are important to the functioning of the city.

Maria Campus was given planning permission at the City Council’s meeting on 9 September 2020.

Helsinki’s first health care business incubator opened at Meilahti Campus in the spring of 2020. Health Incubator Helsinki is a comprehensive pre-accelerator and incubator programme providing long-term support for early-stage teams and tailored mentoring for more established startups. The teams and startups are also given expert advice on their business ideas and scaling their business and provided with office and teamwork spaces.

The most recent milestone in the development of the Meilahti Campus was the approval of the draft local detailed plan for Laakso Joint Hospital by the Urban Environment Committee on 24 November 2020.

Three persons outside Maria Campus
Startup company Shortcut. Picture: Kimmo Brandt.

A faster and more agile organisational culture through controlled change of rhythm

The city’s organisational culture has improved in terms of leadership, teamwork and service processes alike. Recent resident satisfaction surveys show that more people would now recommend Helsinki as a place to live and that residents are now more satisfied with the city’s upkeep. Residents have been given more opportunities to have a say. The scores given to leadership in personnel surveys have improved. Although digitalisation has been successfully promoted, there is still work to be done in making online services and processes more efficient through digitalisation. The city still needs to become more agile when it comes to dealings with the business sector, and business-friendliness in general needs to be improved. Regarding human resources, the city’s image as an employer and staff welfare still need work. There is also much room for better horizontal cooperation between the various units of the city organisation.

Constant and agile developing of the city’s own functions and practices is the best guarantee for the city to deliver on its promises in public services, for keeping up a vibrant urban life and for strengthening the international appeal of the city.

New officials were elected at the beginning of the Council term, who have coordinated the reform of operating models and promoted the city’s strategic priorities. Special coordination teams have been set up for major projects and large public events. City-wide coordination teams have also been established for several of the city’s most important projects.

Examples of concrete steps that have been taken to improve coordination within the city include new permit and facilities management processes for day care centres.

Lean thinking has been used to improve the functioning and operating models of the city organisation and to ensure customer orientation in three areas during the Council term: city-level service processes, training, and the promotion of a lean philosophy in general. A total of 11 city-level processes have now undergone a lean transformation, and online courses have been run for the entire city organisation as well as for specific target groups. A city-level framework agreement for lean consultancy has been signed to promote lean thinking, and the philosophy has been incorporated into the city’s development framework (Kehmet). The transition to a culture based on monitoring and measuring has not been altogether smooth.

City-wide social welfare and health care projects are believed to have improved cooperation, accelerated the reform of the city’s organisational culture and promoted the adoption of new operating models.

Despite its seriousness, the coronavirus pandemic has actually facilitated the introduction of new operating models. The city’s crisis management model was deployed quickly and adapted to the rapidly evolving situation. Digitalisation has progressed during the pandemic and provided an opportunity for faster implementation of the city’s digitalisation programme. Permit processes have been streamlined. The crisis management model has facilitated strategic forecasting and helped to create a faster and more agile organisational culture while also improving teamwork.

Resident and user satisfaction are one of the most important indicators of the city’s successfulness.

Helsinki’s Net Promoter Score (NPS), which measures the likelihood of residents to recommend Helsinki as a place to live, rose by three index points on the previous year in 2020.

The city has become more functional. According to a national civil engineering survey, people in Helsinki are increasingly satisfied with the upkeep of the city’s infrastructure, the cleanliness of public spaces, the condition of roads, pavements and cycle paths, and the maintenance of parks and green spaces.

Reducing disruption caused by roadworks has been a major challenge. The city now communicates more actively about planned roadworks.

Customer experience data have been collected systematically from all kinds of users of training and education services. Overall customer satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 7 was 5.6.

Residents and customers are now more involved in development efforts, and a customer-orientated approach has replaced the previous organisation-orientated approach to development. Several of the city organisation’s divisions have introduced more inclusive operating models. Customer feedback has been collected and consulted systematically. The city now has a well-established system of experts by experience. Members of the local community have been given more opportunities to get involved in the development of new services and facilities, such as the Helsinki Central Library Oodi, the Hertsi shopping centre and Töölö Sports Hall. Several new, more customer-orientated operating models have been adopted (NPS, customer profiling).

Helsinki strives to make better sense of global change.

Helsinki has become significantly more active in several international networks that promote the role of cities in responding to global changes during the strategic planning period. These kinds of networks include, for example, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the World Economic Forum (WEF), UN institutions such as UN-HABITAT, and C40. Helsinki was also invited to become a permanent member of Urban 20 in 2021 despite the group’s membership having previously been limited to the biggest cities of G20 member states. A new Strategies Division has been established in the City Executive Office to increase Helsinki’s readiness for change.

Helsinki aims to be the city in the world that makes the best use of digitalization.

Investing in digitalisation has facilitated the reform of the city’s organisational culture and created conditions for the sustainable renewal of operations and services.

The adoption of the city’s digitalisation programme and the work of the Digitalisation Management Group have improved cooperation. Helsinki now also has a Chief Digital Officer. Digital solutions have been crucial in the provision of services during the coronavirus pandemic.

A city-wide digital foundation was established on 1 January 2021, marking the most important milestone in the implementation of the digitalisation programme during the strategic planning period. Centralised provision of digital infrastructure and information technology services creates considerable synergies and savings. A shared service and financial management model is due to be adopted in 2021. However, there are still challenges relating to the manageability and security of the digital foundation network. The city hopes to overcome these by deploying new network and service management tools and putting a cybersecurity contract out to tender in 2021.

The digitalisation programme and new digital foundation have taken the city closer to its goals, but digital services still need to be promoted and the capacity of city-wide platforms strengthened.

Helsinki ups the pace of its own decision making capacity, capacity to predict and to react, and pursues an orderly change of rhythm in everything it does. Helsinki will improve the efficiency of policy-making models and service processes and lighten bureaucracy.

One of the goals of the digitalisation programme is to develop predictive, personalised services. One important milestone in this respect was a campaign to proactively offer pre-school education places to almost 5,600 families in January 2021, of whom 89% accepted the offer sent by text message. The Social Services and Health Care Division’s EBMEDS (Evidence-based Medicine Electronic Decision Support) pilot was extended to create conditions for the introduction of new, preventive services. The City of Helsinki also started work on its MyData Operator capabilities in order to make use of human-centric data.

City-wide operating models were adopted for family social services centres, health and wellbeing centres and services for the elderly. Management networks for family social services centres and health and wellbeing centres became more established and helped to promote new operating models and integration throughout the city. Providers of services for the elderly began to collaborate with the management networks of health and wellbeing centres. In respect of digital services, more content was added to health centres’ chatbots and chat service hours for social welfare and housing advice were extended. An online coronavirus symptom checker and a digital platform for booking tests and receiving test results were developed.

The Urban Environment Division produced descriptions of its core processes for increasing efficiency. Facilities management processes, for example, were streamlined in consultation with customer industries. Customer-orientated targets and performance indicators were agreed for each core process. A number of weaknesses relating to individual processes have been identified, and roadmaps have been produced to address these and to monitor progress.

Helsinki develops digital solutions, which make it easy for residents to follow and engage in matters of interest and concern to themselves, regardless of whether they are the city’s or other actors’.

A number of surveys have been conducted to measure user satisfaction with the city’s digital services. Of the 2,623 respondents, 74% considered online services easy to use from a technological perspective. The City of Helsinki’s website was given an NPS of 33. A total of 12.2% of residents aged between 16 and 89 found the websites of the city’s public services difficult to use (8.2%) or did not use them at all (4.0%).

A new events concept called Helsinki New Horizons has been finalised and launched online. The number of participants is many times that of local events. Systematic efforts have been made to increase online interaction and to introduce new ways for the public to influence urban development online.

A mobile application called Hobby Pass was launched for school years 7 to 9 in August 2020, which is designed to make it easier for children to try new hobbies and find the right one for them. A list of all public events around the city as well as private organisers’ events will be available at tapahtumat.hel.fi in the future.

Helsinki strengthens its position as an international forerunner in inclusion and transparency.

New inclusion and partnership practices have been trialled in all divisions of the city organisation. The strategic indicator adopted for measuring the number of ways in which residents can influence decision-making shows that inclusive models have been used extensively to develop all kinds of services.

A considerable number of projects implemented on the basis of the OmaStadi participatory budgeting concept have involved construction and physical planning. These projects have progressed quickly thanks to the new operating models.

An evaluation of the City of Helsinki’s Participation and Interaction Model shows that participation and interaction with residents and customers have, on the whole, increased. Voter turnout for the first city-wide participatory budgeting initiatives in 2019 was an internationally competitive 8.6%, although there was considerable variation between neighbourhoods. A total of 1,273 proposals were submitted during the first year.

Gender equality is a principle permeating all activities of the city. To promote gender equality, a research-based project is to be launched to assess gender impact in a number of selected services.

The City Board decided on 13 January 2020 that the findings of both the gender impact assessment of the services of the City of Helsinki and the piloting of gender-sensitive budgeting as well as the resulting recommendations would be taken into account in the future development of the city’s services and in the drafting of division-specific budgets and operational plans in order to promote gender-sensitive budgeting. The Board stipulated that the recommendations had to be turned into tangible action plans. The plans had to specify, for example, what kinds of new services, operating models or participation techniques the city should develop in order to eliminate gender gaps and implement the other recommendations set out in the report.

Helsinki strengthens its international profile as a design metropolis.

The city appointed a new Chief Design Officer in 2020. Helsinki was one of the first cities in the world to have a CDO back in 2016–2018. The city’s design-driven community Helsinki Lab has become a permanent establishment. The City of Helsinki has been exploring the possibility of opening a new, world-class museum of architecture and design in Helsinki in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Museum of Finnish Architecture and Design Museum Helsinki. The project organisation began its work at the start of 2021. International media campaigns in connection with the launch of the Central Library Oodi and the Amos Rex art museum in 2018 raised Helsinki’s profile as a city of design and architecture. The design community has agreed on common communication priorities for the years 2020 and 2021, and a new website will go live at design.hel.fi in 2021. Helsinki’s architectural policy is being drawn up at the moment and is due to be finished in 2021. The year 2022 marks the 10th anniversary of Helsinki’s designation as the World Design Capital. Preparations for the anniversary celebrations began in 2020.

The city ensures that the aims of the recent organizational reform are achieved. These include especially inclusion, cost-efficiency and being resident-oriented as well as improving the governance of the city as a whole. The focus during the present City Council term is to ensure the full benefit of the organizational reform as well as to renew the city’s leadership practices. The city is led, and its personnel policy pursued, in an ethical, responsible and sustainable manner.

Leadership has been given a lot of attention, which has led to much better results throughout the city. Helsinki’s coaching leadership index improved by 4.2 percentage points between 2018 and 2020. The shortage of skilled labour remains a challenge, but the city’s staff are loyal to their employer even in industries where the availability of labour is an issue. Staff shortages have turned out to be a bigger challenge than what was anticipated at the beginning of the current Council term. The Social Services and Health Care Division in particular struggled significantly with the lack of skilled labour in 2020. A number of roles were identified that were particularly difficult to fill and city-wide monitoring of labour shortages by job title began in 2020. The list of troublesome job titles was last updated at the beginning of 2021 based on priorities reported by the city organisation’s divisions and public utilities. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the list is currently topped by practical nurses, public health nurses and registered nurses. The sectors most affected by labour shortages are early childhood education, social services and health care.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected staff in different ways. Some of the effects have been positive: cooperation has improved, staff have found their work more meaningful in the midst of the pandemic, and those working from home have enjoyed the increased autonomy. There have also been negative effects: some members of staff have experienced higher workloads, while others have felt redundant without customers.

An extensive analysis was performed of the governance system reform that was launched at the beginning of the Council term, which consisted of academic reviews by Hanken School of Economics, the University of Helsinki and the University of Tampere, consultants’ evaluations and the city’s own assessment of efforts to increase participation. The results of personnel surveys were also consulted as part of the analysis. A summary of the analysis and the findings was presented at the City Council’s seminar in February 2021. All in all, the reform has progressed on target from a political (a model based on mayoral oversight and committees), operational (the splitting of the city organisation into divisions) and participational perspective alike. The results of the analysis of the governance system reform have been used to improve the management of the city’s service organisation.

The city of Helsinki as an organization is a good place to work, where the goal is excellent people leadership. During the present Council’s term, the city will improve management and leadership work and develop its communications operations.

Changes in employee experience and the impact of the reform of the city’s organisational culture have been measured by means of regular staff pulse surveys. The overall scores have improved. More flexible methods of managing human resources have had to be introduced and competence assessments carried out due to the coronavirus pandemic. Finding skilled labour has been difficult in sectors suffering from staff shortages. The process of identifying clear interfaces between different divisions of the city organisation has progressed.

A pay progression plan was drawn up and an incentive scheme introduced to increase the city’s appeal as an employer and facilitate recruitment.

City-level data from the 2020 municipal Kunta10 survey show that, on the whole, staff have not noticed a change in the level of control they have over their own work (compared to the year 2016), with the score remaining at 3.65/5.0. A total of 37.9% of the respondents felt that their work had changed in a positive way, which was 2.9 percentage points more than in 2018. A total of 37.8% of the respondents (2016: 43.6%) felt that they had no say in how their work was changing.

Decision-making in the work community was considered fair (3.3/5.0), with the score improving by 0.16/5.0 from 2016. Discrimination based on gender had increased: 1.7% of respondents reported experiences of discrimination in 2020 compared to 1.1% in 2016. Experiences of sexual harassment had decreased from 6.4% to 5.2%. The respondents rated their work community’s social capital slightly higher in 2020 than in 2016 (3.84 vs 3.73 on a scale of 1 to 5).

Helsinki’s intermunicipal ranking in the Kunta10 survey has improved by eight places between 2016 and 2020 when it comes to staff’s satisfaction with their employer’s leadership/management. Helsinki now scores 58/100 in this comparison (100 being the best).

The city is working hard to improve its image as an employer on a long-term basis. A total of 79.6% of the City of Helsinki’s staff would recommend their employer to a friend (according to the 2019 occupational health survey). The figure is 1.5 percentage points lower than in 2016. Wellbeing at work is being systematically promoted. Sickness absences have decreased.

A new Communications Division has been established in the City Executive Office, which helps to coordinate events. The establishment of the new division ties in with the city’s strategic decision to prioritise communications and give more attention to improving communication and city-level cooperation.

Self-managed teams and regional cooperation have been used as ways to cope with staff shortages in, for example, libraries.

Managers’ work is complicated by overly bureaucratic financial and human resources management procedures. Staff’s physical and mental wellbeing is important in dealing with the relentless coronavirus pandemic and reacting to daily changes in the external environment.

People gathered around table
OmaStadi. Picture: Kimmo Brandt.