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Tel Aviv, Israel: The Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality Residents Club - "Digitel"


A street view in Tel Aviv, Israel. [Photo provided to guangzhouaward.org]

As an upsurge of smart city construction sweeps across the world, a city in the Middle East has come under the spotlight. Tel Aviv, a center of 51.8-sq-km, stood out from 250 others and was named a "World Smart City" at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona in 2014.

In recent years, the Tel Aviv municipal government has provided more and more online public services in various ways and improved communication channels for residents, advancing administrative governance in efficiency and transparency.

However, many citizens still felt that the municipal government did not quite know their needs and the government's notifications didn't satisfy them. They wanted the government to listen to their real needs and bring actual benefits to them.

In response to the public's demand, the municipal government of Tel Aviv initiated a pioneering program, the Digi-Tel platform.

The program makes urban residents members of the Digi-Tel club and gives them full wifi coverage throughout the city. Meanwhile, new measures were rolled out to collect information about citizens such as their hobbies. The goal was to strengthen the government's direct connection with the public, replacing the previous practice of soliciting opinions from governmental departments.

The new measures provide each resident with customized information and messaging based on their location, marital status and hobbies.

Acting as an information housekeeper, the Digi-Tel platform provides a good solution for urban management and citizen participation. Making use of state-of-the-art technologies and the Digi-Tel platform, people do not need to search for information; instead the government sends the information directly to them via SMS, e-mail and mail. The advanced technology ensures the consistency of public service offered by the government and the safe transfer of information and protection of users' privacy.

At the same time, users participate in democratic dialogue on social issues through government websites or other channels, and establish electronic work relationships with governments at all levels, non-profit organizations and other members of the private sector. Furthermore, the special offers and discounts given to residents by cultural institutions and various business establishments in the city reinforce a sense of identification with the city and promote the business sector. 

Some 400 people compete in boat races on May 30, 2017 at the Yarkon River Park in Tel Aviv, Israel. [Photo/Xinhua]

For example, take a family with a pair of one-year-old twins living in the north of Tel Aviv. Based on its background, the Digi-Tel will filter the information that the family may be interested in and send it to the family members. Users can record their interests and hobbies with Digi-Tel, such as organizations for twins, sports, art and so on, and then receive information and preferential ticketing on sports events, concerts and other activities from the platform.

The Digi-Tel program has been fully promoted across Tel Aviv. According to data provided by the municipal government, about 180,000 of the city's total population of 480,000, or about half of Tel Aviv's households, have the Digi-Tel card. The government offers discounts to encourage more citizens to use their cards. For example, there are discounts in municipal parking lots and half-price tickets for arts events. 

The platform facilitates the daily lives of the citizens and communication between them and the government, promoting more public participation in official activities and plans.

The program reflects a new strategic thinking on the relationship between the municipal government and citizens which replaces the untargeted issuance of generic information with customized service. "Not only can departments of the municipal government share data, but also the public can search for information," said a government source. As the policy is designed to improve the transparency and availability of public service information, Tel Aviv released non-confidential information held in the municipal database. The information consists of more than 140 databases of community services, cultural and sport events, public hygiene, governmental budgets and statistics, and assists the public and mobile terminal application developers.

The Digi-Tel program was funded by the municipal government of Tel Aviv with an investment of 18 million new Israeli shekels ($5.22 million). Most of the money was spent on the implementation of technical solutions. 

The registration of citizen's information and updating of information in the Digi-Tel club were carried out by about 300 employees of the municipal government for free, and in their off-time. The employees were quite pleased to make that contribution because the innovative program greatly improves the relationship between the government and citizens. Under the municipal government's management, the employees take part in appropriate training programs such as team-building.

The Digi-Tel program positions the Tel Aviv municipal government as an innovative and advanced organization and creates a new approach to modern municipal governance. It improves the traditional working style and changes the residents' understanding of mature governmental service. The program has been well received in Israel and has attracted the attention of many other cities and institutions.