ServDes Conference blog

Scaling up local services.

(by Nicola Morelli)

The traditional universal approach to public services has revealed its own limits, both in terms of efficiency and equity. One of the main focuses of the new approach is on personalization. The new services will need to focus more on personal needs by empowering citizens to shape the logical and functional environment around them. This applies to many services with relevant social implications, from the assistance to elderly and disabled to services prevent social diseases or to support local communities.

The new approach is inevitably linked to technological development, starting from social networking, to geo-locational applications, that are increasing the possibilities for individuals to interact and be active within their community. This in turn is a phenomenon that promises to activate individual resources that could possible support a new way of thinking public services.

On the other hand, this approach represents a challenge for many public administrations, not only because it requires a perspective shift from top-down interventions to participatory projects, but also because of the need to scale-up the new solutions to wide areas:  indeed several interesting projects have been developed at the local level, that are based on the citizens’ direct involvement in the development of new solutions, but few of them have been scaled up to cover wider contexts (large municipal areas, regional areas or national territories). Yet the expectation for many of those projects is to be scaled up at some point after the initial development, in order to make them economically sustainable in long terms.

The economic sustainability of localized services requires a new approach to scalability so that the knowledge and resources used in an individual instance of the service can also be replicated in other contexts or for other communities.

Many authors have focused on social networks’ potentials to generate social innovation but a common assumption is that the diffusion of new applications will follow the logic of wild fire expansion and is not sensitive to the structure of the system to be scaled-up. In fact, the need for personalization and the strong link to the local context makes the common idea of a wild fire diffusion of the service completely inadequate. One can no longer expect those services to increase the number of users from a small community to millions of users, as has occurred with social networking applications that are geographically independent.

Two projects have been presented at the ServDes 2014 conference, that address this issue. The Life 2.0 project aimed at creating social networking applications to support elderly people’s independent life. The project developed an online platform used by elderly people in four countries and studied the appropriate architecture for its scalability. My Neighbourhood is instead a project to connect communities at the local level. This is also an online platform that support local services and is aggregating users in local communities in several European regions.

The two projects emphasise that the success of such initiatives depends on the clear definition of the architecture of the services, that sets the roles of the main stakeholders and their value contribution. They also suggest that scaling up strategies that start from initiatives in local communities should be based on the replication of new communities, or “circles” instead of the multiplication of real users.

Read the full paper