When we think about the digital future, does the City of Wroclaw come to mind? Usually yes, but only in the field of private business.
The municipality itself is lagging behind European rivals, with documents submitted through the digital ePUAP service often taking considerable time to process by various offices compared to those submitted in-person. The city is one of Poland’s most progressive when it comes to offline services, with special mention to the access to legal services for foreigners and the new breastfeeding points launched in city libraries, but electronically, the city is still very much in the 1990’s.
Looking to the north to our cousins in Estonia, we can see a remarkable difference in how digitalisation has been handled. The City of Tallinn has made a considerable push to digitalise all public services, with a huge amount of information and services available online. This combines with the general Estonian e-strategy and principle that private individuals only provide a piece of information once to public authorities, and creates an environment in which all residents and citizens can feel welcomed. Tallinn has become a vibrant, multicultural city that encourages innovation and highly skilled migrants, a situation that benefits all residents of the city. The focus on digital services is a major part of this, allowing non-Estonian speakers the chance to integrate in English, Russian and even other languages.
Time to catch up
What can Wrocław do to catch up? Well, the first step is in dedicating significant resources to ensure that online applications are processed as quickly as possible, thus encouraging others to perform their business online rather than offline. Right now, many people still choose to submit documents in-person due to the lengthy delays associated with documents submitted through the excellent ePUAP platform.
Looking today on the wroclaw.pl portal, I can find prominent information about outdoor gyms and public transport over the long May weekend. Interesting, yes, but is this really information that foreigners need to know, as opposed to more practical things such as paying property taxes? Of course not – and this is where the misguided focus on digital services comes from. The Polish version of the portal is significantly different, with services that matter – schools, contact details, microgrants and tax returns given the center of attention on the page.
Perhaps most controversially for some, foreign language portals should not be seen solely as a method of promotion, but should also be developed simultaneously alongside their Polish counterparts. With over 10% of the city of Wrocław now being foreign citizens according to some measures, urgent action needs to be taken to make sure that public services are equally available to all residents of the city. This, in turn, drives the migration of more highly skilled professionals to the city, who know that they will not have to spend considerable amounts of time dealing with the minutiae of Polish bureaucracy. This can give our city a significant edge over others. What may seem like a pointless investment today will become a cruical investment tomorrow, particularly in the cut-throat race to recruit and retain the best minds in today’s Europe.
To conclude, I am reminded of the old saying – „you get what you give”. In this case, if we focus on digital services, then we can expect to become a European center of digital services. It really isn’t rocket science, and it astonishes me that such a young and flourishing city as Wroclaw still struggles to grasp such a simple concept.