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Digital Human Rights in Sofia: Assessing the city’s digital rights maturity and creating a strategic document on digital rights

#HumanRightsDay Blog Series nº 4

Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria and a rapidly developing innovative, technological, green and entrepreneurial hub. Sofia was one of the four European cities selected in the open call to pilot the Digital Rights Governance Project coordinated along with UN Habitat, the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights, Eurocities, and UCLG. Read the overview of the project here.

The City of Sofia participated in the open call with two linked challenges: the need to assess its digital rights maturity and the need for support to plan its actions to draft a digital rights strategy. The first refers to the need to scan through the current state of affairs regarding digital rights in the city and within the municipality, and the latter refers to the actions that can be planned to strengthen the digital rights agenda in the city.

The pilot fits into the city’s digital transformation strategy, as Gencho Kerezov, deputy mayor for Digitalization, innovations and economic development of Sofia Municipality points out: “Democracy has faced unprecedented challenges throughout the last decade. Digital environment was heavily involved in connecting the world further but, regretfully, it also provided the instruments for segregation and dividing communities. Politicians all around the world have joined forces to nurture such policies that ensure that human rights are protected everywhere. The digital security and literacy in Europe has never been more important and the city of Sofia understands that. This is why we are heavily engaged in creating a very strong tech community on a local level that follows ethical and humane standards and protects people rather than endanger them with their operations. What’s more, as one of the 4 cities chosen to develop the Digital rights Frame of EU, our responsibility transcends our engagement on a local level and further involves us in ensuring the digital inclusivity, equity, literacy and security in Europe. Sofia, as a leading ICT city, recognizes the importance of CC4DR for the EU and works closely with our international partners to make sure that Europe is properly protected for the future to come.”

Based on these challenges, some actions were co-designed together with the Innovative Sofia Team in a couple of workshops held in September, as well as with some other key internal and external stakeholders, and they are currently being developed.

Analysing the state of digital rights in the city

Before planning any actions, the Innovative Sofia Team highlighted the need to map how the city has already addressed concerns around digital rights and what strategies regarding the city’s digital transformation are already in place. This is being done, on one hand, through desk research and, on the other, through a self-assessment tool.

Through desk research we are currently mapping the policies, strategies and actions that are running in the city. Among them, the city’s Digital Transformation Strategy for Sofia (DTSS) stands out. This document is the result of Sofia's participation in the Digital Cities Challenge (2018-2019), an initiative of the European Commission that aims to help 41 cities in the European Union achieve sustainable economic growth through the introduction and use of technology in all aspects of public life. In addition to this strategy, Sofia already takes part in many international organisations and initiatives, and has implemented a Sandbox to test innovative solutions.

The digital rights self-assessment tool includes a wide range of questions and indicators related to several digital rights thematic areas. From participation to digital inclusion or accessibility, the tool is meant to provide a quick scan of all of these areas within the municipality in order to assess gaps and strengths. This tool has been created by a group of digital rights advisors that are backing up the Digital Rights Governance project and will be tested by the Innovative Sofia team throughout January 2023. The self-assessment tool will later on be made available for all cities in the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights to support them in mapping their own digital rights maturity levels.

Creating a Draft Strategic Document & Action Plan on Digital Rights

After having assessed the city’s maturity in the field of digital rights and having detected blindspots and strengths, we will work with the Sofia team to draft the city’s high-level principles and commitments and design an action plan on digital rights for the city. They will be validated with a wide range of internal and external stakeholders from Sofia and, after a wide political consensus has been reached, they will guide Sofia’s city-wide action to protect human rights across its digital services.

Scaling up & future challenges: Capacity Building & Outreach strategy to raise awareness in the public.

At the end of the pilot phase, the city of Sofia will have published its strategy on digital rights, and will be ready to start implementing the actions defined in it. Nevertheless, the digital rights journey will only have started, and a lot of outreach and capacity building will be needed to share the ownership on digital human rights protection, especially with public officials and residents. This will entail, for instance, the creation of a website section with Digital Rights info materials, tests/quizzes, online interactive game for different age groups, joint initiatives with academia and the education sector and informational campaigns.

Read the overview of the project here.

Read the article on Tirana's pilot

Read the article on Brussels' pilot

Read the article on Dublin's pilot

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