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Reykjavík, a digital transformation driven by and for citizens participation and human rights policies

The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights (CC4DR) is pleased to count the City of Reykjavík among its members. Counting around 140,000 inhabitants, Reykjavík is the capital of Iceland and the largest municipality of the country.

In order to highlight & discover the City’s work related to digital human rights, we met Karen María Jónsdóttir, Director’s Office Manager at the Department of Service and Innovation, who explained to us how the city is using technologies to foster active democracy while ensuring that all citizens have equal access to the digital environment.

Reykjavík joined the Coalition in September 2023, and as Karen María Jónsdóttir said, joining the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights “was something that spoke right to us and of course we need to take part”. Indeed, the city is driven by a strong involvement in human rights, especially toward equal rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ inclusion and democracy. As the only city in Iceland it was also important for Reykjavík to have partners to talk to, allowing to discover different perspectives as well as to practice dialogue and strengthen democracy, concepts which can quickly disappear if they are not concretely put into practice.

Digital technologies are enablers that must keep human rights protection at the heart of their development

According to Karen María Jónsdóttir, Reykjavík is an inclusive city that welcomes diversity and puts efforts to ensure equal access of all its citizens in terms of housing, transportation and digital access. The city reflects the values of Iceland, where public services development needs to confirm equal rights for everyone. This vision is reflected by the structure of Reykjavík’s policies. One of the leading policies of the city is the Digital Council  which is responsible for shaping policies about transparency, democracy, digital and service matters, as well as the internal and community innovation digitalization in the city. Each policy needs to comply with the requirements of the Council, including the digital policy currently being developed, which will ensure that human rights are as much ensured in the digital space as it is in the physical space. The new digital policy will therefore focus on services, human rights and democracy. 

Reykjavík’s digital transformation is driven by the fact that digital technologies are enablers and not a purpose of their own. They are tools to help sustainability, inclusion and active democracy policies resulting in a better society to live in. That is why the digitalization of the city is based on a human rights approach, aiming at improving accessibility of public services while ensuring the safety of the information.

Digitalisation is a tool to improve citizens participation that must also be driven by active democracy

The development of digital policies is driven by active democracy, which is one of the main threads of Reykjavík’s decision-making. This will be shown by the city’s digital policy. The first draft of the policy was based on a public participation focusing on digital rights, security, inclusion, diversity and access. The answers, used as basis to develop the strategy, allowed the development of requirements for artificial intelligence, digital identity, open data and algorithms while raising reflections on equal access, biases, ethical questions and strategies to avoid or mitigate the risks of digitalization. Active participation is also used by the city to improve the digitalization of its public services. Thanks to research and users-testing, the city askes its citizens their needs towards each service and to test the prototypes to ensure that the city is developing what has been asked.

Not only based on an active democratic process, digitalization is also a tool to improve citizens participation in Reykjavík’s initiatives. Thanks to digital tools, the city found solutions to better reach out to citizens and collect their views on how to allocate funding or on which projects should be implemented in the city. For example, the city developed digital participation platforms allowing citizens to share their projects and to vote on the best ideas. The city also has dedicated portals where citizens can, for example, alert the city when a repair on the streets need to be done or to report on how they have been treated by the municipal services.

Reykjavík’s inclusion initiatives to sustain active democracy and the celebration of diversity

To ensure that all citizens can access the services and participate in the digital society, Reykjavík ensures that all designs created for surveys are user-friendly, using universal design of digital products and writing texts in a specific way that is easy to read and to translate through machine translation. All new projects involving digitalization need to ensure more inclusion than the city already has and need to show concrete benefits to diverse groups of people in the city. 

The city also developed initiatives to ensure equal access to digital equipment and equal access to good teaching. Indeed, working alongside local schools, the Department of Service and Innovation ensured that children have the necessary equipment to learn, such as computers, and that teachers are up-skilled to be able to easily navigate through the educational apps and digital platforms, as well as to teach children how to use those digital tools. It is even more important that Reykjavík is using digital transformation to tailor its educational system depending on the needs and cultural differences of the children.

An IT governance based on a human-centered approach  

During the last three years, the municipality rethought all its IT governance. They started by building different relationships with the market’s providers, such as data, artificial intelligence and coding companies. Concretely, the city set very strict requirements when collaborating with companies in terms of GDPR and restructured the ownership of the data. In order to protect the citizen’s data and create a new culture of open data and interoperability, the city now owns the data. The city is also focusing on fostering its requirements in terms of cybersecurity and security of the information: “the data concerning our people, it has to be safe”, said Karen María Jónsdóttir.

All these requirements were set to provide a safe digital environment, where digital rights of citizens are protected, allowing them to rethink their IT systems. The local administration of the city used to have very big and heavy systems, which were hard to maintain and to evolve. Compared to the development of data sharing, such systems were outdated, because they were not allowing to connect with other systems and to collaborate with other services. Using best of breed solutions, the city switched to an innovation ecosystem, more flexible, and composed of smaller systems that can connect, disconnect, be replaced and added very easily. It is a new way of building IT in the city, allowing the city to react quickly with the changes in the environment and to adapt to a fast-changing world.



Strongly committed to adapt its IT governance system and to ensure that everyone has an equal access to digital opportunities, the city already scaled-up its activities at the international level through a project working on digital human rights sustainability. Reykjavík focused on improving school services for children by using technologies to help children with psychological diseases or specific needs. Alongside five other cities from Europe, North America and South America, which were all working on a specific project, the city shared the obstacles and challenges faced during the implementation. Now, Reykjavík is looking forward to extending its collaboration even more through the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights. 

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