Best in class: meet the frontrunning municipalities in the Nordics

Mayors share their secret to increasing digital acceleration in municipalities.

Written: Sep 2020

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“To put it simply, digitalisation is the bridge to the future Aalborg. It permeates our entire business strategy and affects our education institutions and labour market,” says Thomas Kastrup-Larsen, mayor of Aalborg.

The Danish municipality is ranked as the best digital future facilitator among 60 Nordic municipalities in the recent Nordic Digital Municipality Index 2020 (NDMI). A proud Kastrup-Larsen says the recognition symbolises the constant development of Aalborg.

“Digitalisation has been part of our DNA for a long time. We see that strong digital infrastructure creates new business opportunities for all industries operating in Aalborg, thus benefiting our community.”

Mayor Thomas Kastrup-Larsen says digitalisation together with sustainability will create the jobs of the future in Aalborg. (Photo: Lars Horn/Baghuset)

You can read the full NDMI 2020 here

Partnering with global players

The strength in Aalborg’s digitalisation strategy stems in part from healthy and prosperous relationships with local research institutions and businesses.

“We are home to global ICT and industrial development companies as well as the research powerhouse Aalborg University. Our long-term strategy is based on establishing and nurturing close cooperation with these institutions to facilitate the digital development of our municipality,” says Kastrup-Larsen, underlining that the partnerships are key for Aalborg’s recognition as an international frontrunner.

“And they continue to grow in importance, as the role of digitalisation, regardless of industry, increases,” he continues. “Ensuring easy digital service access to all citizens and businesses, and top class education so our children can acquire digital skills for the future is, therefore, a priority. We firmly believe that constantly improving Aalborg’s world-class strength within the ICT and digitalisation field and always aiming for new heights will keep drawing investments that ensure business development and growth in our municipality.”

In Aalborg, which is the fourth largest city in Denmark, ICT is among the fastest growing industries. Photo: Alvaro Tejero/iStock

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Cheaper cost, better services

Although 13 of the top 15 ranked municipalities in the index are categorised as large, medium-sized Halden managed to secure an impressive third place overall. Anne-Kari Holm, mayor of the coastal municipality on the southeast of Norway, says the ranking confirms Halden’s latest digital transformation.

“Our municipality has faced economic challenges for many years so we’ve been forced to work thoroughly to cut costs. Digitalising services for inhabitants and businesses has been a central part of reforming Halden, and our experience is that the digital solutions often provide a higher quality of services at a lower cost,” she says.

In fact, according to the NDMI, Halden is among the absolute top digital services performers. Holm believes, as does her colleague in Aalborg, that close collaboration between municipalities and local research institutions and businesses holds the key to unlock digital evolution on a local scale.

“The collaboration allows us and local actors to test out new technologies and to step up on digital initiatives. Some of our services, like the electric car-sharing service throughout the city, furnishing schools with digital devices, and smart sensors that measure air and water quality, originate from collaborations between us and local institutions. My sincerest recommendation to other municipalities is to establish a culture for innovation within the local community; it’s better to dare and fail sometimes than to not try at all. Remember, progress is not a straightforward road; it’s filled with bumps and detours.”

Halden is a municipality of approximately 31,000 inhabitants situated two hours south of Norway’s capital Oslo. Mayor Anne-Kari Holm, here demonstrating one of the many smart benches placed around the city centre, says the vision for the municipality’s digitalisation strategy is to be forward-looking and innovative.

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A positive competition culture

Compared to other European countries, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland are at the forefront of digitalisation. However, the NDMI mapping of municipalities has uncovered major internal differences on both national and regional levels in the Nordics.

“On the national level, it’s interesting to see how decisive size is on different parameters,” says Sverre Holt-Francati, Director of Regulatory at Telenor Group.

“For instance, the biggest municipalities have the highest score in the areas concerning digitalisation and smart municipality because they can tap into more competencies and resources. On the other hand, smaller municipalities have shorter decision processes and less bureaucracy, so they score better on mobile deployment as it’s a way more effective process in smaller municipalities than in bigger ones.”

Holt-Francati hopes the report will spark a greater sharing culture of best practices and learnings between Nordic municipalities.

“Hopefully, through this index, Telenor is contributing to creating some healthy competition between municipalities and nations in the Nordics that will support the uptake and use of new digital services. It is highly important that we continue increasing the acceleration of digitalisation, so, in addition to municipalities, the report’s content should be highly relevant for national governments and industry players within the digital field.”

“By focusing on areas related to mobile network deployment, digital services, and smart municipalities, we hope to see an increase of understanding and knowledge regarding these important drivers of digitalisation in municipalities,” says Telenor’s Sverre Holt-Francati who has been leading the NDMI 2020 project.