The Challenge of Designing User-Centric E-Services: European Dimensions

The Challenge of Designing User-Centric E-Services: European Dimensions

Patrizia Lombardi (Politecnico di Torino, Italy), Ian Cooper (Eclipse Research Consultants, UK), Krassimira Paskaleva-Shapira (Forschungzentrum Karlsruhe Gmbh, Germany) and Mark Deakin (Napier University - Scotland, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-282-4.ch024


Harnessing ICTs effectively is one of the main vehicles for achieving the EU’s 2010 strategy to become the most competitive digital knowledge-based economy. Achieving this requires innovation and a process of cultural, structural, and economical change towards the so-called eAgora. This requires that citizens are at the center of attention in the design of civic on-line developments in terms of accessibility. This chapter identifies significant challenges to the design of such user-centric e-services, by illustrating some key results of the European Union (EU) IST Framework 6 research project - IntelCities (2004). It presents the City e-governance framework developed in the research project and it shows how the contents of cities’ existing Web sites do not completely satisfy the expectations of the OECD in the European cities visited by the IntelCities Roadshows. It indicates a consistent way forward for the development of the online services offered by the IntelCities e-learning platform. The chapter closes by querying whether either the European cities examined or their citizens have the appetite for the proposed eAgora that will be necessary for its effective implementation and operation.
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Information and communication technologies (ICTs) loom large in the EU’s policies for sustainable development. Much hangs on their assumed capacity to generate and maintain more sustainable patterns of living and working. And ICTs are expected to deliver this transformation on at least four spatial scales: the EU as a whole, its regions, cities, and individual workplaces. Given the breadth and depth of these ambitions (Cooper et al., 2005), it is difficult to exaggerate the importance of successful exploitation of ICTs to the delivery of sustainable development in Europe.

The Lisbon European Council (CEC, 2000) sought to make Europe “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion”. This objective was reinforced by the Commission in the i2010 initiative which sets the strategic framework for ICT policies in the Union and underlines that: “Information and Communication technologies provide the backbone for the knowledge economy” (CEC, 2002, p.24). The Knowledge Society is seen as a key factor for growth and employment, contributing to economic and social development in Europe.

The conjoint realization of sustainable urban development within a knowledge-based society has been summarized by the notion of the eAgora illustrated in Figure 1. This is taken from the Intelcity roadmap developed under the EU’s 5th Framework Programme. This roadmap projected a vision of an integrated open intelligent information city platform system to support and integrate achieving the knowledge society and sustainable development of cities. Ancient Greeks went to the Agora, a civic square used for public assembly or commerce, to do business or discuss plans for their community. Intelcity envisaged modern Europeans behaving similarly but in the eAgora. By bringing together unconnected sources of information in one place, and making that place available in digital space to everyone, from city planners, building developers, politicians, to individual citizens, the eAgora could support improved management of cities and so help in achieving long-term physical, social and economic sustainability (Lombardi and Cooper, 2007) .

Figure 1.

Intelcity summary roadmap diagram

In turn, this vision of the eAgora is based on wider vision of ICT-enabled participation in eDemocracy; on the active participation of citizens, using ICTs, in decision-making and on collaboration between disparate stakeholders for policy-making purposes. Such eParticipation consists of three main components (OCED, 2001): information provision; transactions (delivery of on-line services), and deliberation (citizen engagement in civic decision-making). Achieving this vision puts citizens at the centre of attention in the design of such on-line developments in terms of accessibility including, for example, the visually disabled, different age and language groups.

Encouraging participation was reinforced by the eEurope 2005 Action Plan (CEC, 2002) intended to form part of the delivery of the Lisbon strategy to build a knowledge-based economy by 2010, with improved employment opportunities and social cohesion. Unfortunately, despite the substantial body of knowledge with regard to the different applications of eParticipation, the reason why so few are utilizing the full potential of eGovernance as a tool is uncertain (Harald & Krimmer, 2005). In particular, why are so many cities not facing the challenge of involving the public in participatory and deliberative thought processes that could augment government’s decision-making?

A published report on the promise and problems of eDemocracy (OECD, 2003) identified some of the major barriers to digital citizen engagement and identified five main challenges, using the citizen as a point of reference. These are: Coping with the problem of scale; Building capacity and active citizenship; Ensuring coherence throughout the policy-making progress; Evaluating the benefits and impacts of offering digital citizen engagement; Ensuring government commitment.

Key Terms in this Chapter

IntelCities Citizen Engagement Matrix: It consists of a list of 40 on-line tools and services mapped against five increasing categories of city-citizen engagement in e-space. It is used to examine the types of policies currently being adopted by cities to engage their citizens as active participants and key stakeholders in the community.

Community Grid for Learning (CGfL): It provides the infrastructure needed for citizens to learn about the planning, development, and design of their cities and engage in local decisions made about the promotion of urban villages and neighborhoods as sustainable communities under the city’s urban regeneration strategy. It is an innovative ICT-enabled network which provides an information portal and Community Grid for Learning (CGfL).

IntelCities E-Learning Platform: It allows the citizens, communities, and organizations in question to collaborate and build consensus on the competencies, skills, and training needed for the development of the online services required to support urban regeneration programs.

eAgora: It aims to support improved management of cities and to achieve long-term physical, social and economic sustainability by bringing together unconnected sources of information in one place, and making that place available in digital space to everyone, from city planners, building developers, politicians, to individual citizens.

IntelCities eCity Platform: A prototype integrated information system for cities which links the range of electronic local government services (e-government) with those of local planning, urban development and regeneration (e-planning).

eDomus: Use of ICTs by citizens is mainly domestic and privately centered, with a very small and limited drive towards their employment for public participation (Domicili and Piersanti, 2004; Lombardi and Cooper, 2007).

IntelCities City eGovernance Model or Framework: It refers to the use of digital technologies by government agencies to facilitate effective decision making and improve public policies in the local communities.

E-Services: The provision of service over electronic networks, which include Internet, wireless networks and electronic environments (e.g. kiosks), based on an interactive information exchange with the satisfied customer (consumer-centred approach).

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