Utrecht is the fourth-largest city of the Netherlands with approximately 350.000 inhabitants. Due to its central position within the country it is an important economic, cultural and educational centre. The city council of Utrecht has 45 members. They represent the diverse people of the city and oversee the implementation of policy by the College of Mayor and Alderpersons.
Erwin Raemakers is information and process manager at the Municipal Clerk’s Office (MCO). The MCO advises and supports the city council and its members in the performance of their duties. Erwin directs strategic and innovative projects aimed at facilitating the work of city councilors.
City councilors are busy people. They combine their work for the council with regular jobs and therefore are focused on using their time as efficiently as possible. At the same time they want to enter the political arena as well prepared as possible.
- ‘Searching and finding information is challenging, especially within a complex organisation such as a municipality. We want to serve the city optimally by making sure city councilors spend their time processing information in preparation for a debate not by searching for it.’
In a continuous effort to improve their service, Erwin and his colleagues decided to investigate and test how the retrieval of municipal information could be facilitated. They commissioned a prototype search engine that would allow city councilors to access multiple council sources via one portal. They wanted to develop this prototype in an agile fashion to be able to adjust the project along the way and selected Spinque to help them realise it. A team was formed consisting of information and UX specialists of the municipality and search designers of Spinque.
- ‘The collaboration with Spinque was very pleasant: they really listened and thought along. The team collaborated very closely and produced a new version of the prototype every other week. … At times though the process was annoying: the people of Spinque kept asking difficult questions we had never thought of 😉 In all seriousness though: the collaboration was very stimulating and exceeded our expectations.’
After three months the design process was completed and the prototype was delivered. As required it allows city councilors to search in multiple council sources, but on top of that it supports them in satisfying certain specific information needs that were identified during the design process. For this the team created a knowledge graph with the concepts and entities in the municipal domain that are relevant for the city councillors.
- ‘The domain model that was created is a really nice supplement. It actually is a prerequisite for Spinque’s unique approach: uniformly applicable customization.’
The knowledge graph enables fine-grained information access. For example city councilors want to confront fellow councilors and alderpersons with statements they previously made. These statements are contained in minutes of meetings and can be searched and found as such. This is time-consuming however. Spinque extracted the statements from the minutes and added them as separate entities to the knowledge graph of the municipality. City councilors can now directly search for statements about particular topics and uttered by particular persons from specific parties. This way relevant statements can be found easier and quicker.
The team is currently deploying the prototype into production. During this process information specialists of the municipality are trained as search designers. In the future they will adjust the search engine themselves and possibly design search solutions for other information needs within the municipality.
- ‘In time this project might serve as a best practice for the rest of our organization, since all across the municipality we run into problems that can be solved with this technology.’
Spinque puts Erwin and his team in charge of their search and enables city councilors to find relevant information easily and quickly.