Échirolles, a small French city of around 35,000 inhabitants, has been awarded the highest level of the “Territoire numérique Libre” (TNL) label. The label has existed since 2016 and aims to reward cities and public bodies that pursue the use of free and open source collaborative solutions for their administration. The award ceremony took place during the Paris Open Source Experience on 9 and 10 November.
There, Échirolles was recognised for its important work towards an open, digitalised administration. The level 5 of the label is awarded on the basis of a 12 page questionnaire with categories of questions such as Strategy & Mutualisation, Good Practice, Free and Open Source software, Communication & Eco-System, and Data Management.
The Label is organised by the French Association ADULLACT which advocates Free and Open Source Software and works on different initiatives for its use in French administrations and public services. Échirolles is only the fourth city to be awarded the highest level of the award. Nicolas Vivant, Director of Digital Strategy & Culture for the city, gave us some of his time to explain part of that success:
Q: What do you think was the determining factor in achieving the necessary expectations for this award?
A: It is probably a combination of factors, but I think the “Strategy and Communication” award associated with our label is a good indication of how our application was perceived.
Q: Level 5 of the TNL label requires the involvement of many decision-makers and implementers. Where does the motivation for such a project come from?
A: The strength of the city of Échirolles lies in the articulation between elected officials, cabinet, general management and services. A transversal working group on digital technology was set up by the elected representatives at the beginning of their mandate. A political roadmap, then a master plan voted unanimously by the municipal council, resulted from this work.
On the departmental side, a cross-cutting approach was also put in place, and projects are progressing rapidly in this context. I believe that it is this common will to make free digital technology a strong issue of this mandate that has been rewarded.
Q: There is always resistance to change. Have you found a way to explain the reasons for what has been put in place within your administration, so as to convince people internally?
A: Resistance to change is limited when the change is gradual, when it is done in consultation, and above all when it is a factor of improvement. Our priority is to give staff the opportunity to work as simply and efficiently as possible, and the move towards open source software is subject to this priority. Most of our users are not aware of the coherence and originality of our approach, and this is a good sign: they do not feel marginalised in an innovative digital world.
Q: What are the easiest and the most difficult aspects of getting to level 5?
A: The easiest aspect was to present the orientation of Échirolles towards free software: “ce qui se conçoit bien s'énonce clairement” (“what is well conceived is clearly stated”) and in Échirolles we took the time to exchange and formalise things.
The most complex thing, and what it would be useful for us to progress on, is the necessary compliance of our tools in terms of accessibility. Most of our solutions were not designed to take this issue into account, and it takes time to change things. But we are working on it.
Q: Are you or do you plan to be in contact with other administrations with a level 5 label to share your experiences and recommendations? Is there any form of collaboration between you?
A:Not for the moment, but we are closely following the projects of SITIV (Inter-communal Syndicate of Information Technologies for Cities, region of Lyon), for example, and it is not impossible that we will exchange information directly in the near future. SITPI, our inter-municipal mutualisation association, is moving resolutely towards free software (it obtained a level 4 label this year) and there are probably synergies to be developed.
Q: What do administrations need help with, or what could be done to create an ecosystem in which it would be easier for other administrations to reach the same level as you?
A: We need to exchange with other communities, and join forces on common projects. The events organised by ADULLACT and April are already opportunities for meetings and exchanges at national level. Locally, a collective of CIOs around free software (Alpes Numérique Libre) was created in the Grenoble area. Échirolles is obviously an enthusiastic participant. If other groups of this type are created, it could be interesting to coordinate. Greater proximity with Etalab, DINUM or the National Education Department's Digital Directorate could also be of great benefit. I have the feeling that we are in a period where the free software players in the public services are thinking about what could be done to move forward together and how to do it. I have no doubt that initiatives will soon enable us to make a leap forward on the subject.