#CloseUp: VVSB x Green Thyme
Today we are talking with two GovTech Challenge Series participants – Simona and Laura. Simona Bieliūnė is a Deputy Director at Vilnius Municipality Public Health Bureau (VVSB) and has submitted a challenge that aims to create an intelligent public health monitoring system for schools in Vilnius municipality. Laura Virbalė represents Green Thyme, a team aiming to solve this challenge by transforming how children’s health in schools is monitored. Our interviewees told us more about what kind of innovative solutions they are co-creating together and how the collaboration between the public and private sectors is going.
Tell us more about your submitted challenge for GovTech Challenge Series 2.0 and why is it important to solve it?
Simona: We decided to participate in the GovTech Challenge Series to find an innovative solution that will gather all data, related to the health of the pupils at school, in one place. Firstly, it is important for us, as an employer, to ensure that all employees have the best tools to do their job, in our case, a real-time data to monitor health situation in every school in Vilnius. This tool will allow us not only to organise activities that respond to the needs of the pupils but also assess the success of different interventions and their capacity to stimulate change.
From the perspective of the local government, the school health passport, as it is modelled at the moment, allows us to evaluate the school’s compliance with health standards and recognise which areas require attention. Our public health specialist is a person who can help secure these standards and be on the right track. They organise a healthy diet, supervise the classrooms and common areas of the school to ensure that they are fully adapted for children and designed to ensure proper hygiene. Data collected in the school health passport would help us understand the way the situation is developing as well as its current status.
Moreover, it would also guide the school’s decisions in critical investments, such as school renovation and improvement of the infrastructure for physical activity and movement. This new data would allow adequate assessment of areas that need the most support.
Up to now, we and parents of the schoolchildren would always receive the statistics of the country or the city. This new tool would allow us to have data that is not just an aggregate but tells a story of every school individually. Our children, and not others, become the focus as we move away from abstract arguments or aggregate high-level research. We can analyse the current situation of our children and take steps towards improving it.
Why is it important to look for innovative solutions that could be applied for the public sector use?
Simona: Sometimes, although, of course, not always, lack of competition within the public sector can lead to stagnation and little thought given to what could be improved. Yet, it is vital to focus on innovation because there is no one else besides us offering this service – that’s why the public sector is unique. When we notice that we can optimise something, it is important to do so and not to lose our objective.
It is vital to focus on innovation because there is no one else besides us offering this service – that’s why the public sector is unique.
The digitisation process is slower in some institutions of the public sector, and it is evident that innovative data management solutions, various user-friendly mobile applications mostly come from the businesses. However, our current process involves surveying every specialist. We are spending time developing surveys and processing data, although this data might soon be outdated as changes sometimes occur within a week. By looking for innovative solutions and cooperating with businesses, we could create more time for experts to spend on their activities with pupils, which is the most important task of their work.
Do you have any tips for other institutions who want to work with startups and apply innovations?
Simona: Before we contacted GovTech Lab and had startups join and transform our idea with their knowledge and experience, our vision of the challenge had been much narrower and more primitive.
Combining different competencies and allowing startups to join us in the challenge submitted for GovTech Challenge Series facilitated a more comprehensive vision.
On the one hand, each institution working in a specific area employs the finest subject experts. On the other hand, if we are talking about digitisation, their technical ability usually is not advanced enough to further the cause. Combining different competencies and allowing startups to join us in the challenge submitted for GovTech Challenge Series facilitated a more comprehensive vision. The result is not only a bigger database, but a more useful and valuable one, too. Our team consisted of diverse people possessing unique knowledge and skills, which I believe to be a great advantage. We could have never achieved this if we had proceeded with simply purchasing a database or announcing a public procurement. We have accomplished much more through our actions with GovTech Lab!
Tell us more about your submitted solution for GovTech Challenge Series 2.0 and how could it solve a social or public sector problem?
Laura: We are now in the process of building Lithuania’s first intelligent school health monitoring system. Currently, the process to track public health in schools is inefficient and makes it very difficult to leverage data collected by relevant staff. Given that it is currently not possible to objectively assess pupils’ wellbeing across multiple institutions, the system is stuck in analytical paralysis. These issues have become even more pronounced due to the current COVID-19 crisis. We are building an impartial wellbeing index which – with some help from automated machine learning routines – will help generate meaningful and actionable recommendations to improve children’s health in the Vilnius region.
Why is it important to create innovative solutions that could be applied in the public sector?
Laura: The public sector invests a lot of effort into collecting swathes of valuable data. Unfortunately, many initiatives fall short of democratising the data in a fashion that would ensure it is delivered into the hands of those who need it most. Often, the missing piece of the puzzle is innovative technology applied at the right time in the right places. When executed correctly, innovative solutions increase taxpayers’ ROI, transforming the public sector from services we need to pay taxes for to services we all enjoy.
Often, the missing piece of the puzzle is innovative technology applied at the right time in the right places.
Do you have any tips for other creators who want to work with the public sector?
Laura: Do not forget that whatever you design or build, could be something you may need to use yourself one day and pay taxes for. So, whatever it is – treat it like your own.