Last Updated
21 September, 2003
Parthenay Digital Town (France)

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© Beep Knowledge System and case owners, 2002-2003

Rural town (20,000) established a digital network offering a range of interactive services (not just the web). A replicatable model which also illustrates need for political support.

Regional Development

APONTE (Esp)

Lasipalatsi (Fin)

Parthenay (F)

Singapore ONE

 

 

 

Executive summary of the case:
Timing of case
In 1996, for example, Parthenay became involved in the first of a number of
European Commission-sponsored ‘Digital Cities’ initiatives to enhance communication through ICT between citizens, and citizens and local government.

Geographic setting
Parthenay is a small, largely rural town in the Poitou-Charente region of Western France (17 000 inhabitants). It includes an urban district that covers four communes. In recent decades the town has experienced an out migration of people to urban centres. To counteract this trend, the town set out to develop a policy of active citizenship – encouraging individuals to develop innovative solutions to employment, and to take a greater role in the local ‘community life’.

Type and use of ICT
Every municipal building is connected through a fibre optics network, as are the12 Digital Spaces, encompassing more than100 PCS. Individual connections from residential homes are made through traditional telephone cable.

Main contributors
The Digital Town Experiment, boosted by Mayor Michel Hervé, has become one of the main political priorities of the municipality. The Digital Town Service, which monitors usage, employs five people. The Information Technology Service, which develops tools, is made up of 17 people. While the Information Technology Service offers technical support and develops applications on request for other community services and stakeholders, Parthenay also has a telephone 24-hour help line open seven days a week.

Industrial partners comprise: Philips, Siemens, Microsoft-Europe, France Telecom, Siemens, IBM and Hachette-Multimedia.

Main beneficiaries
Citizens, businesses etc

Background
Started from a strong political ambition, the Digital Town project is being carried out in a progressive and practical way, so as to constantly be able to take into account new grassroots projects and the extremely fast evolution of technologies. The method thus combined a certain amount of public voluntarism to a pragmatic and participative approach.

Objectives

  • To create the conditions for ongoing feedback about new information technologies and their use by citizens.
  • To enable citizens to adopt the new technologies.
  • To ensure that by 2002, 80% of the town will be using new information and communications technologies in all aspects of their daily lives.
  • To become a so-called laboratory for the use of new technologies in an urban setting as a basis for experimentation and evaluation for industry and researchers.

Resources (apart from ICT)
The Digital Town's philosophy has been to encourage citizens to get on the Web and develop applications, rather than to install the latest technology. For example, the Information Technology Service launched an application that enable citizens to publish want ads. As content develops, Parthenay adopts new technology to meet the needs of users.

Activities

  • The provision of 12 public access points, known as ‘Digital Spaces’ (with around 10 PCs in each, with free internet access, as well as scanners, documentary videos, database and cable television access).
  • Installation of 1000 PCs in order to facilitate access to the Internet and so on. Here, the municipal government negotiated a discounted rate for citizens to loan/purchase these PCs.
  • Free Internet for all the inhabitants and free e-mail address. The Town has taken on the role of Internet Service Provider. This is justified on the basis that provision of Internet access is primarily a public service.
  • Equipment for schools (one PC per four school children) and the creation of a specific Intranet for the primary schools.

Outputs and results

Parthenay’s web site (www.district-parthenay.fr) can illustrates this. At least 20 various activities are displayed, many interactive services are offered, from education, electronic commerce, culture to entertainment. Despite the fact, or because the fact that population do not exceed 20.000, it is true that, with a rate of about 50% connected, Parthenay is still today an interesting laboratory for semi-rural semi-urban mid-size cities.

Lessons and conclusions

  • The project uses technology, not as an end in itself, but rather as a continuation of effort in support of wider ‘active citizenship policies’ and community processes. Associations, for example, are able to contact members in a low cost and speedy manner, shops can take orders electronically from around the world and dealings with local government have been strengthened with online application forms.

The Parthenay project has, however, largely been driven and championed by the Parthenay Mayor. The most recent elections have seen the election of a new Mayor. This may have negative implications for the Digital Town programme. In particular, the new Mayor has yet to put the digital town initiative at the top of the Town’s policy agenda. Town residents, however, have begun to voice concerns through the InTownNet.

 


Case description:
Background
Started from a strong political ambition, the Digital Town project is being carried out in a progressive and practical way, so as to constantly be able to take into account new grassroots projects and the extremely fast evolution of technologies. The method thus combined a certain amount of public voluntarism to a pragmatic and participative approach.
Like many rural communities in France, Parthenay has struggled with crises in both agriculture and industry. As a result, many people have left to find greater opportunities in larger, urban centres.


Partenay is located in Région Poitou Charentes in the Western France

"This town is relatively isolated from the large industrial and urban centres," says Stéphane Martayan, who is responsible for the Digital Town's external relations. "The risk for the Parthenay region is that it will become increasingly isolated and, in the end, keep losing activities and citizens to the larger towns."

To counteract this trend, town mayor Michel Hervé promoted an innovative concept: active citizenship. Before trying to attract new industry to the town, Parthenay first encourages its citizens to come up with innovative solutions to create employment. These "human networks" are the foundation of Parthenay's success. The community must first develop from within before it can look to the outside.

The invaluable support of Europe, through the participation in several pilot projects of the European Commission, enabled the Digital Town project to soar and be recognized at the international level. This resulted in the participation in the European project IMAGINE.

A certain number of high level industrial partnerships (in particular with Philips, Siemens, Microsoft-Europe, France Telecom, etc.) allowed to continuously develop our project and to try out new tools and new technologies which respond to local practices.

Lastly, Parthenay have been open to share experiences with other local communities, at the regional level (with our participation in the steering committee of project SERISE of the Poitou-Charente Region), at the French, European or international level.

Started from a strong political ambition, the Digital Town project is being carried out in a progressive and practical way, so as to constantly be able to take into account new grassroots projects and the extremely fast evolution of technologies. The method thus combined a certain amount of public voluntarism (which impels and creates the conditions of democratic accessibility for all), to a pragmatic and participative approach.


Objectives

  • To create the conditions for ongoing feedback about new information technologies and their use by citizens.
  • To enable citizens to adopt the new technologies.
  • To ensure that by 2002, 80% of the town will be using new information and communications technologies in all aspects of their daily lives.
  • To become a so-called laboratory for the use of new technologies in an urban setting as a basis for experimentation and evaluation for industry and researchers.


Resources
The Digital Town's philosophy has been to encourage citizens to get on the Web and develop applications, rather than to install the latest technology. For example, the Information Technology Service launched an application that enable citizens to publish want ads.

As content develops, Parthenay adopts new technology to meet the needs of users. Currently, for example, it is so expensive to go online that many businesses only check their e-mail twice a day. In February 2000, Parthenay will test ADSL technology that is currently only available in and around Paris. It will allow residents to access the Internet for a flat rate of 300 francs (C$65.00).

About 3% of Parthenay's municipal budget is allocated to the Digital Town Experiment, which also receives funding from the European Commission (through co-financing of particular software developments) and assistance from the industry through various partnerships. It is through these partnerships between the public and private sectors that the Digital Town Experiment has evolved. Each new initiative has its own financing arrangements.


Activities

  • The provision of 12 public access points, known as ‘Digital Spaces’ (with around 10 PCs in each, with free internet access, as well as scanners, documentary videos, database and cable television access).
  • Installation of 1000 PCs in order to facilitate access to the Internet and so on. Here, the municipal government negotiated a discounted rate for citizens to loan/purchase these PCs.
  • Free Internet for all the inhabitants and free e-mail address. The Town has taken on the role of Internet Service Provider. This is justified on the basis that provision of Internet access is primarily a public service.
  • Equipment for schools (one PC per four school children) and the creation of a specific Intranet for the primary schools.


Output and Results

Parthenay’s web site (www.district-parthenay.fr) illustrates some of the results. At least 20 various activities are displayed, many interactive services are offered, from education, electronic commerce, culture to entertainment. Despite the fact, or because the fact that population do not exceed 20.000, it is true that, with a rate of about 50% connected, Parthenay is still today an interesting laboratory for semi-rural semi-urban mid-size cities.


The Parthenay website is divided into three sections: tourism, businesses, and local life

Despite Parthenay’s achievements in development ICT infrastructure, awareness and skills, a number of service areas have yet to achieve a high degree of usage:

  • On-line public services: Parthenay is a small town, and has no traffic congestion problems or parking problems. Visiting the City Hall, for example is not a problem for people; indeed it is often viewed as an occasion to meet people and discuss issues on a face-to-face basis.
  • The Association area: there are 250 associations in Parthenay, but only 30 use the service regularly, and only 10 per cent of these provide opportunities for on-line applications such as registration.


Output and Results - Key Factor: improved regional ICT infrastructure and services
Creation of a community portal: the ‘InTowNet’ (www.district-parthenay.fr ). This is an intranet for the town. Any resident can access the website, and training sessions at the Digital Spaces. The In-TownNet is not a government site, but rather the result of the efforts of residents,associations, SMEs, schools and town council. The portal currently hosts more than 100,000 active web pages.

Portal services are divided into two parts: InTowNet Services and the Cityhall Services (with some services common to both). Key services are outlined below:

a) InTownNet services

  • ‘My Access’: allowing user to personalise services, receive e-mail
  • Youth Information (jobs, training, activities…)
  • Parthenay’s associations (descriptions and other information)
  • Educational resources database (internet links updated by teachers)
  • Cinema listings
  • Creation of virtual shops (a free service for SMEs wishing to develop e-commerce
    activities)
  • Red Cross (to register on-line for first-aid training)
  • On-line registration for schools, day nurseries etc.
  • CV database
  • ‘Create your own Intranet’; (this allows each community to create its own Intranet
    using the city servers, e.g. teachers, associations, virtual communities…)
  • ICT training (on line registration)
  • Hotline (for all subjects: administrative, computing…)
  • Submission of enterprise projects (on-line template for loans, subsidies… will be
    studied by the economic department)
  • Library (on-line database with the opportunity to reserve books etc.
  • General services, including news, forums, weather, virtual tours of the Parthenay…

b) City hall services

These are divided according to the individual municipal departments:

  • Education: on-line registration, directories, links…
  • Computing: hotline, mailboxes, downloads…
  • Training: information and on-line registration (in 2000, 3709 individuals were trained in the following applications: Internet, PC uses, Mail, PSP, Intranet, Frontpage, Flash,Word, PowerPoint, ICT discovery,…)
  • Business: a virtual shopping arcade, links to firms, support to SMEs…
  • Tourism: directories, links, pictures…
  • Culture
  • Town planning and architectural heritage
  • Citizenship
  • Archives: on line research
  • Sports: associations, equipment, on-line reservation of equipment…

An early focus of the project has been education services. School children account for a quarter of the Parthenay population and it was recognised that young people would be the driving force behind the widespread use of new ICT applications and services. This has resulted in the creation of online registering services for canteen and day care activities (tested in four schools, and extended throughout the Town by October 1999). An educational toolbox has also been created, bringing together existing school sites, along with a schools hotline for computer support, and online registrations for after-school and holiday activities.

Lessons and conclusions
The project uses technology, not as an end in itself, but rather as a continuation of effort in support of wider ‘active citizenship policies’ and community processes. Associations, for example, are able to contact members in a low cost and speedy manner, shops can take orders electronically from around the world and dealings with local government have been strengthened with online application forms.

All services are tailored to the real needs of users, through extensive research and consultation (undertaken by the university partners, and feedback during the project).

Services are updated frequently to ensure that content is up to date.

Employment of a multi-skilled project management team helps to ensure that the project is not simply ‘technical’ in its outlook and objectives.

Parthenay has encouraged commercial partners to participate in the project not only through the potential for commercial benefits, but also the opportunity to use the town as a ‘laboratory’ for testing new ICT infrastructure and applications.

The Parthenay project has, however, largely been driven and championed by the Parthenay Mayor. The most recent elections have seen the election of a new Mayor. This may have negative implications for the Digital Town programme. In particular, the new Mayor has yet to put the digital town initiative at the top of the Town’s policy agenda. Town residents, however, have begun to voice concerns through the InTownNet.


References and links

www.district-parthenay.fr/intownnetaccueil.htm
www.ejeisa.com/nectar/isis/7.1/summary.htm

Additional information:
Interview Michel Herve "Citizenship networks and communal memories in the wired city of Parthenay, France" www.memoire-vivante.org/ang/00text_fc/entretiens/m_herve/

IMAGINE Project presentation: 194.250.166.236/villenum1000/interventions/textes/Seattlefinal.PDF

"Parthenay: A Digital Town Experiment" by Nathalie Mathé, Digital Town Department, District of Parthenay. www-eurisco.onecert.fr/events/CHI99/Mathe.html