Local government sees big picture and uses tech to get closer to citizens

1 Jan 2009

A unique new project based at the end of the Luas line in Tallaght is using multimedia technology to create closer links with communities in south Co Dublin.

South Dublin County Council is to open an inter-active exhibition centre in December, which will allow it to better utilise the latest technologies to connect with the communities it serves – a move which sets it apart from any other local authority in Ireland.

Called ‘The Big Picture’, the three-floor centre is specially designed for the citizens of south Co Dublin, which encompasses the areas of Tallaght, Rathfarnham, Clondalkin/Rathcoole and Lucan/Palmerstown.

“This will be a centre open to the public where visual and relevant multimedia content will be exhibited for public interaction on council developments. The Big Picture plans to bring to life the current public consultation process for new developments and initiatives of South Dublin County Council,” says project manager, Máire Ni Dhomhnaill.

“It will showcase the best of the best in the county by enabling citizens and visitors to experience the future of south Co Dublin through multimedia. Information will be accessibleto everyone through reading, listening and seeing future developments.”

The first thing people will see when they walk into the centre will be eight screens showing various events from around the county, such as community games, art competitions and awards.

One of the exhibits will be a virtual manifestation of the local area plan – as people take the tour they will see buildings and structures going up around them.

“Exhibits such as this will make it easier for citizens to understand the implications of planning decisions. They will see what it will be like to live in an area with schools and amenities close by – for example, the proposed land bridge across the Tallaght bypass, which will link to Sean Walsh Park,” says Ni Dhomhnaill.

“There will also be interactive quizzes and games, for example, visitors to the centre will be asked to get involved in planning developments by choosing from a number of options for various plans.”

The Big Picture is part of South Dublin County Council’s overall approach to the use of technology through its ‘Connect ME’ programme.

“We’re always looking at communicating with people in different formats. Multimedia is a relatively easy way to reach people – it’s surprising local authorities have not used it up to now,” says Ni Dhomhnaill.

“South Co Dublin manager Joe Horan had a great vision in the area of information technology, and we can see the benefits of this in terms of better customer service and care and better use of both financial and human resources.”

The Connect ME facility displays data on many aspects of the council’s operations using an Ordnance Survey mapping base overlaid with aerial photography and linked in to An Post’s geodirectory of addresses. It allows users to perform searches on the basis of specific addresses, functions and timescales.

“With Connect ME, you can put in any address in the county and find lots of information, such as where the nearest amenities are and the planning history of the area,” says Ni Dhomhnaill.

For residents in its area, South Dublin County Council has introduced an online fault reporting system, which allows them to report a fault, such as a fallen tree or damaged street light, with the promise of a reply within 24 hours.

Connect ‘School’ in St Aidan’s Community School, Brookfield, is developing student-centred technology through an innovative learning culture in order to improve school attendance, participation in class and educational outcomes for the students.

For this pilot project, South Dublin County Council is working with the Department of Education, the Institute of Technology in Tallaght, the National Centre of Technology in Education and the Dublin West Education Centre.

Now in its third year, the project provides laptops to both teachers and students to help them to develop a virtual learning environment.

“This is a unique project which will make a huge difference to our learning and understanding of the use of technology in education, and our aim is to develop guidelines for other schools,” says Ni Dhomhnaill.

Connect ‘Web’ is another important project, supporting community groups in south Co Dublin in the creation of their own internet content that will facilitate improved information management and develop new methods of collective engagement.

“We want to host websites for all the community groups in the area, so if a group wants to set up a site, we will provide training in our newly developed multimedia library facility and then host the site for them,” Ni Dhomhnaill explains.

“Combining the new arts centre, the new county library and The Big Picture, a trail of knowledge and discovery is being created by South Dublin County Council that surpasses any platform of communication currently on offer from any other local authority in thecountry.”

By Sorcha Corcoran