Making public services available in convenient public locations and in close proximity to the commercial services people use regularly is crucial if we are to make people’s everyday lives easier and generate a range of practical and economic synergies in the process. In Espoo, a new multi-service hub located within the Iso Omena shopping centre has been successful in doing just that, bringing added value to both local service users and businesses, through a relatively simple yet bold solution.
In August 2016, the City of Espoo launched a brand new public service hub at the Iso Omena shopping centre. Unique not just in Finland but across the Nordic countries, the Service Centre provides a home for ten different services; a library lending service, a maternity and child health clinic, youth services, a mental health and substance abuse service, cultural services, Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District’s laboratory and imaging services, a Kela benefits service as well as healthcare services provided by Mehiläinen, a private healthcare provider contracted by the local authority. In its first year, the Iso Omena Service Centre attracted a total of 1.3 million visitors. Other notable successes include new plans for joint working initiatives involving local residents, businesses and other organisations and a busy programme of more than 200 events ranging from lectures to tea dances and theatre performances. It would not be an exaggeration to say that in its first 12 months, the Service Centre has established itself as a lively and dynamic part of Espoo life.
The Service Centre concept is designed to make everyday life easier and more convenient for local residents and to add value to public service provision by improving cost efficiency, usage levels, customer service quality and workplace health and safety. The aim is to also promote new forms of collaboration between the services on offer at the Service Centre and local residents, businesses, societies and retailers based at the shopping centre. The feedback so far along with the results of a recent customer survey suggest that the initiative has been a resounding success; users are happy with the service they are receiving and the idea of public services being provided in public areas like shopping centres is seen as convenient. With regard to the financial impact, the initiative has allowed us to identify structures and working practices within the city’s economy, which we can reform in order to generate future cost savings.
The decision to make public services available in locations that members of the local community visit regularly has shown itself to have been an excellent one. The shopping centre’s owner and the local service providers enjoy a fantastic and highly effective working relationship, with all those involved conscious and appreciative of the potential the others offer. The shopping centre location has made it possible for the Service Centre to offer an improved service for users. In return, both the shopping centre and local residents benefit from the brand new added value the Service Centre generates, including services and events that no private sector business would be in a position to offer on their own. The results of a user survey carried out in April show that each visit to one of the public sector service providers based at the Service Centre generates two additional visits to local retail outlets. It is clear that well-sited public services can boost commercial activity and generate significant economic synergies, too.
The Service Centre is a public service success story for our local area, and we believe that our experiences could be useful in the wider debate on health and social service reform in Finland. The creation of a new high-quality customer service offering calls for genuine commitment to joint working, a willingness to listen to the opinions and experiences of service users and partners, the ability to reflect on your own experiences and the readiness to experiment, even when faced with the risk of occasional frustration – it is the small failures that tend to lead to the big successes, after all.
Juha-Pekka Strömberg is the Manager of Iso Omena’s Service Center. Strömberg’s aim in his work is to streamline customer’s everyday life, while visiting Service Center.