Ciugud – case study used by the Romanian Government for the development of the Smart Village concept
Ciugud commune is the promoter of the “smart village” concept in Romania and, from 2020, it is officially the case study used by the Romanian Government to develop this concept at national level. In the last year, the local administration has developed and strengthened this concept through the first integrated “Smart Village” project, which aims the development of the Romanian village using modern technologies. Broadly speaking, Ciugud Smart Village means digitization of public services, easy and fast interaction with citizens, digitization of education, intelligent protection of the environment and the use of smart solutions to support the local economy.
Gheorghe Damian, mayor of Ciugud commune, told The Diplomat: “The pandemic has changed all of our priorities, activity, and life. At Ciugud, we saw the pandemic as a challenge and continued our development plans, with an emphasis on digitization and innovation. The Romanian village needs digitization, and we are glad that the Romanian Government decided, in 2020, to develop the “smart village” concept using, as a case study, the Ciugud commune. Digitization is not a fad, but a responsibility that all of us who work in local or central government have. In 2020, we continued to develop education, and Ciugud Smart School is a model of good practices for the future of Romanian education.
During all this time, Ciugud began to be given as an example for administrative performance, but I tell you, without false modesty, that in Ciugud there is only the normality that must exist in any village in Romania”.
Dan Lungu, coordinator of the “Ciugud Smart Village” project, told The Diplomat: “Smart Village means a village that develops intelligently using modern technological solutions but preserving its rural identity. The solutions applied must be adapted to the needs of the rural community and must be thought out in such a way as to be sustainable in the long term. A smart solution for the village of the future means a solution that is easy to use, with local impact and which involves the lowest possible operating and maintenance costs. On these principles we built “Ciugud Smart Village”, an integrated project that brings together all smart solutions in a community.”
Smart local government
The City Hall of Ciugud has put a strong emphasis, in recent years, on the digitization of public services, so that this improves the interaction with the citizen and makes up for the reduced human resource that the local administration has. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that digitization is a resilience solution in the face of crisis situations, the effect being the advancement of digitization in many areas of the state and the acceptance of digital documents by more and more public institutions. In this context, Ciugud Town Hall continued the target set in 2019 to become the first “paperless” rural town hall, reducing by more than 80% the volume of paper used in current activity and digitized public services almost entirely. Thus, the town hall uses several digital solutions, from software dedicated to the flow of documents and the issuance of documents to mobile applications for paying local taxes or reporting problems in the community.
In parallel, in Ciugud, administrative measures were also taken to stimulate the use of digital solutions. Thus, Ciugud Municipality City Hall offers citizens and companies bigger discounts if they make payments through electronic solutions. For using smart payment solutions, the local administration offers a 10% discount on the payment of local taxes. On the other hand, for people who want to make payments through the town hall counter, the discount for the full payment of local taxes is only 5%. The City Hall of the Ciugud Municipality provides four smart solutions for the payment of local taxes and fees, so that citizens no longer must travel to the headquarters of the local administration to pay their tax obligations at the counter. The municipality offers the possibility of paying local taxes and fees through the electronic payment stations, which are in the villages of the municipality, a dedicated payment application for the mobile phone, a payment solution through the digital services platform of the municipality (Global Pay) or through the platform national gîsheul.ro.
In 2021, the smart payment solutions provided by Ciugud Municipality City Hall were used for almost 85% of payments made by citizens and companies.
Smart citizen – educating citizens to use smart solutions
An important pillar in the Ciugud Smart Village project is education for digitization. Regardless of whether it was during the pandemic period, when there were interaction restrictions, or after the pandemic, the local administration of Ciugud ran a series of campaigns to educate citizens to use digital solutions in the relationship with citizens. An innovative solution “invented” in Ciugud is the “citizen’s card”, which the local administration issued to all citizens so that they could more easily log into the electronic system of local taxes and fees.
In parallel, Ciugud also developed the first mentoring program carried out in the public area in Romania to support the digitization of local administration. More than 300 rural communities in the country and abroad have entered this mentoring program. The community is used as an example of good practices by local administrations from the Republic of Moldova, Germany, France, or Poland. Since last year, Ciugud’s projects have been used as examples of good practice by the District of Prignitz, Land Brandenburg, in the Federal Republic of Germany.
The education of the future – the first school in the rural environment in Romania
The first smart school in rural Romania was opened in Ciugud, a project that aims to develop and reform education in the countryside. The school is a pilot project that uses technology in the educational process, but also has implemented smart solutions to reduce energy consumption and increase comfort during classes. Within the school, dozens of smart educational solutions and modern technologies have been used. The school in Ciugud is thus a real “laboratory” for testing innovative technologies. The entire building is electronically controlled and regulates its air conditioning and lighting with the help of sensors controlled by an intelligent management system, while the air quality and comfort in the classrooms are also monitored.
In terms of education, teachers use interactive whiteboards, chrome-books, educational software, and a dedicated online platform in teaching. Even though the pandemic is over, the educational unit continues to use educational digital solutions. The school in Ciugud is also the first public school in Romania to use a virtual reality and augmented reality laboratory in its teaching activities, with children being transferred to interactive lessons with the help of VR headsets. This “virtual reality lab” introduces a completely new concept in educational technology: a fully “autonomous” virtual reality headset with a unique student-friendly interface, gesture control and navigation, integrated educational resources and controls easy for teachers to use.
Smart environmental protection
In 2021, Ciugud Municipality launched the “Verzulică – the recycling robot” project. On this occasion, Ciugud became the first community in Romania to launch its own virtual currency: CIUGUban, a solution to reward children for collecting plastic, glass, and aluminum packaging.
The project involved the installation of a packaging pick-up and recycling station in the yard of the Ciugud Secondary School. It was called “Verzulica – the recycling robot”, and the children were challenged to recycle as much packaging as possible and collect as many virtual coins as possible. Recently, each class within the school converted their collected virtual coins into real money, which the children will be able to use to fund small projects and educational or extracurricular activities.
In the second phase of the project, at the beginning of 2022, the local administration of Ciugud has set up such recycling stations in other areas of the commune, and citizens can receive discounts at village shops in exchange for virtual currencies enter this program.
The project also has a data collection component as each virtual currency stores information about recycled packaging, and this information is used in various studies conducted by the local government.
The pilot project in Ciugud is implemented by the local administration in partnership with the American company ENVIPCO, one of the world’s most important manufacturers of RVMs (Reverse Vending Machines).
Ciugud commune also promotes ecological transport, having green charging stations for electric cars. Thus, in the parking lot of the town hall there is a complex of photovoltaic panels, which produces electricity to supply the administrative headquarters but also the two charging stations. A green charging station is also located in the village of Hapria, at the tourist information center, and the town hall uses a non-polluting electric car. Also, Ciugud submitted to PNRR, in partnership with Alba Iulia, another project for the purchase of 21 electric buses and a minibus, with the related slow or fast charging stations. In 2022, the commune hosted and supported two national meetings of electric car enthusiasts, actions aimed at promoting electromobility.
Smart solutions for supporting the local economy – Virtual Grocery
During the pandemic, Ciugud Municipality also developed its own solution to support small producers. Thus, the local administration launched Virtual Grocery (www.aprozarulvirtual.ro), an online platform that aims to promote the offer of local producers from the commune but also from the whole country. Virtual Grocery already hosts over 1000 local producers and is a virtual solution that facilitates online contact between the producer and the end customer. The measure came in the context where many of the small producers no longer had the opportunity to sell their goods due to the measures ordered to prevent the spread of the SARS-COV-2 virus. The town hall team implemented the “Aprozarul Virtual” platform together with Rareș Urban, the administrator of Acid Art Studio, a local company that develops web applications.
The commune of Ciugud is one of the localities in Romania that managed to attract numerous European funds, their value being over 10,000 euros per inhabitant. Thus, with approximately 3,200 inhabitants, Ciugud has implemented projects with European funding worth approximately 35 million euros.
In recent years, Ciugud Municipality has won several awards for projects implemented in the field of education, digitization, or environmental protection. Among them we mention the Best Smart Village Project award at the Smart City Industry Awards Gala 2020 or the award for digitalization projects implemented in the Sustainable Development Gala, a national event organized by the Department for Sustainable Development within the Government of Romania. Ciugud commune won, at the end of last year, the first place in the category dedicated to innovative projects in the field of environmental protection within the international conference “Innovation and quality in the public sector”, an event organized by the Government of Romania through the National Agency of Public Officials. Ciugud City Hall was designated as the “green administration” in Romania for the project “Verzulică – the recycling robot”, an initiative that was considered the most innovative in the field of environmental protection.