Barely 31 years old, Julie de Pimodan, one of the ten winners of MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35 France 2015 awards, seems to have lived a thousand lives already. Reporting in Africa, setting up businesses in the Middle East, the founder of Fluicity is amazing everyone with her thirst for new experiences and her never-satisfied intellectual curiosity.

[Portrait of an Innovator] Julie de Pimodan sets out to turn the mayor into a city CEO

An innovator?

Passionate about writing ever since her teen years, which was for her ‘a way of expressing herself’, Julie de Pimodan embarked on journalism studies at the Free University of Brussels. Her travels all over the world began very soon afterwards. She first went to work for a press agency, which sent her to cover reporting on the business climate in Benin (West Africa) for six months.

From there she went to Dubai and then, motivated by a desire to learn Arabic, to Yemen. There she met a local entrepreneur who suggesting launching ‘Yemen Today’, a news magazine in English where she spent the next year. ‟At 23, I was appointed the magazine’s editor in chief; in my eyes this was the dream job.” Julie de Pimodan reveals that this was where she forged her CEO skills, as she was ‟the founder’s right-hand (wo)man and had to learn all about the commercial side”.

Back again in Dubai, where she wrote on a freelance basis for the BBC and AlJazeera, she got together with two Tunisian partners who were interested in creating a women’s magazine in the Middle East, an idea which became Unfair Magazine. This experience enabled her to learn in a very favourable context about what goes on behind setting up a business. ‟In Dubai, everyone is there to do business. It’s easy to build up a network, raise finance, etc” – and she also learned just how important a role the new technologies can play in the democratic process. ‟I saw what it was like to be in the middle of a revolution when Twitter and Facebook are cut off”.

Two years later Julie de Pimodan felt it was time to return to France. Google offered her a job in charge of Turkey-Middle East for its Internet ad serving services provider subsidiary DoubleClick. ‟I learned a lot, very fast. In a few years we grew from a team of six people to one of seventy. But even though it was a very enriching experience, I didn’t find that the job allowed me to show the real entrepreneurial initiative, which I always had inside me”. This is when the Fluicity adventure began.

MIT TR35 2015

                                                                         MIT TR35 2015 Laureates

Her innovation?

The idea of Fluicity is initially to provide a two-way communication tool for town halls, with the aim of ‟re-establishing permanent contact, a dynamic flow between elected officials and citizens, so that the data collected from these exchanges can be used to help the authorities take ‘data-driven’ decisions”.

At the moment the app is available on mobile devices. Basically it “enables town halls to get targeted information across to citizens” – such as the upcoming arts and culture agenda or the current state of road traffic in real time, plus also news of the projects the town hall is planning to run.

More than that, though. Fluicity also enables citizens’ feedback to be transmitted to local decision-makers , via for instance the option for people to interact – showing interest, approving or otherwise commenting – with a new announcement from the town hall. The tool also enables city residents to signal any damage to their street or even suggest ideas directly to the authorities.  Meanwhile the latter can use it to send out a questionnaire on a given issue, the answers to which will provide actionable data for the local elected officials. On this basis, city mayors would be able to adjust their decisions taking into account the citizen feedback.

So Fluicity will provide town halls with a dashboard “highlighting the topics of greatest public interest and those of least relevance, thus enabling Key Performance Indicators to be set up for the city.” Julie de Pimodan is clearly not shy about using private sector terminology. “Basically the mayor ought to be the CEO of the city. The public sector has a great deal to learn from the private sector.  And whether we’re talking about a CEO or a Marketing Director, these people need to be able to draw on hard data to set the direction and take decisions. Mayors ought to base their whole way of working on this model,” she argues.


So which impact will it have ?

The solution offered by Fluicity would appear to provide a means to improve productivity at the town hall. “In the present straitened circumstances when state funding is being cut, it’s vital to be efficient.  Julie de Pimodan cites a specific case to illustrate the benefits of her solution: “The municipal swimming pool can for example be a considerable cost item for the city. So if the town hall is planning to close the pool on two or three days a week in order to reduce costs, what would the citizens have to say about this? Fluicity provides the mayor with a way to put his plans in front of the residents and obtain their views. As well as being open to comments, the town hall could send out a questionnaire targeted in particular at people who use the pool a lot in order to find out which days the pool might be closed so as to inconvenience as few of them as possible.”

On the citizen side, the tool makes it possible to assess their own impact on the officials’ decisions. Which is a way to re-engage stakeholders using a digital tool. In 2014, over 36% of French voters decided not to turn out for the municipal elections. Says de Pimodan: ”We ought to ask them why this was.  The resurgence of democracy that we say after the Charlie Hebdo events provided a momentum that we should be trying to keep going. It’s important to re-forge the democratic links,” she stresses.

And what does the future hold?

The first version of the Fluicity app has already come out but it will, she says: “need to change a lot. We’d like to run it in medium-sized towns with 20,000 to 80,000 residents at first. As a matter of fact we’re already in quite advanced negotiations with some towns.”

So what are the targets for the Fluicity founder and her team? “We’d like to demonstrate that our solution can help to reduce communication costs for the community that we test it on, and that we can actually manage to boost the electoral base within a given community.”  The team is giving itself six months to prove to the municipalities running the pilot tests that the data gathered by the Fluicity app are directly actionable, with a view to raising capital towards the end of 2015.

By Pauline Canteneur