A City As Smart As Its Citizens: Data-empowerment, Part 2


Door Bart Brouwers
Leestijd ± 4 minuten
  • 24 November 2017

Eindhoven wants to become a smart society. But how does that work? What’s going on in a society like that? Are there any good examples to learn from? DataStudio Eindhoven explores the transition a city has to go through to actually become such a smart society. Each week, we present a new contribution on E52. This week: A look back at Dutch Design Week. Read all the articles in this series here.

On October 24th during the Dutch Design Week, as part of the World Design Event, DATA Studio Eindhoven realized the exhibition Embassy of Data. Part of the accompanying programme was the international conference A City As Smart As Its Citizens. With this, the DATA studio wanted to highlight both the findings of its programmes and a realistic perspective on the development of the ‘smart society’ in the city. Part 1 of this article dealt with Maya Indira Ganesh’s lecture on data empowerment.

The lectures were always followed by discussions with the audience, the aim of which was to make the perspectives for action concrete for those present. This second part deals with the content of the discussion on data empowerment. This was led by the members of a panel. In addition to Maya Indira Ganesh, the panel consisted of Saskia de Beer, developer of ZO! city urban development platform, Merel Noorman, smart city researcher at Maastricht University, and Chris Sigaloff, former director of knowledge country and member of the think tank of the DATA studio.

Disempowerment….

The discussion began with the conclusion that the use of data for citizens is primarily a disempowering experience. As soon as people realize that their behaviour, preference or presence for some reason leads to a data trace that often feels like a breach, especially if the individuals in question have not been informed in advance. Another well-known disempowering experience is that of professionals who try to persuade third parties to take more ownership of issues, for example in connection with data, and then use a completely different language than the people who are or would be using it themselves.

Put data in place

But data itself should not be the problem, and never is the solution. Data should be put in place. Where can we use data and where can we not? Data can help to track down and tell new stories. Data can help to break down misconceptions; it can help to get a picture of abuses (follow the money); it can help to articulate and nuance complex phenomena. Data (on health, land use, air quality, mobility, cultural differences, etc.) can, in short, be extremely valuable to the community and should be used for common purposes.

Become Intentional

How can citizens then become intentional with their data? How can more (data) power reach ‘the people’? Is it in the design of the right interfaces – see the work of Saskia de Beer? Should we possibly start all over again? What could such a data detox mean at the level of the individual, at the level of a community or at the level of a city?

This cannot be a problem for citizens alone. Citizens must also put pressure on their public institutions to take action, to facilitate the management of their data.

Co-creation of rules for data use

But not everyone needs to manage their own data. It would be more interesting if citizens’ data could be used for common goals, not just for business purposes. Citizens could work with municipalities to develop collective rules for the use of data together with companies, with the aim that companies would share ownership of data much more.

Municipalities

In the discussion, for example, there was an interesting perspective on the way in which data empowerment of citizens, could help municipalities out of their data dilemma. After a data detox, citizens could choose what kind of data they would like to make available to the municipality or other organizations in what way. They can do so for clearly defined questions or problems.

If a municipality in its data policy acts in this way with an explicit mandate of citizens, it clearly operates legitimately. She is also much stronger at negotiating with private parties who want to use data to develop their services.

This way of approaching data issues is topical and seems to form the basis of what the new school is doing in thinking about and shaping the city and the role of technology within it. This data manifesto was published in Amsterdam on 3 November. The same way of thinking is followed in these blogs on the site of van Nesta – Nesta: the British think tank on social issues and technology.

The time seems ripe to move from words to deeds. Would CityBeacon not be the perfect tool for this?