Data as a solution to the world’s problems?


Door Bart Brouwers
Leestijd ± 6 minuten
  • 29 September 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 behind the scenes of the Beyond Data Congres, which will take place again in Eindhoven in March 2018. Read all the articles here.

Last week in this series, we looked ahead to the Embassy of Data event during the DDW. This time, we’re looking even further ahead, to the beginning of 2018. Because that’s when the Beyond Data Event 2018 will take place and its preparations have recently started. On September 20th, the advisory board for the Congress came together on the place where the congress will take place: Hotel van der Valk in Eindhoven.

With organizer Gaby Rasters – Strategic advisor Data for the Municipality of Eindhoven – we’re looking at the plans, but especially also at the municipality’s ambition in terms of data.

Where do you stand in the preparations for the congress?

“We looked through last year’s results, highlighted everything that could and should be done better. And after that we got to work: how could the program inspire, leave room for networking and give the visitors a suitcase full of lessons learned to take home? It should become a mix between suprising stories (moonshots) and practical (hands-on) examples. I think we all succeeded in that, even more than that by taking on the most important question: how can Data provide breakthroughs in numerous major societal challenges. Can data help us end poverty in the world? Can data reduce the number of traffic deaths, or even: can we just have 0 victims? Take a look at the example in New York with their Vision Zero. We’re also asking the same question about criminality, which devices and tools are there from the data side to help the police and government to track down thieves faster and sooner, preferably even before they cross the line.”

 

“I don’t share my private life with the outside world. Although that is just an illusion, of course, because Facebook already knows everything about me.”
Gaby Rasters —
Strategisch adviseur Data voor de Gemeente Eindhoven

 

Those are quite some ambitions.

“Yes, they are. But the event will get a number of important boundary conditions. For instance: how can we, as governments, ensure that, on the one hand, the use of data does not in any way harm the inhabitants’ autonomy and, on the other hand, allows room for our companies to innovate, to take opportunities to come to new earnings models with data. Are we all in a sticky wicket, or is it not all that bad and do agreements with each other help to take the right steps? Last week, we received the sad message that mayor van der Laan had to lay down his duties.  He has to focus on his own health. His words: “take good care of each other” touch all of us and also this congress. How can data help us to take good care of each other in all areas in which we meet each other as a city?”

How are you going to concretely connect those major societal issues with the visitors of the congress?

“We have chosen to divide the congress into the Grand Challenges because now, we really want to show how data can contribute to a better world. But mind you, all those issues come with other issues. Do we want a safer world, that can obviously be done with data (think about facial analyses, who’s criminal and who isn’t?), but do we really want that, in the context of privacy and the ethics around data? Besides, in solving the big issues, it’s the whole chain’s move: businesses, government, universities and the citizen: how do you control all that?”

Well, how?

“The most difficult thing remains to ask the right questions. What don’t you want to solve precisely? We as governments aren’t very good at that question articulation yet. Companies do this much better, they obviously also use data as earnings model and have to think very well about what it can give them. As a municipality, you also want to work data driven, and we’re already doing that for a large part. But just like in the city, working data-driven (human-driven is actually better, we act on the human and his problems and use data to solve it) isn’t entirely in the mind yet.

To really use data in the right way, we have to have the right data (the quality needs to be good), the data has to be findable, get updates and be connectable and we have to analyze it in the right way and in addition not be afraid to scan boundaries, there aren’t that many regulations yet, but if we already quit in the beginning because of all the ifs and buts, we’ll never get anywhere.”

To many people, data equals “scary”, “dangerous”, “dark”. At the same time, you see that a lot of people share their data with the world unnoticed. How could you take away the resistance to (the use of) data in the public space and/or the private atmosphere?

Go out there and tell everyone what’s going on. The New Institute is making this very clear with their Data studio: what does data do, what do we measure, who measures what? What is not being measured? What is and isn’t allowed? The discussions in the media are often one-sided and the big headliners often scare people, let’s just be honest and (often) tell the open story and discuss with one another, that’s what we learn from. I also think that ludic actions, like a data mirror room, can cause more data awareness.”

What can – or must? – parties like governments, education institutions, and big companies do to promote that process?

“Governments always have to engage the discussion. For example, in Eindhoven we have our ‘open data principles’, we will have to keep using these in every discussion. The NS recently made the news about their cameras, that’s where we have to come in and offer our gained knowledge and skills. Education is on the right track, for example, the Design Academy, Fontys, TU/e; they’re all very data-aware, students are doing fun researches and projects. But this can be done even sooner, in high school, and even before that, you can be engaged in media wisdom and data. That can simply be about cyberbullying to learning behavior: you also lock your bike when you go to school, you can also do that with your data. The boss of your own data, that might be a fun project! I would like to challenge businesses into the discussion like the municipality is having them. But they also have to be transparent, open their doors and tell them how they profit from data.”

Do you also apply that knowledge yourself, for example in your use of social media?

“I think about it because I have a colleague who’s totally wary of Facebook. I use Facebook to promote my books and in that case this medium works like a train, but I am careful about which post I make public and which I keep private. I don’t share my private life with the outside world. Although that is just an illusion, of course, because Facebook already knows everything about me. I still think this is okay, I’m naive that way. I do teach my children to be careful with an online life. But this also goes for the offline life, in which I also behave. If you’re climbing on top of a bar, jabbering and drunk, it will also spread like a wildfire….

But we are indeed not engaged in data enough. I also close my curtains at night and I value my privacy. I seem to value it less online, but I would be very bothered when there are all sorts of scary online profiles of me that know exactly who and how I am. And yes, they exist. Scary. I think it takes time to make people data-aware, time to have people say: I am the boss of my own data. Or: do you want my data? That’s possible, but you can pay, dear Google, Facebook or whoever.”

More information about Beyond Data on the website.