Northernlands 2 - How to empower citizens through collective measurement of their environment
This transcript comes from the captions associated with the video above. It is "as spoken".
Hi everyone and welcome to this session on how to empower
citizens through collective measurement of their
environment. My name is Sander van der Waal and I work at waag
a Public Research Institute in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
We developed a road map for the digital future for the Dutch
Parliament. I will take you through this model and explain
how we adapt it onto a project that we're running specifically
with Citizen Science and Smart Citizens.
So this is the building where we are based out
of Amsterdam and we're a Research Institute that focuses on the
role of technology in society and have done so over the last
25 years. We do a lot of research on how to make sure
that the technology that we rely on day-to-dat is built on public
values and ensures the delivery of a public mission.
But what we see today when we, as citizens encounter technology
is often only the tip of the iceberg
And only this top of the iceberg is what we call the
citizen perspective with regards to technology. You only see the
device that you hold. You see the apps that you have on your phone.
You see the applications that you use on your laptop.
But underneath the service there's a whole technological stack
that is made up of different layers that all are part of
making sure that the technology
functions. When you go even deeper, you realize that there
is a design process underneath all of this. The design process
is how the technology has been developed. It was never created,
just out of thin air. There have been people and organizations
involved designing and building the technology. And this is true
whether you're talking about an app that you download or whether
you talk about the doorbell that is connected through the
Internet so you can see who's at the door. All the technology we
rely on has been designed and built by people.
Now and if you go even deeper to the bottom layer of our iceberg
you get to the foundation, because even the
processes by which the technology's been designed and
delivered - they are not coming out of thin air either. There
are lots of different ways in which different organizations
have been involved. There's a legal context within which the
technology is being developed, and there are ways in which
different people are trying to pursue specific goals.
For example, a big technology companies like Facebook wants to
make as much money as possible by selling advertisements, so
their their motivation is to sell ads to you as a user of
their product. There may be other organizations, like
governments that are deploying platforms to engage their
citizens. They may have different goals, but how do you
ensure that those platforms that are being developed within his
public context are actually meeting those kinds of needs? And
are embedded on this foundation, which respects the public context
in which governments operate. Now, once you've seen
the different layers of our our little iceberg
we can imagine that there are
different ways in which you can construct this foundation on
which to design process is being built.
And what we will do in this presentation is to go through
these layers and built the iceberg up on the foundation, in
line with public values. And this is what we call the public
stack. But before we do that, but we want to do it by using a
very specific example and this is where the smart citizens come
into play. Because there is a project that we run at waag
which looks at air quality in air quality monitoring and we're
doing this is part of our work around the Smart City. When we
say it's not about the city being smart, it's about the
citizens being smart. So my colleagues at the Smart Citizens
lab are building sensors and working with citizens to help
them measure their own environments, thereby gaining
knowledge and increasing their sense of control
of their environment.
You can see some examples here without air, noise pollution, and
water quality which are three projects, in which we we deploy
these types of sensors.
And the one I'm specifically focussing on with you today is
the one called "hollandse luchten". Which is the Dutch term
for Dutch skies. And it's a citizen's platform to measure
the air quality within the region around Amsterdam, where
there is a lot of air pollution from a steel factory for
example. And citizens are concerned about that level of
air pollution. So what we did with them is to help develop a
sensor case and the sensor kit contains different sensors which
are all sort of easily constructed into one, and indeed the citizens
themselves can be part of that
process and help construct this. The sensor kit themselves.
So therby they will be able to measure the air quality, there
is NO2 in there. There's different other factors of
air quality that are being measured and what we do is we
are deploying those within this region and there are 200 right
now that are being deployed and citizens are using these sensors
to measure what the state is of air quality. So rather
than being in involved in some sort of abstract debate about
the quality of air around them. They can actually get the
figures themselves. They can gather the data by deploying
their own sensors.
And what we've done is we've set up the whole infrastructure,
which actually helps ensure that that infrastructure
of data that is being measured by the citizens
are part of a platform that gets visualized and deployed on our
own website. So you can see the the infrastructure here. I'm not
sure how visible it is in the little improvised studio that
I've got here, but on the left hand side are the what we call
the "HoLu" sensor case. So these are the cases that
citizens have at their
own disposal, and they use LORA Gateways to transfer the
data onto the servers.
Now we have a little process whereby experts are analyzing
and calibrating the data because there is a lot of interesting
sort of factors at play here, let's unpack that a bit more
because there is a whole debate in the Netherlands and probably
in other countries as much about who gets to decide what the
level of air quality is. Is it the experts who measure
everything and know everything? Or is that something that you as
a citizen can do yourself?
We believe a combination of factors might actually be quite
good, so the citizens measure the data themselves and the
experts from an organization called RIVM, which is a
government liased organization, is calibrating the data and
looking at it with their expert eye to ensure that the level of
quality is high enough and what happens then when you bring it
all together is you get a picture collated out of these
individual measurements that give you an accurate
representation of what the level of air quality is.
And what this does is, apart from creating nice visualizations and
getting a shared picture of the situation, that shared picture
also means that citizens are involved in the whole debate
around the level of air quality and are able to understand
better what is actually going on. So we're currently at a phase
where only a few hundred sensors are being deployed, but we're
looking into the next phase right now and
questions arise about the way in which control over this data
should be managed. Is it the RIVM, the organization, the
funders of this project include the province of North Holland,
are they the ones that should own the data, that gets
gathered here. There are some fundamental questions
around this and we take
inspiration from developments such as the data commons, which
is a way of of showing and
dealing with collective ownership of a group of
people and similar concepts as data trusts are being
investigated, and I think these are interesting
developments that might make... democratise if you
will, the way which data from all these individual
sensors gets managed.
So that's a lot of information. Let's go back to our little
iceberg, and let's look at this
foundation. Because, as I said, the technology is not just
there, it gets designed and built by people. That build and
design process is fundamentally designed through what we
identified as four layers of the
foundation. And what we want to ensure - which is our public
mission - is to ensure that that foundation... make sure that the
technology stack is inclusive. It's safe and it's just.
Now, what are the four layers I'm
talking about? The first one are the starting points and the
assumptions. So what is the problem that the initiative is
intending to solve? When will the problem be solved?
Who defines success and who determines the method by which
the problem is resolved? Now the way we do this in our our air
quality measurement project is to make sure that we try and get
everyone around the table so the government is involved, the
citizens are involved, the experts are involved and,
indeed, the people from the Steel Factory who provide some
of the pollution in the air is involved in the process as well.
And this is an interesting way in which we can
create new collaborations which are more inclusive.
And we made clear what we're trying to do in the end as
well. I think that's another important point in this
foundational layer for the technology.
The second one deals with fundamental rights and values
so how does the initiative safeguard fundamental rights?
And how is society represented, and how does shared public
values resonate in this initiative? And we try and stay
focused on the principles that are also the principles for waag
which is open, fair and inclusive, so we use open
technology. We published data
openly and we try and include the diverse representation of
citizens in the whole process.
Of course, there's the question about the legal framework of
GDPR is respected and all of those aspects, but one of the
public values here at stake is also the freedom for individual
citizens and the sovereignty of themselves to
gain more ownership over their own environment. Through these
air quality measurements.
The third layer here is governance and supervision.
So our key principle here is society as a whole keeps a
grip on digitalisation. What you see here is that where we were
able to apply this model on the digitalisation as a whole, but
specifically for our project, these are the questions that
we're dealing with. What are the different layers of government?
Who is accountable to whom, and how his supervision implemented?
So in terms of governance for our data projects,
these are questions that we're currently working through.
How are we setting up the data commons-type approach whereby
citizens gain and keep control over the data that they
gathered through their own sensors while at the same time
also ensuring that there's a societal benefit by having those
aggregate data sharing more widely and help influence
the policy? And indeed the questions around the future of
the steel factory in this area could be bigger, sort of
questions, that come out of this.
If we design these processes right.
Final point are social economic considerations. These questions
deal with, for example, what's the financial model? How are
risk and profits shared within the society? Is it just the
costs that are being put on society or the benefits society
as well? And what is the impact in the environment of the
technology that we're deploying? So you think about that within
the context of air quality monitors, what we're looking at
is a model whereby these sensor kits at the moment are all
financed through our provincial government.
And we're asking ourselves questions right now.
Is that the most sustainable model for the future? What is the
relationship between the government and citizens in this
respect? And we're exploring a way in which may be a different
model could make sense whereby citizens, for example,
finance part of their own sensor
kits or maybe use a crowdfunding methodology?
We are considering these types of initiatives right now.
So once we have these four layers worked through these come
together in the design process for the technology. In our case,
you could say the design process for the sensor kits themselves.
It says that all stakeholders should be involved
and it's clear toward and we're optimizing.
Human rights are guaranteed and public values are respected.
Society as a whole keeps it's grip on the
digitalisation and the financial economic model takes
man and planet into account.
Woman and planet as well, of course.
So these processes where there's a lot of
interesting sort of new developments that we're looking
into. So in itself, the way in which citizens measure the
air quality and share it through the process is a design
process in its own right. It's part of the citizen science
approach that we're experimenting with here at waag,
but there are other co-creation and key enabling methodologies
that ensure that the design process involves everyone.
And we really think that that is key to creating the right
conditions for how to use and deploy data in society.
So once you have the design process cleared up.
This is a question of the technology itself. So what is
the technology and how does it look like what we've got here is
a model for a technological stack that explains that it's
not just one thing, but there are layers that could be
identified within a technology that we use. Can identify the
application layer and all the other layers, as well as some
contact layers. Let me run through them very quickly.
The application layer is where we look at aspects like open
source. Can applications be made open source so that anyone can
check and build the application and there are no hidden back
doors in this. This is less relevant to our air quality
example, but you can imagine lots of situations where
applications are a crucial part of the technology stack.
And in the operating system layer we look at things like how are
people able to control and adapt the operating system on their
devices. So when we do from our specific example
and look at ways in which, for example, Android is being
managed on your phone or the way in which some embedded devices
are now using quite sophisticated operating systems,
how are we able as citizens to control that more is one of the
questions that would look at
here. Of course, we've got firm, and we've got specific
drivers on our boards
for our sensor kits as well and we try and use as much
as possible open technology there so we're able to change
and adapt the drivers on the kits that we deploy in our
project and we try and use as much as possible open hardware
in the equipment for the sensor kits.
Although in practice we see that that is still quite
underdeveloped, I think there's a lot of potential for sensor
kits to be more open.
And there's some promising initiatives there. Often we
rely on, and this is unfortunate, but there could be
a trade off between quality of the sensor and the model by
which the sensor gets developed. So some of the models
that are more open do not have the same quality level as some
of the sensors that are closed, and I think that that's
something that we really would like to address as well.
Finally, there's a whole piece of infrastructure underneath
everything that we do. So in our example, you saw the LORA
Gateways, the ways in which the sensor kits transmits the data
to the servers and how it gets calibrated and then
transferred to another server to the website. This is all the
infrastructure that's laying underneath, and this is a piece
of often the least visible to people, and it's difficult
sometimes to see exactly what's going on on that level, but it
makes it even more important
when you rely on this technology as a society that
we understand how the infrastructure has been built up
So finally, in this model there are a couple of what we call
contextual layers - layers related to technology that are
relevant on all different layers of the technology. The first
is data and algorithms. People should be able to have control
over their own data and the algorithms that gets
developed on top of that data.
That for us is really key and what we're trying to do, in
our "hollandse luchten" project, as I said, is to see how the
governance methodologies might be able to give that control
back to citizens in a way that they often don't have it in
Then there's a protocol and standard layer. The protocols
and standards should be open. There should be openly developed
through an open process and the results of the process should be
open as well so that anyone can adapt and and apply their
standards and there are no locked in, mechanisms at play
and we try and do that as much as possible through our own
projects. But it's also a recommendation to other
organizations. As we rely on technology even more and more
each day... level of security becomes an important
aspect as well, and one that should not be overlooked.
Technology should be secure so we can all rely on it
safely, especially when it relates to more crucial
technology that we all need to rely on.
And then the outer layer of all of this is what we call the
service layer, and this is often the way in which the
citizen interacts with the technology is the way in
which you for example use Spotify as a service or use
Google Maps maybe on your phone and there are often you don't
know all the layers or how they are designed underneath,
but what we're trying to show with this model is that it's
important that this gets
changed. So finally when we get back up, we get back to the
citizen perspective again and we say we can only get a grip on
the digitalisation if we see the design as a collective
responsibility. So let me wrap up there for now.
We've seen the model of the road map for the digital future
and how it applies to our example on air quality.
I hope you enjoy the presentation and I look
forward to discussing it with you.
Sander van der Waal
Lead Future Internet Lab, Waag
Sander van der Waal is the lead of the Future Internet Lab at Waag, working to ensure that human values are core to how technology and data are designed and deployed in society, based on Waag’s principles of openness, fairness, and inclusivity.
Sander has an educational background in computer science and philosophy, and has solid expertise and experience in open source software development, open data and knowledge, and data infrastructures.
Nothernlands 2 is a collaboration between ODI Leeds and The Kingdom of the Netherlands, the start of activity to create, support, and amplify the cultural links between The Netherlands and the North of England. It is with their generous and vigourous support, and the support of other energetic organisations, that Northernlands can be delivered.