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

other contexts.

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
    © Sander van der Waal 2020

    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.

  • Kingdom of the Netherlands