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A Smart City is nothing without Smart Citizens

A Smart City is nothing without Smart Citizens

How the Netherlands can take the lead in a multi-stakeholder approach for trusted data governance of smart city initiatives.

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Why cities need to become 'smart'

Smart city initiatives are on the rise: everywhere around the world, cities are exploring the benefits of smart lighting, smart traffic control and other improvements of the city's livability, workability and sustainability. Driven by socio-economic trends like urbanization, cities are increasingly putting today's technological advances at use in order to solve growing problems. Take the example of Huntington Beach, California, where 200 Smart Fusion Poles will be installed this year. These poles do not only serve as energy efficient LED lampposts, but also contain hidden antennas to provide wireless capabilities for mobile service providers as well as future IoT implementations1. Or Amsterdam, that installed a virtual traffic manager to enable all parties involved in traffic control to use one, shared application coordinated by algorithms enabling better traffic flows2. At the same time, citizens in the digital age expect more from their authorities: scandals such as with Cambridge Analytica cause citizens to expect more governmental protection against data abuse. In fact, 81% of the citizens believe that privacy and security are the most important values expected from their local government, privacy by design is vital in smart city initiatives3. However, with 40% of the citizens willing to share data if it improves matters such as traffic, emergency services and crime prevention, the willingness of citizens to engage is clearly present3. In addition, people want instant and personalized access anywhere to city services, preferably via their smartphone, such as real-time traffic information and instant access to governmental services through an app. In today's economic environment, cities need to develop smart solutions to stay competitive. All these drivers lead cities, its businesses and citizens (you!) towards engaging in smart city initiatives.

Big Data, Big Brother?

These initiatives stand or fall on sharing data of citizens and by citizens which raises the question how do we prevent (unintended) misuse of this data? Take the example of China's Social Credit System, where data ranging from the amount of video games purchased to smoking in non-smoking areas are used to give every citizen a score. Based on this score, citizens are either granted privileges like discounts on the energy bill or giving punishments such as being banned from flying4.

Fortunately, this level of Big Brother is unseen in the Netherlands, yet the first applications of data-driven control are visible here as well. The city of Amsterdam used data about Facebook friends to map locations and roles of loiterers in order to diminish the growing noise pollution. However, the city was criticized, for the fact that the suspects were not informed about the investigation5.

Prevent the black box society

Behavioral control through citizen data, such as in the cases above, happens more often than you might think. Although initiated for the sake of security or prevention, such smart city projects raise questions about consent, data ownership and privacy. As these projects often entail collaboration between city authorities, private companies, knowledge institutions and citizens, responsibilities and rights with respect to the collected data is not an easy topic. While cities prefer ownership of the data, they frequently lack the storage capacity and analytical capabilities. As a result, the participating companies regularly get ownership of valuable data – often without the citizens' knowing. In combination with unclear indications of data collection systems for automated control and automated decision-making, there is a risk of creating a black box society, where citizens do not know what technologies in their city do, what data is collected about them and what happens to these data6. The solution to this problem lies in ensuring ethical data governance on top of the fundamental data platform. An example of how this can be done is seen in how the city of Amsterdam is, together with KPMG, investigating ways how to be as transparent about the usage of algorithms and data as possible, and how to ensure such algorithms indeed perform as they were intended to7.

A trusted data platform for smart city initiatives

Today, the privacy and security of the citizen data is one of the most important pitfalls of smart city initiatives. The lack of transparency in the projects leads to distrust and unsupportive responses from citizens8. As independent, trusted data governance is still uncommon, the Netherlands could take the lead in how to organize the ethical data governance platform for smart city initiatives, where the needs of all stakeholders are balanced.

This platform should have the following foundational aspects:

  • Put the citizen in control
    • To prevent the black box society and gain the trust and support of citizens, the platform should provide citizens the opportunity to control the data collected about them. Not only to express consent with the data collection, but also with respect to the further use of the data. An example of this is Nervousnet9, a platform that stores data decentralized and gives citizens full control about what data is collected about them through their smartphone.
  • Incorporate a data custodian
    • The platform should be governed by a data custodian: an independent party that ensures that the values of all stakeholders are guarded through data reciprocity. This will lead to trusted analytics, where the use, sharing and analyses of data is tested according to established norms and values; security and transparency. In the Dutch agricultural section, the cooperation JoinData is taking the lead by building a safe and transparent data platform to develop digital working methods for farmers10. This data platform established a cooperation of different stakeholders such as a bank; a dairy company and an agricultural employers' organization to govern the use and exchange of these data.
  • Use open source and open data
    • In order to decentralize the power the data ownership can provide, the platform should be fully open, meaning the technology and data is publicly available to all who are interested. An example can be seen in the data governance KPMG helped to establish for the open data platform of the Amsterdam Innovation Arena11. This does not only ensure full transparency, it also enables third parties to create new products and services. The city of Amsterdam fosters this kind of open innovation by making its data open to everyone in the Amsterdam City Data portal12. As data platforms are usually already open, it is important to stress is that the openness should entail aggregated data or data accompanied with citizen consent, as well as access through safe city APIs. This is where the data custodian comes into play.

Next steps for the smart city parties

There is no question 'if' local governments should start with smart city initiatives, but more about how to do this successfully and trustworthy. Cities and their information departments therefore need to get the right parties involved to establish a data governance that inspires and encourages citizens to engage, participate and promote smart city initiatives. In the end, a smart city is nothing without smart citizens.

More information

Please contact one of the following contact persons:

Marthe Stegehuis, (020) 656 8740 or by email.
Jochem Pasman, (020) 656 2939 or by email.

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