Rob van Kranenburg: From Smart City to Smart Governance

“We are in a period of transition, and that is where our agency to negotiate lies. It looks like it is quite inevitable that IoT will be a new mediation between people and objects, but does it have to be a dictatorship of technology over people? IoT developments will not turn immediately into a dictatorship; there will be a period of transition. Therefore, it is our responsibility to make that period tangible, visible and actionable. Just 'because we can' should not be the ultima ratio of how (and why) we develop future IoT systems. Every data collection, processing, and storage should be critically valued for what benefits it brings to the human beings and to society, and the risks it poses. The only way that this will happen is if there is not just awareness among developers and policymakers alike, but a shared understanding of privacy and human values in the digital age.” – Gérald Santucci

Why would we want an Internet of Things? We want it because it can offer us the best possible feedback on physical and mental health, the best possible resource allocation based on real time monitoring, best possible decision making on mobility patterns and the best possible alignments of local providers with global potential. Operationally this means that we can define Internet of Things as the seamless flow between the BAN (body area network): wearables, LAN (local area network): smart home, WAN (wide area network): connected car, and VWAN (very wide area network): the smart city. Key to this flow is having control of the data. That is why Google is offering a Glass and a Lens so you can synchronize your health data into the NEST and the Google Car throughout the smart city applications of google.org. The idea is that in consumer applications and services you never have to leave the Google Cloud. The products are gateways linking up the networks.

This flow through the networks generates a new beginning. Most large companies understand the marketplace and transform to meet the new paradigm, but without a deep understanding of the new attractors that are building this paradigm. Their notion of transformation is still tuned to the attractors that build the current situation.

In our current IT architectures we are used to dealing with three groups of actors: citizens/endusers, industry/subject matter experts (SME), and those involved in governance/legal matters. These all are characterized by certain qualities. We build data models with these actors as entities in mind. The data flow of IoT engenders new entities consisting of different qualities taken from the former three groups diminishing the power of the traditional entities.

These new entities are forming as we speak and value that may be as yet undefined (could be seen as ‘noise’) is making its way over to them. 

At 4yfn at #MWC2017 I met Tom Raftery, VP and Global Internet of Things Evangelist at SAP, as we were both in the jury. Tom is pushing for a broad debate and involving a wide variety of stakeholders in this Digital Transition:

“In the early days of the Internet few organisations had company-wide email, and if they had a website, it was little more than a one-pager. Now the Internet is transforming healthcare, education, transportation and every other industry globally. Today, we are similarly in the early days of the Internet of Things. We only have the slightest inkling where this journey will bring us, what amazing possibilities it will open for us. As with the Internet, there is the possibility of darker uses of the technology, and consequently it is vital that we involve as many stakeholders as possible in discussions on how we want our the IoT to transform our society, to ensure the greatest benefit for all.

The report Societal Impact for the Internet of Things claims that the emerging IoT has huge potential, especially in the context of cities, which face the twin challenges of promoting economic growth while also ensuring sustainable development. IoT is a novel public infrastructure that has the potential to serve the interests of citizens and commercial companies alike. However, current public–private initiatives are in danger of falling short of these requirements. With public interest in these infrastructures comes the requirement "to seek solutions that ensure public accountability, transparency, openness, and equitable sharing of costs and benefits. However, these public infrastructures are not neutral, being intended to promote specific values, and should be investigated in the context of its normative system.”"

In the FP7 EU project societal.eu in which I was involved as Community Manager in Novi Sad, Ghent and Santander, we identified similar barriers to broad adoption of Internet of Things in 'smart' cities: lack of understanding by SME's and City Councils, lack of third party trusted providers and lack of involvement of end-users in building use-cases and developing new services. The lack of understanding we addressed in meetups, introducing research questions and listening to the local stakeholders. The lack of involvement of citizens in co-creation workshops with stakeholders, building use cases with endusers and IOT SME’s.

At the 2017 Mobile World Congress Matt Hamblen writes about how Smart cities are at the center of Mobile World Congress since the big themes at Mobile World Congress (MWC) were “centered around the internet of things, artificial intelligence and 5G wireless.” But are they investigated in the context of its normative system?

We have seen very early attempts in the EU to build such a context. The need for non-technical research in the age of machine to machine communication and internet of things as the developments got closer to market and everyday lives of citizens was acknowledged in the 1996 EU Call for Proposals of the i3: Intelligent Information Interfaces, an Esprit Long-Term Research initiative. The aim of i³ (pronounced “eye-cubed”) was to develop new human centered interfaces for interacting with information, aimed at the future broad population.

This approach “was also the starting point and rationale for the EU-funded proactive initiative “The Disappearing Computer” a cluster of 17 projects by interdisciplinary research groups. Its mission was “to see how information technology can be diffused into everyday objects and settings, and to see how this can lead to new ways of supporting and enhancing people's lives that go above and beyond what is possible with the computer today.”

In the commercial IoT world of today’s platform wars are not so much on actual performance and capabilities of systems as they have similar functionality. The focus is on building long lasting and deep relations with developers, partners and facilitating the impact on real communities. An early example is Living memory: agent-based information management for connected local communities: Living Memory aimed "to provide the members of a given community who live and work in a particular locality with a means to capture, share and explore their collective memory, with the aim to preserve and interpret the richness of local culture." It "investigated the application of multi-agent systems to develop intelligent information interfaces for connected communities, a class of computer applications aimed at enhancing the way people interact and socialise in geographically co-located communities such as neighbourhoods."

The third research iteration of this approach was Convivio (2003-2005), a thematic network of researchers and practitioners developing a broad discipline of human-centered design of digital systems for everyday life. The coordinator of Convivio stated that human cantered design “still has little influence either on governmental and super-national policies or on industrial strategies. As a result, it also has little impact on the quality of ICT in public and private life.”

We have to continuously re-think what IoT is capable of as technology progresses and privacy policy is shaped. We have to date embraced semi-autonomous decision support in wearables and health, in our (smart) homes, in our –connected – cars and in our –smart – cities.

It is time to take the next step.

read further in the pdf