The technology industry tends to focus on “user acceptance” but sometimes struggles to put people at the centre of the picture in defining what neighbourhoods or cities really need and want.

We need other dimensions to be considered in technology, especially tech designed and delivered in the public interest. So at the start of the CityVerve project, the FutureEverything team introduced Community KPIs as a way to involve citizens and communities in defining success criteria. Read all about Community KPIs in this blog and this FutureEverything Report. (Hemment, Woods, Appadoo, Bui, 2016), developed by FutureEverything in collaboration with the University of Dundee and MIT.

The context

Citizen engagement is, at this point, a “need to have” rather than a “nice to have”. However, when programmes of work talk about “engaging citizens,” it’s important to be clear about the starting point and also about what can and can’t be flexed.

Some city technology initiatives are already partly funded, or already have a plan in place because their fundraising efforts required it. As a result, true “co-design” isn’t possible – at least, not from the ground up. (However, that isn’t to say there aren’t ways to make tech more citizen-focused; for instance, by asking the public to collaborate on designing what happens after the technology is installed.)

Additionally, especially in the current economic climate, the private sector is stepping up its investment in city activity. That means corporate interests are increasingly becoming part of design and delivery of local tech solutions – and corporations, unlike governments, are unelected. This can make them less motivated by public opinion and more difficult to hold to account for their choices.

So with all that said, how can we make sure the public is actively engaged in making decisions about the technology their city implements while still being realistic about the level and scope of impact citizens will be able to have in projects where co-design from the ground up isn’t possible?

The brief

We needed to design a way for workshop participants – representatives of Manchester’s local communities, voluntary organisations, and user groups – to actively contribute to a workshop on community KPIs. In this context, “active contribution” was defined as citizens understanding, discussing and then defining what their own barriers would be to IoT technologies. We needed to give them an opportunity and the right information to be able to explore the trade-offs between the issues the technologies can solve, and some of the consequences and threats that they pose. The materials we designed to do this also needed to move people away from any predetermined entrenched positions that they might hold and to encourage a more nuanced and thoughtful conversation.

Our primary aim was to design a tool for these workshop participants – a prompt for discussions that would help them both understand the implications of the IoT technology that was due to be rolled out in their local area and explore their concerns. The tool needed to focus on issues that would be relevant to residents and communities over time, to surface possible outcomes residents might not want, and to hold the City and large technology companies to account. In other words, it needed to be an accountability checklist.

The tool itself

“You’ve heard about what IoT is and some of the ways it is being used. You’ve also heard some of the ideas people have for the CityVerve programme. This tool is a way of taking those ideas that you’ve heard or are developing yourself.”

The list below shows the primary questions. On the tool itself, you can see some secondary questions that relate to the primary ones.

1) Will the new technology help to build up more relationships in my neighbourhood and community?

2) Will I be able to use and understand the new technologies?

3) Who owns the new technologies or the consequences of them in the City?

4) How is security being addressed?

5) How is privacy being addressed?

6) Is there good information available?

7) What will its impact be?

8) How can I participate?

9) How is accessibility and inclusion being considered?

10) How is diversity being considered?

These questions were specifically chosen to be some of the most important for citizens to have answers to. They help people understand the value of the IoT projects, how useful they are, and how well they have been designed. If these questions aren’t well-answered we believe citizens might not use the new technologies – leading to wasted time, wasted effort, and wasted funds on services people don’t actually want, that also might be doing unethical things.

Read more about Community KPIs in CityVerve here.

 

References

Hemment, D., Woods, M., Appadoo, V. and Bui, L., (2016) Community Key Performance Indicators for IoT and Smart Cities: A Collaborative Framework for Project Assessment. FutureEverything Reports.

Woods, M., Hemment, D., & Bui, L. (2016) Community-Level Indicators. Making Sense EU Deliverable 5.4.