Can controversies make smart cities more human-centred and inclusive? How can we design for such controversies? In a case study for the University of Twente research project of Responsible Smart City Design and the municipality of Amersfoort, I worked in a project team consisting of 5 Master students eager to find an answer to these questions, in particular in view of the controversy “privacy vs. sur- & dataveillance”. The case study was part of the Scenario Based Product Design Master course.
Scenario Based Design | Dilemma Driven Design | Co-Design
Nowadays, many Dutch cities claim to be “smart”. City officials are optimistic and emphasise the fact that smart cities utilise modern technology and new forms of collaboration to improve urban facilities and the quality of life in the city. However, smart city theories are not immune to criticism, mainly because of the use of the loaded term “smart” (who decides what qualifies as smart?) and because of the belief that the smart city is mainly supported by officials, scientists and engineers and less so by the residents themselves. This leads to controversies in the planning and implementation of smart city initiatives.
Within this project, we explored ways of mapping the different thoughts, emotions and concerns of stakeholders regarding smart city implementations and meaningful collaborations between those stakeholders. For this purpose, we used user-centred design methods such as experience sampling, empathy mapping and participatory design sessions to engage the different stakeholders. The pictures show an impression of these sessions. Additionally, we adapted the design approach of dilemma-driven design to designing with controversies. Emotional dilemmas can be a fruitful starting point for user-centred design activities, the same holds for public controversies.
From experience sampling and the participatory session, we gained important insights: City officials often do not see the controversy arguing that smart city initiatives have only benefits and assuming that citizens are well informed. Citizens on the other hand frequently do not really know what is going on in their city. Based on a joint brainstorming session, we designed the concept of a city walk in Amersfoort where citizens can experience first-hand in what ways technology is employed in the city and the type of data that is being collected. At the end of the “controversy walk”, citizens can describe their impressions and feelings and communicate them to the municipality.
Although the result was a conceptual design, the used techniques are valuable for any user-centred approach. In addition, our concept was a source of inspiration for the researchers of this project to further elaborate on.
My role in the team
Within the project team, I was responsible for the selection and execution of the co-design session and the preliminary sensitizing tasks for the participants. In addition, I was coordinating the different tasks within the project and kept track of the planning. I also designed the layout of the project report.
In this project I learned that a good team can handle any setback. If you are co-designing, you have to be flexible in order to adapt to changing circumstances. Moreover I learned how important it is to get to know the client and the end user.