From February until July 2022 the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for BOLD Cities collaborated with the department of public administration (PA) of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (HvA). During this period, three students in their final year of their Bachelor Public Administration worked on a project assignment from the Centre for BOLD Cities, under the supervision of dr. Dorien Zandbergen (HvA) and Liesbet van Zoonen, Merlina Slotboom and Miyabi Babasaki. The three students - Erik Slingerland, Jurgen Vlaar and Julian Kuipers- worked on an assignment to inform members of the local municipality and design "something" that helps them to take an informed position regarding topics related to the digitalization processes within their city.
As part of a new approach to the thesis of PA-students of the HvA, these three students had the opportunity to work on an assignment together. Their efforts were eventually graded individually, but during the 5-month process they had to work together to finish their PA-Bachelor. During this process they had the opportunity to learn from each other, build on each other’s knowledge and work together towards an in-depth analysis of the broad range of challenges local council members may face while having to carefully consider their position on these topics. The division of the topics was determined based on personal interests and relevance of the dimensions, resulting in Erik researching the technical dimension, Jurgen the public administration/legal dimension and Julian the political dimension. The aim was to develop a training program that helps city councilors to:
- understand technical forms and scope of digitization and data use in the municipality;
- recognize the powers of the municipal council;
- learn to apply party political visions to municipal digitization issues;
- learn to place and stimulate the use of digital technologies for control or services on the agenda.
Liesbet van Zoonen, Merlina Slotboom and Miyabi Babasaki, the supervisors from the Centre for BOLD Cities, have engaged in discussions with the students to help them determine what methods to use, but also to share findings from prior and ongoing research, such as from the research carried out by Jiska Engelbert and Miyabi Babasaki on decision making in the local council on smart city. In addition to these fruitful conversations, the students have carried out in-depth interviews with council members from several municipalities throughout the country, the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG) and other people involved in local smart city-decision making and development, as well as doing literature research and visiting (online) conferences on smart city and digitalization in cities.
Throughout the process we have had regular feedback sessions in which we worked on developing a concrete idea of the final product, but also pinpointing the relevance of this product. Each of the dimensions related to a concrete question a councilmember should consider when encountering the possible introduction of a new smart city technology.
- What can the technology / application do? (Technological dimension)
- Do we want to this technology / application to be implemented in the city? (Political dimension)
- Is it allowed to use this technology / application? (Legal / public administration dimension)
Julian Kuipers in a screenshot of the explainer video
Other points of debate were about what might be realistic goals, what would be interesting for the Centre as final product of this project assignment, but also details such as in what order asking the above questions would make the most sense. Following the outcomes of initial interviews with council members, previous BOLD research and literature research carried out by the students, the conclusion was that an explainer video would be the most desirable final product. Council members often have a high workload preparing for meetings and debates, leaving only a limited amount of time to invest in broadening their knowledge on topics such as digital technologies. Therefore, explainer video’s that within a small amount of time can briefly, but thoroughly, explore the important dimensions of this topic, could lead to more informed considerations of someone’s position in this debate.
The assignment for the students eventually was to make a guide for such an explainer video in which they worked out the three dimensions that are relevant for council members to consider. This guide includes a brief theoretical framework briefly discussing technical definitions and current key technologies, ethical considerations, opportunities and risks, and the legal and political context. This guide also contains a framework for a script and work schedule including research design.
Accompanying this guide is a pilot explainer video, which they made by using the example of a smart lamppost. The video starts with an introduction explaining what a smart city and what a smart lamppost is and why it is important for a council member to invest in their knowledge regarding these kinds of technologies. After this, the video dives into the technological dimension, by explaining more in detail that a smart lamppost can be seen as a broad term encompassing many different technological functions that can be added to a lamppost. The examples of the city of Rotterdam, Emmen and Woensdrecht are used to show that these lampposts can be enhanced with technologies that can for example, increase safety or save energy. Also, it is mentioned that in different municipalities, the rollout and development of the specific technologies on lamppost can be done by working together with different external parties such as universities and network administrators.
After this the video moves on to the political dimension, by exploring the different ethical considerations that may come up in the case of the smart lamppost. When applying sensors that can analyze movements, for example, privacy concerns might arise, as well as considerations regarding safety on the street. So, in which case do you want to apply these technologies in the public space? Lastly, the legal dimension is explored through discussing certain laws that are related to specific technological possibilities and ethical considerations, such as the privacy law (AVG). Also, this part mentions that, since many technologies have been developed in the recent past, laws and policies have not always been developed. Therefore, it might also be good to consider where this is lacking and much needed and act upon this finding.
This first experience with collaborating with the HvA as a commissioning party for thesis assignments has been perceived as very positive from all parties involved.