The Snuffelfiets: pedalling towards a better environment

There is only one means of transport more popular in the Netherlands than the car: our faithful steel steed with pedals. Together we cycle some 15 billion kilometers a year in The Netherlands. That’s more than 880 kilometres per person. If we are cycling these great distances, why not do something useful with all those trips? That’s what the inventors of the ‘Snuffelfiets’ (‘browsing cyclists’, ed.) must have been thinking.

The companies Civity and Sodaq set up the project together with the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the province of Utrecht. Civity specialises in data solutions and Sodaq is an expert in the field of sensors. Lastly, RIVM takes care of the validation of the data that is collected by the Snuffelfietsers.

And this data, well, that could be anything. “There are several sensors in the device, such as humidity and temperature sensors,” Claar Schouwenaar explains. Schouwenaar works for the province of Utrecht and is the project leader for the Snuffelfiets. “These sensors can tell us something about heat islands, for example.”

Heat island effect

A heat island effect is a phenomenon whereby the temperature in urban areas is relatively high compared to surrounding rural areas. “Measurements show that the city can be up to eight degrees warmer than the countryside”, meteorologist Gert-Jan Steenveld of Wageningen University recently explained in the university magazine Resource. “But even in a city this can vary considerably from one street to the next.” Measurements from the Snuffelfietsen could therefore identify local heat islands. These could be addressed with more vegetation, for instance.

But that’s not all. “An accelerometer and a vibration meter are also included. These collect data on road surface quality,” says Schouwenaar. “So if you hit potholes or tree roots, it detects that.” This could help municipalities and road authorities in future to analyze and maintain cycle paths and other roads used by bikes. “And last but not least, sensors that are used to measure air quality, of course.”

Units handed out to 500 Snuffelaars

Meanwhile ‘Snuffelaars’ (‘browsers’, ed.) are riding around in the municipalities of Zeist, Amersfoort, Utrecht, Nieuwegein and IJsselstein. “But North Holland, South Holland and Overijssel are also interested in the project,” says Schouwenaar. “And a pilot with 50 bicycles has just been launched in Gelderland too.”

Het meetkastje, bevestigd aan een van de Snuffelfietsen. Foto: Ronald van Liempdt

The remaining devices were distributed last month. There are 550 units in total, 500 in the province of Utrecht and 50 in Gelderland. The project started a year ago as a small pilot with 10 bicycles in Zeist. Pretty soon there was a lot of enthusiasm for expanding the project. ” We then said: we are going to scale that up to 500 participants,” Schouwenaar says. “Although we’ll spread it across the entire region.”

The ultimate goal is a two-fold one, according to Schouwenaar: “On the one hand, it’s an experiment to see what we can do with the collected data. You don’t want to immediately invest a lot of money into something that might not produce the best results. But at the same time you could say that it’s also an attempt to work towards the creation of big data, which does involve a lot of people who take measurements.” After all, the more Snuffelfietsen there are riding around, the more valuable the data becomes. “Because then you will be able to determine an average from it,” Schouwenaar states. And the more data input, the more accurate the output will be.

Cheap sensors, relevant data

Schouwenaar is therefore hoping that ultimately as many municipalities and provinces as possible will want to participate. “Anyone with their own specific question or method would also be fine,” she says. “It’s a way of demonstrating that very cheap sensors provide relevant data as well, as long as you have enough of them.”

The data platform developed by Civity makes it possible to monitor measurements from the project on a daily basis. Participants can also view their own measurement results via an app. The image below depicts the data from all Snuffelfietsen in the Utrecht area on November 20th. Aside from this grid map, all the specific routes of that day can also be viewed in detail.

Levels of fine particles

So it seems that there are a lot of fine particles in the air. However, there are often days when most of the routes on the map turned out to be relatively blue too. “Yes, that’s also disappointing for lots of participants”, Schouwenaar responds. “They thought: now I’m going to show you for once and all just how disgusting the air is in my neighbourhood”, she laughs. “But it’ s not so bad after all. That’s why it’s nice that the RIVM is on board with the project. They ‘clean’ the data by correcting any anomalies with the help of their measuring stations”, Schouwenaar explains. “The RIVM also says that levels of fine particles in The Netherlands are on the whole quite okay. Therefore you will see a lot of blue routes on a regular basis.”

Nevertheless, this data is also valuable. And in any case, there are plenty of ideas to further innovate the project in the future. “We want to continue developing the device. If you really want to be able to say something about air quality in our country, it should also include a nitrogen sensor.”

New Snuffelfietser groups

And it could be made even smaller, so that the new version could be used by new groups of Snuffelfietsers. “Imagine, for example, cyclists who cycle other routes with a smaller device or perhaps a unit that’s even fully integrated into the bike frame. Or all the bicycle couriers in The Netherlands start using them”, Schouwenaar suggests. “Or – and this is really a very relevant option – working with shared bicycles, such as the OV-fiets (rental bike from the Dutch public transport provider).”

And that calls for improvements to be made to the measurement equipment. ” At present, the unit is linked to the user, who also looks after it,” says Schouwenaar. “Where shared bikes are concerned, the device should be vandal-proof.” Nevertheless, that type of an upgrade would immediately lead to a huge increase in data, which makes it an appealing option. “At the moment we are also working with the OV-fiets to see if this is feasible,” Schouwenaar concludes enthusiastically.

Millions of Snuffelaars who constantly analyze and improve the quality of our home environment with each bike ride to work or to the supermarket. In a few years’ time, that might just become a reality.

Photos: Ronald van Liempdt

Smart City Business Forum: Don’t develop technologies which won’t solve any real problems

Smart Cities are hot. This week a large delegation of Dutch civil servants and entrepreneurs is in Barcelona for the world’s largest congress on this subject. Today there were 466 participants from 24 countries at the International Smart City Business Forum which was organized by The Netherlands and by the Scandinavian countries.

In a recent podcast made by Innovation Origins for Dutch Design Week, director Rob Adams of the Eindhoven-based Six Fingers agency said that he despised the term ‘Smart Cities.’ “Because when we talk about Smart Cities, it’s just all about technology,” Adams said. “And people don’t feel happier as a result of lots of technology. It’s really a matter of solving real problems in people’s lives.”

Ecosystems, not ego-systems

While Adams was absent, there was reason enough to listen more critically to the statements made by the speakers at the business forum. For instance, to Frans Vermast, Ambassador of Amsterdam Smart Cities and a world authority in this field. “Cities are ecosystems and not ego-systems” is one of his slogans. In his presentation at the congress he discussed a variety of successful and less successful experiments with ‘smart technology’.

Vermast is not afraid of sharing failures either. “This is the only way we will be able to share lessons learned and prevent other cities from making the same mistakes.”

Zeynep Sarilar, chairperson at Itea, the Eindhoven-based European innovation program for the software industry, is similarly down-to-earth. “We need innovative solutions that are driven by real problems. That is something you will only find out if you talk to people.” Sarilar advocates more cooperation between scientists and companies that develop technologies of this kind. She talks about global solutions which provide a better future for our children.

No Big Tech

Today’s speakers are certainly not the representatives from Big Tech. Instead, they work for municipalities, universities or more idealistic companies that are committed to sustainable development. There is a panel discussion on the question of who should be the owner of your data. This is topical, as cities are storing more and more data. Cooperation between The Netherlands and Scandinavian countries, as well as between The Netherlands and the US, is also high on the agenda.

“The important thing is that we all should try to find solutions for the future,” says Magnus Agerström, managing director of Cleantech Scandinavia, one of the organizers. “And there’s no point in all of us trying to find out everything. One country may be good at one thing and another may be good at something else. If we work together more closely, we will be able to accomplish global innovations.”

Smart Cities are where targets are brought together

Merei Wagenaar, deputy director of international entrepreneurship at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says things with a more business-like tone. “Our goal is to help Dutch companies do business abroad. We see it as a challenge that companies actually achieve the United Nations’ sustainable development targets. Many of these targets are brought together in Smart Cities. That’s why we think we should be here with lots of Dutch companies. That way, we can discuss what solutions are needed which will help municipalities achieve their targets. Not just in the Netherlands, but all over the world.”

The Dutch ambassador to Spain, Jan Versteeg, sums it up succinctly in a closing statement. “Over the next 30 years, more than 2.5 billion city dwellers will be added worldwide. So the world will look a bit more like The Netherlands. However, there will also be more problems like air pollution. What we need are innovative solutions in order to deal with these challenges.”

Not just with state funding

Would Rob Adams from Six Fingers have been satisfied with the presentations? In contrast to what he was concerned about, it was not solely about technology. Above all, it was about solving real problems for real people. Yet in the real world, problems also need to be financed. And this is unlikely to be possible with state funding alone. Data companies are also seeing their market grow due to the many interesting smart city projects that will emerge over the coming years.

That’s why deputy mayor Cathalijne Dortmans promised that Brainport Smart City District (the smartest district in the Netherlands, which is being built within her municipal borders) will be given a solid ethical committee. “And we expect and hope that this will keep us up to speed. It should only be the citizens themselves who decide what happens to their data.”

Sensors in your smartphone as an interactive story source

Data collection by our smartphones is not only valuable for advertisers. It can also be used to tell interactive stories, as ‘story designer’ Steye Hallema has discovered. A form of narration that fits in an era wherein our media consumption is becoming more personal than ever.

Social Sorting

Around a hundred people are able to participate simultaneously in the Social Sorting Experiment, an interactive performance that has meanwhile happened in several countries. The participants judge each other on the basis of various questions. Who has the most beautiful ears? Who would you give your kidney to? These ratings allow the public to have a wide range of sorting options. But in the meantime, the phones collect much more data via numerous sensors, which means that people suddenly know a lot about you in a way which is quite disconcerting. “Like the way you hold your phone, for example, says something about how at ease you feel,” Hallema explains.

This experiment stems from another concept devised by Hallema, notably the Smartphone Orchestra. Smartphone Orchestra. Groups of people together with their smartphones form an ‘orchestra’, which are able to subsequently give a concert. Previously, Hallema had primarily been experimenting with virtual reality, for example at the VPRO Medialab in Eindhoven. He made the world’s first 360-degree music video in 2009.

Key issue

The underlying theme behind the Social Sorting Experiment is how tech companies use our data. Hallema sees a major problem in this, because ‘it’s all actually just being stolen’. The artist even dares to say that it is one of the great issues of our time, along with climate change and migration. The experiment is attracting worldwide interest. Following its launch at the IDFA documentary film festival in Amsterdam last year, the experiment was recently presented in Korea, Singapore, Mexico and at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.

New narrative form

Hallema has a lot of ideas on how to use the technique. Ultimately, this should lead to the creation of a new interactive narrative form that fits in with the current media landscape. “Our media usage is becoming more and more personalized,” Hallema explains. ” Numerous algorithms slowly make us a protagonist within our own world. You used to turn on the radio; nowadays YouTube and Netflix offer personal recommendations.”

Cooperation with Fontys

In order to respond to this shifting media landscape, the Fontys School of Journalism in Tilburg has entered into a partnership with Hallema. In that way, students can become acquainted with experimental narratives. “More and more it is about creating a user experience using a holistic approach. Consequently, this way of thinking is also becoming more important for journalists.”

Soon the Social Sorting Project will take place at De Parade theater festival. Hallema also wants to see if the concept could ne developed into a game that people can play at home.

Tomorrow is good: Algorithms don’t discriminate

In recent weeks there has been a lot of attention in the news about the use of algorithms by the government to detect fraud and crime. Congratulations! I’d say we have a government that’s getting more efficient and moving with the times. It would be much more disturbing to learn that the government still does not use predictive algorithms.

Yet in the media, this issue was highlighted from an entirely different perspective. For instance, the Dutch news agency NOS published this article, which in English is titled : “Government uses algorithms on a large scale, ‘risk of discrimination’. This article went on to state that the use of predictive algorithms involves a high risk of discrimination. This article led to indignant reactions from readers, which made it clear that the discussion on the use of algorithms is to a large extent guided by emotions. In doing so, the fact that the title of the article is tendentious to say the least, but is also factually incorrect, seems to have been overlooked.

Better and faster than people

The literal meaning of the word discrimination is ‘the act of making a distinction’. And that’s exactly what an algorithm does. It classifies data on the basis of their relationships into characteristics. And it does that much better and faster than people are able to do. But if you take the literal meaning of the word discrimination as a starting point, the assertion that the use of predictive algorithms entails a high risk of discrimination is nonsensical. You would then have to state: ” Algorithms discriminate, that’s what they’re made for.”

Nevertheless, in a social context, discrimination stands for something quite different. This is about making illegal distinctions (on the basis of gender, religion, conviction, sexual orientation, etc.). And that’s exactly what an algorithm does not do. An algorithm always produces the same output with the same input. It is amoral and cannot therefore, by definition, make an illegal distinction. Popularly put; an algorithm is not subject to a night’s sleep deprivation or an unpleasant experience with the downstairs neighbor. Whereas people are. Still, the confusion is understandable. An algorithm is created – and learns – on the basis of data. And that is where the difficulty lies. Data is not free of human influence and can be ‘biased’ in many ways. It is therefore quite possible that there are aspects hidden in data that lead to discrimination.

Simple to detect

So just as discriminatory aspects may be hidden in the human process, they may also be hidden in data. The main difference, however, is that discrimination within the human process is very difficult to detect and correct, as we have learnt from history. Discrimination within data, on the other hand, turns out to be relatively easy to detect, and also much easier to correct. Algorithms are able to contribute to this.

That is why, on the basis of the social significance of the word discrimination, I would like to make the following point: Algorithms do not discriminate. Provided they are controlled by people, they can contribute to a society wherein everyone shall be treatedd equally on equal terms.

“All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or sex or on other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.” (Article 1, Dutch Constitution)


About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Eveline van Zeeland, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels, Maarten Steinbuch, Mary Fiers, Lucien Engelen, Peter de Kock, Tessie Hartjes and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous episodes.

Innovations inside the peloton: how an algorithm helps your betting pool win

In cycling, teams constantly try to outdo each other. Not only by using the most advanced equipment, but also by improving nutrition, training methods and in all kinds of other areas. That’s why Innovation Origins is looking for innovations inside the peloton in the run-up to the Tour de France. More stories on the Tour de France can be found here.

For many people, predicting the winner in a stage of the Tour is a way to make the long sit in front of the TV bearable. Who grabs the sprinter’s jersey? Do the climbers have a bit of power in their legs? And – perhaps most important of all – is your team’s front-runner in Paris wearing that prestigious yellow ? These questions reappear every year. The day before the tour you scour the internet looking for riders who might surprise you. And after a lot of deliberation, you yet again include the top favorites in your virtual cycling team.

But what f you were able to let a computer do all that work for you? Arjan Zoer developed a predictive algorithm which he uses to forecast race results. I fill in my betting pool choices together with him  – in the hope that these will end up on top this year.

Who is the best?

It started with the Cycling Manager game for Zoer, a simulation game that has a huge database with all the riders and their statistics. “The nice thing about this was that you could change the database. This led to discussions with fanatical players all over the world,” says Zoer. “The Spaniards thought Contador was the best climber, the Italians thought Nibali was and I, as a Dutchman, thought that Robert Gesink had a lot of potential. Then I thought: this all must be able to be calculated, right? I started to get results from different sites and by using a few mathematical tricks, I converted these into features of individual riders which you could use in the game.”

It doesn’t end there for Zoer either: “In any case, if I have these features and statistics of riders, I might as well look at real races in order to predict who is the most likely to get good results.” Where Zoer first only entered statistics, he has now updated the database with team tactics, the helpers, and has adjusted the calculations on time trials. “I’ve been working on this for five or six years, at least 30 hours a week every holiday. And at least one hour a day on weekdays. It’s a hobby that has gotten out of hand, but it energizes me. It gives me satisfaction to be on track as close as possible with my calculations. Luckily, I have a very lovely wife who gives me that space,” Zoer laughs on the phone.

Accounting for the field of competitors

When Zoer was just getting started, a fairly unknown name occasionally rolled out of the computer. Zoer solved this by not only entering the race results, but also taking into account the race profile and the number of participating cyclists at the start. “Two years ago there were sprinters in China who collected as many points as Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendisch. According to the model, then. However, Kittel and Cavendisch were unbeatable – certainly in that period. I make sure that the algorithm takes that into account now.”

In the first two weeks of the recent Giro d’Italia race, Zoer’s algorithm predicted three stage wins. “Though the winners were always in the top 5 that came out of the computer, so there is an upward trend in the predictions. That’s nice. But I did make a big mistake. Carapaz was fifteenth in the model – but he won.” Zoer explains that this is because Carapaz is still a young rider. Via the internet, Zoer set a group of volunteers to work who looked up results and statistics of youth competitions. “This allowed me to take into account at an early stage a young rider like Carapaz. This element was still slightly lacking in the model. Predicting youth games is completely different anyway, these games are much more erratic. After the Giro d’Italia, I reran the model constantly  with other correlations. Then I found out that if I give more weight to the results of the last three races, the results will be closer to reality.”

Zoer also predicts all the races in women’s cycling: “Actually, that’s much more fun. There are fewer statistics available and I know less about them myself. If the computer comes up with a correct prediction, I learn something new.”

“That’s the nice thing about it, for me it’s a big puzzle. I want to solve it, and I’m always looking for correlations. Look, if I predict a mass sprint and it turns out to be a breakaway, then so be it. But if the results for a mountain ride are completely different from what I predict, then it’s going to be a long night. I’ll go on until I find something and then I can really lose track of time,” admits Zoer. What has to be done differently? Why isn’t it right now? What should the model take into account? “I already had to archive my Excel files, because I had over a million rules. Now I have a million and a half records of just results. I’ve already got so much from the past six weeks – results, profiles, form. It just goes on and on.”

Geo-locations and weather conditions

But Zoer would still like to work with Strava, although not in order to get hold of the wattage results from professionals.  “As soon as I use those, no one will make them public anymore.” – No, Zoer wants to link this to weather conditions and air quality. “During this tour there are relatively many rides above 2000m. If I can automatically retrieve geo-locations and weather conditions via Strava, I will also be able to find correlations. Valverde is said to get worse when the air is thin. It would be nice to be able to make a statistic for that.”

Are teams able to still benefit from his algorithm? “Look at Moneyball, it also focuses purely on statistics. I’m now looking to make a database out of it that is able to be searched. But I’ve put so much work into it that I don’t really want to divulge everything about the algorithm. It seems like a great idea to have just a database where people themselves can specify what kind of rider they’re looking for, Moreover, it can also be of use to teams.”

A not-s0-surprising winner

And who should not be missing from the tour betting pool this year? “It’s very boring, but Geraint Thomas is going to win the Tour. And Kruijswijk will be third. But there are also surprises in it: Thibaut Pinot will be 25th according to the forecast. But he should be able to do much better. And I sincerely hope that Kruijswijk will win the tour too. It’s really not like I’m totally committed to the model. I don’t always agree with the computer.”

According to Zoer, these riders should not be missing in your betting pool:

1 Geraint Thomas
2. Nairo Quintana
3. Steven Kruijswijk
4. Romain Bardet
5. Adam Yates
6. Dan Martin

Schools of Journalism and ICT join forces in shaping a data-driven society


How can journalists and data scientists best shape the debate about a data-driven society? This question is central to a new research project by the Fontys Hogeschool Journalistiek (FHJ) in Tilburg and Fontys Hogeschool ICT (FHICT) in Eindhoven.

By bringing together different disciplines, the research group hopes to discover what education can offer society. The group, which is united under the slogan ‘smart louse in digital fur‘, includes Daniëlle Arets, FHJ innovation lecturer, Gerard Schouten, FHICT big data lecturer, and philosopher Leon Heuts.

Within the research group, there is the idea that the ethical issues in the development towards a data-driven society are insufficiently addressed and too often fall into black-and-white thinking. “We have to look for much more nuance in this story”, says Arets. By studying how the debate is currently being conducted, it should become clear where the opportunities lie. The ambition is to make journalism students and aspiring data scientists more digital and ethical savvy by offering them both a theoretical framework and practical tools. Arets talks about ‘creating a new journalistic blood group’. “I think it would be nice if Fontys were to lead that development”, she adds.

Schouten also emphasises the added value of ICT training. “We now make software that makes decisions, but doesn’t care about ethics.” Schouten also states that we are at a turning point. “The limitations of a purely data-driven approach are becoming increasingly clear and we are reaching a limit there. From a social perspective, there is an increasing need for a new generation of predictive models based on causality principles. In short: models that are explainable, transparent, fair and even socially-aware.” The lecturer is pleased with the multidisciplinary approach of the project. “Because surprising combinations often result in surprising breakthroughs.”

The research consists of three case studies. First, the collaboration between the municipality of Tilburg and Huawei, which together develop a smart city policy, is examined. The Stratumseind (living lab) in Eindhoven is also being examined. Finally, attention will be focused on the Brandevoort district in Helmond, which will be enlarged as Brainport smart district. In exchange for giving up personal data, residents can get a discount on the rent in this neighbourhood.

The research is part of TEC for Society, a new strategy launched by Fontys at the beginning of this year. TEC stands for Technology, Entrepreneurship and Creativity; with this initiative, the educational institute hopes to respond to the growing social demand for more enterprising and curious students and professionals. The focus of this research is now on ICT and journalism students, but at a later stage, it could be extended to Fontys students in general.

New mobile app fends off espionage attacks


As mobile phone users, we are all subject to espionage on a daily basis. We know that. And, with every app we download and use – no matter which one – we explicitly give our consent to this espionage. Whether they’re messengers, games, fitness trainers or the pre-installed health app, they cost nothing. That’s what we think. They “only” cost our data and these are worth cash money for the app and advertising network operators. They know about our whereabouts, preferences for music and films, the shops we visit and what we buy, with whom we chat or phone and for how long. There are hardly any limits to the information about ourselves that we give away voluntarily.

© Rahul Chakraborty on Unsplash

So far, if you didn’t want all this and wanted to protect your privacy, there was only one way: to stay away from the digital world to a large extent. Now, innovative technology from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the FZI Research Center for Computer Science can put an end to espionage on our cell phones. Commissioned by the Baden-Württemberg Foundation, researchers have developed an app that protects personal data better while still allowing the unrestricted use of popular but information-hungry applications.

All in one

Many apps only work if you give your consent to everything that the operators want to know, for others, one had to set the permissions individually for each app. Now, the desired settings are possible for all applications with just a few clicks. With one single app. AVARE can be installed on Android devices like an app. It then generates a closed area into which other apps can be packed and which then controls the entire communication between these apps and the operating system.

“We were looking for a way that would allow us to use all applications without restrictions and still have control over our personal data,” says Dr. Gunther Schiefer, head of the Mobile Business working group at the Institute for Applied Informatics and Formal Description Methods (AIFB) at KIT.

For example, it is possible to give apps wrapped in AVARE access to the contacts in the address book, but not to all of the stored information. The phone owner can share only specific contacts and restrict this information to mobile phone numbers, first and last names, for example. “Address or date of birth are not necessary for a chat,” says Schiefer.

© henry perks on Unsplash

Inaccurate and false data to app operators

In addition, AVARE can extend the location information to a radius of several kilometers and disguise the exact location. Thus, a weather app can continue to provide reliable forecasts without knowing the exact location of the user.

And, in the future, AVARE wants to go even further with apps that do not work at all without general access rights. “Then we will import false data, which are recognizable as such. The microphone interface will get a static noise, the camera a black picture or a cloud image, the address book the emergency numbers of the fire brigade and roadside assistance.”

The AVARE code is available as open source software on the AVARE website and the scientists hope that their program will be taken up by other developers who will help to extend the current beta version to a version 1.0.

The AVARE project is commissioned by the Baden-Württemberg Foundation ( as part of the ICT Security research program. Also involved are the Institute of Applied Computer Science and Formal Description Methods, the Center for Applied Law of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the FZI Research Center for Computer Science.

Green Tech DB: Visualising sustainable innovation

In today’s world, to make reference to an environmentally friendly lifestyle, the word ‘Green’ has become part of our everyday lexicon. We are surrounded by discussions about how to be more ecologically responsible and we are easily exposed to lists such as ‘the ‘greener’ countries in the world’.  However, researchers from INGENIO, a joint research centre of the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the National Research Council (CSIC) of Spain, have noticed that when it comes to the development of green technologies there is a lack of information.

With the initiative to solve this lack of information, the ‘Green Tech DB’ has been launched. The website is based on a cross-domain database and it aims to provide and visualise empirical evidence about the distribution and the evolution of green technologies. “We noticed a lack of systematic information about the development of green technologies over time and across domains of knowledge and across space. Some specific green technologies (in particular energy) have been studied but to the best of our knowledge no cross-domain dataset, and consequently no large-scale studies, are available. This website and the database behind it seeks to offer a comprehensive overview of the development of green technologies,” notes researcher François Perruchas. GreenTech DB is the direct result of Perruchas’ PhD research at INGENIO, with the collaboration of Nicolò Barbieri and Davide Consoli.

The tool not only helps visualise green tech developments by country but it also provides a methodology to measure the maturity of technologies along their life cycle. “We hope this information will contribute to the current debate about the transition toward sustainable economies, at least for what green technologies are concerned. The key issue about learning the life cycles is that of identifying and avoiding temporal mismatches – e.g. technologies may be not yet mature when needed (e.g. GHG sequestration), or one component of the “technological ecosystem” may be not mature (e.g. electric vehicles / enabling tech. in transport and in energy). These mismatches are very common in technology development, and represent substantial bottlenecks.”

To look at the methodology by which the life cycle of technologies is measured visit Green Tech DB.

“Patents have been used for a long time in the scientific literature as a proxy to estimate technology development.”

Patents and Green Tech development

Green Tech DB uses patents in order to provide a database that offers a comprehensive overview of the developments of Green Technologies worldwide.

Researches use the PATSTAT 2016a database as their patent source; which is produced by the European Patent Office (EPO). “The main advantage of using PATSTAT, a database produced by the European Patent Office, is to have information about patent applications that covers more than 80 different countries. As a patent is a legal object, information available in different patent databases is similar, what differs is the coverage across time and countries, and PATSTAT has one of the best coverage.”

There are some limitations to using patents for tracking green technology development. “One limitation which is common to all patent databases is the time needed to process and collect patent applications, which can be up to 6 years (that is why the last year available on the website is 2010).” Furthermore; “The usual criticism, that not all inventions are patented, the patent number depends on firms’ strategies and the composition of economic tissue (SMEs tend to patent less than big corporate groups), is valid. At the same time, we believe that no indicator taken in isolation can be useful, and it will always need to be validated and enriched by other indicators. We also think that long time series on patents, with detailed information on their domain and geographical distribution of inventive efforts, offer valuable insights into the development of technology.”

Once the patent information is accessed it is then assigned to a specific region by geocalising the inventors’ addresses, and to a specific ‘green’ domain (wind energy, renewable energy, et cetera). The results show how Asia leads the field of green tech developments with China and Japan showing the most growth in patents from 1971 to 2010. As a result of this, Japan and China are the greenest countries in the Green Tech DB visualisation tool.


® Green Tech DB


Invention vs. Use

While looking at the GreenTech DB visualisation tool it is important to keep in mind that the website provides a look to the invention of green technologies rather than the use of them. In addition, the environmental-friendly behaviour of the inhabitants of the country is also not taken into account. As a result, the greenest country in the GreenTech DB is not necessarily the greenest country is practice. “For example, very few patent applications have been invented by people located in Africa (which is almost grey in the map), but the ecological footprint of an African is still much smaller than that of a resident in North America”

Relevance and future

The importance of tracking the development of the technology that makes possible a more sustainable planet goes beyond mere access to the knowledge. “We aimed at a platform that is as friendly as possible to academics, policy makers, tech businesses and also the general public, even if each of these users might be driven by different interests. For academics, we hope it will alert their attention to the themes commented above, but also encourage collegiality. We would be glad to establish new collaborative ventures, in particular on further developments concerning skills distribution, regional capabilities, and policy domains. This tool can hopefully be useful also to tech businesses with an interest in understanding where and when technology development takes place, and to know the degree of maturity, and therefore of opportunity available, in each technological domain. Finally, we hope to contribute to the broader debate in the society about containing [greenhouse gas] emissions and environmental pollution through technology.”

Researches aim to keep working on the database and make it more detailed and updated to more recent years; always keeping in mind the necessary time that EPO needs for the data collection of patents. This, in particular, is something that INGENIO is very excited about “For INGENIO, it is important to support all initiatives that are aligned with its values and respond to its objective of generating relevant knowledge and research, in order to respond to the challenges facing society. We are pleased to know that the website will continue to be developed, to be scalable and that the next step will be focused on proposing more detailed geographical levels (European
regions for example) and on updating the data until more recent years, taking into account the time required for data collection by the European Patent Office. Therefore, the dimension of the contribution generated by “Green Tech DB” will become even more important than the one it has now,” commented Alejandra Boni, deputy director of INGENIO in Spain.

German regulator wants to limit Facebook’s data hunger

Facebook datahonger

Facebook may no longer link user data from Whatsapp, Instagram or other websites to user accounts, concludes the German antitrust agency, the Bundeskartellamt after an investigation of almost three years.

According to the German regulator, Facebook abuses its dominant position by the scale on which it collects, combines and processes user data. This enables Facebook to build up a separate database for each individual user. The company may no longer link this data to a user account without the user’s consent. According to the Bundeskartellamt, consumers are forced to agree to the company’s terms of use. From now on, the refusal of these terms and conditions should not have any negative consequences. If Facebook does not take this decision into account, it can be fined considerably.

Can Facebook do anything with this data? Read more here: Privacy (be)leidt: How is your data protected?

Facebook not only collects data in the form of reactions and likes on its own platform but also collects data about users when they are not on Facebook. Via the ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons that you often see on other websites, the tech giant gathers all sort of information such as IP addresses, surfing behaviour and device data from visitors in order to be able to link this to a specific user, even when they are not logged in to the platform. In this way, Facebook can sell targeted ads, with the processed data they estimate what someone likes to do in their free time for example. This all happens without the user knowing about it or giving permission for it. The German watchdog wants to change this. Without permission, Facebook is no longer allowed to follow internet users on such a large scale.

What about this targeted advertising? Affection? Manipulation or just smart marketing

Facebook states in a statement that it does not agree with the decision of the German regulator and says it does not have a dominant position. Facebook claims to have to deal with ‘fierce’ competition from Youtube, Snapchat, Twitter and others. 40 per cent of the Germans do not use the platform.

In a written response, the Dutch Consumer and Market Authority indicates that it wants to discuss this ruling further in a European context: “Facebook is active all over Europe and the way in which the platform will adjust its terms of use may also have consequences for Dutch consumers”.

Although this ruling does not directly relate to the privacy of Dutch users, the Dutch Personal Data Authority does follow this case. “It is a topical discussion that is taking place throughout the European Union. From above, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) is on top of this. This is about a competition complaint and not about the privacy that has been violated. If that is the case, Facebook users can file a complaint”, says Martijn Pols of the Personal Data Authority.

The GDPR in action, how are your data protected?

Anywhere around us, data is being collected. Everything we do is recorded. Think of internet traffic, but also the traffic on the road, the pedometer on your phone or even the heating in the house. All these devices record a part of your daily life in data.

There are so many interesting stories hidden in those large number series. Many organisations such as the municipality, but also the business community, collect data about people for certain services or product development. But is that allowed just like that? And how do they deal with all this (personal) data? Of course, it is not the intention that all your data is just on the street. The rules on this are largely laid down in the General Data Protection Ordinance (GDPR).

The new law is a comprehensive document. But what does it actually mean to you? In this article, you will read five questions and answers about it.

What is privacy and what are personal data?

Privacy is the personal freedom that distinguishes and protects ourselves and our actions, characteristics and information from others. It can be one person or a group of people, for example, a family. This is often linked to the need for people to decide for themselves with whom they share information, and so privacy is linked to freedom.

Personal data are the tangible data that are often involved when we talk about privacy. Personal data is all information about an identified or identifiable natural person. It can be information that is directly about someone or information that can be traced back to one person. There is a difference between ordinary and special personal data. Personal data are, for example, your name, date of birth and address. Special personal data are often more sensitive, think of race and religion or information about someone’s health.

What is the role of the GDPR in this?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the European legislation to protect personal data. This states what responsibility governments, organisations and companies have with regard to personal data. This law also states what rights citizens have with regard to their personal data. The Personal Data Authority supervises compliance with this Act.

The GDPR contains six principles for the processing of personal data. An organisation may only process personal data if there is at least one basis for doing so. These principles are

  • Consent of the concerned person;
  • The data processing is necessary for the execution of an agreement;
  • The data processing is necessary for the fulfilment of a legal obligation;
  • The data processing is necessary for the protection of vital interests;
  • The processing of data is necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority;
  • The data processing is necessary for the protection of legitimate interests.

When processing personal data, an organization is responsible for the data it processes. It must ensure that these data are processed and used properly and that they are also stored securely.

In addition to the rights and obligations of data processing organisations, citizens also have rights with regard to their personal data. For example, they have the right to inspect, correct and/or delete their personal data at a particular organisation.

Processing of personal data
Not every organization that is allowed to process personal data does so all by itself. Sometimes it is outsourced to a third party, for example, an administration office. According to the GDPR, clear agreements must be made about this in the form of a processing agreement. There are two roles when it comes to the processing of personal data: the processing controller and the processor. The data controller is the organization that collects and may process personal data. The processor is the party that actually processes the data. A processor agreement contains the responsibilities of the controller and the tasks of the processor. Ultimately, the controller always remains responsible for the personal data and the processing thereof.

Such a processor agreement states, among other things:

  • what processing is involved;
  • which personal data the organisation processes in this respect;
  • for what purpose the organization does this;
  • how the organization does this.

To make it more concrete, we look at how a municipality like Eindhoven handles the processing of personal data. In Innovation Origins’ reports, they are therefore often a source or clearer of the figures used. Mariëlle van den Bos, a data protection officer at the municipality of Eindhoven, explains how the municipality handles processing agreements. “It may be that the municipality deposits the processing with another party, but it does determine the purpose and means of such processing.” For example, the municipality has such a processing agreement with the Wij Eindhoven foundation, which provides benefits. “I don’t think the resident will notice much of this. As a municipality, we remain responsible and have laid down all the guarantees in the processing agreement.”

What are the obligations of the municipality?

“As a municipality, we have a lot to do with personal data. We have to deal with them properly and carefully,” explains Van den Bos. It is an internal supervisor and therefore has a lot to do with the external supervisor, the Personal Data Authority. The municipality keeps a register stating which personal data are processed and for what purpose. It also checks whether this basis corresponds with the requirements of the GDPR.

Van den Bos: “The processing of personal data is very broad. It can be data that the municipality gives to another person, but it can also be copying or providing data. The municipality examines whether there is a high privacy risk associated with each processing operation. If this is the case, it performs a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA). “At such a PIA we look at what exactly we do as a municipality and what the purpose is. It is very important to see whether we really need all the data we request for certain processing”, explains Van den Bos. “In addition, we assess the risks for those involved, for us these are often the inhabitants. If there are any, we look at measures to tackle those risks.”

How does the municipality deal with this?

The municipality is only responsible for the data that it collects itself and not for the data that are further collected in the city. “But of course we do have a responsibility towards our citizens with regard to the design of the (digital) public space”, says Olga Bondarenko, strategic advisor to the municipality of Eindhoven. “For example, we cannot force a party to report to us if they measure something in the city. But we have included in our policy that we deem privacy to be very important and that we want companies and organizations within the municipality to comply with the rules. Part of this is that we want to make the data that is collected in the city available to residents and other parties to make use of it.”

The sensor register is an example in which the municipality works together with various parties that collect data in order to make it clear to citizens where the sensors that collect data are located. In this way, citizens also know where they need to be if they want to know something about the equipment or the data they collect. Bondarenko: “Locally, we still have too few means to enforce that transparency in the public space is also increased in the digital field.” The municipality is working with the Association of Dutch Municipalities and the Ministry of the Interior to change this.

Smart Society
At the beginning of 2018, the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG) called on their members ‘to actively participate in the activities of the Smart Society knowledge network and to participate in the process of further developing the principles’. The principles of the Smart Society were set up by the municipalities of Eindhoven and Amsterdam. These four principles include the goals of digital infrastructure, the role of the government and the openness of data. This is, therefore, a starting point for municipalities. “We hope that initiatives of this kind, and perhaps even legislation, in the long run, will be rolled out further and further to ensure transparency in the field of data in the public space,” says Bondarenko.

According to Bondarenko, this is not always only about data where the privacy of residents is at risk. “It is much broader than just personal data. Because perhaps the data cannot be traced back to a person, but perhaps as a resident, you still want to know what happens to that data. The public space belongs to everyone and I think you just want to be in control as a resident.”

Still, according to her, there is another side, namely that of companies. “They can often make great use this data, for example for event management, crowd control and security in the public space. This can also be relevant for the residents because it increases their safety on the street. So you can also ask yourself what it is like when data is collected. As long as it is handled with care, of course,” explains Bondarenko. “In addition, companies use data to innovate and develop products, so as a government we do not want to hinder innovation either. That is why I think that the inhabitants must find a balance between ‘I don’t want to be measured’ and ‘I want to live in a safe city’. That is a balance that we should discuss with each other.”

What can you do yourself?

“The government’s entire digitisation agenda is also often about awareness and knowledge. Do you know what happens to your data and can you decide for yourself?” says Bondarenko. Van den Bos complements: “A resident simply has far more rights and possibilities than he or she knows or thinks. People do have control over the data that is held by an organisation. In addition, these organisations are also becoming increasingly aware of privacy and its importance.”

According to Bondarenko, it ultimately comes down to trust. “As a citizen, you must have the confidence that your data will not be abused. According to her, the municipality must also contribute to this: “It is an emotion. As a municipality, we can legally account for everything, but for residents, it is just feeling. So even if you, as a municipality, meet the legal standards, you still have to talk to each other about ethics, emotion and feeling about data collection and privacy.” If everything is well organised and feels good for the residents, Bondarenko believes there are certainly opportunities and possibilities with data for the future.

Tomorrow is Good: Nothing to Hide

apple carplay

You can hear many people say it when it comes to privacy: “I allow them to know everything, I have nothing to hide”. I’m waiting for a TV format where we’ll first screen the people who think like this and then confront them with a guaranteed long list of things that should have been hidden. Better for themselves, but also for society. And in the unlikely case that there would be someone who really has nothing to hide, I don’t need to know him or her, as I don’t expect much to learn or enjoy. If there is no privacy, there is no room for sin. That would really be regrettable.

In mobility, this phenomenon will become even more important than it already is, because cars measure and know more and more through all their sensors and cameras. This technology is primarily used to make driving safer and more comfortable but has a very large bycatch as well, full of privacy-sensitive information. About the behaviour of the driver, but also about everything and everyone around the car. If, for example, you would have access to the data of a few percents of the cars driving around, you could already make a live version of Google Streetview. You could see how busy it is in shops, make the best rain radar, look back at who committed a robbery yesterday, and you could check if you would accidentally have left your front door open. But so could someone else and there you see the privacy issue coming in already.

“If there’s no privacy, there’s no room for sin. That would really be regrettable.”

That kind of data can become very valuable. Maybe even more than what it costs to drive a car. It would open doors to pay for driving with your privacy, exactly as how you pay for all those great services from the Googles and Facebooks now. The value of the car data is also the reason why Google and Apple have been so active with autonomous cars in recent years, those are the Trojan horses for the data hunters. (recently with quite some strong headwind, as it turns out here and here).

But even if they don’t succeed with their own cars, Google and Apple will still try to get access to the wealth of data from vehicles, for example via their platforms Android Auto and Apple Carplay. But they are not the only ones lurking. Car manufacturers, importers, dealers, leasing companies, garages, insurance companies, the car drivers’ association, they all want to know what the car knows. In fact, without that data, there will be no automotive business.

“There’s plenty to earn as long as you respect that people have a lot to hide.”

The determining factor in that game is privacy and the winner is who plays the data game best. Because although the legislation may be a bit complex about who owns the data, what is clear is that the driver can determine what may and may not be done with his or her data. At this moment, all this is taken care of with a long list of conditions on which everyone blindly presses “okay”, but in the future, this will be regulated much more explicitly.

This offers opportunities for parties we trust more than average, such as that friendly automobile club (as ANWB in the Netherlands) or your local dealer. Because they, too, have to look diligently for new sources of turnover when we all are to drive in as good-as-maintenance-free electric cars. Instead of being able to adjust the engine valves and replace exhausts very well, they need to start offering their customers the best thinkable services. A sports car for a weekend, a software update to get a new dashboard design, a car to set up a taxi service by volunteers to keep the village connected, a shared car for general use of those few people who only drive a few times a month. All based on the data they can get from their customers’ vehicles, so they know exactly what you would want and need. And especially because you trust them to correctly forget what they don’t need to know about you as a customer, they can offer all this. In fact, it’s like this for every industry. Yes, there is still plenty to earn for those who respect the fact that people have a lot to hide.

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Maarten Steinbuch, Mary Fiers, Carlo van de Weijer, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. The six columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So that tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous episodes.

Brainport Industries Campus starts a Fieldlab for safe use of data

Arnold Stokking

At the Brainport Industries Campus (BIC), as part of the Smart Industry campaign, a field lab has been set up to develop a secure environment for business-sensitive data such as product drawings. This Smart Connected Suppliers Network is led by Brainport Industries.

This field lab builds on the German founded initiative International Data Space (IDS), led by the German research institute Fraunhofer. TNO, the Dutch counterpart of Fraunhofer, focuses on defining the architecture and standardization. “The initiative fits perfectly with the European idea of free movement of people, goods and services”, says TNO’s Managing Director Industry Arnold Stokking in his column for Innovation Origins. “We are now adding to these European values the free movement of data, but securely and without losing sovereignty. The latter means that the person generating the data always remains the owner. The EU also has a nice geographical size to use this method, after all, there are a lot of supplies moving between the member states.”

The system will have an open character and can ‘plug in’ with various software platforms and, where necessary, with large cloud solutions. Stokking: “It is not conceivable to start all over again in ICT. And it is not difficult to realise that this method of working can also be useful in other areas of application, such as healthcare and patient records, for example. In my opinion, countless parties can benefit greatly from this project, but we can also learn from other sectors.” According to Stokking, this puts the field lab at the forefront in Europe. “This also shows that within Brainport Eindhoven we are working on groundbreaking and innovative solutions in a future-proof manner.”

IDS ultimately wants to strengthen supply chains through positive use of data. “We need to gain a competitive advantage with it. Data communication is so incredibly important because it lies at the basis of many developments of the digital revolution. If we do not make good data exchange possible, we also limit the opportunities for other important developments such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

[BRAINPORT COLUMN] The new gold is in the cloud


‘Precisely because things are going so well in Brainport Eindhoven, it is important to link the power of today to the challenges of tomorrow’. Arnold Stokking, Managing Director Industry at TNO and initiator of the future exploration of Brainport Eindhoven; where are the opportunities for the region when it comes to innovation and new business models in 2038? In this biweekly column, Stokking and those directly involved explain the important aspects from this future exploration. Here are the previously published Brainport columns.

Data is the new gold, it is said. But then the ownership of that data must remain with the rightful person or organization. And that’s the problem nowadays because the feeling of losing control of your own data is increasing. So much data is in the cloud; is it safe, who looks after it and who earns money with knowledge about you? Not only a pressing issue for each of us as individuals, but also for the (regional) business community.

“A kind of smart socket on which everyone has their own storage space and to which a smart set of agreements applies”

Data management is, therefore, one of the most important issues within the future exploration of Brainport Eindhoven. A strong aspect of our high-tech region is the chain in which OEMs and suppliers, mainly SMEs, work closely together. And within such a chain, a lot of data is exchanged; after all, a supplier must know exactly how its customer’s products work in order to make the right components for it. Really business-sensitive information. What we need for this is a digital environment where multiple players can plug into the same network without disclosing their data to each other. A kind of smart socket on which each has its own storage space and for which a smart set of agreements applies.

At the Brainport Industries Campus (BIC), as part of the Smart Industry campaign, a field lab has been set up to develop a secure environment consisting of distributed storage and to use it for business-sensitive information such as product drawings: the Smart Connected Suppliers Network led by Brainport Industries. This field lab builds on the German-based International Data Space (IDS) initiative, led by TNO’s German sister institute, Fraunhofer. TNO has directly joined this initiative and participates in defining the architecture and standardization. The initiative fits in perfectly with the European idea of free movement of people, goods and services. We are now adding to these European values the free movement of data, but securely and with sovereignty intact. The latter means that the person generating the data will always remain the owner. The EU also has a nice geographical size to use this method of working; after all, there is a great deal of commerce between the member states.

The system has an open character and can ‘plug in’ with various software platforms and, where necessary, with large cloud solutions. After all, it is not conceivable to start all over again in ICT. And it is not difficult to imagine that this method of working can also be useful in entirely different areas of application, such as healthcare and patient records, for example. In my opinion, countless parties can benefit greatly from this project, but we can also learn from other sectors. With this, the field lab Smart Connected Suppliers Network is leading the way in Europe. This also shows that within Brainport Eindhoven we are working on groundbreaking and innovative solutions in a future-proof manner.

“A safe infrastructure for data traffic is just as important as the roads we drive on”

The large ICT companies from the US and China have given us the feeling that we are losing control over our own data. They also earn money with data that is currently not or poorly protected. That is why the IDS initiative is so important in the positive use of data, and to strengthen our supply chains instead of threatening them. On the contrary, we need to gain a competitive advantage with it. Data communication is so incredibly important because it underlies many developments of the digital revolution. If we don’t enable good data exchange, we also limit the opportunities for other important developments such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. All these new developments also require communication, and the results have a value that must be shared in a secure manner. That is why it is necessary for us to develop a secure infrastructure for data traffic. This is just as important as the roads we drive on. And we have been able to make universal agreements about the use of these roads, haven’t we?

Stratumseind: Eindhoven’s data street

Tinus Kanters

Eindhoven wants to become a smart society. But how does that work? What’s going on in a society like that? Are there any good examples to learn from? DataStudio Eindhoven explores the transition a city has to go through to actually become such a smart society. Each week, we present a new contribution on E52. This week: Richard Ponjee about Citybeacons. Read all the articles here.

From his control room in brasserie De Oude Rechtbank, Tinus Kanters oversees his domain. Looking outside through the window, he sees Stratumseind, the pub street of Eindhoven. Inside he sees a wall full of screens and computers. Data is thus collected. A lot of data.

Kanters is the project leader of the Living Lab at Stratumseind. “The lab is part of the Stratumseind 2.0 project, which started a few years ago”, he says. “We noticed at the time that there was a lot of decay.” Fewer and fewer people wanted to come to the pub street. A consequence of all too many stories about aggressiveness on the street.

The municipality decided to intervene. It sought contact with bar-owners, police, local residents, and breweries. One central question was: how can we keep things going here?

The answer was a living lab for crowd control, looking over large groups of people. The street is now full of high-tech material for collecting data. There are five telephoto cameras, as many sound meters and 22 LED lamp posts that can influence the mood of the audience with their light. There is even a small weather station.

All these devices collect data. They measure visitor numbers, where visitors come from and go to, the effect of light and different kinds of sound. “The sound cameras – from the Eindhoven startup Sorama – are now so advanced that they know the difference between a gunshot, fireworks and breaking glass”, says Kanters. “The more data we have, the more precise we can make the software, the more accurate it is.” That software is now so precise that Kanters and the police are ready to test applications in real life.

Already now, the police can control the brightness of all the lights in the street. In this way, they can easily identify possible troublemakers. This autumn, two police officers received an application on their phone. If the smart sound meters in the street predict an imminent fight, the agents will be notified automatically. “They are going to run for me”, Kanters laughs.

Because no matter how clever the cameras are, they are still far from being perfect. “The system recognizes certain characteristics of loud and high noise associated with aggression”, says Kanters. “But that same sound is also part of a very enthusiastic bachelor party.” A new test is designed to ensure that the sound cameras also get that distinction.

The project is now entering its final phase. The time of data collection and writing algorithms slowly passes into the period of actual use. Yet Kanters is not satisfied. Not by a long way yet. “Most of the bar owners now know that we are here”, the project leader is humming. “They especially like the fact that they can turn on and off the lights on the street.” According to him, they underestimate the potential of data: “I have demographic information, I can make relationships between temperature and visitor numbers. All this is concrete and valuable information. But nobody makes use of it.”

According to Kanters, the visitors are ignorant as well. “I think that almost no one has any idea at all. They don’t know what we are doing here.” That frustrates him. How do I show all those people the importance and possibilities of data?”

According to Kanters, Eindhoven still has to change from a Smart City to a Smart Society, a community that is actively shaped by the inhabitants themselves, using big data. “Technology should not be central”, he says. “Questions from citizens and their own ability to resolve them must be at stake. Technology and data are only supporting.”

According to the project leader, this is his biggest challenge for the coming years. Another challenge lies in the area of privacy. How can the Living Lab continue to collect data and at the same time guarantee the privacy of pub visitors? According to Kanters, it is not only a challenge, it is also a potential pitfall. “I think that over the next few years there will be an enormous debate about privacy and security”, says Kanters. “Now many people say: ‘I have nothing to hide’, so the government can know everything about me. Especially if this prevents bomb attacks. Not a strange thought, but perhaps short-sighted”, he thinks. “People need to think more actively about what data they share and why. The Living Lab can also be a test environment for this.”

But then visitors need to know what is happening here. According to Kanters, this cannot be shared often enough. “We are doing quite well in Eindhoven. But we should shout it out a lot more.”

Smart Cities and the legibility of Data (2)

Urban Innovation Toolkit

Eindhoven wants to become a smart society. But how does that work? What’s going on in a society like that? Are there any good examples to learn from? DataStudio Eindhoven explores the transition a city has to go through to actually become such a smart society. Each week, we present a new contribution on E52. This week: Readability of data, part 2. Read all the articles in this series here.

Last week we discussed the examples of “misleading data practices”. This week: how it should be done.

How does it work?
The questions that need to be asked first are: how will data help you (as an individual or collective) in making a decision? Is data needed to make that decision? And how should that data be presented to make choices possible? Usman Haque develops design tactics to give these questions a meaning. A few examples are given:

A direct answer to the demand for legibility – or readability – of data is provided by Thingful, an open data platform and search engine for data streams produced by so-called connected objects which the Internet of Things consists of. Thingful enables users to search, view, organize and respond to real-time data without the intervention of a central managing agent. Providers can determine how their sensor data is found. Thingful increases the legibility, accessibility, and usability of data streams that cannot be found or used otherwise.

The choices of users as starting point
Thingful democratizes data availability, but it is not yet an answer to the question of whether data helps in making decisions. Examples also include Cinder, a mixed-reality interface for a Building Management System, and Starling Crossing, a responsive intersection that adapts its configuration to the nature of the error participants present.

Cinder has the shape of a virtual cat, whose well-being runs parallel to climate control and the state of the sustainability systems at Trumpington Community College in Cambridge, UK. Cinder is a partly interactive mascot, partly avatar in front of the building and reacts in real time to sensors in the environment and to the people present. People can play with Cinder in the building’s atrium, where she appears on a large augmented reality mirror. If the solar cells emit more energy on the roof, she is more playful than when it is heavily cloudy. If too many doors and windows are left open, resulting in too much energy being lost, she behaves differently than if everything is OK. For the students of Trumpington College, Cinder leads to a great sense of shared ownership and responsibility. Cinder’s behaviour also directly shows the impact of their own actions.

Starling Crossing

Starling Crossing uses cameras to monitor the use of a crossroads and adjusts the familiar stripes and signs on the road using a large number of LEDs incorporated into the surface of the road, giving priority to pedestrians’ and cyclists’ safety. In the presence of a large number of pedestrians, a wide zebra crossing is projected at the safest point for crossing. If a pedestrian suddenly crosses in the blind spot of a car, the LEDs light up in a pattern warning the car; in wet weather or fog, buffer zones are projected around the pedestrian crossing. In the long term, the system learns the preferences of pedestrians, but always crosses them diagonally at the metro exit, and is becoming increasingly better at creating the optimum situation for pedestrians.

The system does not tell pedestrians what to do, it is the other way round: pedestrian decisions are used here as a starting point for data analysis, on the basis of which direct intervention in traffic situations is carried out.

The Urban Innovation Toolkit
In order to arrive at these designs, Umbrellium uses their Urban Innovation Toolkit – a method to develop urban technology projects with groups of users. The discussion that followed the story of Usman Haque was based on the questions raised by the toolkit.

The reason for developing the toolkit was a number of recurring issues, which Umbrellium recognized from the development of urban technology projects. Issues that followers of the DATA studio will also appear very well known:

Urban technology projects often start from the possibilities of technology, or from the conditions for a subsidy application for research, rather than from an urban question or problem. Many projects forget to involve certain key stakeholders in the project in the conversation; forget to focus on a specific, named impact, and do not evaluate. The toolkit was developed to learn to avoid these issues and in fact, consists of the structure for a number of conversations that should precede any data collection.

– What problem do you actually have to deal with?
– What impact would you like to have?
– How do you measure this impact?
– What decisions can be made and who are the ones who can make them?

Involve all stakeholders
Each question is discussed with as many stakeholders as possible, and each meeting ends with the question of which stakeholder is not yet represented, whereby people are invited to the next meeting.

Sufficient iteration, but not too often
Sufficient iteration turns out to be crucial. In practice, five rounds usually yield the best results. Each follow-up interview then takes the results of the previous conversation as the starting point. Every iteration comes down to a re-framing: what is the question behind the answer we formulated last time? In this way, other stakeholders can also come into play. The moment to stop iteration is determined by the coming together of the ambition around demand and the capacity to turn the ideas into action.

Collecting data is always political
The demand for impact comes down to a collective exercise in meaningfulness. What impact determines whether the project is effective and sufficiently successful? How do you measure this impact? Empirical data, derived from stakeholders’ experience, prove to be more decisive than objective data. Data can support stories about experiences, but it is essential that all those involved understand that stakeholders’ experience ultimately determines what the impact is – whatever the sensors may say.
In other words, the collection of data is inherently a political process. Politics precedes data collection and plays an emphatic role in the presentation of data. Collecting data is useful and increases the quality of a project, but only if it makes participants or stakeholders subject, observer, rather than object to be read out. If those involved have a better understanding of the possible relationships between data and politics, this gives them a better focus on what should be done in a project. Citizens must have an active role in collecting and presenting data, being aware that these are all political (and therefore not ‘purely scientific’) processes.

Modulation & the sweet spot
It is precisely this political dimension and the carefulness required to arrive at a concrete perspective of action with the toolkit that demands that the conversations are well moderated by someone who is not a stakeholder in the problem. An important task of the moderator is to keep an eye on the sweet spot, the best possible link between what the nature of the problem is and which action can actually be shaped in the project. The ‘sweet spot’ is always very well situated: it concerns this place and time, with these stakeholders, but the toolkit can work on all scales, from the scale of the city, with major stakeholders such as the municipality, construction and technology companies, and of course residents, to the scale of the intersection or the park, with mainly local stakeholders, and once again natural residents.

A City As Smart As Its Citizens: Data-empowerment, Part 2

city beacon

Eindhoven wants to become a smart society. But how does that work? What’s going on in a society like that? Are there any good examples to learn from? DataStudio Eindhoven explores the transition a city has to go through to actually become such a smart society. Each week, we present a new contribution on E52. This week: A look back at Dutch Design Week. Read all the articles in this series here.

On October 24th during the Dutch Design Week, as part of the World Design Event, DATA Studio Eindhoven realized the exhibition Embassy of Data. Part of the accompanying programme was the international conference A City As Smart As Its Citizens. With this, the DATA studio wanted to highlight both the findings of its programmes and a realistic perspective on the development of the ‘smart society’ in the city. Part 1 of this article dealt with Maya Indira Ganesh’s lecture on data empowerment.

The lectures were always followed by discussions with the audience, the aim of which was to make the perspectives for action concrete for those present. This second part deals with the content of the discussion on data empowerment. This was led by the members of a panel. In addition to Maya Indira Ganesh, the panel consisted of Saskia de Beer, developer of ZO! city urban development platform, Merel Noorman, smart city researcher at Maastricht University, and Chris Sigaloff, former director of knowledge country and member of the think tank of the DATA studio.


The discussion began with the conclusion that the use of data for citizens is primarily a disempowering experience. As soon as people realize that their behaviour, preference or presence for some reason leads to a data trace that often feels like a breach, especially if the individuals in question have not been informed in advance. Another well-known disempowering experience is that of professionals who try to persuade third parties to take more ownership of issues, for example in connection with data, and then use a completely different language than the people who are or would be using it themselves.

Put data in place

But data itself should not be the problem, and never is the solution. Data should be put in place. Where can we use data and where can we not? Data can help to track down and tell new stories. Data can help to break down misconceptions; it can help to get a picture of abuses (follow the money); it can help to articulate and nuance complex phenomena. Data (on health, land use, air quality, mobility, cultural differences, etc.) can, in short, be extremely valuable to the community and should be used for common purposes.

Become Intentional

How can citizens then become intentional with their data? How can more (data) power reach ‘the people’? Is it in the design of the right interfaces – see the work of Saskia de Beer? Should we possibly start all over again? What could such a data detox mean at the level of the individual, at the level of a community or at the level of a city?

This cannot be a problem for citizens alone. Citizens must also put pressure on their public institutions to take action, to facilitate the management of their data.

Co-creation of rules for data use

But not everyone needs to manage their own data. It would be more interesting if citizens’ data could be used for common goals, not just for business purposes. Citizens could work with municipalities to develop collective rules for the use of data together with companies, with the aim that companies would share ownership of data much more.


In the discussion, for example, there was an interesting perspective on the way in which data empowerment of citizens, could help municipalities out of their data dilemma. After a data detox, citizens could choose what kind of data they would like to make available to the municipality or other organizations in what way. They can do so for clearly defined questions or problems.

If a municipality in its data policy acts in this way with an explicit mandate of citizens, it clearly operates legitimately. She is also much stronger at negotiating with private parties who want to use data to develop their services.

This way of approaching data issues is topical and seems to form the basis of what the new school is doing in thinking about and shaping the city and the role of technology within it. This data manifesto was published in Amsterdam on 3 November. The same way of thinking is followed in these blogs on the site of van Nesta – Nesta: the British think tank on social issues and technology.

The time seems ripe to move from words to deeds. Would CityBeacon not be the perfect tool for this?

A City as Smart as its Citizens: data-empowerment


Eindhoven wants to become a smart society. But how does that work? What’s going on in a society like that? Are there any good examples to learn from? DataStudio Eindhoven explores the transition a city has to go through to actually become such a smart society. Each week, we present a new contribution on E52. This week: data-empowerment. Read all the articles in this series here.

On October 24th during the Dutch Design Week, as part of the World Design Event, DATA Studio Eindhoven realized the exhibition Embassy of Data. Part of the accompanying programme was the international conference A City As Smart As Its Citizens. The DATA studio wanted to highlight both the findings of its programmes and a realistic perspective on the development of the ‘smart society’ in the city.

The conference focused on two topics. The first, data empowerment of citizens, is the subject of two articles. The second subject: readability of data in the public space, is dealt with in one subsequent article.

From smart city to society
The tone of the conference was set in an appealing way by the opening statement of councilor Mary-Ann Schreurs (read by Linda Vlassenrood, project leader of the DATA studio). She said: “First we talked about the development of the smart city, then we talked about the development of the smart society. Perhaps now is the time to drop the word ‘smart’. Let us put the question back on the agenda of what society’s development needs and then look at the role that data can play in this.”

Linda Vlassenrood then gave a short introduction to the themes of the exhibition of the Embassy of Data, which formed the prelude to the topics of the conference. In the Embassy of Data, it is established that municipalities are in a difficult situation with their data politics. Eindhoven is a good example, but the problem is present in many cities. On the one hand, there is now a widely supported aim to publish as many datasets as possible openly and in a divisible manner. On the other hand, municipalities recognize the importance of protecting citizens’ privacy. And that is a reason why many datasets should not be published. Cities are eager to promise their citizens that they are on the way to becoming a smart city. However, the impact of cities on the urban data climate is in fact small. Not only does the above-mentioned problem play a role, municipalities also have little control over the data generated in a city. Private companies (starting with the well-known list of Facebook, Google/Alphabet, Amazon, Uber and AirBnB) have access to much more data and use it for their own agendas and profit goals. Well, they are not necessarily at odds with the interests of municipalities and citizens, but they certainly do not coincide. Municipalities, therefore, have less influence in the data sphere than companies. And individual citizens have much less to contribute.

In order to improve the democratic debate on the use of data, the first step would be to strike a better balance between these assymetrics. In other words, citizens should be data-empowered. What would that look like and how do we get it done?

Data empowerment of citizens?
Keynote speaker on data empowerment was Maya Indira Ganesh, researcher and programme developer of the Tactical Technology Collective, a globally operating non-profit organization based in Berlin. Tactical Tech consists of involved citizens, researchers, coders and activists who deal with civil rights, privacy and security in the technological sphere. In her own words, Maya Indiria Ganesh is “interested in the way power works, and investigates this in the field of technological development and the data delivery of society.”

In a previous piece for E52, there was an interview with Maya Indira Ganesh, in which she explored the notion of data-empowerment. Before this lecture, she studied the subject matter in more depth.

Step 1 is data awareness
The beginning of data empowerment is data awareness. This starts with asking questions, and continues to ask questions. Why is this data collected? And what purpose can these data serve? A persistent misunderstanding about data is that it is ‘neutral’. All the data that is collected is collected for a reason, and that reason is ingrained in the way the technology is organized. How does data communication affect your existence? Is your data as unique as you are? Would you recognize your own data?

At the same time as the conference in Eindhoven, a major project of Tactical Tech Collective in collaboration with Mozilla opened in London: The Glass Room “a disruptive tech shop, in which nothing is for sale” – a store for data awareness. One of the take-aways is the Data Detox cure. With this 8-day treatment, you can get a grip on the data that you give away free of charge in simple steps that do not cost more than half an hour per day. This is an important basis under data-empowerment: getting more control over your data shadow. First of all, close your data leaks, on the basis of which you can become selective about who is allowed to do something with your data.

Then: data applications
The next step is to be able to apply data yourself. A possible approach to this is presented by Graph Commons, an initiative of Turkish media artist and activist Burak Arikan. With this online toolkit, everyone can make the patterns in their own data visible.

And this brings to light another series of questions. How can these patterns be used? And again, by whom? The data depictions of the refugee crisis show you how visibly rendered data can be used against citizens. Making data visible is therefore certainly not automatically emancipating. The trick is to analyse data and make it visible in such a way that it can give rise to action.

Tactical Tech focuses mainly on holding people and organisations with influence to account. Examples include the practices of Little Sis, a database depicting the networks of lobbyists, politicians, CEOs and the like, showing how financial power in particular is organised. Media Matters is a non-profit organisation that analyzes and visualizes disinformation campaigns in the US (especially of Republicans). Another interesting example is the French La Fabrique de la Loi, which monitors (proposed) changes in legislative texts and makes them searchable for citizens.

The lectures at the conference were followed by discussions aimed at making concrete perspectives for the participants. For this purpose, the audience was divided into groups. The discussions were led by the members of a panel. In addition to Maya Indira Ganesh, this consisted of Saskia de Beer, developer of ZO! city urban development platform, Merel Noorman, smart city researcher at Maastricht University, and Chris Sigaloff, former director of knowledge country and member of the think tank of the DATA studio.

The discussion can be found in Part 2 of this article. [link follows after publication].

Images: (c) Graph Commons

Data as a solution to the world’s problems?

Eindhoven wants to become a smart society. But how does that work? What’s going on in a society like that? Are there any good examples to learn from? DataStudio Eindhoven explores the transition a city has to go through to actually become such a smart society. Each week, we present a new contribution on E52. This week: a look behind the scenes of the Beyond Data Congres, which will take place again in Eindhoven in March 2018. Read all the articles here.

Last week in this series, we looked ahead to the Embassy of Data event during the DDW. This time, we’re looking even further ahead, to the beginning of 2018. Because that’s when the Beyond Data Event 2018 will take place and its preparations have recently started. On September 20th, the advisory board for the Congress came together on the place where the congress will take place: Hotel van der Valk in Eindhoven.

With organizer Gaby Rasters – Strategic advisor Data for the Municipality of Eindhoven – we’re looking at the plans, but especially also at the municipality’s ambition in terms of data.

Where do you stand in the preparations for the congress?

“We looked through last year’s results, highlighted everything that could and should be done better. And after that we got to work: how could the program inspire, leave room for networking and give the visitors a suitcase full of lessons learned to take home? It should become a mix between suprising stories (moonshots) and practical (hands-on) examples. I think we all succeeded in that, even more than that by taking on the most important question: how can Data provide breakthroughs in numerous major societal challenges. Can data help us end poverty in the world? Can data reduce the number of traffic deaths, or even: can we just have 0 victims? Take a look at the example in New York with their Vision Zero. We’re also asking the same question about criminality, which devices and tools are there from the data side to help the police and government to track down thieves faster and sooner, preferably even before they cross the line.”


“I don’t share my private life with the outside world. Although that is just an illusion, of course, because Facebook already knows everything about me.” Gaby Rasters, Strategisch adviseur Data voor de Gemeente Eindhoven


Those are quite some ambitions.

“Yes, they are. But the event will get a number of important boundary conditions. For instance: how can we, as governments, ensure that, on the one hand, the use of data does not in any way harm the inhabitants’ autonomy and, on the other hand, allows room for our companies to innovate, to take opportunities to come to new earnings models with data. Are we all in a sticky wicket, or is it not all that bad and do agreements with each other help to take the right steps? Last week, we received the sad message that mayor van der Laan had to lay down his duties.  He has to focus on his own health. His words: “take good care of each other” touch all of us and also this congress. How can data help us to take good care of each other in all areas in which we meet each other as a city?”

How are you going to concretely connect those major societal issues with the visitors of the congress?

“We have chosen to divide the congress into the Grand Challenges because now, we really want to show how data can contribute to a better world. But mind you, all those issues come with other issues. Do we want a safer world, that can obviously be done with data (think about facial analyses, who’s criminal and who isn’t?), but do we really want that, in the context of privacy and the ethics around data? Besides, in solving the big issues, it’s the whole chain’s move: businesses, government, universities and the citizen: how do you control all that?”

Well, how?

“The most difficult thing remains to ask the right questions. What don’t you want to solve precisely? We as governments aren’t very good at that question articulation yet. Companies do this much better, they obviously also use data as earnings model and have to think very well about what it can give them. As a municipality, you also want to work data driven, and we’re already doing that for a large part. But just like in the city, working data-driven (human-driven is actually better, we act on the human and his problems and use data to solve it) isn’t entirely in the mind yet.

To really use data in the right way, we have to have the right data (the quality needs to be good), the data has to be findable, get updates and be connectable and we have to analyze it in the right way and in addition not be afraid to scan boundaries, there aren’t that many regulations yet, but if we already quit in the beginning because of all the ifs and buts, we’ll never get anywhere.”

To many people, data equals “scary”, “dangerous”, “dark”. At the same time, you see that a lot of people share their data with the world unnoticed. How could you take away the resistance to (the use of) data in the public space and/or the private atmosphere?

Go out there and tell everyone what’s going on. The New Institute is making this very clear with their Data studio: what does data do, what do we measure, who measures what? What is not being measured? What is and isn’t allowed? The discussions in the media are often one-sided and the big headliners often scare people, let’s just be honest and (often) tell the open story and discuss with one another, that’s what we learn from. I also think that ludic actions, like a data mirror room, can cause more data awareness.”

What can – or must? – parties like governments, education institutions, and big companies do to promote that process?

“Governments always have to engage the discussion. For example, in Eindhoven we have our ‘open data principles’, we will have to keep using these in every discussion. The NS recently made the news about their cameras, that’s where we have to come in and offer our gained knowledge and skills. Education is on the right track, for example, the Design Academy, Fontys, TU/e; they’re all very data-aware, students are doing fun researches and projects. But this can be done even sooner, in high school, and even before that, you can be engaged in media wisdom and data. That can simply be about cyberbullying to learning behavior: you also lock your bike when you go to school, you can also do that with your data. The boss of your own data, that might be a fun project! I would like to challenge businesses into the discussion like the municipality is having them. But they also have to be transparent, open their doors and tell them how they profit from data.”

Do you also apply that knowledge yourself, for example in your use of social media?

“I think about it because I have a colleague who’s totally wary of Facebook. I use Facebook to promote my books and in that case this medium works like a train, but I am careful about which post I make public and which I keep private. I don’t share my private life with the outside world. Although that is just an illusion, of course, because Facebook already knows everything about me. I still think this is okay, I’m naive that way. I do teach my children to be careful with an online life. But this also goes for the offline life, in which I also behave. If you’re climbing on top of a bar, jabbering and drunk, it will also spread like a wildfire….

But we are indeed not engaged in data enough. I also close my curtains at night and I value my privacy. I seem to value it less online, but I would be very bothered when there are all sorts of scary online profiles of me that know exactly who and how I am. And yes, they exist. Scary. I think it takes time to make people data-aware, time to have people say: I am the boss of my own data. Or: do you want my data? That’s possible, but you can pay, dear Google, Facebook or whoever.”

More information about Beyond Data on the website.

Data for Dummies with Tsjalling Swierstra

Eindhoven wants to become a smart society. But how does that work? What’s going on in a society like that? Are there any good examples to learn from? DATAstudio explores the transition a city has to go through to actually become such a smart society. Each week, we present a new contribution on E52. This week: Data for dummies, the nezt steps. Read all the articles here.

Tsjalling Swierstra is Professor of philosophy of technology at the University of Maastricht and one of the experts who has contributed to the development and realization of the programs of the DATAStudio Eindhoven. Under the title Data for Dummies, he has given lectures and had conversations the past year in community centres and retirement homes – especially in Woensel-North – and in the Public Library in the centre.

The lectures were about the role of data in the daily lives of citizens, and gave rise to discussions about issues and questions encountered by Eindhoveners when it comes to data. After the holidays, the program continues with new speakers, and with the new title The Power Of Your Mouse Click.

Klaas Kuitenbrouwers and Tsjalling Swierstra look back on what was discussed during Data for Dummies.

“It is the philosophers’ task to interpret in what time we live and in what kind of society.”Tsjalling Swierstra, professor of philosophy, Maastricht University

Who is shaping the increasingly technological society?

“The society is becoming more and more technological. Introduction of new technologies affects everyone and has far-reaching consequences in the social sphere, in politics and in the private sphere. It leads to challenges that the society must learn to deal with. I think everyone should think about it and talk about it. Both citizens and politicians need to learn what is going on and need to be able to decide how to shape these developments. But in politics, this is not discussed enough.

It is the philosophers’ task to interpret in what time we live and in what kind of society. The goal of my job as a philosopher is to have this conversation and that can not only be done within the university. I am looking for different stages to discuss technologization of the society with citizens, scientists and politicians.
That’s why I’ve recently spent some times in Woensel-North. In the nursing home of the Eerbrand, for example, in community centre ‘Trefpunt’, where you could still smell the yoga exercises of the hour before. It attracted students, officials, worried citizens, who mostly knew quite well what was going on, and – typically for Eindhoven -retired Philips engineers with a lot of insight into technology. They sometimes knew more about computers than me.
A programmer who worked for a company in Eindhoven said that he was once asked to install software on a website to make data profiles of visitors with to sell later, without those visitors knowing. That led to ethical discussions. Those are exactly the kind of conversations I’m looking for. What do you do as an employee of a company. What sort of questions can you ask and to whom?

Data for Dummies for civil servants

I also did a Data for Dummies with community officials. That was interesting. As known, Eindhoven doesn’t want to be a smart city but a smart society. Less top-down and more driven by citizens. Data collection by the municipality is an important starting point, but an objective is also to make the data available to citizens.
The assumption is that if we know a lot, we can make the quality of life in the city better for all. But that’s not really working yet. An example: you can map the air quality in a city by handing out sensors which can then be hung up on the citizens’ balconies. All data are sent to a central point where maps are getting made. The idea is that, with these maps, citizens can then show the municipality that – for example – there really is too much particulate matter and soot in the air between two and four o’clock in the afternoon, and that they can insist on measures at the municipality. Citizens are believed to be made stronger with this sort of technology.
But in practice it turns out that there are very few citizens who really have those kinds of questions. It is always a very limited number of people who are getting stronger. It is also often expected that once those data have been mapped, people all agree on what should happen. But people always seem to want different things. Homeowners near that junction want that card to disappear again, for example. It makes the value of their home decline.

Excited and worried

What I want to show, also to civil servants, is that you can be excited and worried about technological developments. Yes, better data can result in more efficient refuse collection or better air quality or a safer neighbourhood. But there is always something about it.
Data on patterns in crime in a particular area can be preventively deployed. With an additional round of a policeman in certain streets at certain hours, a number of possible crimes can be prevented. But then what happens? There are on average more policemen in those streets. And they themselves signal more problems, which are then displayed on the data card again. And so there will be more police. And so on. Conversely, in the neighbourhoods where those agents are no longer walking, they make fewer reports, because there are less signals. Therefore, when you’re just looking at the data, it seems to become safer there.

Better questions about data
Eventually, with these conversations I want to achieve that people get more power and insight to ask questions. Imagine a racist party coming to power. It requests a map about where migrants live and another map about crime numbers. The maps get compared and causes are immediately being discussed: “See, those migrants are causing crime.” You want to achieve that people (citizens, civil servants) understand that they should ask questions with that. Why is there a causal link? New immigrants often start in the poorer neighbourhoods of a city. These are also the neighbourhoods where there is more crime. But that doesn’t say anything about whether those migrants are also involved in the crimes.

Do these sort of conversations also lead to other ways of acting with citizens? Sometimes they do, but often they don’t. Proponents of open data policy often assume that knowledge is power. But unfortunately, you should also note that it often happens that, with better data, you get better insight into your own powerlessness. There are just many problems without simple solutions.

With officials I often saw too optimistic thinking about collaborations between private and public parties – cooperating with a commercial company that is making an app for neighbourhood prevention, without realising, or without clearly informing the citizen, that that company itself trades that data. Government and semi-government should stay away from such practices! Cooperation with profit-oriented companies must always be transparent and democratically monitored.

The Data for Dummies readings are, of course, only pinpricks and do not directly lead to other actions. But hopefully they will help. It possibly has the most effect on the city council – that civil servants and others involved learn to ask better questions about the quality of data; that they no longer blindly trust on “One push on the button, and we can exactly see what the problem is on the map.” Because beautiful maps can be made with bad data, but they are incorrect.

Civil servants and citizens are already starting to see that only numerical data is never enough to get a good picture of the situation. Numbers show one dimension, subjective stories and qualitative data a totally different one – which is just as important for a good understanding. Data for Dummies is also that.

The Power Of Your Mouse Click starts from autumn 2017. Follow for the exact program.

Becoming a Smart Society: Restore your digital Privacy!

Eindhoven wants to become a smart society. But how does that work? What’s going on in a society like that? Are there any good examples to learn from? DataStudio Eindhoven explores the transition a city has to go through to actually become such a smart society. Each week, we present a new contribution on E52. This week: Restore your digital Privacy! Read all the articles here.

Read moreBecoming a Smart Society: Restore your digital Privacy!