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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, an interview with Priya Prakash. Read all the articles here.

On Thursday, June 22nd, Priya Prakash (UK) will be speaking in the last episode of A City as Smart As its Inhabitants. Priya Prakash is entrepreneur and founder of the design studio D4SC, Design for Social Change in London. She specializes in the development and innovation of citizen-centric systems in which the information, data, and insights of citizens and city users, of (municipal) services and of sensors in real time are combined for the purpose of a new kind of approach to urban problems.

D4SC’s products have won awards such as The Smart City World Expo Showcase and Innovative UK’s Connected Cities Challenge. IBM placed Prakash on her list of the 100 Tech City Insiders in 2014.

Klaas Kluitenbrouwer spoke with her in the run-up to her lecture.


“It’s all about the combination between online and offline”,

Perfect Storm

At this moment there are three things going on at the same time, which caused the smart city development to end up in a new phase. First of all, the technology we’re talking about has become widely available. It has become affordable, reliable and for many people accessible. Secondly, we see large political and social changes in many places. A lot of old, centralist systems are less trusted and groups of citizens have become active to have more influence on questions around sustainability for example. Look at the transition towns movement, started in England in 2005, currently a huge worldwide network of active local communities. The third aspect is a new type of environmental factor: more and more people are beginning to see that today’s complex issues can’t be solved separately anymore, but that a major change is needed in a lot of coherent ways of doing things.

We’re in a kind of perfect storm – different simultaneous developments are coming together. This takes shape in the new phase of the smart city practice.

Smart Cities in the third phase

Looking back, three consecutive ideas can be recognized in the development of the smart city. Version 1.0 was driven by the IBM’s and the Ciscoes. Cities bought large-scale technology, more or less handed themselves over to it but saw little impact on the quality of city development. There was hardly any return on investments, and citizens hardly played a role. They paid with their data but what happened with that was very unclear. Then there came a counter movement – smart city 2.0, in the wake of the emergence of the smartphone. Cities took the initiative again. They massively published their data and invited everyone – citizens, researchers, companies – to use that data and make apps with it for the public good. An interesting development, but it still has a lot of complications. The interaction within apps was always one on one. Citizens using the apps didn’t see what their input led to. The interactions of citizens didn’t come together in those apps, no co-creative processes could get started. Even though you soon saw an app saturation occur. People had too little time, attention and bandwidth to let all those apps be successful. This phase did make a lot of people aware of the possible roles of ubiquitous technology in urban issues, which was a plus.

And so now we have ended up in the third phase, in which cities, companies, and citizens have seen that there isn’t a simple approach which is going to make the difference. It’s seen that many problems have a wicked nature: complex, interdependent and different for all involved. The approach and the instruments will also have to be spring-shaped. With the advent of social media, there is a huge increase of the online group communication between people (citizens, governments, companies), but it is also acknowledged that the offline meeting and the physical organization are crucial for impact. It is about the combinations between on and offline.

Fashion and music industry as an example for the smart society?

Culturally, we’re ready, technology is ready, the problem now is the lack of sustainable business models with which a smart society can take shape structurally and in the long term. Many interesting projects are running on government subsidy of municipalities or of the EU. When there’s no more money, the projects shut down.
This is what we focus on at D4SC.

In our applications, the citizen is fully central. Our designs work with the way in which people use the city in their daily practices. We ask the citizens if we can use and combine the information they generate (in shops, in public transport, in the car, in contact with services) with other data sources to get an image of what is happening on the street live, in real time. This way we get a subtle and precise insight into the nature of urban issues. A priority is that participating citizens know well about what is happening with their input. We are working opt-in and the data the participants are generating is being managed by themselves and is only looked at with their explicit permission by clearly named other parties.

An example is Citymapper London. With a private investment, they have now started a free bus service to see if they can get an image of the bottlenecks of urban mobility and how they can handle it adaptively in real time with public transport. We often work with small companies who cooperate with the parties who have the long term contracts of the government. Those large parties have the advantage of continuity. The small parties are experimental. And we are the ones who know how the interaction with citizens works. All parties need each other and everyone can benefit from the solution that is developed, especially the citizens.

The infrastructure industry lacks imagination. We are mainly looking at the way in which the fashion and music industry works, with an interaction between large societies and small experimental labels, and we apply that practice to a smart society.