Prioritizing Resident Engagement When Implementing the Internet of Things

This blog post was originally published on Data-Smart City Solutions and is by Glynis Startz — Smart Chicago’s Harvard Ash Center Summer Fellow. Glynis is assisting with Smart Chicago’s Array of Things Civic Engagement work, among other smart cities-focused projects. Glynis is a Master in Public Policy Candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The Array of Things Public Meeting at Lozano Public Library | June 14, 2016

The Array of Things Public Meeting at Lozano Public Library | June 14, 2016

This summer the Smart Chicago Collaborative is working with the City of Chicago and the operators of the Array of Things urban sensing project to engage with residents broadly and gather feedback on the project’s Governance and Privacy Policy. This project was recently mentioned in an article by Stephen Goldsmith about implementing Internet of Things (IoT) initiatives. In it, he recommended that cities consider five key themes:

  1. Leverage existing physical infrastructure
  2. Engage the local data ecosystem (ie partner with local researchers or non-profits)
  3. Employ a clear data management strategy
  4. Address security and privacy concerns with transparency
  5. Turn collected data into action

These five points are important technical aspects of a successful IoT initiative, but it’s also important to consider non-technical themes of IoT work. One less highlighted theme vital to IoT reaching it’s full potential in a city: engaging residents early and often.

Engaging with residents to see what they need, and designing projects that reflect that feedback, is necessary and useful. Effective engagement can provide valuable information to improve the implementation of an IoT project, in addition to easing resident objections or concerns.

Why Engagement Matters for Everyone

Engaging with residents is traditionally thought of as a way to gather and maintain local support for a project, but it can also enable implementers to take advantage of unknown neighborhood (institutional) knowledge to make a project more effective. We often see transparency and engagement as a chore–a political requirement instead of something which has more direct and functional value.  

Governmental or academic implementers sometimes underestimate residents and their genuine interest in innovative projects. There is a tendency to assume residents don’t want to engage in the complexities of a problem, and that it is therefore better for the project heads to go ahead and do what they’ve determined is right, but this undersells the commitment and sophistication of many citizens. Because IoT applications almost always touch on data and sensors, engagement involves privacy issues and can seem particularly scary. There are a few predictable reactions to open discussion of these issues which can put anyone off having that talk, but it’s a mistake to assume you know how the majority of residents will react.

A good example of this is the discussion that was reported around an IoT transportation project in Aberdeen. Researchers were concerned about data anonymity because of the low population of the project area, but when residents were brought into the discussion they felt the utility they gained from the project (improved tracking of bus arrival times) made that cost worthwhile.

Learning from Engaging

With that underestimation comes an undervaluing of the feedback residents can provide. There are vast reservoirs of relatively untapped institutional knowledge about neighborhoods or cities in residents’ minds. The more feedback you open yourself up to, and the more time you spend answering questions and listening, the more useful information you can gather. Sometimes you’ll learn things you didn’t know you didn’t know.

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Brenna Berman and Charlie Catlett overview the Array of Things governance & privacy policies at a public meeting | June 22, 2016

The importance of engaging residents around civic technology more generally is something the Smart Chicago Collaborative has been grappling with for several years. The Civic User Testing Group (CUTGroup), a community of residents in Chicago and all of Cook County who get paid to test out civic websites and apps, is one example of direct resident engagement with technology tools. Smart Chicago’s Array of Things Civic Engagement work could be considered an extension of that purpose — directly engaging Chicago residents in shaping technology projects and policies, rather than a tool. By acknowledging that there are some things best learnt from residents and users, these initiatives use civic engagement to improve technology and service delivery in Chicago.

Engagement around the Array of Things project recognizes the potential value of that input. In addition to gathering feedback about privacy concerns, events were a chance for residents to air concerns and ask clarifying questions about data, privacy, and governance, but they also became a forum for researchers to learn what new information residents could provide about their environment, and increase their involvement. Researchers would do well to follow up and continue to learn.

The engagement meeting referenced the historical and contextual knowledge of the area residents could provide, and which researchers may want to draw on when choosing sensor locations. For example, Charlie Catlett told attendees at the Lozano Library Public Meeting that they could influence the exact placement of sensors if there were reasons the Array of Things team didn’t know about or hadn’t thought of. Residents of every neighborhood are likely to have superior information about precisely where various aspects of their ecosystem can best be evaluated.

Engage or Inform

When we’re talking about civic engagement, it’s very important not to confuse informing with engaging. Helping residents understand the project is different from, but a necessary precursor to, collecting targeted feedback about the project and what aspects are useful or not to residents. If a project isn’t willing to be responsive to that feedback, they are informing, not engaging.

I think interaction with citizens in the data and open government sector can be split into three levels. The first level is technical transparency. This is creating an open data portal or putting the text of some policy up online. Technical transparency allows an organization to say they are being open without actively reaching out to citizens. The second level is informing–explaining to citizens what you’re doing while you’re doing it. This goes further than technical transparency in that it requires at least some attempt to curate open information for citizens, but it doesn’t require an explicit feedback loop. The third level is engagement, taking the time not only to inform residents, but to listen to and react to their questions, concerns, and desires. Engagement is the hardest to do well, and the most time consuming, but it can also provide the most value added for everyone involved.

A city or project should decide which of the three levels of interaction is appropriate and manageable. This may depend on the magnitude of privacy concerns or likely impacts on residents, on the potential malleability of the project, and on whether the design of the project makes local knowledge potentially valuable. For some IoT implementations, especially ones testing specific hypotheses, some aspects of the project may not be open to change. To measure the lake effect, for instance, Array of Things may need sensors set up in a certain formation. Sometimes simple informing is ok, and sometimes it’s not.

To capture the full value of the IoT, cities must not only “integrate it into existing data strategies” as Goldsmith points out, but integrate it into the existing social and cultural structures as well.

A resident snaps a picture of an Array of Things sensor at a public meeting | June 22, 2016

A resident snaps a picture of an Array of Things sensor at a public meeting | June 22, 2016

Smart Chicago Congratulates Envision Chicago Student Scholarship Winners

envision_logoOn July 20th, 4 Chicago public high school students were honored with a commemorative resolution at the Chicago City Council Meeting. These students were the winners of the Envision Chicago pilot program and each was awarded a  $1,000 scholarship for proposing improvements to city laws.

Envision Chicago, a project of  the OpenGov Foundation in collaboration with the City Clerk, challenged youth in participating schools — the Marine Leadership Academy, Chicago Excel Academy of Rosalind, Taft High School, and Lake View High School — to propose ways to change laws and improve lives in Chicago.

Read more about Envision Chicago winners in this OpenGov Foundation Press Release. Here is an excerpt:

It’s clear that when government meets students on their terms, and respects their voices, great things can happen. These students learned positive engagement practices on a user ­friendly website of the Chicago Municipal Code and 86 students dove in, discovered laws covering issues they cared about and shared their ideas.

Here is a glimpse at the social media from the day:

Smart Chicago was pleased to sponsor this pilot initiative along with Microsoft Chicago, Comcast, ComEd, and Haymarket. Congratulations to all the youth who participated in this civic project.

An Infographic of Connect Chicago from January — March 2016

Connect Chicago is a cross-sector civic leadership initiative that seeks to make Chicago the most digitally skilled, connected, and dynamic city in America. In 2016, we’ve made investments to strengthen and expand our city’s digital learning ecosystem. Under Connect Chicago, the CyberNavigator Program out of the Chicago Public Library has expanded citywide, digital skills training has been integrated into LISC Chicago Financial Opportunity Centers, and the Connect Chicago Meetup has continued to be a platform for sharing ideas and best practices across the community of practice.

Here is a summary of some of the work accomplished in early 2016:

The work has just begun. To get involved, join the Connect Chicago Meetup Group. Meet and network with residents, nonprofit professionals, corporate representatives, and technology trainers. Learn about new programs, tools, and best practices for closing technology gaps. Join and learn about upcoming events here. Interested partners can contact Denise Linn at dlinn@cct.org.

Documentation from the Array of Things Public Meeting at Harold Washington Library

We’ve compiled documentation from the Array of Things Public Meeting on June 22, 2016 at Harold Washington Library. This is part of our Array of Things Civic Engagement project — a series of community meetings and feedback loops to create dialogue around the Array of Things project, collect community input on privacy, and introduce concepts around how the Internet of Things can benefit communities.

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The purpose of the Array of Things Public Meeting was to educate the public on the Array of Things project and help facilitate community feedback on the Array of Things Governance & Privacy policy. These were open meetings in Chicago Public Library Branches. No knowledge of technology or sensors was required to be a welcome, meaningful addition to the event.

Pictures

Here is a link to a Smart Chicago album on Flickr with all photographs from the event. See a selection of the photographs below:

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Social Media

Here is a Storify of the meeting created by Smart Chicago:

Handouts

 Below is the flyer used to the promote the event. Smart Chicago documenters tasked with outreach distributed flyers and event information around the city, focusing on community spaces like churches, computer centers, libraries, small businesses, etc.

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Here is an agenda that was distributed at the meeting:

Here is a map distributed at the meeting that showcases the possible Array of Things Sensor node locations:

Here is the full text of the privacy policy that was distributed during the event also found online here:

Here is a one-pager distributed to meeting participates describing how they can provide feedback on the policy:

Presentations

 Here are the slides that Charlie Catlett of UrbanCCD used at the event:

Here are the slides that Brenna Berman, CIO for the City of Chicago, used at the event:

Notes

Below are the detailed notes from the event which we continue to compile and improve. Very important disclaimer: this is an unofficial record of proceedings and not an exact transcript of the event — rather, a summary of the conversation. We are certain that there are errors and omissions in this document. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, contact Smart Chicago here.

This documentation is made possible by our Smart Chicago Documenters Program. Our Documenters program is an essential tool for us to add new thinkers, generate ideas, and expand the field for civic tech. The Program played an important role in other Smart Chicago Projects like the Chicago School of Data and the Police Accountability Meeting coverage. Leah Lavelle, Liz Baudler, and Veronica Benson assisted with event outreach. Liz Baulder assisted with notes. Angel Rodriguez took pictures. Lucia Gonzalez and Veronica Benson provided general event support.

Documentation from the Array of Things Public Meeting at Lozano Library

We’ve compiled documentation from the Array of Things Public Meeting on June 14, 2016 at the Lozano Library Branch. This is part of our Array of Things Civic Engagement project — a series of community meetings and feedback loops to create dialogue around the Array of Things project, collect community input on privacy, and introduce concepts around how the Internet of Things can benefit communities.

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The purpose of the Array of Things Public Meeting was to educate the public on the Array of Things project and help facilitate community feedback on the Array of Things Governance & Privacy policy. These were open meetings in Chicago Public Library Branches. No knowledge of technology or sensors was equired to be a welcome, meaningful addition to the event.

Pictures

Smart Chicago created album on Flickr with all photographs from the event. Here is a selection:

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  • DSC00241
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  • DSC00221

Social Media

Here is a Storify of the meeting created by Smart Chicago.

Handouts

Below is the flyer used to the promote the event. Smart Chicago documenters tasked with outreach distributed flyers and event information around the city, focusing in particular on community spaces in Pilsen — churches, computer centers, libraries, small businesses, etc.

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Here is an agenda that was distributed at the meeting:

Here is a map distributed at the meeting that showcases the possible Array of Things Sensor node locations:

Here is the full text of the privacy policy that was distributed during the event also found online at this link:

Here is a one-pager distributed to meeting participates describing how they can provide feedback on the policy:

Here is a letter submitted in person by the community coalition, FAiR:

Presentation

Here are the slides that Charlie Catlett of UrbanCCD used at the event:

Notes

Below are the detailed notes from the event which we continue to compile and improve. Very important disclaimer: this is an unofficial record of proceedings and not an exact transcript of the event — rather, a summary of the conversation. We are certain that there are errors and omissions in this document. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, contact Smart Chicago here.

This documentation is made possible by our Smart Chicago Documenters Program. Our Documenters program is an essential tool for us to add new thinkers, generate ideas, and expand the field for civic tech. The Program played an important role in other Smart Chicago Projects like the Chicago School of Data and the Police Accountability Meeting coverage. Nourhy Chiriboga and Liz Baudler assisted with event outreach.  Veronica Benson assisted with event outreach, notes, and pictures. Jackie Serrato took pictures. Lucia Gonzalez provided Spanish language support.

The Internet of Things in Action

This blog post is by Glynis Startz — Smart Chicago’s Harvard Ash Center Summer Fellow. Glynis is assisting with Smart Chicago’s Array of Things Civic Engagement work, among other smart cities-focused projects. Glynis is a Master in Public Policy Candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School.

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Last month Smart Chicago wrote about civic engagement and the Internet of Things in Aberdeen, Scotland. Given the conversations & questions at the public meetings for the Array of Things project, we wanted to explore and share some examples of the Internet of Things (IoT) around the world.

IoT is defined as

“the network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data.”

Unless you work in technology or ‘Smart Cities’ it can be difficult to mentally translate the concept of the IoT to the reality. Imagining how the Internet of Things will affect the way your city is run, or how you interact with the government or your environment, is hard without some reference points. Here are a couple of ways the Internet of Things is currently being used, and how it has affected citizens and cities.

IoT in our backyard

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If you live in Chicago (or in hundreds of other places), you’re throwing your trash into the IoT. Smart waste removal is intended to save money and keep things cleaner through better timed trash pickups. The solar powered Bigbelly trash compactors the city has used since 2011 are one of the most visible examples of the IoT in action. Bigbelly trash cans send information back to a hub about how full they are, and indicate when they need to be emptied. Philadelphia was an early adopter of the now ubiquitous cans, and reported savings of around $900,000 in the first year. (The program isn’t without its critics, of course, with reports of overflowing cans in some areas and the usual complaints about graffiti.)

IoT far, far away

Some cities have started weaving together multiple IoT applications, creating what is often referred to as a network of networks. Laura Adler has written an article on Barcelona’s network of networks on the Ash Center blog. The city has long had an extensive network of fiber optic cable which it has used “to build out individual IoT systems across urban services.” Now, the Internet of Things is embedded in energy consumption, waste management, and transportation.

There are two distinct types of IoT applications to explore in Barcelona: ones in which citizens interact directly with technology (either their own or the city’s), and ones in which technology facilitates some government process, improving it before citizens enter the equation.

The first type includes projects like interactive bus stops to help travelers plan their routes, and a public parking pay app. ApparkB lets residents use their smartphones to pay for public parking in the city, utilizing GPS to limit the number of people who have to use traditional parking meters. IoT applications in this mold often seem like first generation tests at this point. They conform more closely to what many people think of as ‘smart’, but at this point still seem like fun toys or conveniences instead of things being built into the architecture of governance.

Projects in Barcelona that are more tied into the city’s fundamental structure are the second type of IoT applications, which operate behind the scenes. Traffic lights interact with emergency vehicles, clearing their path to an incident, which decreases response times and traffic incidents. Barcelona also uses sensors in irrigation systems to save money and water across the city. Sensors monitor and control the output of water in public spaces by evaluating data on weather, rainwater, evaporation, and drainage.

Where do we go from here?

Waste management and irrigation might seem mundane, but the most functional examples of the IoT are often the least “sexy.” They’re the ones that let citizens keep living their lives the way they did before: smoothing the rough patches off daily actions or optimizing government actions to lower costs. IoT and Smart Cities are often sold as complete reinventions of The City as we know it, and the relatively unobtrusive applications we see today can be a letdown, but implementations that promise to entirely change the way residents live or move just haven’t manifested yet. From the unfinished Smart Cities in South Korea and China, to a 50 million dollar competition for redesigning transportation in a US city, transformative smart city projects are still possibly years or decades down the road.

It seems that the more transformative a technology promises to be, the more skeptical we as citizens should be. Balancing academic and practical goals within a single implementation is a difficult task. It’s much easier to imagine what researchers will do with granular ecosystem data than imagine how those granular ecosystem data will immediately impact residents. Benefits of academic research are diffuse and long term. Conversely, projects that provide short run cost savings for a city don’t necessarily create the type of data researchers need to answer academic questions. This doesn’t mean the IoT can’t create value in both of these categories, just that residents should be wary about promises of new technology being everything to everyone right away. There’s a great deal of potential value in smart city technology and the IoT, but the type or timing of that value may look very different depending on the project.