Beyond Smart Cities Today

Together with Jan Misker of V2_Lab for the Unstable Media, I will be giving a talk in the Beyond Smart Cities Today symposium, organized by the Centre for BOLD Cities (a collaboration between Erasmus University, Leiden University, and TU Delft). The symposium is headlined by Rob Kitchin, with keynotes by a host of super interesting speakers (program here as PDF).

The talk is titled Alternative Imaginaries for the Smart City. Here’s the abstract:

The rise of the smart city as a dominant urban development paradigm has raised concerns about the public’s capacity to make sense of the technologies and policies involved. Accordingly, most efforts to engage the public with the smart city tend to focus on demystifying urban technologies – opening up the technological “black box” for public scrutiny. But what if we consider the smart city not only as a collection of intelligent technologies but as a social imaginary – a set of collectively held beliefs about the world and how we can act on it? What new opportunities for art- and design-led interventions emerge if instead of concentrating on the technologies we have, we focused on the city we want – on what urban scholar Saskia Sassen calls “cityness”?

In this presentation we will illustrate some of the possibilities, challenges and benefits of engaging with the smart city as a social imaginary, with an eye on translating the SHARED principles for public engagement into concrete activities. We will discuss several current and upcoming Dutch art and design-led interventions that aim to disclose, problematize and pluralize the social imaginaries that guide the development and deployment of urban technologies. We will do so while drawing a distinction between interventions that imagine alternative smart cities for, and those done by, the public.

The symposium takes place Sept.18-19, 2019, at the New Institute in Rotterdam.

Speculative Design for Sustainable Futures – in Delhi

This week I am in New Delhi, facilitating a workshop on sustainability futures with 18 masters-level design students at The Design Village. The workshop’s rationale:

At its core, sustainability invites us to consider how complex socio-environmental systems may develop over time. In this sense, sustainability is really about the future: how we may satisfy the needs of future generations and leave them with a world no more damaged than the one we inherited. But since the future is undetermined, we are better to consider a plurality of futures or, better yet, a plurality of sustainable futures. This reflects the fact that what sustainability means in theory and in practice may change depending on the time, place, and identity of those pursuing it. There is no single future, just as there is no single sustainability. This is no less true about India, a country of many contradictions – the site of growing economic progress and prowess but also of abject poverty; a hub of technological innovation but also of ancient knowledge, values and ways of life. What sustainable futures mean for India is a unique, necessary proposition.

The experience so far has been incredible! It’s so refreshing and inspiring to work with students from an entirely different background, and with different design foci: product, fashion, graphic, and spatial design.

To align them all, I’ve defined the workshop’s goals as follows:

Drawing from global standards (such as the MDGs) and local conditions and traditions, this workshop will provide students with the tools and skills required to research, conceptualize, and evaluate design for sustainability futures. The workshop will allow students to dive deeper into the complex relations between design and sustainability, and develop a future-orientation that would enable them to anticipate, communicate, and start addressing future sustainability challenges. For this purpose, the workshop combines techniques from Futures Studies and interaction design, and grounds design work in local-specific contexts (values, norms, culture, and so forth).

The workshop consists of three stages: (1) Research into the specific challenges that are associated with sustainability in the Indian context; (2) Development of future scenarios that respond to those challenges in an imaginative way; (3) Creating and evaluating prototypes that communicate the challenges and chart possible solutions. I hope to share the results here in a later time.

Global Sustainable Development Goals in a Mediatized World

I’m delighted to take part in the upcoming symposium, Global Sustainable Development Goals in a Mediatized World, organized by the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The symposium will take place April 4-5 in Vienna.

My talk is titled Transition or Transformation? The Meanings of Sustainability in a Mediatized World. Here’s the abstract:

As the risks of climate change become more severe and palpable, so do the challenges faced by society. One such challenge is the need to galvanize and consolidate wide public support for a rapid and just transition to a more sustainable world. However, underlying paths for such a transition are different understandings of what sustainability means in theory and practice: how it relates to questions of scientific knowledge, to notions of political agency and self-efficacy, and how it opens up to a plurality of futures. In this talk I will suggest that the different meanings of sustainability are informed and made concrete – are mediatized – by the digital, interactive technologies used to engage the public with sustainability. I will propose four such meanings, illustrate them with a variety of interactive media, and draw some conclusions in relation to the difference between policy-led transitions and publicly pursued transformations.

A few snippets from my talk were included in the podcast Makro Mikro (36:20-40:38). The podcast is in German.

CFP for CHI Workshop: Towards a Responsible Innovation Agenda for HCI

I’m helping to organize a workshop in the upcoming CHI conference in Glasgow. A detailed CFP can be found here, and the extended abstract can be downloaded here (PDF; 213kb).

Here’s the skinny:

In recent years responsible innovation has gained significant traction and can be seen to adorn a myriad of research platforms, education programs, and policy frameworks. In this workshop, we invite HCI researchers to discuss the relations between the CHI community and responsible innovation. This workshop looks to build provocations and principles for and with HCI researchers who are or wish to become responsible innovators. The workshop looks to do this by asking attendees to think about the social, environmental, and economic impacts of ICT and HCI and explore how research innovation frameworks speak to responsible HCI innovation. Through the workshop we look to examine 5 questions to develop a set of provocations and principles, which will help encourage HCI and computer science researchers, educators, and innovators to reflect on the impact of their research and innovation.

A Spectrum of Possibilities

At the conclusion of last year’s Interaction Technology Design (ITD) course, and in anticipation of Dutch Design Week 2018 in which we had two projects exhibited, our team produced a catalog of all 34 projects. The catalog can be downloaded here (PDF; 53mb).

This is the introduction essay:

The velocity, tenacity, and complexity that characterize our times raise a significant challenge for designers and for those responsible for their education: how can we prepare the next generation of interaction designers to tackle the complexities and uncertainties that we face today and will face in the future? What kind of tools, techniques, and knowledge are necessary to untangle existing, and reshape future, sociotechnical relations? How can we encourage young designers to engage in their tasks with creativity, purpose, social awareness, and responsibility?

These questions motivate the project-based design course, Interactive Technology Design (ITD), part of the Design for Interaction (DfI) MSc program at Delft University of Technology’s Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering. The course combines futuring techniques with fast-paced, iterative prototyping, aimed at creating tangible interaction experiences of speculative futures.

We have leveraged the 2018 edition of ITD as a vehicle for challenging our collective assumptions about the future of cities and citizenship. When big data is touted as the foundation of “smart” cities, and when new technologies ranging from self-driving cars to genetic engineering are bound to impact every aspect of urban life, a critical view on the consequences of these developments becomes more relevant than ever. Taking future Rotterdam as a case study, and in collaboration with the Horizon-2020 CAPS project, Open for Citizens, 34 teams of ITD students have designed and prototyped interactive “tools for urban citizenship”. The resulting speculative futures presented in this book open our eyes to the effects that ubiquitous big data, combined with new futuristic technologies may have on the social fabric of our cities.

The site and ‘real world’ context for the course’s speculative exploration is a future Rotterdam. A diverse, dynamic city, Rotterdam is considered a hub of social and technological innovation – truly a future-facing city. At the same time, the city is struggling with serious dilemmas concerning cultural diversity, immigration, socioeconomic inequality, and more. Each group of students was assigned one of Rotterdam’s neighbourhoods and given an urban theme: energy, housing, health, natural resources, food security, and mobility. Groups explored their assigned neighbourhoods on fact-finding excursions, and used their findings to design prototypes that reflect the neighbourhood’s character and address its specific challenges. Early prototypes were exhibited and tested by locals during the Future Flux Festival.

All in all, the 34 projects featured in this catalog provide us with a glimpse of what the future may hold for Rotterdam, but they also provide us with a window into the future of design. As the projects make evident, future designers may still be expected to solve complex problems, but as those problems become more and more ‘wicked’ – hard to define and difficult to untangle – communicating the future in provocative, imaginative ways will become inseparable from designing sustainable solutions for it.

We hope you find the projects as thought-provoking and inspiring as we do.