Appropriating ‘big data’: exploring the emancipatory potential of the data strategies of civil society organisations in Cape Town, South Africa
Nancy Odendaal (Cape Town, South Africa):
The smart city strategies of municipalities in South Africa have been grounded in developmentalism, seeking to harness the power of technology to enable improved governance. Cities such as Durban and Cape Town have embraced infrastructure-led approaches that seek to use state-mediated broadband ‘backbone’ development to enable last-mile ICT access to marginalised communities. With the advent of big data, the range of actors in the ICT-local government terrain has broadened to include partnerships with IT-multinationals and management consultants to streamline municipal bureaucratic procedures, enable data processing and contribute to greater efficiency. An important driver is the increasingly urgent need to accelerate the delivery of essential services whilst also encouraging investment and development through greater efficacy, (in processing development applications for example). This is the delicate balancing act that the City of Cape Town is aiming to achieve: broadening its tax base while delivering basic services to a vocal and largely dissatisfied populace. A ‘dashboard urbanism’ is becoming evident as access to a broadened range of data sources fits well with the system of indicators and performance monitoring that is embedded in the managerial South Africa’s local government system. The danger of an overreliance on these quantitative aspects is that it may overshadow the more qualitative aspects of development. Reinforcing a commitment to the ‘numbers game’, rather than paying attention to the finer details of socio-economic development, could perpetuate divides in what is considered to be one of the most unequal cities in the world. Based on exploratory research, this paper explores an emerging trend amongst civil society organisations that seek to collect, generate and process data as a form of empowerment and response to the state’s failure to respond adequately to social development pressures. Strategies range from self-enumeration, to participatory mapping, and online campaigning. This paper concludes on what these qualities of the ‘bottom-up smart city’ are, how it challenges the assumptions of ‘dashboard urbanism’ and such initiatives could potentially contribute to a more rounded appropriation of big data and a deepened and contextualized urban experience.
Smart flows? Commodification, commons and consumption for smarter cities
Anna Davies (TCD)
Defining environmental governance as the sum of the ways we manage our environmental affairs, this paper compares and contrasts efforts to reorient resource consumption in the city onto more sustainable pathways through the utilisation of ICT. Drawing on an experimental transdisciplinary process of collaborative visioning and backcasting conducted in Dublin, Ireland, this paper begins by sketching the ways in which governing actors envisage a smarter system for managing two contrasting resources that are fundamental to cities and their citizens. The first of these, water, remains a public good in Ireland, but it is becoming increasingly commodified. The second, food, is seen as a private good but there are ongoing calls to reconceptualise it as a common good. Both are fundamental requirements for life and considered by the United Nations as human rights, with ‘zero hunger’ and ‘clean water and sanitation’ identified as sustainable development goals in the post-2015 development agenda. The second part of the paper compares and contrasts two of the ways in which ICT is being rolled out in these arenas in Dublin, water metering and surplus food redistribution, and links these developments to the wider governing context that shapes them. The ‘smart’ metering of water in Ireland has been an exercise in top-down, technocratic governance played out with close relations between state and the private sector, resulting in intense reactions and collective actions from an excluded citizenry. Surplus food redistribution in contrast has been led by grassroots action in collaboration with social innovators and the private sector – frequently in the absence of appropriate regulations – in what has been suggested is a hybrid tri-centric governance system shaped by market rules, public regulations and collective actions. Whilst the histories, practices and infrastructures of these two resources are highly differentiated, it is argued that there are possibilities for cross-fertilisation of lessons for both sectors in terms of managing flows and engaging citizens.
Democratic Rationalizations in the Bikeshare Sector
Robert Bradshaw (Maynooth)
With its emphasis on the transformative power of information and communications technologies, discourses on the “smart city” make the promise not only of economic rewards through improved infrastructure management, competitive advantage and job creation but also the empowering of citizens by enabling the co-production of infrastructure, decisions, and policy. Presented in this way the city is framed as a platform which empowers participatory processes. Connecting data, people and knowledge, it is envisioned as a productive hub for the construction of the city by its people. Using a lens derived from Andrew Feenberg’s critical theory of technology, this paper reports on research conducted in Dublin and Hamilton (Canada) which explored these themes though an analysis of the design and implementation strategies mobilized by these cities in the creation their respective smart bikeshare systems. The findings reveal the technologies to be the product of context-dependant, socio-technical assemblages which position citizenship and co-production in distinctive and contrasting ways. While Dublin’s managerialist form of governance produced a technocratic, instrumental design which understands, and perpetuates, citizens as passive consumers of services and information, Hamilton combined institutional expertise and lay experience to create a generative technology which embodies a diverse but complimentary set of goals and ideologies. Understanding the processes by which both these systems we conceived and concretized may help us understand how normative and ethical considerations relating to citizenship can be embedded and preserved in technology production.