People Create Place: Doteveryone’s response to the Smarter London Listening Exercise

Image: Screengrab from Citymapper.com, “Introducing the Citymapper Smartbus”

A Smarter London Together sets the ambition for London as the “the global home to data innovation and artificial intelligence to boost growth and help make London a better place to live, work and visit”. Before London can be a home to data innovation or AI, it is a home to people. A smarter London must put the people who make the city first, and not commoditise them in service of surveillance and efficiency.

Doteveryone recommends the vision for a Smarter London should be reframed: London should be the global home for responsible innovation — putting people first, building trust, and prioritising effective governance. This will create solid foundations for innovation, economic growth and more efficient services.

A Smarter London should:

  1. put people first, technology second
  2. lead the way with inclusive and transparent data policies, meaningful consent, and useful community governance models.
  3. help those who live, work in and visit London live more secure, informed and adaptable digital lives

This response addresses three of the consultation areas: A New Deal for City Data, Openness and Responsible Tech, and Digital Skills and Capabilities.

1: People first, technology second

Rather than prioritising data and AI, a Smarter London should put people first and be technology agnostic.

Technology should support the wider aims of London being a better place to live, work and visit, and not be an end in itself — not least because the horizon of the city should not be limited by dominant or fashionable technologies: London should be ready for whatever comes after AI.

1.1 People first: who, or what, is the Smart City for?

Is the smart city a chance for everyone to co-create the city we want? Or will it simply aggregate the day-to-day decisions and compromises of 9 million people? Will it be a data-driven bureaucracy, optimised only for the smartphone owners who forget to turn off their location data, or a utopia of optimised, targeting advertising?

Putting technology first makes all of these futures and more possible; most of them are not desirable. The Smarter London strategy should set out its vision for the London we want, and deploy technology in support of achieving a better place to live, work and visit, supported by a growing economy and more efficient public services.

To this end, Doteveryone suggests a recalibration of the vision. Rather than aiming to be “the global home of data innovation and artificial intelligence to boost growth and help make London a better place to live, work and visit”, London could instead become the global home of responsible innovation. After all, the smart city is a civic and social structure, so its values are as important as its aptitude for innovation. And as Sidewalk Labs are finding, the biggest challenge for the smart city is effective governance and accountability.

Doteveryone defines responsible technologies as ones that:

  • Do not knowingly deepen existing inequalities, or create new ones
  • Recognise and protect the inherent dignity and rights of all
  • Give people confidence and trust in their use

A clear set of values creates a solid foundation for innovation governance — making it easy to sense-check unintended and unimagined outcomes as they play out in real time.

1.2 Be technology agnostic

Data and AI are not the only technology ingredients needed to grow the economy, improve living and working conditions, make London more attractive to visitors, make public services more efficient, and capitalise on the skills and capabilities of London businesses.

Commitment to accessibility, holistic service design, better procurement, clear governance, understandable design patterns, maintenance and meaningful consent models are all vital for digital transformation on this scale. Putting these building blocks in place will create a solid foundation for long-term, continuing innovation, and ensure that London is ready for what comes after AI, or for the uses of automation that we can’t yet imagine.

2: Lead the way with inclusive and transparent data policies, meaningful consent, and useful new governance models

2.1 Data and people

A Smarter London should have a robust data inclusion policy, clear guidelines to avoid biased decision-making, and systems that can be easily explained to maintain and build trust.

As the Doteveryone People, Power and Technology report shows, there is a disconnect between what we do and what we think. Humans are complex and messy in ways data cannot yet convey. We are capable of holding many contradictory opinions — strongly, and with conviction: we want convenience and trust; transparency and security; personalisation and community — and we want them all at the same time.

So making a city for people, built on data, becomes fraught. If what we want — safe transport late at night, outdoor space to exercise in, access to healthy food — is different to what we do — use unlicensed mini-cabs, eat lunch sitting at our desks, stock up on cheap food — then we will never get the city we aspire to.

Moreover, data and its uses are political. Questions to consider include: Whose data contributes to decisions? In a mixed economy of personal-public-private data, what data has supremacy? And will people who have accreted more data — the data rich — become more influential than the data poor?

For example, the Citymapper Smartbus is a bus for people who use Citymapper. It’s not pretending to be otherwise, but it’s not public transport: it’s not a bus for the people who have lived on the same street for 5 or 10 or 20 years, who know the way without looking it up on an app, or who don’t have any data on their phone, so they couldn’t look it up even if they wanted to. And while there’s a place for both, people who give data to the system aren’t the only ones who deserve innovative new services. The Smart City must innovate for the data poor, and not simply respond to the information it has been given.

2.2 Managing consent

Consent for data collection and use must be meaningful and manageable for everyone who visits, lives and works in London.

The Doteveryone People, Power and Technology report shows 89% of UK residents want terms and conditions to be clearer, 51% have signed up to things they don’t understand, and 91% of people want clarity about how their data is used.

Consent within a city is dynamic and reactive. As a user, my need state, and tolerance, will change depending on my context: what data am I prepared to exchange for immediate convenience, vs what do I want to provide to improve services over time? What is my comfort level at home, at work, on the street, on the Tube? How many times a day, an hour, do I want to actively consent to share my data? What is my comfort level as a vulnerable person? Do I understand when I am in public space or private realm, or when exchanging my data is a condition for participation? When is my data exposed by others’ behaviour? How can a member of a household have a different data preference to their siblings or housemates? And can I share my footfall data to be used to optimise a public transport route, but not to optimise advertising? How can I opt in and out?

The recent exposure of data practices by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica make it clear that consent must be explicitly given to be meaningful, and that consent needs to apply to the uses of data as well as to its collection. GDPR compliance will make this clearer to implement as a data controller, but the cognitive load of managing consent in multiple contexts is a new piece of labour for the citizen, worker and visitor that may not be fully offset by the convenience it creates. IF’s Data Permissions Catalogue sets out some emerging best practice for collecting personal information and the GLA should invest in bringing these to life in and around London, as more data is collected.

2.3 Data communities

The GLA should explore community-run data trusts as a mechanism for Smart City governance.

Data trusts — in which data is pooled and jointly controlled — might create new opportunities for communities and neighbourhoods, especially if data is anonymised for the individual, and is viewed as a community asset.

The quid pro quo of exchanging data for better community services in a smaller geographical footprint is tangible and relatable. It is easy to understand real things that happen quickly in your neighbourhood; it is much more difficult to create a mental model of activity happening across a city when you only have a (very) partial view. Bringing a data community like this to life — governed by the community and accompanied by transparent decision making — is a piece of civic engineering as much as it is a digital one. The innovation as much in the social structures around it as in the data.

The Arup “Cloud Atlas” report explores the opportunities created by taking an holistic approach at a community level, combining public and private data to understand better use of space, improving mobility and working patterns, and even health, but the governance and community infrastructure needed to realise this is not explored in the report.

3: Help those who live, work in and visit London live more secure, informed and adaptable digital lives

As London faces the future, the people who live and work here should be confident about how technology is changing their lives. Digital capability is not simply about being able to code; it’s about being able to cope. More growth and more innovation will flow from better security, more information and the confidence to be adaptable.

3.1 Public information campaigns

Doteveryone welcomes A Smarter London Together’s recognition of the importance of digital understanding. Understanding how technology is changing the world is a vital building block for entrepreneurship, leadership, and daily life.

As Doteveryone’s People, Power and Technology report shows, the British public feels conflicted about the technology we use every day. Our optimism about the potential of technology is tempered by feelings of powerlessness. We all want more accountability, but we don’t know how to get it.

Public awareness is an important step towards taking control of the influence technology has on all of us; we would encourage the GLA to support and nurture Londoners’ understanding of technology with public information campaigns across the TfL estate that explain how our data is being used and the benefits it creates.

3.2 Cultivating responsible innovation

It is not yet known what “job readiness” will look like in 2030, what the full impact of Brexit will be on London, or where the estimates of the impact of automation sit on the hype cycle. As technology becomes ever easier to use and harder to understand, useful mental models for how things work and how they change society will become more vital for entrepreneurs: for instance, most of us can’t understand how machine learning is created and how it functions in detail, but this generation of entrepreneurs must understand its capabilities and the opportunities and risks it creates.

We recommend responsible innovation training for entrepreneurs and investors that helps them grow and scale businesses with an appreciation of their wider social impact, and an awareness of how to create Responsible Technology, so they understand the context technology operates in, what contributes to its success and the value it creates, and methods for continually assessing how it is performing for different people and situations.

3.3 Strengthening the most vulnerable

Our digital capabilities are not just our skills and understanding; they include the devices we use and the connectivity that is available to us. We will never all have the same phones with the same privacy and security settings, the same amount of free memory, the same amount of data, or the same access to secure wifi. Yet 95% of us say it is important our information is secure.

A user with a £549 iPhone and an unlimited data package buys a better, more secure experience than a user with a £30 unlocked Android phone and little or no data, who is hopping on and off unsecured public wifi. As Ranking Digital Rights have reported, encryption does not come as a standard feature on many cheaper smart phones. Strengthening the digital capabilities of Londoners and offering a new deal for city data also requires secure public Internet access as standard; we recommend City Hall invests in setting standards for secure public wifi throughout London and mandates clear and comprehensible explanations of the level of security offered by wifi in public spaces, including the TfL estate.

3.4 Leadership

Doteveryone is delighted to be collaborating with City Hall to set new standards for modern adaptive leadership that innovates with purpose, and to sharing the outcomes of this research throughout 2018.

Conclusion

Innovation is not simply the creation of shiny new things. It is about change over time, and maintaining and adapting successful interventions, and about reflection, learning and iteration. We do not need more dead ‘smart’ systems sitting unused in public spaces. A Smarter London should put the people who live, work and visit London first and use Responsible Technology to build a better city for all of us.