AMS Case studies Democracy by Design

Across the globe, public and private parties are building the smart cities and smart infrastructures of tomorrow. They strive to improve the efficiency of systems, reduce costs, improve reliability and offer better services by implementing information technology in our public spaces and infrastructures. This is good news for cities and citizens.  However, the increased reliance on information technology brings new risks. We have to ensure that the positive effects of the digitalization movement are fully utilized without sacrificing our democratic values – i.e. equal treatment, equality in the decision-making process, autonomy and freedom of choice – that form the foundation of our society.

In the Democracy by Design Case studies we investigate real-life smart city cases in detail. We focus on innovative smart projects which aim at developing smart city solutions of the future. In doing this, we focus on the fields of energy, electric mobility, public lighting and traffic management. Together with project teams and experts on governance, algorithmic transparency, user interface design and other expertise relevant to Democracy by Design, we identify issues that could arise when up scaling innovations and focus on what is needed to embed these innovations in (current) business processes.

Examples

In projects related to electric vehicle charging, we look at issues related to algorithmic transparency and the decision making process. So-called ‘smart charging’ will allow us to optimize the charging process for a great number of factors, such as electicity prices, grid congestion, user schedules, the availability of parking spots, prioritizing groups such as car sharing schemes or medical professionals over others. In order to end up with a smart charging practice that is fair, we are looking into ways to bring implicit design decisions to the table of the relevant democratic bodies, and designing the relevant transparency on algorithmic behavior to do so.

On new energy markets, we both look at new market models, and the results they may have on the distribution of power over the energy system, and the role of energy trading platform business models. The platform position brings with it a substantial power to set the conditions under which others can interact over the platform. This brings design decisions related to search algorithms, how they rank results and leave out certain results and  how participants on the platform are represented to others. Who should decide on these rules? As we know from the internet, they have a huge effect on how people make decisions. Can we give users a say in the rules the platform operates upon?