On February 7th the City of Barcelona Office of Technology and Digital Innovation, in collaboration with the European Commission, organized the Digital Social Innovation (DSI) event on “Data Sovereignty for the Collaborative Economy”. DSI is an innovation field in which technology and social entrepreneurs collaborate with citizens and their communities using digital technologies to co-create knowledge and solutions for multiple social issues, from health to democracy, from consumption to transparency, from education to alternative currencies. The Digital Social Innovation for Europe platform, funded by the CAPS program (Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability and Social innovation), is currently showcasing  a community of 1198 organisations and 794 projects using digital technologies to tackle social challenges.

The event in Barcelona brought together social entrepreneurs, hackers, citizens, researchers and policy makers working in fields such as digital manufacturing, collaborative economy, open democracy and digital rights.

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The EU Policy Lab was invited to participate in the “Technology for the Common Good: Growing a Digital Social Innovation Ecosystem for Europe” panel, where we presented our collaborative and experimental way of working in evidence-based policy advise, together with some of our “Prototyping for Policy” activities that we’ve been organizing at EU events since early 2016 with makers, hackers, and other DIY/DIT communities, the CAPS “Making Sense” project where we explore community engagement and citizen-driven science and technology frameworks, and the upcoming project  “Blockchain4EU: Blockchain for Industrial Transformations”.

Below a small review of the several debates and informal conversations that took place during the event, strongly feeding into areas where the EU Policy Lab has been actively working with an extended network of stakeholders.

Public and social services in collaborative and open ecosystems

How can the public sector sustain digital social innovation under the goals of a fair and just society? How can we create public and social services in open and collaborative ways? Barcelona City Council is tackling these questions head-on. Gerardo Pisarello (Vice Mayor) and Francesca Bria (Chief Technology Officer) underlined that Barcelona is contributing to the growth of a digital social innovation ecosystem that can directly benefit citizens and support a more collaborative economy. They have just launched the DSI4BCN platform as a new round of funding to support, grow and scale an ecosystem of projects and organisations. DSI4BCN aims to foster digital innovations for the social good, helping communities share data, collaborate to solve societal problems and scale their initiatives focusing on open technologies that enable new sustainable business models and preserve people’s privacy and digital sovereignty. Also Alvaro Porro from Barcelona Activa, an organisation integrated in the Area of Employment, Enterprise and Tourism at Barcelona City Council, presented other activities and partnerships, such as La Comunificadora programme which mentored 15 projects selected through an open call, or the Procommuns initiative, working on public policies to promote a commons-oriented collaborative economy.

Open design, open hardware, open communities

Technologies can be designed and built with an open, transparent and decentralised approach, enabling more and more actors to create and/or adapt them to their specific needs and contexts.

For instance, the Fairphone presented by Jan-Willem Loggers is designed as a modular smartphone based on the principle of fairer electronics. The project aims for a positive impact across the value chain in mining, design, manufacturing and life cycle of smartphones, while also respecting ethical values when it comes to fair work conditions in the producing countries. It started in 2010 and so far has around 125.000 owners and a community of 250.000 in Facebook, Twitter and the Fairphone forum combined. Making Sense, presented by Mara Balestrini, is another example of a technological and socially empowering project, in this case on how to build and adapt low cost and DIY sensors (such as the Smart Citizen Kit) to address environmental pollution. As partner in this project, we presented our approach to community building and citizen engagement with the goal of empowering local actors in making sense of their surroundings and enact change through campaigns taking into account their cultural, social and political contexts. We also illustrated some of our “Prototyping for Policy”  activities , such as the JRC Workshop “Do-It-Yourself: Exploring the Potential of Fab Labs”, the first ever EU mini-Maker Faire at the European Parliament, or the “Hack Your Food” Workshop at the FOOD2030 event.

Smart citizen kit - Making Sense project

Smart citizen kit – Making Sense project

Data ownership and decentralised architectures

Data has become a valuable and contested resource: no matter if we are talking about information, knowledge, networks, systems or infrastructures. A small number of US tech organizations (Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft) stand among the most data-rich companies in the world. Their business models contrats with the notion of data as “commons” to be made available for all actors to build upon and develop new services and products. David Cuartielles (co-founder Arduino) provocatively suggested government ownership of Facebook and other platforms to guarantee free  and open access to data. Additional regulatory discussions on EU copyright rules, net neutrality, or ePrivacy regulation should not be left out of the discussion as pointed out by Simona Levi (Xnet).

Alternative developments can be found for example in the new flagship EU project DECODE presented by Jaromil Rojo (Dyne), The project will develop a decentralised data architecture based on blockchain technology to strengthen data sovereignty of citizens and experiment next generation platform cooperatives.

How to design decentralised technologies

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The notion of decentralisation is not only technical but it embodies specific social, cultural and political assumptions and consequences. This heterogeneity needs to be addressed through transdisciplinary collective efforts bringing together different fields of knowledge. For instance, when assessing the potential of blockchain as a decentralised ledger technology, the EU Policy Lab (in collaboration with the European Commission Directorate General for Growth) will explore in the the prototyping of emerging applications for the industrial sector, with an extended group of technical developers, designers, hackers, philosophers, designers, legal experts, entrepreneurs, business representatives, and policy makers. Still many questions arise on how to think about governance, social norms and ethics around blockchain or more generally decentralised systems, as Carles Sierra (Spanish National Research Council) and George Danezis (University College London) pointed out. How to assure respect for privacy and autonomy in daily life when you will have such autonomous and transparent systems? Will property and ownership of data need to be redefined? How do you delegate rights and obligations to automated processes, and who is liable? What do negotiation, argumentation and trust mean in these potentially new human-machine interactions? We have to think about answers now that such decentralised technologies are still in the early designing and implementation phase, so to come up with alternative solutions and be prepared when they will be fully developed.

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