Master thesis projects – supporting citizen engagement and empowerment
After some time in the administrative systems of the universities, the two reports from our recent master thesis workers are finally published and available on the web! Both projects were initiated during our work with the challenges that different megacities around the world are facing, and the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) we see being part of the solutions.
Throughout the city-related projects we have come across (and perhaps even contributed to...) numerous visions of smart cities, often including models for how they can be monitored in order to optimize flows of people, increase efficiency of public services, improve maintenance of infrastructure, etc. And this managerial view of cities certainly has a value when trying to make use of available resources within a certain area. However, these ideal models of how people and services should behave are not applicable to all real-life situations and contexts. It is necessary to also find different ways forward that do not rely on an advanced infrastructure alone.
For the two master thesis projects, a stronger citizen perspective was therefore one requirement. The purpose was to present some ideas for how ICT can contribute to more empowered citizens, and how that (eventually) relate to the visions of smart cities. There are already today several examples of how people find their own way forward when the infrastructure and public services cannot deliver what they need, and ICT is often one piece of these bottom-up initiatives. Along those lines, we wanted to illustrate ways to increase citizens’ awareness and understanding, as well as to stimulate some kind of mutual responsibility.
Master thesis 1: Public safety for women
Although the exact topics of the master thesis projects were very open at the beginning, our students managed to select two areas that became even more relevant along the way. The first thesis was done by Dhanfia Rahman at Uppsala University. It focuses on public safety within the context of Mumbai, India and in particular the safety of women who increasingly are employed and move around the city at different times. The main outcome of the thesis is a three-part concept that builds on a model in which trusted men in the community more actively supports the group of women.
The concept is realized in several ways, primarily through a smartphone app (and connected badge) to give an example of how women are empowered to move safely through the city at different times. But also through public screens and anonymous reporting services to give everyone opportunities to both access information and to voice their opinions. And finally as a knowledge base for the police force who is provided with relevant information to improve and adapt their operations.
In all this, the business owners and employers are central partners with an interest that women (and others) can move safely throughout the city. For all actors the information set is intended to be much more than only statistics, and rather very dynamic and contextual.
Master thesis 2: Safe food and education
The second thesis was done by Linn Gaude at Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and zooms in on safe food within the context of Beijing, China. The project eventually took two major conceptual paths, the first one presenting ideas for how people can contribute to and make use of a safe food knowledge base. This part also gives some examples of how complex data about food can be represented to people in a personal and contextual way; in this case through a connected wrist band and textile shopping bag.
The second concept is about how citizens can establish stronger connections to farmers. Both to support transparency in the food production, but also to learn more about how food is produced to be able to better evaluate the quality. A sidetrack here that is hard to avoid is of course new forms of marketplaces that opens up in order to deliver food to peoples’ homes in a trusted and sustainable manner. And just as for the first master thesis, there is an opening for interaction with food authorities to improve services on both sides.
Those of you who dare to click one of the links below will see that the master thesis reports contain much more information than the briefly mentioned concepts. Two things that are always valuable to be reminded of are the complex interdependencies between domains and the significance of local circumstances. The solutions to a city's challenges are rarely simple but often depend on many other parts of the society. As an example, it is hard to look at women safety in Mumbai without considering socioeconomic inequalities, immigration from the countryside, the clash between traditional and modern values, education opportunities, and police corruption.
The concepts should be seen as discussion-starters and obviously not the solutions to all problems. They are a few out of many possible initiatives (ICT as well as non-ICT oriented) that together can make a difference. They do, however, illustrate, how citizens together can find solutions to challenges that are relevant for them. And a way for authorities to somehow sense what their citizens and communities think and experience in order to provide relevant services.
Photo of people at the market by Dan Zen (cc), found on flickr.
Photo of women on the train by Reuben Strayer (cc), found on flickr.
Photo of street by Ameya Gaandhe (cc), found on flickr.
Photo of grocery store by Rudy Herman (cc), found on flickr.