Report from Working Group Societal at the IOT Week, Venice June 2012

The IoT Forum Event # 2 took place in conjunction with IoT Week 2012 19-21 June 2012 Scuola Grande, Venice, Italy

The Internet of Things is a horizontal operation that will influence and change society like the book and the web has done. The difference is that this time many stakeholders are involved in shaping it: traditional policymakers and innovators, big industry and startup SME, philosophers and designers and an evergrowing group of individual actors with web and cheap hardware tools. Together we have to debate the most productive balance between top down and bottom up in issues such as privacy, security, energy and solidarity.

Mirko Presser opened and presented the Special Issue of the IoT Comic Book.

Rob van Kranenburg (Chair) gave a brief introduction from his interview with Stig Andersen in that special issue, mentioning two possible scenarios – a positive and a negative one:

“In the positive scenario, the existing institutions in society are maintained, but they will open up their databases and their infrastructures will be made publicly available in order for everybody to make good use of them.”  The message from civil society is clear: “Let us help you transform into flatter structures and networks. You may still work – not in your towers, but at street level, and we will use real-time data to make better decisions. You did your best, at least you tried, but now the time has come to build a public backbone supporting inclusive structures – all the rest is local decision-making.” In the positive scenario, the Internet of Things will bring radical transparency into decision-making and tremendous agency to end users placing them at the same level as corporations and states. A protocol of sharing and collaboration will reach a critical mass vis-à-vis the forces of competition, and business models that neglect this, will crack.  However, the old institutions will find it very hard to adapt to this new order of things. The history of these institutions shows a deep-rooted tradition for blocking the access to knowledge to maintain power. So embracing a development that entails a de facto dismantling of their own power structures is not a tempting scenario: “Before the internet, these institutions had one door to guard, which they did with diplomas and strict security measures. With the internet, people come in through the door, the windows and all other openings in the house. Eventually, the house will be transparent to the point where it will disappear along with the very notion that data can belong to a certain institution.” In the positive scenario, a completely flat world will emerge, where the key question is how to organize solidarity and public infrastructures. “I think it can be done by getting control at device level. It is a very critical moment right now, and maybe we can actually do it for the first time. But the technical expert community has to become political, and has to stop being focused on the backend processes. Imagine that we get a public infrastructure on all layers open for everybody to build services upon. This is a change that needs to come about – if not, there will be no Internet of Things. Instead, there will be private networks, gated communities, and the seamless infrastructures will only be available for smart and privileged, but isolated groups.” The tendency towards societal disintegration is already there. “More and more people are asking what the existing institutions are actually doing for them and if they should keep on supporting them through the paying of taxes. If technology allows you to take care of your own security, energy, etc. through sharing and collaboration in social networks, why continue to support these institutions. So large groups of people will break away from this system – not with a revolution, but with a simple whisper. The system is about to crack, and people will no longer think in terms of the nation, solidarity, etc.” (

In his presentation Sustainable Innovation by Citizens, for Citizens, Gerd Kortuem of Open University, UK asked where does innovation come from? Is it a one-way process from technology vendors to consumers or can we as citizens play an important role as innovators? A recent study of consumer innovation in the UK by von Hippel et al indicates that consumer or user-led innovation dwarfs traditional company-driven innovation in that consumers spend twice as much as companies in their own product development and adaptation efforts. Similarly, Bergman et al suggest that bottom-up, social innovation – defined as behaviour and lifestyle changes, energy saving through new forms of business and governance, and users employing new technical solutions – is a powerful yet under-utilised tool for addressing climate change.
Catalyst (“Citizens Transforming Society: Tools for Change”) is a £1.9M project funded by the EPSRC which brings together academics from social science, computing, design and management science to carry out research on the theme of citizen-led social innovation. Catalyst explores how citizens can use a bottom-up process to create community-driven solutions to major societal problems such as climate change, environmental degradation and energy poverty.
Change-hungry citizens have turned to mobile digital communications during key world events from the London riots and the subsequent ‘clean up the streets’ campaign to the so called ‘Twitter revolutions’ in Tunisia and Egypt. But do social networking technologies really make it easier for communities to change the world? Or do they merely promote weak links between people rather than the strong links that are needed for real social revolution? And how should we design future digital technologies – technologies with built in grassroots democracy?
Catalyst uses an unique bottom-up community-driven research methodology to investigate citizen-led innovation. Rather than letting academic researchers alone drive the research agenda, Catalyst is using a Launchpad mechanisms to engage in collaborative research with communities. Launchpads are community-led activities aimed at helping community groups find out how the sorts of problems they are facing might be helped through digital technology.
There are currently two Launched projects in Catalyst:
♣    ‘Local Trade’ aims to create a loyalty trading system which records trades and tracks the trading patterns within the system to reward sustainable and locally beneficial trading behaviour in Lancaster. Following the global economic decline, Local Trade aims to ‘re-boot’ collaborative endeavours through stimulating altruistic behaviours and rewarding local creativity and innovation.
♣    ‘Activism and Social Media’ aims to provide an online platform to bring together existing research on social media use in activism, and the experiences and views of activists themselves. This will involve both a collaborative online environment (e.g. a wiki) and real-time analysis of activist social media use.
As a community group or community member, you have a unique opportunity to drive the research.Catalyst is actively looking for community groups to collaborate on problems that could be developed into a Catalyst sub-project. The idea does not need to be fully formed; we are looking for a committed group of people, a context of genuine citizen engagement, a problem or challenge which can be clearly identified, in short a setting where Catalyst can make a positive and useful contribution. For more details see

The theme of citizen science was further developed by Sara Alvarellos Navarro (, and César Garcia Saez (, as they introduced the ideas on the data-citizen driven city. Sara Alvarellos Navarro writes about The data-citizen driven city project which she developed with César García, Jorge Medal and Sara Thomson on September 2011. With this project, produced by a multidisciplinary team consisting of an IT System Administrator, an Industrial Designer, an Artist and an Architect, she relates how she “really started considering how data can empower communities and catalyze social change. We presented The data-citizen driven city project for the 4Th ADVANCED ARCHITECTURE CONTEST “CITY-SENSE: Shaping our environment with real-time data” by The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia on the 26Th September. Our proposal focused on a technological, social and urban process would take place over ten years time. Citizens would get deeply involved into expanding the Internet of Things, adopting an active prosumer role, instead of perpetuating passive postures. In the end, data-citizen driven cities would enable local direct democracy processes that could enhance their sustainability and efficiency.

o    Understanding reality with data, changing personal habits.
Using open source technologies, like Arduino-based sensor units or mobile apps, data-citizens will be able to gather their own real-time data regarding issues they are really concerned about, such as air quality, noise levels, street deficiencies, plagues, etc. All data will be shared in open public repositories, like Pachube, available for everyone. Long term data archival will allow citizens to gain a better understanding of the urban environment and to improve their daily personal habits.

o    Collective intelligence and critical mass. Social Cohesion.
Once there is a critical mass of participants, distributed citizen sensor networks will reveal new emerging patterns that will lead to a new collective intelligence. Citizens will soon become aware of the political power of data and they will begin to get organized in local work groups to develop new strategies to improve their neighbourhoods. The massive adoption of sensors will bring their price down, allowing anyone to participate in the extension of this smart city data layer, regardless of their income.

o    Renovation of the Social Contract. Collective emerging actions.
Involvement and commitment will be part of a new social contract in which the rights and obligations of the citizens and the institutions will be redefined. The maintenance and development of local resources will be delegated to neighbours that will feel engaged in the improvement of the urban ecosystem. Alarm warnings will not be accounted for in an isolated way; an holistic approach based upon data modelling will provide a global solution taking into account all the gathered data. Open data governance and accountability will be enforced through civil actions. The mission of local institutions will consist in supporting these local processes and developing long term plans.

o    Conclusion: A more sustainable and democratic city.
By the year 2020, citizens will participate indirect democratic processes at a local scale to transform the city into a more sustainable and efficient environment. Data will enable new uses of public spaces offering streamlined solutions. People will feel highly engaged towards their neighbours and surroundings in contrast to their previously detached postures. The success of radically open transparent processes will constitute a genuine milestone in the transformation of 21st century public institutions.” (

The relevance of their approach was made visible in the presentation by Irene López de Vallejo in her talk on the social impact of IoT studied in the context of the FP7 EeB project TIBUCON: Self Powered Wireless Sensor Network for HVAC System Energy Improvement. Her main point was that the resistance towards sensor deployment in the home and immediate neighborhood is hindering fast implementation as well as the possibility of citizen co- creation. In Social Issues of Power Harvesting in Home Environment, a Spanish neighbourhood case study, the Federated Network over a Non-federated space issue leads to the question: Will “user dependable” technologies get acceptance into homes? Every single room is “owned” by a different person. Each person must be convinced about:  
• the technical solution
• the maintenance routines
• the necessity of a certain conditions.
This slows down an optimally efficient energy grid as well as the potential for local agency to act on this grid and its potential positive implications.

Energy was the key focus of Paolo Barattini’s presentation in which he stated that IOT should be in itself sustainable and should be assessed with Life cycle analysis and environmental impact.  He stressed that power consumption is not the only issue when considering the “green-ness” of an IOT product or service, and that a LCA – Life Cycle Analysis considers all the environmental issues from cradle to grave; from metal extraction to final disposal of man made objects, including toxic effects on the human being and on the environment. Pointing to the UNEP Guidelines for social life cycle assessmet of products. Social and socio-economic LCA guidelines complemen environmental LCA and Life Cycle Costing, contributing to the full assessment of goods and services within the context of sustainable development. S-LCA assesses social and socio-economic impacts found along the life cycle (supply chain, including the use phase and disposal). S-LCA could be the first step for the eco-design of any IOT service and device including cell phone applications.

This broader eco-design of IoT Services as a framework is foremost the smart city. Smart cities vs. smarter citizens, this topic was addressed by Tomaz Vidonja. In 1990 40% of world population lived in urban areas, by 2030 we expect this ratio will raise to 60% with total population still growing. This makes cities and urban areas the most important influential spaces and in the same time also very complex ones to develop and to manage succesfully. But does it refer only to mega/big cities or we could successfuly address also cities and urban areas with less than 1 mio in population?

There are two aproaches basically to develop the city: either top-down (centralized, planned) or bottom-up (distributed, not planned, yet aligned with people perception and their capacities). Neither alone is sufficient and efficient enough for sustainable growth.  In his presentation Tomaz raised the following questions: What are the pros and cons of each approach? What is the typical anatomy of the Smart city today? Why we need other segmentation than the one according to population? What is the urban/city situation in Europe? What is the role and the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) to help and to support … not to build smart cities, but rather to raise smarter citizens?!

This attempt to break away from the top down style smart city planning resonates very well with the latest developments that were addressed at the Shanghai IOT China 2012 Conference, June 27/28. In the ‘Special session on Planning Smart City of Japan’ Mine Shinshoro, director of Jetro Shanghai Office, recalls the 2010 disaster and explains that in the reconstruction of the cities the Japanese government will use the concept of smart communities to stabilize the energy power sources. Mr Yu Hao, of Fujitsu research (shaping tomorrow with you), talks about their concept of a people centered and intelligent society. Their interpretation of smart society links the virtual and the physical world in a people centered way, bringing new value to the physical, very much relying on RFID as a major glue. Mr. Toshihiro Tamaki , from Mitsui, head of Kashiwanoha Campus City Project, (planned population of 26.000) a newly built smart city from a residential perspective, relates how the regeneration of areas is offering opportunities and challenges for downtown areas as well as influencing current newly built  ones. Mitsui aims to open more of such cities on the outskirts of current cities. Three principles or solutions frame this concept: to co-exist with the environment, to challenge ageing in a holistic way and to facilitate learning and innovation. But the Control Centers should not be the ‘hero’s’ of these smart cities or communities. Do you want to live in a community controlled by IT? You say no, you don’t want to live in a mechanized way. We want the people living in the city to lead a smart life. Ultimately it comes down to a way of living. The society and the infrastructure together create the smart community. In the modern era we know that people are becoming more indifferent towards each other.
•    Can IT enhance human – human communication?
•    Incentivize is the new key. Demand control vs incentive.
•    Making energy consumption visible and provide feedback on this is one of these incentives.
•    AEMS is a smart decision making system that will see where energy is needed urgently in terms of crises, taking it away from areas where it is abundant.
•    An electric vehicles sharing system pilot (car, bike and motor ensemble) will be encouraged, allowing you to go to work by car and return by bike when the weather has changed for the better.
Mr Masaki Yokoi (Nomura Research) takes up in the same discourse in his talk The social platform of the smart city, especially focusing on the change in mentality after the earthquake. Prior to that “we thought IT was King” he asserts,  however after the East Tokyo earthquake, industry, government and citizens come up with a different mindset on what constitutes a smart city. As infrastructure was totally destroyed, communication between regions was out, huge amounts of data were lost, over the past six months Japanese experts have reflected and brainstormed on the new nature of ICT. It still has a major role to play, but it must be a new role, especially in setting up more flexible resilient infrastructure, the regeneration process of communities, changing the layout of public services in society as a whole and inconsistent power supply and a more coherent business ecosystem.
This is definitely the end of the instrumental ‘smart city’ concepts. The trend set here in Shanghai IOT 2012 is towards smart communities and wise societies.

WG Societal to do’s

o    Organize a forum with NGO’s on IoT and the effect it will have on their organizational strategies. Do you remember the times before the web? Your operational activities and funding strategies were changed radically through the ever increasing agency of endusers, first through the ability to add content and become a voice, then through the ability to make connections and add location to increasingly more mobile services. There is third wave coming. It is called Internet of Things. With the rise of cheap hardware and growing connectivity, endusers – citizens – will be able to start sharing mission critical services like energy. Sharing as a ‘tool’ is moving into all kinds of objects : cars, bikes, powertools… End to end connections between people and causes are becoming more personal and less in need of intermediaries.  Like in the days before the web, the function of umbrella organizations, the notion of organizing and the politics of policy making and influincing decision making will change in the very near future. Do you want to be prepared?

o    Focus on themes for the third Forum in Bled
o    Poverty
o    Ageing
o    Hunger
o    Climate Change
o    World Water Day


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