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<nettime> "You cannot have a digital revolution without a democratic rev
nettime's smart citizen on Tue, 4 Jul 2017 15:52:11 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> "You cannot have a digital revolution without a democratic revolution." Francesca Bria Interview



Building the Networked City From the Ground Up With Citizens
By Albert Cañigueral

http://www.shareable.net/blog/building-the-networked-city-from-the-ground-up-with-citizens

How can technology lead to more participation in democratic processes?
Who should own and control city data? Can cities embrace a model
that socializes data and encourages new forms of cooperativism and
democratic innovation? In the run-up to the OuiShare Fest Paris,
Albert Cañigueral interviewed Francesca Bria, the chief innovation
officer of Barcelona.

__Albert Cañigueral: You were in London working for the U.K.
innovation agency Nesta. Why did you accept the offer from the
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau?

Francesca Bria: I was working for Nesta and had already done a lot
of work on a European level and with movements around open access,
democracy and technology for social good. I was excited to come work
for the new government in Barcelona because they have a very new
approach to the city. They were making it clear that you cannot have a
digital revolution without a democratic revolution. It was the start
of my mandate to rethink the smart city, not just in technological
terms, but in ways that put citizen needs and the city’s (political)
questions at the core.

__What have some of the key actions been on the Barcelona agenda since
then?

One key point is access to housing. The government is not only
tracking down big banks that leave apartments empty but also
confronting platforms like Airbnb whose business model has a negative
impact on affordable housing.

Another big theme is energy transition and renewable energy. Barcelona
wants to create a municipal energy company to fight the current
monopoly. We are also looking into more distributed energy models,
like smart grids, models that are more affordable and which allow
citizens to be in control of their data.

We are also rethinking urban planning with projects like the
SuperBlocks(Superilles). Aimed at giving back public spaces to
citizens, they were created in a very innovative process with a
digital democracy platform for large-scale citizen participation.
Opening the debate brought many great ideas, but it also showed us
the complicated aspect of participation. There were many conflicting
interests and it was learning by doing in an iterative way.

Finally, instead of working only with big companies as governments
typically do, we are also rethinking the economic model to support
new economies like the solidarity, collaborative and digital economy.
This also helps us fight corruption since often a lock-in of the
public administration with big companies leaves little space for other
players.

__Sounds like there are some real challenges ahead. How did you start
to address them and what's the role of technology here?

Over the past year, I created a Barcelona Digital City plan to address
how technology and data can help solve urban challenges. It’s
divided into three main areas.

The first is digital transformation of the government through
technology. This involves aspects like procurement -how we purchase
technology — avoiding lock-in by working with smaller companies
and ensuring that public money is invested in open technologies. To
increase transparency, the city hall is also testing an open and
participatory budgeting system in Barcelona neighbourhoods with the
Gracia projectfor example, which then can be scaled up.

Together with the activist group X-Net we have also created —
and this is pretty unique- an encrypted infrastructure TOR that is
integrated into the main city infrastructure. It functions as a
whistleblower tool for public workers to denounce cases of corruption
and help us open up the public administration.

In terms of procurement, we are also integrating clauses that address
sustainability, gender and the solidarity economy. The goal is to get
citizens more involved in how their money is spent and make them part
of the procurement process.

We are also focusing on digital innovation with the new socio-economic
innovation activity line inside Barcelona Activa as well as an
incubator and accelerator for tech companies. However, most
innovative are programs for digital social innovation (associated
with https://digitalsocial.eu/) that acknowledge the impact of open
technology on the economy, democracy and manufacturing. The Barcelona
MADE project for example (Maker District in Poblenou or hosting the
MakerFaire) is aimed at rethinking the future of production in cities
and urban manufacturing in a circular economy way. It’s important
that cities regain some industrial capacity to make them more
sustainable again.

The third aspect addresses digital empowerment and collective
intelligence. We are expanding this to many areas like city planning,
cultural activities and citizens initiatives with experiments
like PAM. But above all, the digital education projectis aimed at
rethinking education and the future of work. We not only need new
skills to be able to transition to the digital society — or should
I just say future — but in a time of extreme automation, we also
must invent new jobs. Along these lines, we are piloting a basic
income scheme related to digital currency infrastructure as part of
an EU-funded project. Barcelona also recently hosted an international
conferenceabout alternative currencies.

__A core topic in this tech strategy is "city data commons." Why is
data so important?

The question of data ownership and sovereignty, or "City Data
Commons," is particularly important because it raises the question
of how we can make the most out of data by putting the digital right
of the citizen at the core. In a world where machines are doing more
and more, it's important to acknowledge that this data belongs to the
citizens, not governments. Cities should act as the intermediary and
as custodians of these new rights.

__What are the mechanisms you can put in place to progress in this
direction?

One way to go is by changing the regulations. Another way is through
decentralised and encrypted infrastructure that makes citizens aware
of how the data is used. At the moment, when you use a digital service
it's not necessarily clear what happens to the data and how it's
monetized. People sign some terms of contract but it's all very
opaque.

DECODE is a new 5 million euro project we are currently working on
together with 14 partners across Europe. We are experimenting with
encrypted decentralized data management architecture using blockchain
and distributed ledgers to make these data commons clearer.

__There is no lack of technical tools. But are we, both citizens and
adminstration, culturally ready for it?

Tools are not just technical devices, but regulation, economic models,
technical infrastructure and cultural organizational change. Making
them align is the difficult part, The problem is definitely not the
tech, but the culture and the institutional boundaries. Even though
at the moment there are citizens in the government who don't think
like bureaucrats, they still have to work within certain boundaries.
Institutional hacking is great, but to truly expand these it must come
from the bottom up. Sure you also need the right people in power, but
if society can’t enter and do things, monitor and track activities,
nothing will change.

__For all these ideas Barcelona has been named a Rebel City, but you
are not alone in this, right? What are the best practices to connect
with like-minded cities? What cities are interested in Barcelona's
developments?

It's interesting to see how in hard times cities are coming together
to solve problems that governments are not (such as immigration,
access to water, energy and affordable housing). These solidarity
networks are important because they empower people with the feeling
that you can actually transform something. Although we need to keep
the big vision in sight, what we are doing institutionally are small
but irreversible changes. Barcelona just hosted The Fearless Cities
Municipalist Summit to strengthen links with like-minded cities as
well.

Cities are also coming together to create a more local collaborative
economic model that doesn’t rely on big U.S. corporations who
dominate the market and take all the data. Regulation is one
difficulty, but mainly we need to ensure that collaborative economy
models that have a positive local impact can grow and flourish. We are
collaborating with cities like Berlin, New York, Moscow and Amsterdam
on this and demanding that big platforms give us their data. We need
algorithmic transparency to regulate and understand the business
model. Currently, it's a black box.

__But let's be realistic. Cities have a lot of limitations in terms of
creating regulation and fiscal leverage.

Absolutely. Cities have to solve all these challenges but they have
neither the law-making power nor the fiscal leverage. This is a
conflict that we see happening a lot in Spain, and it’s a complex
dialogue between city and state.

One way European cities are circumventing this is by articulating
themselves as metropolitan areas within a region. The European
investment bank is working with cities and regions for example, and
also the fact that cities are municipalization infrastructure is
interesting. The example of the rebel cities shows that despite fiscal
and law making limitations, governments are beginning to feel pressure
from cities.

Nevertheless, I believe in federalism, as you need to be able to work
at different levels, city, regional, national, global and European.
And you have to make them work together.

__Let's fast-forward to the future. When citizens are fully empowered,
what will be left for the public adminstration?

We will see after the mandate in Barcelona, but the fact that you can
have a citizen movement enter the institution, govern and take power
shows that there is already a new approach in policy in terms of
political class. This is not a cyber thing, a purely digital model,
but the opposite. I think we are going towards hybrid models where
citizens will have a type of self-governance and be directly involved
in things like allocating budget, taking decisions and managing
projects. I really believe that the future will be more and more of
these political movements and approaches that are based on the common
good.




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