How does governance play a role when considering the internet of things in a smart city? At the “Ways of Being in a Digital Age – Review conference” event held in Liverpool on the 10th and 11th October, Naomi presented some thoughts based on TrustLens work so far.

The conference, which took place at the University of Liverpool’s Foresight Centre, aimed to bring together researchers looking at different aspects of digital society, and to share findings from the ESRC’s ‘Ways of Being’ review project. While topics represented in the presentations were interdisciplinary, wide ranging and various, from the Magna Carta and Twitter to digital citizenship, many themes seemed common across this breadth. Those aligned well with some of the major topics identified by the review: Citizenship and politics, governance, communities and identities, data and digital literacies, as well as social change.

Aspects of governance arose in both presentations and discussions, which was encouraging when presenting our work. Naomi spoke about existing structures of governance for smart city IoT deployments, both top-down implementations by governments and international bodies, and ground-up projects led by citizens and other smaller organisations. The issue of scales of governance, and the resulting gaps that may occur, echoed conversation during the governance break-out discussion on Tuesday afternoon. While presenting a selection of case studies of different governance models used around the world, the presentation also invited the audience to consider how transparency and accountability of these systems affected the impact they had on citizens, and how agency might be limited if physical connected devices are introduced into environments without communities being involved in decision making, or even in some cases knowing about it at all. This may extend to data management, with those living in smart cities unable to determine exactly what data is collected about them, who has access to it or ownership of it, and how this might affect their rights in this space.

Some interesting discussion followed the presentation, including questions over accountability if devices are becoming more autonomous, and an important point that governance models must be continually evolving, and adapted to take into account new information learned through deployments, and new circumstances of technology or other factors.

Overall, the conference was thought-provoking and enjoyable, and a great chance to meet researchers with similar interests and modes of thinking. Hopefully this will continue as a regular event and many more people will be able to attend and share ideas in future.

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