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Digital ethics collection | Article

Place-based ethical challenge

The ethical premise that underpins digital placemaking is simple: Digital placemaking boosts the wellbeing, social, cultural, environmental and economic value of places by using location-specific digital technology to foster deeper relationships between people and communities and the places they inhabit.

Socitm’s resource hub collections on smart places, location intelligence and harnessing data each demonstrate the place-based ethical challenge – how do we achieve locality-based ethical change in a world where emerging technologies and data are connecting place-based infrastructure, business, communities, public service and individual citizens in ways that were previously impossible?

As Socitm’s briefing on digital ethics demonstrates, organisations need identify what is unique and different about an ethical, place-based approach to using emerging technologies and data. They also need to explore how adopting a digital ethics approach can help to design better services, leveraging benefits and better outcomes.

“Digital Placemaking (Noun); The augmentation of physical places with location-specific digital services, products or experiences to create more attractive destinations for all.”

Source: Calvium Research

Planting the flag – a new local normal: principles into practice

From an operational perspective, our Planting the flag – a new local normal (PtF) initiative draws on the ideas and experience from members of Socitm and its partner associations the Linked Organisation of Local Authority ICT Societies (LOLA) and Major Cities of Europe (MCE) around the world to illustrate how in the face of Covid-19 place-based activity is being transformed by local responses.

PtF offers an emerging model of locally based ethical change built around key “principles/concepts” of “Simplify – Standardise – Share – Sustain”The model covers the following eight key areas and highlights practical cases studies illustrating localities applying a ‘principle into practice’ approach:

  • Distributed, place-based leadership and delivery: These approaches advocate taking one direction across place, which is meaningful and empathetic to people and their lives. Championing shared data and digital technology, focusing on better insights and outcomes in support of digital literacy and self-sustainability. e.g. Leeds, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, and Tel Aviv
  • Virtual infrastructure: Encouraging the development of networks and applications – common, cross-sectoral instances and licensing with device provisioning and management. Supporting identity verification and eligibility checks, open standards and application programming interfaces. Focusing on cyber sustainability, ideally within an anytime, anyplace, anywhere, anyone – 100% high speed connectivity – environment. e.g. Norfolk and Leeds
  • Democratic engagement and renewal: Maintaining public trust through effective digital communications and engagement that is seen as open, transparent, accessible and equitable. Offering a range of virtual meetings, online voting and public engagement facilities. e.g. Lyon, Norfolk, Waltham Forest, and Welwyn-Hatfield
  • Data insights: Harnessing data in an ethical and responsible way that is transparent and commits to open standards. Valuing data, especially geospatial, to help combined analysis and working across place/partners/third sector. Boosting responsible predictive analytical capability to provide intelligence and insights. Balancing privacy and public good with the needs of City/place-based capability building. e.g. Barking & Dagenham, and Shropshire
  • Service design: Helping to broker local service delivery ecosystems and co-create/co-design/co-produce across place. Collaborate with suppliers and other agencies together with harnessing community assets. Look to an agile, low code, minimum viable product, iterative approach underpinned by dynamic purchasing. Reform services especially care and relational, rethink nature of services and measure outcomes not inputs. e.g. Rennie Grove hospice at home, Surrey Heath, Camden/Bucks, Adur & Worthing, Brighton & Hove, Issy-les-Moulineaux, and Vienna
  • Asset rationalisation: Explore co-location, flexible building spaces and the repurposing of buildings. Consider the role of mixed organic developments and low-carbon built environment. e.g. Greater Manchester community hubs, Barking & Dagenham, Coventry City Council, Camden etc and Centre for Cities.
  • Workstyles: Champion health/wellbeing mindsets and support work/life balance through home working. Support the full spectrum of paid <-> volunteer roles so that approaches are organic, collaborative, boosting digital and data skills and seen to add public value. e.g. Liverpool, Leeds, Norfolk and Dudley
  • Living spaces: Build a place-base response founded on a respect for nature, in which communities see themselves as custodians and participants. Champion the value of green space – clean air and water, trees, wildlife. Support sustainable resource lifecycles and waste management and seek to adopt green technologies – drones, electric/hydrogen vehicles, local energy grids e.g. City of London, and Amsterdam

Building digitally inclusive communities

More widely, emerging thinking around what constitutes a place-based approach to the ethical use of emerging technology and data analytics is being stimulated by initiatives like the UN’s sustainable development goals, the UK’s Local Digital Declaration and the World Economic Forum’s work on economic recovery from Covid-19.

Applying these lessons from this thought leadership and Socitm’s own prescriptions to digital place-making can, if handled aright, boost the social, cultural, environmental and economic value of places by using location-specific digital technology to foster deeper relationships between people and the places they inhabit.

Such an approach is at the heart of the emerging concept of Doughnut Economics and City Portraits, which seeks to model ethical ways in which “people and planet can thrive in balance”. They build on earlier related conceptual models, including the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) “Building Digitally Inclusive Communities, which comprises the following principles:

  • Availability and affordability: Communities need reliable and affordable access to broadband technology infrastructure in order to be fully engaged and competitive in today’s information-based world.
  • Public access: In a world connected by technology, all people, regardless of income, need access to information and communication technologies in order to be fully engaged members of society, both economically and socially.
  • Accessibility for people with disabilities: Communities should ensure the full participation of all their members, by embedding accessibility to digital technology for people with disabilities throughout their institutions, processes, and public awareness efforts.
  • Adoption and digital literacy: Beyond having access to technologies, people, businesses, and institutions need to understand digital technologies and how to use them effectively to achieve their educational, economic, and social goals.
  • Consumer education and protection: Consumers—both individual and institutional— need accurate, unbiased information to understand the technology options available to them, including how to buy and maintain equipment and how to safely navigate the digital world.
  • Education: Educational institutions should ensure that students have the digital skills to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow, and to reap the potential rewards of lifelong digital learning.
  • Economic and workforce development: Technology is a powerful engine of innovation and economic growth in today’s world. For individuals and businesses to succeed in this environment, communities need to foster the mastery of 21st century skills and encourage use of technology for economic development.
  • Civic engagement: Residents should be easily able to interact electronically with institutions, government, and one another, to participate actively in community
  • Public safety and emergency services: Communities can increase their emergency responsiveness through effective deployment of digital technologies, ensuring the public the best possible emergency preparedness.
  • Health care: Communities should have the digital technologies necessary to support the health care needs of their populations, especially in areas with limited health care facilities, to afford all their members access to the best possible health care.
  • Quality of life: Individual members of a community should have access to technologies that promote social engagement and the pursuit of productive and creative interests.

“Economics is the mother tongue of public policy”

Source: Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist
Doughnut economics - doughnut graphic

What is the Doughnut?

Think of it as a compass for human prosperity in the 21st century, with the aim of meeting the needs of all people within the means of the living planet.

The Doughnut consists of two concentric rings: a social foundation, to ensure that no one is left falling short on life’s essentials, and an ecological ceiling, to ensure that humanity does not collectively overshoot the planetary boundaries that protect Earth’s life-supporting systems. Between these two sets of boundaries lies a doughnut-shaped space that is both ecologically safe and socially just: a space in which humanity can thrive.

The Doughnut is the core concept at the heart of Doughnut Economics. Find out more here.

“Digital inclusion encompasses not only access to the Internet but also the availability of hardware and software; relevant content and services; and training for the digital literacy skills required for effective use of information and communication technologies. The cost of digital exclusion is great. Without access, full participation in nearly every aspect of … society — from economic success and educational achievement, to positive health outcomes and civic engagement — is compromised.”

Source: Building Digitally Inclusive Communities

Doughnut Economics: principles into practice

With regard to place-based ethical use of emerging technologies and data, the doughnut principles require localities to start to identify what is unique and different about an ethical, place-based approach to using Smart Information Systems, in order to help us to design better services, leveraging benefits and better outcomes.

Doughnut Economics offers such an approach, as typified by Amsterdam’s environmental and societal wellbeing City Doughnut initiative in partnership with the Doughnut Economics Action Lab. Starting with following four key questions that address what it would mean for the people of this city/community to thrive:

  • Healthy: with nutritious food, clean water, good health, and decent housing.
  • Connected: by Internet connectivity, urban/rural mobility, a sense of community, and access to culture.
  • Enabled: with good education, decent work, sufficient income, and access to affordable energy.
  • Empowered: with political voice, social equity, equality in diversity (including gender and racial equality), and peace and justice.

Amsterdam is applying the following principles for putting ethical place-based change into practice:

  • Embrace the 21st century goal. Aim to meet the needs of all people within the means of the living planet. Seek to align your organisation’s purpose, networks, governance, ownership and finance with this goal. Expect the work to be challenging, innovative and transformative.
  • See the big picture. Recognise the potential roles of the household, the commons, the market and the state – and their many synergies – in transforming economies. Ensure that finance serves the work rather than drives it.
  • Nurture human nature. Promote diversity, participation, collaboration and reciprocity. Strengthen community networks and work with a spirit of high trust. Care for the wellbeing of the team.
  • Think in systems. Experiment, learn, adapt, evolve, and aim for continuous improvement, Be alert to dynamic effects, feedback loops and tipping points.
  • Be distributive. Work in the spirit of open design and share the value created with all who co-create it. Be aware of power and seek to redistribute it to improve equity amongst stakeholders.
  • Be regenerative. Aim to work with and within the cycles of the living world. Be a sharer, repairer, regenerator, steward. Reduce travel, minimize flights, be climate and energy smart.
  • Aim to thrive rather than to grow. Don’t let growth become a goal in itself. Know when to let the work spread out via others rather than scale up in size.
Doughnut Economics Action Lab logo
Image: Doughnut Economics Action Lab logo

More widely, the Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) has developed its City Portraits guide that sets out the DEAL Portrait methodology to all who are interested in downscaling the Doughnut to their city or place. Alongside this the DEAL Team have built a supporting database of project materials covering the following themes:

  • Cities and Places: Downscaling the Doughnut to reimagine and remake the places where we live
  • Government and Policy: Engaging with policymakers to bring about systemic social and economic transformation
  • Education and Research: Exploring Doughnut Economics in the classroom and deepening it through academia
  • Business and Enterprise: Transforming business so that it serves to bring humanity into the Doughnut
  • Communities and Art: Co-creating playfully serious ways of turning Doughnut Economics into transformative action