The democratic smart city

How can democratic values be built into technological designs for smart cities that require citizens to share data with each other as well as with commercial companies and governments? In this project, two philosophers and two social scientists will address this question in close collaboration with (ethical) engineers, representatives of neighborhood organizations, local councils, corporations and other interested individuals and groups.

The Smart City

In the future the majority of the world population will be living in cities. Many European governments and companies, therefore, stress the importance of creating smarter cities through the use of information technology. In these so called Smart Cities, tiny computers – embedded in streets, houses, cars, clothing and even on the bodies of city dwellers – gather data about traffic flows, consumer behavior, energy consumption and many other activities. A variety of applications that automatically analyze and use these data will make the city a large, efficiently organized and streamlined, comfortable living environment.

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Unequal distribution of power

However, in view of the growing concern about the safety of information networks and the unequal distributions of power built into digital platforms, many European governments now strive to ensure that we create future smart cities based on democratic values. This challenge is the starting point for this project. In the next three years, researchers Dorien Zandbergen, Merel Noorman, Tsjalling Swierstra and Justus Uitermark will explore how democratic values can become part of designs for the Smart City.

The project

Three things will be investigated:

1) How values, such as privacy, participation and ownership, can be built into technology.

2) How more people can actively discuss and decide about their own digital environment.

3) How the research findings of this project can be generalized, for instance, through a kind of certification tool that allow users of a digital system to see on which ethical considerations the system was based and to actively partake in the decision-making processes about the design of the system


The research will be done in the context of a broad network of researchers, designers, ethical hackers/critical engineers, programmers, marketing professionals and representatives of particular neighborhoods. The researchers will share their insights, findings, questions and ideas on this site, in the hope that they can invite and engage more people to think and discuss with them and perhaps also to collaborate in particular projects.