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A City As Smart As Its Citizens is a series of six readings with discussions about best practices for the smart society. Now that the whole series is finished, it is time to draw up the balance sheet. What can you concretely say about how a smart society should be designed? What are the best practices? And what can Eindhoven still learn about that? Digital culture expert Klaas Kuitenbrouwer reflects on the series of readings.

Decentralised systems

The smart city was about large scaled centralised infrastructural systems. In the smart society technology helps with the decentralisation of infrastructure: individual households can for example generate energy and supply it to the net. Efficiency questions remain, also in the smart society (think about waste disposal for example), but not all urban questions are interpreted as efficiency questions: quality of life is a much more subjective sort of experience than the cheapest possible waste recycling

The smart city and the welfare state were stories around big master plans of the government in collaboration with large companies or other organisations. In the smart society there are master plans for a limited number of questions and for the rest, the government is an improvising spider in the web. Sometimes directing, sometimes facilitating, sometimes protective, sometimes regulating, in continuous interaction with a large network of large and small companies, citizen initiatives, NGO’s and new technical possibilities.

Self-organising citizens

In the welfare state and in the smart city, citizens were read out by complex devices and they were taken care of based on the data thus obtained by inscrutable technology. In the smart society, citizens have more and easier resources to organise themselves than ever before. In the smart society, citizens insist on transparency of data streams. They are seen as (amateur) experts on every issue that touches them: whether it’s about a broken road, too few used football fields or lonely people in the neighbourhood.

In the welfare state, the government organised everything for the citizen, in the smart society the government helps the citizen to organise himself. In the welfare state you were either healthy, or you were in the care system. In the smart society there are more steps in between, with more or less input of professionals and the citizens’ own networks. Technology can help people to live independently at home longer and it can help people to remain self-sufficient at a higher age.

Ethical data use

In the smart city, the government provided data to large companies in exchange for efficient and cheap services. In the smart society, the government guards the public values with new developments. Data generated in the city is public property and everyone can develop services around it. Personal privacy is a fundamental right, cornerstone of the democracy and the government helps citizens to protect their privacy.

In the smart society, the government stimulates ethical data practices at all parties it works with. Either by enforcing ethical practices as a big client or administrator of a lot of hardware in the city, or by promoting (legal) regulation.

Joint design

With designing services or technologies that should play a part in the public atmosphere or the smart society, the government ensures that they don’t exclude anyone, that they are always designed with their users and never just for the users, that they are designed in a way that citizens can understand their operation, that they are never forced but always offered opt-in.

There isn’t one city in the world where all these principles are actually implemented in the developments. But in Eindhoven they are certainly recognised and they are trying to seriously apply them.

Is Eindhoven already a smart society? Probably not.

Is Eindhoven on the way to becoming a smarter society? Definitely.


This article is written in collaboration with E52. DATAstudio contributes weekly a blog to the platform.

The State of Eindhoven
Linda Vlassenrood

This project is part of the programme track Partner projects and the folder Research.

The multiyear cultural programme The State of Eindhoven)looks at the changing relationship between government and citizens and, specifically, Eindhoven’s twofold ambition of being a “smart city” in a participatory society.