Please, accept cookies in order to load the content.

Matijs Jansen, member of actors’ collective Wunderbaum, opened the morning with an interactive monologue in the form of a series of increasingly penetrating, quirky, painful and hilarious questions to the audience concerning their willingness to engage with social issues. It was an adapted scene from Wunderbaum’s most recent theatre production We doen het wel zelf, an ethical, personal and political exploration of the implications of the participatory society.

Moderator Karim Bennamar introduced the programme structure. Every talk on stage and every round of discussion will end with a question to the audience. All audience members are asked to discuss these questions with their neighbours for five minutes, and to write a remark or answer on a card. All cards are collected and a summary of the answers will be published on the Staat van Eindhoven website

Mary-Ann Scheurs, alderwoman of the city of Eindhoven and commissioner of the project The State of Eindhoven, gave a short introduction. She noted three important shifts in society. She stated that the question of how a city can be smart has been replaced by the question of how citizens can be smart. People are not actually smarter than they were in previous generations, but we now have different tools at our disposal. The city of Eindhoven makes roadmaps together with its citizens and companies for the development and implementation of those tools like smart lighting.

She also hopes to stimulate debate about what kind of society we want to be. Eindhoven is looking for ways in which citizens can make changes themselves. It is a cultural shift in which governments have to learn to facilitate such a society. We do want open data, open hardware to involve everybody, but the real question is not about technology, but about culture. Which is why she asked HNI to bring together the design world, city development and culture.

Floor van Spaendonck, policy manager of Het Nieuwe Instituut, welcomed the audience on behalf of Het Nieuwe Instituut. The State of Eindhoven is very interesting for Het Nieuwe Instituut as a national institute, since it touches upon local engagement and developments. It means themes and questions can become more specific. She hopes the project will bring results that can also be taken to other places.

Programme manager Linda Vlassenrood gave an outline of The State of Eindhoven (2015-2017). Both the smart city and the participatory society are important transitions in society and city planning today. We are meeting major challenges there. The smart city is embraced as a solution to all our sustainability and safety issues, but has been a very technocratic approach until now. The State of Eindhoven would like to open up and rewrite that discourse, and use the ambition and energy of Eindhoven to address the following question: Why, how and with whom will the citizens of Eindhoven contribute to a smart city?

It is the first public event and the project has therefore just started. So far, it consists of three elements. Open Source City has been asked to map Eindhoven in order to understand the current projects, initiatives, activities and people contributing to the participatory society and smart city. It is a way to get a grip on what is already happening in Eindhoven, since nobody has a clear overview. This mapping will continue throughout the process and will be shared online.

Part two of the project concerns the work of six invited experts. They will research cases, pose critical questions and help develop a course of action. Their work begins today. They are assisted by Vera Winthagen and Neeltje Somers, who work for the city of Eindhoven, and a small group of citizens, the first of whom is Wim Venhuis. Part three will start next year and consists of a tour of the seven districts in Eindhoven to collect knowledge, practice, ideas, apps and techniques. Linda ended with a call to the audience to bridge the gap between ambition and reality together. 

All members of the smart council were asked to present their views on the key question in the project. Evelien Tonkens delivered a short keynote on the challenges of the participatory society, Dan Hill on the challenges of the smart city.

Evelien Tonkens

(professor of citizenship and humanisation of the public sector, University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht)

A participatory society is our major goal. But there is still discussion about whether we need more or less government in order to realize more participation. The participatory society means that all citizens can participate in society on an equal basis. That is quite an ambitious goal. Evelien Tonkens understands the smart city, a city in which citizens collaborate with the government and companies in the design and use of technologies that promote participation.

She sees three major risks:

1. Citizenship of the smart city is understood as a passive engagement. 

Citizens are only providers of information. At best, their behaviour can be ‘nudged’, but in the worst case the smart city intrudes heavily on citizens and their privacy.

2. Citizens are too easily seen as one unity. Who is the citizen? Who turns up and who is not there? And what do the people who are not there want?

Most citizens do not go to meetings. Active citizens are therefore not representative. Higher educated people participate more in everything (except maybe for media), but have different interests. In general, they have more social capital, more education, and better health.

So citizens are multiple. And they tend do disagree. Different people use the same space in different ways, so there will be clashes. This means there is a need for politics: the staging of non-violent clashes.

3. The third risk she called “good technology, bad sociology”: the tendency to build implicit and unreflected notions of human needs and preferences in technology.

How to work with these risks? A G1000 is a great idea. Ask people who are not represented. Also, assess needs and prototypes of systems and adapt materials to people who are less competent. 

Dan Hill

(designer, urbanist and associate director of London design and engineering firm Arup)

Cedric Price already said in 1960: “Technology is the answer, but what was the question?” Technology changes cities, enables new kinds of cities, and transforms existing cities. And technology itself changes as well. We are going from the quantified city to the networked city. How can we better understand it? Dan Hill sketches four complementary design approaches.

Use design as research, through prototyping and interaction. Design better ways to read and navigate the city: not only the fastest way to get from A to B, but also the cleanest way? With the least air pollution? In the most beautiful way? The route that avoids your ex-lover’s house? Questions to take into account: when do we foreground human interaction? When do we background the technology?

Another way being adopted involves designing services that focus on the qualities of networked urban environments. Think beyond the centralized grids that still largely organize public transport, tourism or post. Create new services on the old hardware with a few lines of code and a bunch of lawyers. 21st-century platforms like Airbnb and Uber fill the gaps between 20th-century services. A question that arises around these services is: what remains public and what remains private?

A third design approach is that of coding: the development of clever algorithms.

Research shows that when traffic consists of self-driving, publicly owned cars, cities may need up to 70% fewer private vehicles. At present, cars are redundant 96% of the time. Autonomous robots could easily do street cleaning, but this poses the question of our relationship to robots. This is largely cultural. How do we see robots? Similar to pets? Similar to sheep that are shepherded? Then who is the shepherd? Do we see them as some sort of unpaid labour? It might be quite similar to the 17th-century relationship between ‘owner’ and ‘slaves’.

The last approach is the most important one: through decision-making. How do we want our cities to work? No development is ‘inevitable’. So what is the Eindhoven version of the following?

  • Distributed, decentralized, post-grid
  • Modular, cellular, adaptive.
  • Parasitical, accreted
Physical, mechanical, beautiful interactions
  • Healthy, wild, natural, clean and green
High-quality, fine-grain places

  • Predictive, algorithmic, autonomous
  • Citizen-centred, service-led, empathetic
  • Prototyped, hackable, iterative.
  • Scalable, strategic

  • Secure, resilient, robust.
  • Generating public good, retaining value
  • Local, situated, culturally expressive
  • Relational systems, shearing layers.
  • Small pieces, loosely joined.
  • Humanist first, technology second.


Discussion 1: Instruments

Participants: Tsjalling Swierstra (professor of the philosophy of technology, Maastricht University), Chris Sigaloff (director of Kennisland) and Vera Winthagen (strategic design consultant, municipality of Eindhoven)

What instruments facilitate the smartness of the citizen and the city? How should smart citizens be equipped to solve social issues? How should research and innovation parties be equipped to facilitate smart citizens? What kind of ideological, governmental, financial and technological shifts are (still) needed in Eindhoven to accommodate this? How to facilitate or strengthen this transition within the programme The State of Eindhoven?

Tsjalling Swierstra brought up three points to take on board when thinking about designing smart and social instruments.

1. First, he warned against the idea of ‘implementation’, because we tend to underestimate the quirkiness of technology. Implementation suggests: we can think hard, do it, monitor and improve. This underestimates the extent to which technology also does something in addition to what it was designed for. Technology shapes who we are. It never stops evolving. If society changes, the same technology does something else. Technology functions in a situated way. The same technology will always show different faces. We have to accept that the relationship between technology and humans is like a marriage in which the partners allow one another to shape one another. How to approach this in this project? Test, check, monitor the ongoing changes of technology, and never forget that aftercare is needed once technology is deployed.

2. Technology should be helpful. Technology could make us behave better. Technology can be a platform to meet, but there is always power involved. If we delegate tasks to technology, doesn’t that leave us de-skilled and more powerless? Or more fundamentally: does it exclude certain groups of users? Technology is a very effective way – even unintended – to exclude people.

3. A third point to take into consideration is that technology mostly functions in the background. We only notice it when it malfunctions. With any instrument, it has to be possible to put the technology in the foreground, so we can see its functioning and effects.

Chris Sigaloff also put up three questions:

1. What is smart? What do we consider smart? Kennisland always worked in support of smartness, but the term has evolved. We also need to ask: who is not living in the smart world? We may be organizing a new inequality. How do we deal with not wanting to be smart? Maybe we should not try to solve all problems?

2. How do we bridge these disconnections? We also need a smart government that can make disconnections smaller. Perhaps this smart government is a bigger government.

3. Room for unusual suspects is necessary. Can we design technology that enhances citizenship? Look, for example, at crowdsourcing schools. New educational concepts are now being developed by a collective. Can we think of smart infrastructures that connect the lives of people with those of governments?


Discussion 2: Interests

Participants: Anab Jain (designer and founder of the British-Indian design and innovation firm Superflux), Albert Jan Kruiter (public entrepreneur and cofounder of Instituut voor Publieke Waarden) and Vera Winthagen

Why would citizens of Eindhoven want to get actively involved in the smart city? When does a smart city have added value for them? What interests are at stake that may not align? What could be the common ground between citizens, government, knowledge institutions and businesses? How to shape this engagement within the programme The State of Eindhoven? 

Anab Jain started off by observing that the participatory has taken off big time in Eindhoven, and listed highly inspiring projects featured at the Dutch Design Week. But, she said, we are here to discuss how Eindhoven can become a participatory smart city – and that raises a new question. Very smart technologies that enable governments and technology companies to reach across geographical barriers also exclude next-door neighbours who lack the wherewithal to connect to such technologies, which are often invisible and incomprehensible.

The participatory society asks citizens to take responsibility. But then we also need to move towards participatory governance or an open government, which devises legal and regulatory frameworks through constant dialogue and iterative experimentation, where every policy is seen as a test, published openly and amended.

In this type of participatory society, people should also know what they could do with the technical infrastructure.

In this kind of a smart city, the invisible spaces of power that lie between material and immaterial infrastructure disintegrate. In this participatory smart society, the government, the people and the tech companies work together.

How do we imagine citizens, government and tech companies working together? What is the level playing field for a smart participatory society?

Albert Jan Kruiter brought a whole new angle to the discussion:

Cities are made more responsible for healthcare and social services at a local level, but the budget to realize measures is still controlled by the central government in The Hague. In fact, 95% of a city’s budget is controlled in The Hague. This makes Dutch cities the least decentralized in Europe. What is necessary in order to solve social problems at a local level, including different approaches for different people? From experience we know that decentralizing tasks without decentralizing budgets leads to the exclusion of certain groups. The landscape that we are looking at in The State of Eindhoven would look very different if the city had a much greater say in how and when to spend its budget. So what we actually need to do is help the city to lobby for further decentralization.

Besides this, we should look at a direction that is not dependent on a restructuring of public budgets. Interesting things are happening in the private sector. The notion of ‘corporate responsibility’ is evolving. A new type of company is emerging, one that tries to develop sustainable business models around public problems. The advantage is that in the private sector there is much less bureaucracy and much faster decision-making. There is more freedom of action, and therefore more adaptability, which leads to much faster learning. How can the city and its citizens facilitate and support the development of sustainable businesses around public problems?

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.