Technology festival: smart solutions for society

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
© Sjoerd van der Hucht
How can modern (data) technology contribute to positive developments in society? That was the question at the heart of Border Sessions, the international technology festival that took place this year for the fifth time in The Hague from 13 to 16 June. Together with the Municipality of The Hague, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) gave a presentation about the CBS/Urban Data Center in The Hague. Researchers from CBS also took part in several (data) labs during the technology festival.

Knowledge transfer and encounters

Border Sessions aims to bring together disciplines and networks by creating a platform for knowledge transfer and encounters. The festival is organised in close collaboration with academic universities, universities of applied science, businesses, governments, social institutions and independent experts. The participants include researchers, innovators, policy makers, entrepreneurs, designers and students. Gerrit Jan van ’t Veen is one of the organisers, and he is very satisfied with the success of the festival. ‘This year the number of one-day labs increased from four to 30. The participants found it hugely valuable to work intensively on an issue with a smaller or larger group of people. Not just listening, but also learning and networking by working together. We will definitely continue this trend.’

Smart solutions

Statistics Netherlands (CBS) researcher Guihong Chi, a methodologist who works with statistics about government finances, attended two labs at Border Sessions. Labs are designed to be practical: their purpose is to deliver smart solutions to social problems. The participants are drawn from a variety of disciplines. ‘Both labs were experimental and innovative,’ says Chi. ‘The first lab focused on the question of how to design contracts between employers and employees so that they continue to meet the changing needs of both parties. The second lab – a data lab – was organised by DataCommons, an association of critical citizens who want to retain control of the use of their personal data on mobile devices or sensors. We looked at ways to streamline bicycle traffic in The Hague. The outcome included a dataset about bicycle traffic in the centre of The Hague, which we have sent to the municipality.’

‘Finding the correct interpretation of the data is more complex than you think. That’s why you always have to test the results against reality’

Critical citizens

This was the first time Chi had taken part in a data lab. She likes this way of working: ‘There’s a good reason why CBS developed an innovation lab to encourage and test new ideas in the organisation. In order to find solutions to conceptual problems, it’s more effective to collaborate with various different parties: scientists, governments and citizens.’ We know that citizens are taking a more critical approach to the ways in which various different actors use their data. Chi sees a role in that for CBS. ‘CBS has a lot of expertise in data infrastructure, data processing, security and privacy. The government and companies can use that to their advantage, but so can citizens.’ CBS will take part in the technology festival again next year, and organise a data lab.

Data as the basis for policy

CBS innovation manager Barteld Braaksma and programme manager Hedwig Miessen from the Municipality of The Hague gave a presentation about the CBS/Urban Data Center in The Hague, titled: ‘Measuring is learning, data for a curious city’. They showed how the Urban Data Center creates space for research, innovation and experimentation and how that contributes to the efficient and innovative use of data, not least when setting policy. Braaksma: ‘We used this informal, interactive session to engage the audience with our narrative. That led to lively discussions about the role of data in the municipality’s day-to-day practice. One thing that surprised us was that about half the audience was made up of people from the business world, and the other half were academic researchers.’

Testing results against reality

In September, the CBS Urban Data Center The Hague will have been up and running for a year. Concrete results have been achieved over the course of that year. Miessen: ‘The Municipality of The Hague has gained a better understanding of poverty in the city and achieved ISO37120 certification for indicators such as quality of life, sustainability and smart data. This certification is established worldwide and is used for a great many cities.’ What Miessen found most remarkable during her presentation was that the participants in the room confirmed the great importance of validating the results. ‘Finding the correct interpretation of the data is more complex than you think. That’s why you always have to test the results against reality.’