Helmond towards an inclusive smart city: A Participatory policy making approach for a digital inclusion program

On November 4, 2022, the first workshop of the joint-research project between Gemeente Helmond and Erasmus University of Rotterdam was held in Helmond. The project, which is led by Dr. Negar Noori and Prof. Martin de Jong, aims at a better understanding of the concept of inclusion and crystalising its criteria in the smart city discourse. The final goal is to co-create Helmond’s inclusive smart (digital) city roadmap including guidelines for developing an action plan.

Joint-research project

After a year of idea-sharing meetings, the Erasmus University of Rotterdam (EUR) and Gemeente Helmond signed a collaboration agreement for a joint-research project on digital inclusion framework for the city of Helmond in June 2022. The project, led by Dr. Negar Noori and Prof. Martin de Jong, intends to better understand the concept of inclusion and aims to crystalise its criteria in the smart city discourse. The final aim is to co-create Helmond’s inclusive smart (digital) city roadmap with guidelines for developing an action plan.

The first phase of the project provides new insights into understanding the concept of digital inclusion, how policymakers tackle digital inclusion challenges, the citizens’ concerns related to digitization and inclusion, and the provision of digital inclusion initiatives. The complexity of studying the digital inclusion concept is tackled by a participatory research strategy. The framework is first built on theories and then validated through participatory workshops and panel discussions, and incorporated citizens’ insights. This strategy enables us to unpick the complexity of digital inclusion concept and assist the city of Helmond to pledge digital inclusion initiatives.

Photo credits: Shiwei Chen

Workshop: digital inclusion framework

On November 4th, 2022, the first workshop of the project was held in Helmond. As a part of the project, Negar Noori and Martin de Jong from EUR, and Lousine Kanasyan, Daniel de Klein and FransJozef van Poppel from Gemeente Helmond collaborated with Dr. Filippos Zisopoulos (Researcher at EUR) and Dr. Shiwei Chen (Researcher at EUR) for organising the workshop. The workshop presented the initial framework of digital inclusion identifying the various elements and sub-elements of the digital inclusion concept and the groups at risk of being marginalised. With a participatory policy making approach, the goal of this workshop was to discuss the initial framework and integrate policy makers’ insights into the theoretical framework. For this purpose, first the concepts inherent in digital inclusion were described and clarified.

After clarifying all the elements inside the framework and introducing the social groups at risk of being marginalised, the framework was evaluated using a multi-objective, multi-stakeholder decision-making method. This participatory evaluation process aids strategic decision-making by considering multiple viewpoints and giving clarity on influencing factors and desired and undesired options. The participants ranked the elements of the digital inclusion framework in terms of their relative importance and were asked about the missing elements using the Mentimeter tool. They also voted on the relevant digital inclusion aspects for each social group identified as being at risk of marginalisation. Digital security and digital inclusive design were recognised as the most crucial elements of the digital inclusion framework.

Next steps

To involve other key stakeholders in the participatory policy making process, the framework will be discussed through another upcoming workshop with private sectors involved in the digitisation programs. Additionally, a citizen survey will be conducted to include citizens' insights into the framework. Then by integrating the results from the workshops and the survey, the theoretical framework will be revised. Eventually, several good practices will be studied for learning and for inspiration to formulate the policies and translate them into actions, programs, and initiatives.

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