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Action learning with the Smart Citizen platform

17th December 2018

Alessandra Schmidt from Fab Lab Barcelona discusses Smart Citizen’s recent Kids’ Lab and how to successfully engage people in digital and social projects.

Children of the 21st century act as protagonists, responsible for the process of developing and applying their knowledge and skills to create a positive impact in society, thus engaging in the realization of a massive transformative movement. How can educators approach this issue? An ‘Action-Learning’ digital social Platform can empower individuals, being a catalyst for a transformative endeavour. The learning process can be shared through digital platforms, alternative educational and socio-cultural programmes and spaces for communities.

Smart City Week and the Smart Citizen Kids’ Lab Workshop

We now understand that smart cities should be built together with ‘smart citizens’, thus tools and knowledge to foster citizen engagement through participatory data collection, analysis and action. The Smart Citizen (SC) group is a team of passionate people who believe data is critical to inform political participation at all levels, who develop tools for citizen action in environmental monitoring and methodologies for community engagement and co-creation. All the resources created by SC are open source, and available online in the links below.

During Smart City Week, events were held for young and old throughout the city of Barcelona, with a focus on technology and its effect on people’s day-to-day life on four levels: the home, the neighbourhood, the city and the world. As part of this, we invited families to our lab for a workshop in which they would learn about and work with the Smart Citizen Kit. After a welcome talk and a tour of the fablab in which the children’s’ eyes popped out seeing and learning about all the machines, we organised a workshop in which they learned about pollution and how to recognise it, different things that could produce pollution and how to read sensor data. After an introduction, we asked the children to find the kits that we had hidden in different spots in the building, such as a place with a lot of light or in the fridge where the temperature is very low. Based on the sensor data the kids went searching for them and at the same time learned about the effect on the data to take the sensors out of the hiding places and experiment with them.

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Still, in order for any intervention plan to be successful, it needs to consider the people’s awareness and ‘behaviour change’ as important as the delivery of interventions (see in the table). Providing digital tools to citizens (open hardware, open networks, open data and open knowledge) and widening accessibility to information can support people to tackle social and environmental issues. Thus, from an actor-driven approach, we can summarise some crucial elements to be taken into account while engaging with an educational process in the context of digital tools.

Smart Citizen four steps for engaging with communities

Think collectively: Producing knowledge with, not just for, partners:– understanding ‘lived experience’ through theory, and vice versa, aiming to address the complexity of managing different and contesting agendas, operating at different scales, and unsettling where ‘knowledge’ is produced.

Be reflexive: Questioning theoretical and methodological frames, and remaining aware of positionality (the researcher’s stance in relation to the social and political context of the study).

Be relational: Navigating through unequal power relations of the political economy of knowledge production, in order to put emphasis on diverse skill sets needed in social innovation collaborations and establish mechanisms to collect information and produce outputs collaboratively. Social development practitioners face the complexity of managing different and contesting agendas, operating at different scales.

Be active: Seeking to support, enhance or activate processes of (collectively defining) social change, being willing to focus on impact of research activities, such as capacity building, networking, raising awareness, and continually reassessing the processes of learning-by-doing.

 

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