Brussels, Dublin, Sofia and Tirana have been selected to pilot the first digital rights governance framework for cities.
The framework, developed by the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights, UN-Habitat, UCLG and Eurocities, in partnership with Open Society Foundations, aims to help cities put the commitments, structures and tools in place to manage the opportunities and risks of digital technology.
The cities, which were selected via an open call, will receive technical advice, ad hoc support, and advisory input from experts.
The framework comes as more cities adopt technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), 5G and blockchain. Many are also trying to address inequities in access to the internet and digital tools.
A statement from the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights said: “Because digital technologies influence change at a fast pace in society and might have unforeseen or unexpected impacts on individuals and communities, there is a need for enhanced models of governance to manage opportunities and risks driven by technology and ensure digital rights are protected and promoted.
“From planning the city’s actions to fight the digital divide to creating a capacity building programme for the municipality’s staff, the challenges aim at practically implementing digital rights at a city level in a coherent and sustainable manner and will provide insights for other cities wanting to increase capacity in their local contexts.”
The Coalition said the four cities were selected as they demonstrated how their local digitalisation challenges will benefit from the framework, and how the pilots will support them and other cities in advancing digital rights.
“[They] also showed commitment at the political level and the ability to secure a solid follow-up and long-term incorporation of digital rights foundations, structures and tools into their strategies and policies,” the spokesperson said.
The toolkits created during the pilots will be made available for other cities via a digital rights ‘helpdesk’, which will also offer on-demand expert advisory support and will be launched later in the year.
During the pilot, Sofia will focus on digital inclusion, public engagement and capacity building.
Sofia is the first Bulgarian city to have its own dedicated Digitalisation, Innovation and Economic Development department, headed by a Deputy Mayor, and also the first to develop and co-create its own digital transformation strategy (DTSS) together with the local ecosystem, said Zlatin Dubarinov, a spokesperson for the department.
“Numerous digital rights principles are already embedded in the DTSS, as well as other municipal strategic documents, and are being implemented in Sofia Municipality’s policies,” Dubarinov said, but the city doesn’t yet have a dedicated digital rights framework.
“By participating in the initiative, the City of Sofia aims to further expand its capacities, develop new human-centred services, and raise awareness about the importance of digital transformation and human rights in the digital environment,” Dubarinov added.
Brussels is prioritising digital inclusion.
“In our view, giving access to the internet and digital services to all citizens is the basis needed for the work on other axes,” said Aude Robert, Smart City Project Co-ordinator for the municipality.
Brussels’ six-year plan to 2024 mentions the importance of transparency, tackling the digital divide and citizen participation, and several projects are underway in these areas.
“This pilot project now offers us a great opportunity to go a bit further in our reflection than if we would do it alone,” she said.
“The overall approach and sequencing of actions described in the framework are especially interesting for us as they will help us carry out our reflection in a coherent order and make sure we do not forget to tackle any important digital rights area.”
Dublin plans to develop a foundational training module on digital rights which will be delivered through its established smart city education programme, Academy of the Near Future.
The module, aimed at local authority staff and 15 to 16-year-old school pupils, will promote high level principles of ethics and privacy relating to new and emerging technologies with a focus on real life examples from Dublin’s practical experiences as well as those of other cities.
Jamie Cudden, Dublin’s Smart City Program Manager, said: “The Smart Dublin programme is shifting from niche innovation to mainstream as technologies such as the Internet of Things mature and city authorities accelerate all things digital in the context of COVID.
“As we drive forward digital transformation, we are extremely conscious that trust, openness and transparency of new digital solutions are critical to future success. Not only do we have to educate potential public sector buyers, we also need to build trust with the communities that we serve. We have a real ambition to align with the digital rights governance framework for Dublin and across Irish cities.”
The pilots will start next month.
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