Smart Technologies Empowered Citizens (STEC) is a research project headed by professor Ben Schouten. STEC runs from 2017-2021 and has been funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO project number 652.001.005)
STEC focuses on how to use design to empower citizens so that they are able to act and choose for themselves in a series of different domains. By doing so, STEC adds to the growing body of research and examples of citizens shaping their own lives, using what might be called civic media.
Empowerment is the core concept: and empowerment means having the capacity to take charge of and change your own situation making your own choices. This can include participating in processes of capacity building such as:
- codesigning new technology
- participating in developing your neighborhood and city
- using novel products to assist in a process of making changes in your personal life such as weight loss or exercise
What brings these three examples together can be summed up in our position statement that empowerment is the process of change that gives people influence and agency to take charge of their own situations resulting in the tools and capacity to make choices for yourself.
In STEC we study what qualities are needed in tools, platforms and methods supporting such a process of empowerment and how to implement them together with the individual research partners. In the example of codesigning, people get influence by being enabled to create tools and products they would not have access to on their own, and with an influence they would not have if they left design to designers or engineers. In the example of participating in neighbourhood development, citizens might be enabled to take collective action by forming communities and sharing knowledge and resources. And in the last example of behaviour change, the individual is empowered to achieve for instance weight loss through having a tool that enables them to keep track of calories and show progress, thus providing both functionality and motivation.
Outcomes of STEC: Models, methodologies and designs
To allow us to discuss, compare and analyze the partner cases, we are developing models and theories: both specific to the individual cases, but also a generalized model of empowerment, that draws together several strands of research. We believe models are a way of testing assumptions and being clear and concise about the means and effects that leads to empowerment, and how we might achieve them. However, knowledge is always situated in practice: other outcomes of STEC are therefore concrete examples of designs. For examples of these see the frontpage for existing cases and