Participants in one of the workshops organised by Rudi
Rennes Urban Data interface (Rudi) aims to develop data sharing for public interest at the local level. What roles could citizens play in that respect? How could we engage with them? In this article, UIA expert Simon Chignard looks back at how Rudi engaged and mobilised citizens and inhabitants.

Rudi's ultimate goal is to enable, through data sharing at the local level, the development of services for the public interest. In this perspective, citizens can potentially play multiple roles: as users (of the end services or the platform), as data subjects or producers (who can decide to share their personal data for a specific purpose or contribute to crowdsourcing data) and, more broadly, as inhabitants of Rennes Metropole. The level of effective participation and engagement for each of these roles can vary greatly. As the period financed by UIA is soon to come to an end, we aim, in this article, to take a look back at the various ways in which Rudi included citizens. Some of the initiatives are still ongoing, but there are already some fruitful lessons to share at the European level.

We identified four different modalities of citizens mobilisation in Rudi, each with a specific objective:

  1. Understanding citizens' perceptions
  2. Raising data literacy in the local population
  3. Promoting the role of citizens as data subjects and producers, and last but not least
  4. Include citizens in the governance of Rudi

 

Understanding citizens' perceptions

Rudi's partners aimed to understand citizens' perceptions through different surveys and workshops. How do individuals frame the questions around personal data collection, sharing and use? How do they understand and perceive Rudi (as a project)? How high is the willingness of individuals to contribute to the project, for instance, by sharing their personal data for the public interest, and under which conditions?

In May 2020, LEGO (Laboratoire d’Economie et de Gestion de l’Ouest) researchers conducted an exploratory survey. They interviewed around thirty inhabitants in semi-directive qualitative interviews. In 2022, Ouishare and Rennes Metropole (two key consortium members) organised workshops with inhabitants. The results of these two initiatives are convergent on some points and divergent on others. 

First, they confirm that individuals mainly frame personal data questions through a (lack-of) privacy lens. It is consistent with previous research and consumer surveys, which demonstrated a low level of trust regarding personal data use. Per se, it's not such a surprise. But still, it reminds us that it is difficult for an innovative project such as Rudi to overturn the dominant narrative. The counter-narrative deployed by Rudi focuses on public interest: data could/should be collected, shared and used for the public good. Individuals could, in the end, benefit from more data sharing. Interestingly, this counter-narrative doesn't use the term "altruism", even though data altruism is at the centre of the attention at the European level (see, for instance, the legal framework introduced by the EU Data Governance Act or the "Data for Good" movement).

One key point is that individuals need concrete examples to position themselves. Using personal data to improve bike lanes is one of these use cases that gain attention from the inhabitants.

Solène Manouvrier (Ouishare) reports from one of the workshops she organised in 2022 that "Rudi's purpose is neither clear nor fully understood and shared by the inhabitants". She adds that some of the functionalities (mainly around Self Data, the capacity of a user to download their personal data) are perceived as "too complicated or difficult to understand". LEGO's first exploratory survey brings a more positive view. As we stated in the first Journal (2021) about this survey's results: "citizens are willing to share their data with the public sector if its use contributes to the collective well-being and the general interest, for example, in urban planning and development where data can enable better public decisions. Individual interest is a side effect induced, in particular, by the development of new services that make daily life more comfortable. This result is impressive because it demonstrates the importance of the collective rather than the individual dimension in the adherence to data sharing".

A more in-depth study with 250-300 participants is currently ongoing. This experimental survey, led by LEGO and PEMI, aims to test different dimensions linked to Rudi's social acceptance. Some of these dimensions are related to the public interest purpose or the territorialisation of data. In the latter point, the hypothesis to be tested is that individuals are more inclined to accept data sharing if data are stored at the local (or regional) levels rather than in a different country.

Developing data literacy

The second objective is to raise awareness and develop skills and competencies in data. Among the different activities related to data literacy, we can highlight the dedicated website "La Donnée en histoires", created by designer Bérengère Amiot with Rudi's support.

L'histoire en données

"La donnée en histoires" is a collection of testimonials from Rennes' inhabitants about their personal history with data. The website's user experience is inspired by the concept of "combined stories": each visitor is invited to choose a data, a context and a persona to hear a particular story. For instance, the combination "Geographical Data", "Getting organised", and "Mummy" unlocks the recollection of a mother who describes herself as a "well-organised, but open to unexpected, working mother". She then explains how her family organisation heavily depends on digital tools she and her partner use. She stresses how numerous daily micro-decisions rely on different data sources that she accesses, then concludes on the impact of these digital tools and data on how her family lives in real time without much anticipation. 

"La donnée en histoires" also includes personal recollections not only of data subjects but also of data producers. Bérengère Amiot presents the project as a mediation tool to start a discussion about one's relationship with data. 

A second initiative worth mentioning is the project eRudi, one of the six projects that received a dedicated budget and support from Rudi. eRudi aims to develop educational tools and methodologies on data and its use, for instance, for teachers of local schools. Also, part of eRudi is a series of hands-on workshops on connected devices (POCL). Participants are invited to develop their machines and think about the use of data produced by the device. 

La Donnée en histoires and eRudi are only two of the numerous initiatives on data literacy that have taken place these past three years. Still, they are representative of the fact that most of these approaches are developed "around" Rudi's platform rather than at the core of the project - meaning they don't necessarily use data published on the platform. It is probably because, for the time being, the platform lack functionalities around personal data ("self data").

One last question - still open - is how these data literacy initiatives could facilitate citizens' engagement with the platform itself. As stated in the second journal (2022), "Rudi is constantly navigating between, on the one hand, the desire to initiate a local dialogue on personal data (in a data literacy approach) and, on the other hand, the willingness that this exchange should provide concrete, actionable and valuable inputs for the platform's design. This tension between acculturation to the topic (in essence over a long period) and participation in co-implementation (by necessity over a more limited time) is not easy to resolve at first glance".

Promoting the role of citizens as data producers (not only data subjects)

Invitation to collect data on local shops
Invitation to crowdsource data on local businesses (BANCO)

What if individuals were not mere passive data subjects but active data producers? That's the idea of crowdsourcing, where people are invited to contribute to co-produce data of public interest. BANCO is another one of the six projects supported by Rudi. It aims to develop a crowdsourced database of local shops. BANCO relies on the data infrastructure provided by OpenStreetMap. In 2022, the team organised a data collection party, inviting people to gather data about local shops in Rennes' city centre. Participants recorded opening hours data and other pertinent information using a simple web app. 

Crowdsourcing initiatives are not new in Rennes - see, for instance, the Ambassad'air program on air quality. But, in the context of Rudi, they gain a new perspective: the possibility of discussing the governance of data co-produced by users. BANCO's data are defined as a digital common. That's an excellent opportunity to collectively discuss what rules (in terms of data access or reuse) should be applied. In a nutshell, it contributes to giving citizens a more active role in the data economy.

Including citizens in Rudi’s governance

How should citizens be included in Rudi's governance? Until recently, this has been an open question. In the second journal, we detailed a series of challenges: the low willingness of inhabitants to play an active role in the platform design phase or the question of legitimacy and representativeness (who represents the citizens in the consortium?). In 2022, Rudi's partners organised - with our help - a series of workshops on governance (see the video Zoom-In #2). Among the results is the idea that there are, in fact, different levels of governance. One should, for instance, distinguish the governance of the tool (the platform as a piece of software) and the governance of the local instance of the tool (the community using the tool). We also identified the need to include citizens in the governance of data at the local level - which, for sure, includes but is not limited to Rudi. The local public authority Rennes Metropole could take public engagements (similar to Montreal or Nantes data charters) on how it intends to promote specific (internal or external) uses of local data. At the end of 2022, Rudi's partners finally decided that citizens were more indirect targets of the project, primarily as potential users of the services developed with data shared on Rudi.

***

In conclusion, we would like to put these lessons in perspective with the ongoing discussion on data altruism in Europe. Part of the European data strategy, the Data Governance Act adopted recently gives a legal framework for altruistic organisations. Many European local public authorities have shown an interest in promoting such approaches by different means; one way would be to support third-party data altruistic organisations when they act in the (local) public interest. Another would be to adopt a much more proactive approach by creating (local) data altruistic organisations from scratch.

We learned with Rudi that a multifaceted approach would be required to succeed. No one is immune from the dominant narrative around data exploitation and the perils in terms of privacy. A multifaceted approach therefore will include a counter-narrative (on "data for public interest"), a series of use cases with distinct and immediately understandable user benefits, and a robust data literacy component. Even though all the ingredients are assembled, there is no perfect recipe for success. One should be prepared for a lot of trials and errors! But that's undoubtedly the price to pay to develop a people-focused data world.

 

About this resource

Author
CHIGNARD Simon, UIA Expert
Project
Location
Rennes Metropole, France
About UIA
Urban Innovative Actions
Programme/Initiative
2014-2020

The Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) is a European Union initiative that provided funding to urban areas across Europe to test new and unproven solutions to urban challenges. The initiative had a total ERDF budget of €372 million for 2014-2020.

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