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Where Prototyping Meets Law: Visiting Lecturer Talks Citizen Sensing at HSE

Where Prototyping Meets Law: Visiting Lecturer Talks Citizen Sensing at HSE

© Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

Anna Berti Suman, PhD candidate from the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society (TILT) at Tilburg University and Visiting Researcher at the European Commission Joint Research Center (JRC) recently spent a week at HSE’s Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism as a Visiting Lecturer. Anna led two seminars and participated in a public round table on ‘Law, Data and the City’. HSE News Service spoke with her about her seminars, the round table, and her impressions of Moscow.

A couple of years ago, Anna Berti Suman met the former vice dean of HSE University’s School of Urbanism, Vera Leonova, who introduced her to the School as well as to the staff members of the Shukhov Lab (HSE’s Laboratory for Experimental Urban Design). As Anna’s research is at the intersection between technology, society, and regulation, it appeared that there was a connection between her work and the research projects conducted at the School of Urbanism.

Citizen Sensing and Its Legal Implications

Currently, Anna’s research focuses on ‘citizen sensing’, which includes community-driven environmental monitoring initiatives based on sensor technologies that develop alternative ways to track environmental issues both in the city and in non-urban contexts.

‘Here at the Shukhov Lab, students get a lot of hands-on experience with prototyping and building. I think this is really important, and it also provides a link to my work. In citizen sensing, citizens construct their own sensor devices; in my lectures, which focused on two case studies – one in Fukushima, Japan with grassroots radiation monitoring, and another in Eindhoven, Netherlands with air pollution monitoring – I showed how citizen sensing initiatives have succeeded in fomenting change,’ explains Anna Berti Suman.

During her visit to HSE, Anna Berti Suman led a seminar entitled ‘Legal Implications of Citizen Sensing’ for students of the Master’s Programme ‘Prototyping Future Cities’. It dealt with the legal concerns that a citizen should consider before entering into citizen-led monitoring projects, because they pose some risks associated with privacy, data protection, and possible harms from adverse legal actions. ‘Some of the students cited the risk of being sent to prison,’ Anna notes. ‘And yes, legal proceedings can sometimes result from these projects.

In the US, for example, it is very common for there to be lawsuits against public participation, and so understanding what the legal concerns are and how the current EU legal framework regulates or does not regulate sensing technology is important.

‘We also examined Russian legal scenarios to understand the grounds upon which Russian citizens can implement citizen sensing projects. We discovered Article 42 of the Russian Constitution, for example, which guarantees the right to be properly informed about environmental conditions. Most of the students didn’t know about this right, so it was a great experience discovering it together.’

Urban Risk Governance

Anna also led another seminar on the implications of citizen sensing in the context of urban risk governance. Part of her research focuses on how it is possible to innovate risk governance mechanisms based on spontaneous citizen-led forms of monitoring and understand what kinds of innovation lead to changes in the system. ‘I look at how institutional actors responsible for dealing with environmental risks in the city change or don’t change their attitudes based on the fact that they know that citizens have evidence and alternative means to respond to risk and issues in the city.’

The course included a discussion of students’ experience with urban governance as well as of the need to regulate emerging technologies that have not already been regulated. This need calls for cooperation between the technicians and the lawyers, so spaces of encounter between these professionals are extremely important.

‘I found it very inspiring to be able to lecture about these legal and governance implications in a place where students also know how to model and to manufacture,’ Anna notes.

I think it’s impressive that students here can take classes on the legal dimensions, and, at the same time, really understand the sensor mechanism itself that is subject to these laws and regulations

‘For example, the Shukhov Lab built a system of noise sensors that measure noise pollution, and the project is very similar to one of the projects I’ve been working on. It’s a cool connection. In the master’s programme back in the Netherlands, most of the students do not have this kind of hands-on practical experience, because it is a law school and they do not do experiments.’

HSE’s Public Round Table on Law and Data

On Wednesday, September 25, there was a public round table, on ‘Law, Data and the City’. ‘At the event, it was great to see so many familiar faces – some colleagues in my department at Tilburg know the researchers here at HSE and the other way around. I also know people from the HSE Law School through the Law Schools Global League, a network of law schools from all over the world, that this year met in Stockholm and in which Tilburg and HSE are both active members.’

Since the round table was public, all of the panel talks were aimed at a general audience rather than specialists. In her talk, Anna focused on her two case studies of the grassroots monitoring of radiation levels in Fukushima, Japan and the grassroots monitoring of air pollution levels in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Anna presented these two cases within the framework of stress- versus shock-driven innovation. A shock is an external unplanned event that changes the status quo and shifts the way actors respond to issues. The Fukushima case is clearly an example of shock-driven innovation. The case of Eindhoven, on the other hand, is an example of stress-driven innovation.

Within this dichotomy, Anna examined cooperation of the citizens with the institutional actors. In the Netherlands case, institutions were more cooperative, which likely resulted from higher institutional trust. This allowed Anna to understand what kinds of factors are important for successful cooperation between citizens and institutions.

For example, it is crucial for citizens to demonstrate the credibility of the initiative. This inspires high trust from the side of the government; the government knows the problem is not 'fake news'

Another important component is media support – as well as a free media in the first place.’ These topics led to a very lively discussion. As Anna commented, ‘The issue of trust in Russia is particularly interesting. Moreover, comparing the EU and Russia is fruitful: students were very curious to learn about how initiatives that had been implemented in the EU would fare here in Russia.’

Exploring Moscow

‘I have to say I didn’t have prior expectations about the city – I was very curious, but I didn’t have any assumptions,’ says Anna. ‘Apart from being a very beautiful city, Moscow is very organized. I love the metro, and I enjoy exploring the architectural intersection between different eras.’

‘I’ve been staying in a neighbourhood that is very Soviet in style, while here (on Myasnitskaya) in the centre, the atmosphere is very European. I also sense a lot of cultural pride throughout the city. There are monuments everywhere. I was very impressed by the huge scale of Moscow State University. But I also like HSE’s concept of the campus being scattered throughout the city. Here, students and staff are more connected to the city. The Shukhov Lab (which is located on the ground floor of the Myasnitskaya building with large windows looking onto the street – editor’s note) is particularly connected to the city. The students come in, come out, and I think the equipment they have here is very great and I like the fact that you can see people walking while you are here.’