Work Project

Smart Technologies Empowered Citizens (STEC)

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.

Smart Technologies Empowered Citizens (STEC)

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)

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.

Results of STEC: Models, methods and designs

To compare, analyse and discuss our different cases, we develop models and theories that are both specific to individual cases as well as provide a general model for empowerment. We believe that models are a way to test hypotheses and bring clarity in the paths and behaviours that can lead to empowerment. Additionally, we add how to actually build these paths and behaviours.

Thus, the knowledge follows from cases of which a few are highlighted down below.

Brushy by Noa van der Horst

“Brushy the crocodile is an interactive, smart toy for children ages 2-6 which makes teeth brushing more fun, while teaching the importance of oral healthcare. By teaching Brushy how to brush its teeth, children learn how to brush their own. Caregivers can guide and stimulate the process by telling stories, thus creating a pleasant and meaningful experience. By harnessing children’s intrinsic motivation for play, Brushy empowers them to learn how to take care of their own teeth.”

The Lost Magic of Dagon by Claire Crawford, Noy Gvishi, Odin Shadmi, and Ihsan Yahya

The Lost Magic of Dagon is a smart occupational therapy game for children with cerebral palsy. The game encourages them to practice hand movements which improve their ability to perform everyday tasks. By stepping into Dagon, an imaginary world of lost magic, the child must play as the hero to restore the magic while practicing essential hand exercises along the way.

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MINICIPALITY by Bambi Boland, Beatriz Ibeas, Genevieve Korte and Ondrej Kocholaty

“MINICIPALITY is a hybrid game that empowers citizens by equipping them with tools for enacting change in their local communities. Additionally, the game collects data for researchers and stakeholders about the participants’ opinions, perspectives, and behaviours while playing.”

Enpire by Sascha Brouwer, Tenjin Fujita and Bas de Wit

“Enpire is a serious board game to learn more about the energy system from a multi-stakeholder perspective. The game tries to make understanding this complex topic easier through role-play, where players step into the shoes of one of the stakeholders. Together, they must try to pursue their stakeholder’s agenda while learning about the balance of economic development, social development, and environmental protection.”