Image credit: City of Melbourne

As we lead up to our Digital Trust webinar on 2nd February, we wanted to unpack in advance some of the initiatives, projects, and drivers behind the move to enhance the transparency of the use of technology in the public realm and the ‘why and how’ of data use.

The Australian application of digital trust strategies in our public realm will be a feature of the upcoming webinar.

As one of Australia’s leading providers of shared infrastructure in the public realm, and enablers of digital services, we want to lead the discussion and share with everyone what we are finding as we embark on our journey of advancing the idea of digital trust.

On an international level, the World Economic Forum is leading a global project in defining digital trust and while its yet to be completed, it identifies its objective as “identifying the measurable steps that can be done to improve the trustworthiness of digital technologies through security and responsible technology use.” We are watching this initiative closely and encourage you to do the same.

The concept of trust, in general, has been extensively researched and assessed for decades, most notably by the firm Edelman. Their annual Trust Barometer is the leading global survey of the relationship between key institutions – business, government, the media and NGO’s – and their stakeholders. For decades this work has resulted in valuable insights for all sectors and remains one of the most influential initiatives that supports the idea of ‘trust as the ultimate currency’. Their website is an excellent source of articles and other resources which are freely available.

But what about the built environment and the public realm?

Trust, and how it applies to our actions in the public realm with respect to technology and data, was pioneered by Sidewalk Labs in their work titled Digital Transparency in the Public Realm (DTPR), which is now led by the Toronto based organisation Helpful Places, albeit with a change in the name of the agenda (now Digital Trust for Places and Routines). This open source work (Framework, design guide, research and pilot applications) is freely available and continues to be a foundational basis for more recent applications.

Closer to home, Digital Trust for Places and Routines (DTPR) has been used in New South Wales as an open-source communication standard to increase transparency and accountability for digital technology in public places. It has been applied as a way of making the collection of data in the public realm more visible, via a New South Wales Government funded Smart Places program that has now delivered Australia’s first application of DTPR at Sydney Olympic Park and in partnership with Wollondilly Council.

Other DTPR-like work has been underway in Victoria, with the Argyle Square ‘Data in the Park‘ project facilitated by the City of Melbourne. This project sought to identify opportunities for parks to be more supportive, inclusive and comfortable places through the use of enabling technology and data insights. One of the project’s key features was disclosing information on the sensors being used to gather data in the park and giving the community access to that data. A range of communication tools and dashboards have been published to offer open access for all.

Other notable international work to build greater trust and transparency in the deployment of technology and use of data in a transparent way includes the Emerging Technology Charter for London, which was published in 2022 by the Greater London Authority to provide guidance to government, industry, academia and the community on the trialling and deployment of data-enabled technology in the public realm. The Charter is principles-based and has been designed to be an agile governance framework. The Charter clearly states expectations around the disclosure of information about technology deployed in the public realm – what it is, what it can do and why it is being deployed. This level of openness includes the requirement to undertake a Data Protection Impact Assessment and publish it on the London Datastore.

The Barcelona Technology Code of Practice is similar, but different again, articulating a series of principles and requirements to support those in charge of governance and management of digital services to ensure they are aligned with the vision of the Code. The Code applies to the design and construction of all City Council digital services. Its scope includes the ethical and secure management of data and open data, technology sovereignty and the development of agile digital services. While the Code offers guidelines for important privacy and personal data protection issues, impact assessment and the use of free best practice standards for example, there is no specific for the disclosure of technology deployed and the data collected in the public realm and how it is used.

And then there is DECODE, a partnership driven project involving stakeholders such as University of College London, City of Amsterdam, Open University of Barcelona and Nesta seeking to develop tools that address the access and control of personal information and community generated information. It is concerned with the very fragmented ecosystem of data ‘silos’ and the real risk of end users ultimately losing control over it. While the project does have a focus on the internet, it speaks strongly to the importance of the Internet of Things and sensor networks, and the broader communal use of the data generated and gathered by citizens.