XXIX.3 May - June 2022
Page: 54
Digital Citation

Rethinking ‘smart’ islands: Toward humane, self-aware, and cooperative hybrid islands

Norbert Streitz, Christine Riedmann-Streitz

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Technology is the Answer, but what was the Question?
    — Cedric Price, architect (1934–2003)

ins01.gif Madeira coastline

The term smart is becoming ubiquitous and at the same time arbitrary due to an extensive and uncontrolled variety of interpretations and connotations. It no longer serves a purpose of providing distinction and orientation. Everything must be "smart"—smartphones, smart vehicles, smart cities, and now smart islands. Norbert Streitz [1] calls this implication of technology-driven developments the Smart-Everything Paradigm (SEP). It is characterized by smart artifacts and services based on data collected via an Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure, monitored and controlled by software using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). These developments run the risk of a growing degree of importunate automation and severe privacy infringements. Humans are increasingly removed from being the operator and thus in control of their interactions and decisions in hybrid (i.e., physical and virtual) urban environments. Thus, there is a need to redefine smartness to gain a new understanding. We must answer the question: What kind of cities—and islands—do we want to live in?

back to top  Insights


The answer to this question for islands and their inhabitants lies in rethinking "smart" islands. Like our critical reflections on smart-only cities [1,2], there is already a need for a counterproposal, even at these early stages of making islands "smart." We argue that it requires a human/islander-centered design approach for moving beyond smart-only islands toward humane, self-aware, and cooperative hybrid islands. We apply the lessons learned from redefining technology-driven, smart-only cities by putting humans first; redefining smartness as being self-aware; facilitating a participatory cooperation model for engaging citizens, thus allowing for mutual benefits; and exploiting the hybridity of urban environments [1,2].

The conceptual approach presented here is complemented by the experiences and insights gained during our stay on the island of Madeira, Portugal, in October 2021. Our stay was supported by the EU-funded Forward project (https://forward-h2020.eu/) and locally organized by its Madeira partners. Our objective was to develop ideas and strategies on how to make Madeira "the place to be" by transforming it into a Lighthouse of Research and Innovation (R&I). To this end, it was necessary to identify specific assets and issues, and to develop strategies and a road map for the transformation of Madeira into a humane, self-aware, and cooperative hybrid island.

back to top  The Smart-Everything Paradigm

Despite all the research efforts on human factors, cognitive ergonomics, human-computer interaction, and user-centered design, and the shift from information design to experience design (e.g., [3]) and participatory design, we are still confronted with technology-driven developments that heavily influence our lives as never before. It does not help that smartphones have a touch-based interface—making it "user friendly" at a superficial level of interaction—if there is no control over the data being collected, aggregated, evaluated, exploited, and sold to third parties without our approval, providing the basis for potentially undesirable outcomes. This is not only about personal privacy infringements but just as much about security and trust, and the proper operation of our infrastructures, our living and working environments, and their democratic foundations.

It is time for a critical reflection of smart-only developments at a general level (Smart-Everything Paradigm) and for design approaches that create counterproposals and alternatives for specific situations. IoT, AI, and ML are promoted and hyped, triggering expectations and making questionable claims about the future. Smart cities provide telling examples of these trends. The planned abundance of automating everything and seeking salvation in solutions operated by nontransparent AI/ML algorithms should be warning signs. There is a wide range of problems [1], including: inappropriate, insufficient, error-prone behavior; rigidity; missing transparency, traceability, and accountability; and ethical issues [4]. These problems generate new severe dependencies on technology, in addition to the already existing dependencies on electricity (blackouts) and standard software and hardware, with their almost unavoidable intrinsic failures as well as vulnerability to increasing cyberattacks. Thus, we are losing more and more control over the elements structuring and determining our lives, while at the same time enabling many functionalities that we consider essential in our lives, or at least for living comfortably.

back to top  Design Trade-Offs Enabling Human Empowerment and Usable Privacy

A people-centered design approach is needed for building appropriate, livable, sustainable, and resilient living and working environments. The challenge of moving beyond smart-only cities toward humane, self-aware, and cooperative hybrid cities requires resetting our priorities and putting humans as citizens first. This must be reflected in the always existing design trade-offs in real situations. We distinguish between at least two design trade-offs [1,2]:

  • Human-control and empowerment versus automated/autonomous systems
  • Usable and transparent privacy versus importunate smartness.

First design trade-off. Humans should not just be in the loop but rather should "own" the loop and determine who and what (people, smart artifacts) are part of the loop. In specific situations (e.g., elevators), a high degree of automation might be appropriate, provided its functionality is transparently communicated and there are still options for human intervention. This is usually not the case for autonomous robots, drones, or fully automated SAE level-5 vehicles [5]. Here, full automation without human supervision and control must be avoided early in the design process.

Second design trade-off. The smarter a system is, the more it can support people in carrying out tasks. But the more data about a person and the context that the system collects and processes without explicit approval, the higher the degree of privacy infringement. People should have the right to control what, and how, data is collected and processed. Thus, data collection must be designed with rules for approval and transparency showing both its extent and associated potential benefits so that people have a choice. We would even argue that smart spaces can make people smarter because these spaces can empower them to make more informed, intelligent decisions without unintentionally losing their privacy.

The two design trade-offs do not exist in a 100 percent either-or fashion, nor are they independent of each other. Human control about the final decisions and actions as well as transparency about mutual benefits are key. Both design trade-offs are closely interlinked with ethical issues [4,6]. Recent activities on human-centered and explainable AI play an important role and provide some hope for the future.

back to top  Redefining Smart Cities as Humane, Self-Aware, and Cooperative Hybrid Cities

Our counterproposal to smart-only cities is based on a citizen-centered design approach involving a) redefining smartness and b) introducing a cooperation model where the city, service providers, and citizens are partners. The "smartness" of a city is redefined as "self-awareness," that is, how much the city knows about itself and how it communicates the collected data and aggregations to its citizens and to the city administration. Motivating citizens to get engaged, to be part of the urban community, to allow their data to be collected, and to even actively contribute data cannot be valued highly enough. This open-data approach requires participatory design, keeping citizens in the loop and fostering co-provision, co-creation, and co-exploitation. Enabling privacy is necessary not only in the virtual worlds of social media, online shops, and so on, where the limited focus of the current discussion is, but increasingly so in the physical context of hybrid urban environments, where "urban spies" are present [1], but often hidden and invisible. The new notion of ambient privacy provides ways to address these problems [2].

The overall goal is to enable citizens to exploit their individual, creative, social, and economic potential and to live self-determined lives. Moving beyond smart-only cities implies designing humane, self-aware, and cooperative hybrid cities. This is in line with the proposal that "the smartest cities are the most humane" but goes beyond it. The city and its citizens should be viewed as cooperation partners with a common purpose so that the city can provide a range of useful services based on mutually agreed-on rules and regulations allowing for human control and privacy. This is best achieved within a CitizenCooperative City Contract (CCCC) [1], which could be implemented via a blockchain approach.

back to top  Rethinking Smart Islands

The lessons learned can be applied to how we move beyond smart-only islands to humane, self-aware, and cooperative hybrid islands. This includes an IslanderCooperative Island Contract (ICIC). Rethinking smart-only islands requires keeping islanders in the loop and in control, facilitating co-provision, co-creation, and co-exploration, and respecting the rights and privacy of islanders. But there is more to it, due to islands' specific characteristics. For some properties, we introduce the term hybrid islands. Hybrid is used here to indicate the mixture and combination of separate, sometimes opposite properties. Islands are hybrid in the following sense:

  • They combine and integrate real and virtual environments (like cities).
  • They combine urban and rural environments on a limited, defined territory.
  • They combine earth and water (or land and sea) as two material states.

Designing hybrid islands requires looking at the boundaries between the different situations and states and carefully designing the "hybrid seams" between them, facilitating smooth transitions. Due to their limited and defined territory, islands can serve very well as test beds for prototypes and proof-of-concept demonstrators, and provide living labs.

back to top  The Island Design Café

Transforming a community—be it a city or an island—is a process of change. Thus, it is of critical importance to follow the crucial tenets of successful sustainable change. Unfortunately, most approaches are still top-down: A few people in charge decide on a plan, put it into effect, and communicate it to their stakeholders. We call this Transformation Approach (TA) 1.0. The result is often alarming: low acceptance by stakeholders and lots of critical mistakes. One decisive insight from the transformation processes that we apply is that the initial mindset determines the result. Although the next level (TA 2.0) is oriented more toward considering the needs of people and policymakers, the preferred approach (TA 3.0) integrates top-down and bottom-up in an interdisciplinary participatory cooperative process linking people's needs and wishes, government goals, and new technologies, thereby improving people's quality of life and work.

The overall goal is to enable citizens to exploit their individual, creative, social, and economic potential and to live self-determined lives.

The success of transformations corresponds to the adequate choice of the levels of participation. It is often neglected that the depth of possible participation determines the quality of the results. Many formats meet only the lowest Participation Level (PL) 1, "information," which is no participation, or PL 2, "consultation," which involves asking for wishes and needs. But broad acceptance, commitment, engagement, and ownership require participatory formats empowering and inviting active contributions, co-designing, and, if possible, co-decision making. Only here, at PL 3, is valuable wisdom unlocked.

back to top  The Specific Approach

We developed a special participatory design approach for the Island Design Café on Madeira that empowers the intended change via TA 3.0 and stakeholder PL 3. We call it Islander Participatory Design. It follows the idea that the smartest communities are the most humane and cooperative ones.

One of the guiding questions was, How do we begin to ask questions about humane, self-aware, and cooperative islands to those who have a stake in island living? To this end, we customized our participatory formats, which have proven valuable, and created the Island Design Café. It provides a guided, targeted way of engaging people in key questions and solutions and has four decisive merits:

  • It empowers stakeholders to engage in a specified topic.
  • Its design principles facilitate meaningful collaboration and creative power among attendees.
  • The intentionally informal ambience provides an environment for open discussions and exchange of beliefs, knowledge, and information, as well as the creation of new ideas and approaches.
  • It allows a dramaturgy that creates a high level of added value to a specific topic, for example, new perspectives, new solutions, innovative problem-solving, a new strategic focus on what really matters, as well as a conversational creative process to strengthen a culture of collaboration, engaging in constructive dialogues around challenging questions.

Our key to success was to elaborate an orchestrated design (based on TA 3.0 and PL 3), because real participation corresponds with basic human needs: participation, orientation, control, belonging, and holism. The feeling of being allowed to participate arises from taking part and being part of, playing a role in, sharing in, identifying with, and, finally, being part of the success (i.e., It's worth it!). The Island Design Café was dedicated to enabling transformation, toward the goal of making the island of Madeira into "the place to be" by transforming it into a Lighthouse of Research and Innovation (R&I).

back to top  The Setup

One decisive question is always: How do you start a movement? At the beginning, you need an interdisciplinary group of pioneers—innovators with decision-making power. So, researchers, stakeholders from local businesses and institutions, and citizens of Madeira (all of these groups experts in their specific areas) were invited to meet for the Island Design Café at the Jesuits' College of Funchal, University of Madeira. All were familiar with the conceptual framework and issues of the Beyond Smart-Only Islands concept, presented the day before.

The shaping of the future toward a declared goal must consider at least four aspects: a common understanding of the goal, the already existing strengths and identity-forming characteristics, the indispensable requirements, and a proven model for the fields of action. To avoid results that are fuzzy and not purposeful, we always prepare values and strength-based frames. In this case, the guiding frames were the key principles of the Beyond Smart-Only Islands concept, the Assets of Madeira, and the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (https://sdgs.un.org/goals).

Usually in change processes, the obvious and quick-to-implement option is chosen, but that might not necessarily be the right thing to do.

Usually in change processes, the obvious and quick-to-implement option is chosen, but that might not necessarily be the right thing to do. Thus, we applied our Participatory Innovation Model for the development of a humane, self-aware, and cooperative hybrid island. The six-dimensional model (Figure 1) facilitates a structured process, providing access to existing knowledge and information and allowing us to exploit valuable synergies. It contains the essential fields of action for the development of a really smart (as defined earlier) island/city/region: smart environment (energy and environment), smart people (access to information and education), smart economy (industry, trade, etc.), smart government (information, digitization, guidelines), smart infrastructure (IoT, ICT, security, data platforms), and smart living (mobility, health, society, culture).

ins03.gif Figure 1. Participatory Innovation Model.

back to top  The Implementation

During change, people often ask, Why and where to? What will provide us with the necessary orientation? The holistic Empowerment-Coherence Concept (Figure 2), which we derived from the success drivers in change management, ensures a value-based consistent process, triggering engagement, ownership, and acceptance of the results by the stakeholders.

ins04.gif Figure 2. Empowerment-Coherence Concept.

Following this concept, the initial exercise was to carve out what really matters to reach the declared goal. By means of the participatory format Big Talk, participants discussed and prioritized the big questions that moved them to make Madeira a Lighthouse of R&I. Their ideas and strategic questions were structured by the Participatory Innovation Model. The Big Talk, which is part of the leadership approach, offers a fact-based free space for innovative forward thinking, enabling people to avoid small talk, getting stuck in the past, and just working through things as usual.

back to top  From Think Tank to do Tank

To have real impact, ideas and strategic questions must become actionable. In another participatory format addressing the transformation of Madeira, participants selected four key questions to reach the goal, based on previous inputs, and discussed them in a setting with subgroups assigned to tables in a rotating process. Finally, each participant contributed to each of the key questions. A big, focused picture for all participants emerged about the key drivers and key activities for achieving the goal.

The last mile, "from think tank to do tank," is guided by questions on how to make things happen. Building on the success drivers of change processes, participants need to be confident in how to make transformations successful. Thus, we encouraged them to follow the Transformation Approach 3.0 with the focus on Participation Level 3 when creating the final road map. It was essential to show and practice with the participants a proven way for a successful transformational process, thus avoiding the classic pitfalls.

We supplemented this process with an instrument from the neurosciences since any change is always difficult. Our brain loves that to which we are accustomed and in which we are practiced. An excursus on nudges provided relevant knowledge to ease the transformation for the islanders, to make it easier to jump in and engage in further development of Madeira to a Lighthouse of R&I by implementing the required behavior.

Finally, the participants created a consistent road map for Madeira to become a Lighthouse of R&I—as a humane, self-aware, and cooperative hybrid island. This road map is a milestone and starting point for the follow-up realization of selected projects. More information on the rationale of the Design Café and the results can be found in [7].

back to top  Results

The Big Talk, framed by the Assets of Madeira, the 17 SDGs, and the Beyond Smart-Only Islands concept and structured by the Participatory Innovation Model, resulted in approximately 40 Big Topics for Madeira (see Figure 3 for examples).

ins05.gif Figure 3. Examples of Big Topics developed in the Big Talk.

There were also ideas in overlapping categories, for example, exploiting the hybrid character of an island by combining the experimental pilot zone with energy issues at sea and on land and implications for new interdisciplinary business models. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that during the Covid-19 pandemic, Madeira has attracted many digital nomads seeking to live and work in a secure environment. A number of digital nomad villages have sprung up and are supported by the regional government. There is great potential, beyond the pandemic, for scaling efforts to attract talent with a wide range of expertise and demonstrate that an island like Madeira might have competitive advantages over otherwise attractive metropolitan areas.

One of the four tables in the participatory setting discussing the transformation was dedicated to the Islander ↔ Cooperative Island Contract. These participants discussed it from the perspective of "island as a service." The following four fields were identified and elaborated on:

  • Health and recovery
  • The European way of living
  • Research as a service
  • Uniqueness of Madeira Airport.

back to top  Conclusion

We prepared an extensive report with suggestions for future work based on the road map and going beyond it. It was well received by the organizers and the participants with good chances for follow-up activities. The results show that a carefully prepared design café based on an innovative conceptual framework and a structured toolbox with fine-tuned participatory design methods yields excellent results. Participants were very motivated and highly engaged, produced creative ideas and solutions, and expressed how valuable the whole experience was for them, especially in terms of knowledge transfer for their future activities. The results and feedback show that rethinking the "old" notion of smart islands has great potential for future developments, not only in Madeira but also on other islands, as there are many of them.

back to top  Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the Madeira partners of the European project Forward, especially Rui Caldeira (president of ARDITI), Lúcio Quintal (ARDITI), and Élia Vieira (University of Madeira), for inviting us to Madeira and for arranging our stay in Funchal.

back to top  References

1. Streitz, N. Beyond 'smart-only' cities: Redefining the 'smart-everything' paradigm. Journal of Ambient Intelligence and Humanized Computing 10, 2 (2019), 791–812. DOI: 10.1007/s12652-018-0824-1

2. Streitz, N.A. From smart-only cities towards humane and cooperative hybrid cities. Technology / Architecture + Design. 5, 2 (2021), 127–133. DOI: 10.1080/24751448.2021.1967050

3. Streitz, N., Magerkurth, C., Prante, T., and Röcker, C. From information design to experience design: Smart artefacts and the disappearing computer. Interactions 12, 4 (2005), 21–25; https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/1070960.1070979

4. Streitz, N., Charitos, D., Kaptein, M., and Böhlen, M. Grand challenges for ambient intelligence and implications for design contexts and smart societies. Journal of Ambient Intelligence and Smart Environments 11, 1 (2019), 87–107. DOI: 10.3233/AIS-180507

5. SAE. Taxonomy and Definitions for Terms Related to Driving Automation Systems for On-Road Motor Vehicles. SAE standard J3016. Original in 2014; revised in 2016, 2018, and 2021; https://www.sae.org/standards/content/j3016_202104/

6. IEEE. IEEE Ethics in Action in Autonomous and Intelligent Systems; https://ethicsinaction.ieee.org

7. Streitz, N.A., Riedmann-Streitz, C., Quintal, L. From 'Smart-only' island towards lighthouse of research and innovation. Proc. of the 10th International Conference on Distributed, Ambient and Pervasive Interactions: Smart Environments, Ecosystems, and Cities (Part I). Lecture Notes in Computer Science LNCS 13325. Springer, 2022, 105–126; https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-05463-1_8

back to top  Authors

Norbert A. Streitz is the scientific director of the Smart Future Initiative, Germany. He held positions as division manager and deputy director at Fraunhofer Institute IPSI and as assistant professor at the Technical University Aachen (RWTH). He was also a postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley and a visiting scholar at Xerox PARC and the Intelligent Systems Lab, Tsukuba Science City in Japan. He is a member of the CHI Academy. norbert.streitz@smart-future.net

Christine Riedmann-Streitz is managing director of MarkenFactory, Germany. She is an expert in brand and identity, innovation and change, and leadership and culture. She understands her role as facilitator, consultant, and trainer, empowering people in organizations of all sectors. She is a program board member of international conferences and a university lecturer. Her current focus is digital and cultural transformation, new work, stakeholder participation, and resilience. christine.riedmann-streitz@markenfactory.com

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