Description: New digital and mobile technologies (re)configure the relations between citizens and the state: they allow local authorities to crowdsource real-time information on the urban environment and enable citizens to file reports and complaints directly to the relevant authorities in a direct, rapid and simple manner. But these new interactions and interfaces are not devoid of social and political implications. On one hand, citizens’ expectations of mobile digital technologies can translate into exaggerated expectations towards public authorities: municipal interventions take more time, and are less predictable, than a Deliveroo take-away. Local authorities, on the other hand, adopt mobile city application with trepidation, fearing an untenable burden, loss of control over municipal priorities, an excess of (irrelevant) information to sift through, and the redistribution of resources towards tech-savvy, well-informed residents at the expense of others.
Through a focus on the governance of minor offences at our partner, the Brussels’ municipality of Schaerbeek, we explore the case of FixMyStreet, a mobile city application where residents report nuisances and incidents to their local authorities. We critically examine the unintended consequences arising with the introduction of such new participatory legibility schemes, both within municipal authorities’ structures and within the wider social and political landscape. Our research will aim to answer two main research questions – First, how are citizens’ relations with local authorities specifically, and with the state more broadly, (re)configured following the introduction of mobile city applications and participatory legibility schemes? And secondly, how can local authorities’ handling of participatory incident reporting by urban residents be reformed to produce better social and material interventions?
In this project we employ a mixed methods approach, combining a quantitative analysis of FixMyStreet reports and subsequent interventions with an in-depth qualitative research of the municipal services at our partner organization, the Brussels’ municipality of Schaerbeek. This research will make both a scientific contribution in the fields of criminology, urban studies and surveillance studies, while developing tangible custom-made solutions to the questions and challenges faced by Brussels’ local authorities when they elicit citizens’ reports on the urban environment through mobile city applications. Our research findings will allow us to produce new working protocols, practical workshops and an online training module to be used in the municipality of Schaerbeek, and then promoted in the wider Brussels region. Together, these will make an innovative, forward-looking contribution to prepare both scholars and practitioners to the growing role of mobile and digital technologies in the governance of everyday life.
Coordinator : VUB
Other Parters: Municipality of Schaerbeek
Funding: Innoviris Prospective Research Project
Duration: 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2024