Data Empowerment Design Studio #2 - Commons in City-making

Commons and citizen empowerment in smart city development and governance

Citizen empowerment in smart city development and governance

This Data Empowerment Design Studio concerned a future and design-driven research to explore how citizens could appropriate more structural decision-making power in smart city development.

Between end 2021 and early 2022 residents, local entrepreneurs and welfare workers from the Afrikaanderwijk in Rotterdam, researchers from the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Center for BOLD Cities and designers gathered to develop future scenarios and imaginaries of the Afrikaanderwijk in which citizens and other relevant stakeholders could appropriate more structural decision-making and governing power.

(Action) research

  • We studied academic literature in order to identify concepts that the academic foundation to support the the development of more democratic, inclusive and resilient smart cities.
  • We explicitly chose to take the concept of The Right to the (Smart) City and (Data) Empowerment, rather than data, technologies and platforms as a starting point.
  • Together with citizens, local entrepreneurs, artists and community workers of the Afrikaanderwijk Cooperation we identified strengths, needs and (shared) values of the Afrikaanderwijk; to explore what future developments might affect the neighbourhood; and to formulate what opportunities and needs might arise.

(Co-creative) design

Facilitated by Pantopicon, those involved developed three storylines of alternative futures:

  • Blue & Green on collective use and governance of public space and natural resources;
  • _Living & Working Together on housing cooperatives and new ways of working; and
  • Managing & Governing on more local and direct forms of governance.

Participants and experts reflected upon the three storylines by discussing the following questions: how would the Afrikaanderwijk be different in 2040 as compared to 2022 (in terms of public space, infrastructure, amenities); how would it function differently (in terms of roles, responsibilities, decision-making); what other activities might one encounter (in terms of professions, skills, knowledge, rituals); what 'enablers' (in terms of resources, people, organisations, networks, technologies) would be instrumental.


We invited participants to paint pamphlets to grasp what, according to them, is the essence of the imaginaries and ideas that were developed.


This project was funded by the NWO – the Dutch Research Council – under the program NWA route Smart Liveable Cities 2020.


Online publications in collaboration with WAAG FutureLab and Utrecht University