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Data ecosystems for protecting European citizens' digital rights

Calzada, Igor and Almirall, Esteve 2020. Data ecosystems for protecting European citizens' digital rights. Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy 14 (2) , 133. 10.1108/TG-03-2020-0047

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Purpose This paper aims to spark a debate by presenting the need for developing data ecosystems in Europe that meet the social and public good while committing to democratic and ethical standards; suggesting a taxonomy of data infrastructures and institutions to support this need; using the case study of Barcelona as the flagship city trailblazing a critical policy agenda of smart cities to show the limitations and contradictions of the current state of affairs; and ultimately, proposing a preliminary roadmap for institutional and governance empowerment that could enable effective data ecosystems in Europe. Design/methodology/approach This paper draws on lessons learned in previous publications available in the sustainability (Calzada, 2018), regions (Calzada and Cowie, 2017; Calzada, 2019), Zenodo (Calzada and Almirall, 2019), RSA Journal (Calzada, 2019) and IJIS (Calzada, 2020) journals and ongoing and updated fieldwork about the Barcelona case study stemming from an intensive fieldwork action research that started in 2017. The methodology used in these publications was based on the mixed-method technique of triangulation via action research encompassing in-depth interviews, direct participation in policy events and desk research. The case study was identified as the most effective methodology. Findings This paper, drawing from lessons learned from the Barcelona case study, elucidates on the need to establish pan-European data infrastructures and institutions – collectively data ecosystems – to protect citizens’ digital rights in European cities and regions. The paper reveals three main priorities proposing a preliminary roadmap for local and regional governments, namely, advocacy, suggesting the need for city and regional networks; governance, requiring guidance and applied, neutral and non-partisan research in policy; and pan-European agencies, leading and mobilising data infrastructures and institutions at the European level. Research limitations/implications From the very beginning, this paper acknowledges its ambition, and thus its limitations and clarifies its attempt to provide just an overview rather than a deep research analysis. This paper presents several research limitations and implications regarding the scope. The paper starts by presenting the need for data ecosystems, then structures this need through two taxonomies, all illustrated through the Barcelona case study and finally, concludes with a roadmap consisting of three priorities. The paper uses previous published and ongoing fieldwork findings in Barcelona as a way to lead, and thus encourage the proliferation of more cases through Cities Coalition for Digital Rights (CCDR). Practical implications This paper presents practical implications for local and regional authorities of the CCDR network. As such, the main three priorities of the preliminary roadmap could help those European cities and regions already part of the CCDR network to establish and build operational data ecosystems by establishing a comprehensive pan-European policy from the bottom-up that aligns with the timely policy developments advocated by the European Commission. This paper can inspire policymakers by providing guidelines to better coordinate among a diverse set of cities and regions in Europe. Social implications The leading data governance models worldwide from China and the USA and the advent of Big Data are dramatically reshaping citizens’ relationship with data. Against this backdrop and directly influenced by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Europe has, perhaps, for the first time, spoken with its own voice by blending data and smart city research and policy formulations. Inquiries and emerging insights into the potential urban experiments on data ecosystems, consisting of data infrastructures and institutions operating in European cities and regions, become increasingly crucial. Thus, the main social implications are for those multi-stakeholder policy schemes already operating in European cities and regions. Originality/value In previous research, data ecosystems were not directly related to digital rights amidst the global digital geopolitical context and, more specifically, were not connected to the two taxonomies (on data infrastructures and institutions) that could be directly applied to a case study, like the one presented about Barcelona. Thus, this paper shows novelty and originality by also opening up (based on previous fieldwork action research) a way to take strategic action to establish a pan-European strategy among cities and regions through three specific priorities. This paper can ultimately support practice and lead to new research and policy avenues.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD)
Publisher: Emerald
ISSN: 1750-6166
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 1 March 2021
Date of Acceptance: 28 March 2020
Last Modified: 01 Mar 2021 14:45

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