Citizen-sensor-networks to confront government decision-makers: Two lessons from the Netherlands
until further notice
SourceJournal of Environmental Management, 196, (2017), pp. 234-251
10 maart 2017
Article / Letter to editor
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Journal of Environmental Management
SubjectIntegrated Decision Making (ID)
This paper presents one emerging social-technical innovation: The evolution of citizen-sensor-networks where citizens organize themselves from the ‘bottom up’, for the sake of confronting governance officials with measured information about environmental qualities. We have observed how citizen-sensornetworks have been initiated in the Netherlands in cases where official government monitoring and business organizations leave gaps. The formed citizen-sensor-networks collect information about issues that affect the local community in their quality-of-living. In particular, two community initiatives are described where the sensed environmental information, on noise pollution and gas-extraction induced earthquakes respectively, is published through networked geographic information methods. Both community initiatives pioneered in developing an approach that comprises the combined setting-up of sensor data flows, real-time map portals and community organization. Two particular cases are analyzed to trace the emergence and network operation of such ‘networked geo-information tools’ in practice: (1) The Groningen earthquake monitor, and (2) The Airplane Monitor Schiphol. In both cases, environmental 'externalities' of spatial-economic activities play an important role, having economic dimensions of national importance (e.g. gas extraction and national airport development) while simultaneously affecting the regional community with environmental consequences. The monitoring systems analyzed in this paper are established bottom-up, by citizens for citizens, to serve as ‘information power’ in dialogue with government institutions. The goal of this paper is to gain insight in how these citizen-sensor-networks come about: how the idea for establishing a sensor network originated, how their value gets recognized and adopted in the overall ‘system of governance’; to what extent they bring countervailing power against vested interests and established discourses to the table and influence power-laden conflicts over environmental pressures; and whether or not they achieve (some form of) institutionalization and, ultimately, policy change. We find that the studied-citizen-sensor networks gain strength by uniting efforts and activities in crowdsourcing data, providing factual, ‘objectivized data’ or ‘evidence’ of the situation ‘on the ground’ on a matter of local community-wide concern. By filling an information need of the local community, a process of ‘collective sense-making’ combined with citizen empowerment could grow, which influenced societal discourse and challenged prevailing truth-claims of public institutions. In both cases similar, ‘competing’ web-portals were developed in response, both by the gas-extraction company and the airport. But with the citizen-sensor-networks alongside, we conclude there is a shift in power balance involved between government and affected communities, as the government no longer has information monopoly on environmental measurements.
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