Dampbusters Bristol

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David Meyer:

David Meyer:

" in the UK, there have also been serious attempts to build “smart” services from the ground up with communities. In Bristol, the local city council was among several backers of a project called Dampbusters, which began in 2015 and is preparing to enter its second iteration. Run by the Knowle West Media Centre, a community arts organisation and "living lab", Dampbusters was a "city commons" exercise in helping people identify their needs, build the connected tools to address them, and manage the resulting data in a communal way.

"We decided we needed a framework for explaining what citizen engagement looks like and what it is. It's not the same as just convening a focus group or trying to recruit people to a technology project. It's creating a level playing field where people can co-design the solution," said Carolyn Hassan, the centre's director.

The project employed artists to chat to locals in the community and figure out what they needed – according to Hassan, artists "are perhaps sceptical of some of the smart city language but are interested in how you work with people".

After considering a few alternatives, the team and community settled on the issue of damp in homes. They set about designing sensor-laden devices, resembling frogs, that people could use to measure temperature and humidity – and, importantly, to get feedback on what they should do about damp and where they find it. "We learned that once people understand what the problem was, they want to know their device is giving them information rather than just taking information," said Hassan.

The second generation of "Frogboxes" may include LEDs in the frogs' eyes, to show when the damp problem is reaching a critical level, Hassan said. The first generation already inspired one community member to set up a business servicing the sensors, and generated data that was given to the council to help it tackle the damp problem.

Hassan noted that involving the community to this degree isn't just about making people feel part of the project, rather than subject to it. There's also scope for boosting local employment. "In terms of jobs, a lot of the focus of investment in technology has been focused on the high end," she said. "We need many more better-paid jobs in communities like Knowle West. We're thinking in terms of developing… community-based micro-manufacturing. There's potential for using some of these technologies to enable new kinds of jobs and skills."" (http://www.alphr.com/technology/1006261/how-one-european-smart-city-is-giving-power-back-to-its-citizens)