Tech Justice

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Christian Iaione et al.:

"Tech Justice within the commons theory can represent one of the most important empirical dimensions of the normative model of the urban governance approach based on the reconceptualization of the city as a commons.6 What we suggest is that looking back at Lefebvre and Ostrom could be useful to identify the guiding and design principles to improve the governance of techbased innovations in the city. Furthermore, the promotion of self-organization, self-government, and citizen participation should complement the discussion on the relationship between social justice and tech in the city.

Further research is definitely needed in order to delve deeper — especially regarding these two items:

a) the question on how to mediate the existing dichotomy between market-based and society-based tech developments;

b) the empirical dimension of Tech Justice to drive the variation of smart city and sharing city policy and legal models toward a more just and democratic city.

Fertile ground for future research also includes the need to reflect on the scale and scalability of such innovations; an understanding of the more appropriate features, shape and scale of institutions responsible for recognizing or granting a “right to tech” in the city; an analysis of potential state and urban government reconfiguration and changing roles; research on the role of the law and regulations in facilitating such “right to tech” in the city; assessment of the risk that the current discourse around tech in the city might end up supporting the creation of a “surveillance society.” This Article could not cover all these issues; rather, its contribution is to identify them and to lay the ground to further investigate the opportunities and challenges of embedding Tech Justice in the smart city and sharing city discourse." (


Elena De Nictolis et al.:

"The variable of Tech Justice is also relevant because it allows to highlight the potentiality of digital infrastructures and access to technology as an enabling factor for local development and social cohesion.30 The idea of net equality stresses the positive externalities of an open digital infrastructure, which might generate a virtuous cycle: openness generates innovation, which attracts interest from the users and other actors, leading to more investments in technological urban infrastructures and bringing benefits to vulnerable groups. This dimension also relies on the concept of Data Sovereignty, entailing that users shall be entitled to freely decide which data can be gathered and distributed about themselves, and the ownership or portability of such data.


Tech Justice’s first sub-dimension is technological equality, based on access to tech and digital infrastructure. This first level is based on a concept of formal equality or equal access. The assumption is that, in order for ordinary city inhabitants to cooperate across social and economic differences, they must each have equal access to the means of cooperation. The digital divide, in terms of access to broadband and digital devices, as well as the level of digitization of public services provided by municipalities, is an important factor in bringing together a diversity of people to self-organize for the realization of urban commons.

The Tech Justice factor can rely upon secondary data on cities extrapolated from different sources of information on transparency, the city smart governance, e-government deriving from infrastructures of public institutions such as the European Union (Open Data Barometer, EU DESI Index) and the World Bank. As we discuss above in the Article, the variable of Tech Justice is aimed at measuring the capacity of including minorities in the access to concrete opportunities related to technological developments. Consequently, the variable can be measured also through the presence/absence of local public policies/programs aimed at overcoming ethnic, cultural, geographic, economic “digital divides”; or assessing the presence/absence of specific local NGO projects focused on the overcoming of ethnic, cultural, geographic, and economic digital divides.


Tech justice can be assessed measuring the participation of the city inhabitants in projects/initiatives. This can happen with the promotion of self-organization of urban communities around those projects/initiatives. The participation subdimensions can be measured through the mapping of experiences of urban policies that promotes participation of city inhabitants into the production/ decision-making/management of digital infrastructures or services and even policies that promote urban communities’ self-organization.

The sub-dimension of participation is particularly evident in the cases pertaining to open data and e-government. As illustrated in Part II, platforms often focus on improving citizens’ access to information and open data with the aim of including them in public decision-making processes through online public consultations and deliberations. As is further discussed below, the experiences of the Decidim Barcelona and Decide Madrid platforms are successful examples of the participation dimension, as well as widely diffused platforms for running the Participatory Budget process through online deliberation and vote, such as in the case of Paris or Milan.


Co-management is the third dimension of Tech Justice, and it is aimed at measuring the presence of defined roles and responsibilities for civic actors/ communities envisaged by the project promoting the involvement of the city inhabitants in the direct management of digital infrastructure or services. This form of involvement may also imply the creation of job opportunities in the city. Urban inhabitants could in fact be involved in the management of infrastructures or services not just on a voluntary basis but also in a professional way. To avoid the risk of discriminating against disadvantaged communities, which might not have the necessary skills to actively participate in managing the infrastructure, it is necessary to provide intense fieldwork consisting of both a learning phase and co-working facilitation. Such a process would provide urban communities with skills to carry out some of the activities necessary for an infrastructure management.

This dimension emerges in community-led projects that contribute to the management of certain services and infrastructures, as observed in some of the cases in Part II, paragraphs A and C (i.e., Coviolo in Reggio Emilia or the CoRoma process) when urban communities take advantage of existing infrastructures to improve services offered and thus improve internet access or manage neighborhood technology services.


Lastly, co-ownership is the highest degree of intensity of the Tech Justice variable and it identifies whether, as result of full access to technology and the overcoming of the urban digital divide, the communities involved are able to collectively participate in and build their own cooperative platforms. The variable also investigates whether the skills and tools that the community acquires are directly used in an entrepreneurial way. This would configure a system of “civic digital enterprises” that are distributed in the city.

This last dimension emerges from the observation of some of the most relevant case studies, for instance in the field of wireless. Many of the design principles that the wireless community networks apply indeed mirror the design principles of the urban commons.

As stated in the Declaration of Community Connectivity, the design principles of the community network initiatives include:

a) collective ownership (the network infrastructure is owned by the community where it is deployed);

b) social management (the network infrastructure is governed and operated by the community);

c) open design (the network implementation details are public and accessible to everyone);

d) open participation (anyone is allowed to extend the network, as long as they abide the network principles and design);

e) free peering and transit (community networks offer free peering agreements to every network offering reciprocity and allow their free peering partners free transit to destination networks with which they also have free peering agreements); and

f) consideration of security and privacy concerns33 while designing and operating the network."