In these especially challenging times, the partnerships between local and regional governments and other stakeholders are of great importance to ensure that the voices of cities are heard in addressing the negative effects stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. In this context and in light of the COVID-19 crisis, the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights (CC4DR) is working towards ensuring that cities, and people living within cities, have the necessary information and tools to guarantee the protection of their digital rights, the promotion of social and digital inclusion and that smart cities work for the benefit of all communities towards an equitable recovery. Discussions being held on the future of smart cities and on the COVID-19 recovery must fully take into account digital rights and the role cities have to play in protecting and promoting them.
Looking Back & Forward
During Smart Cities Live 2020, the CC4DR held its annual General Assembly which counted on the participation of member cities, as well as representatives of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Eurocities, and UN Habitat. Within the General Assembly, members discussed the achievement of the objectives set by the CC4DR for 2020, and the actions needed to ensure that 2021 is a year in which, building upon the priorities of member cities, the CC4DR bases its activities on the principles of the Coalition in practice and global advocacy processes.
CC4DR activities in 2020
Since its inception in late 2018, the CC4DR has been working to ensure that cities collaborate, discuss, and align on crucial issues related to digital rights and the relationship between technology and current salient issues such as rising inequality and the weakening of democratic processes, among others. In 2020, the Coalition continued this work while also addressing the impacts of the current COVID-19 pandemic. For 2020, primary activities of the Coalition included:
Meetings: held monthly webinars and “CC4DR in practice” events that act as deep dives on digital rights-related topics, working group meetings on topics related to AI Accountability and data-sharing, and individual meetings amongst members.
Launch of new Initiatives: launched the new “Applied Digital Rights Initiative (ADRI)” which is a coalition-led initiative meant to build research on digital rights with universities and research organizations.
Written documents: published several advocacy papers and statements, which include the COVID-19 digital rights position statement and a publication on the best practices related to digital rights that have been gathered within the coalition.
Outreach and sharing: Participated in events such as NGI, issued op-eds, published blog posts on relevant issues, and developed a new coalition website that builds further on the exchange of knowledge amongst members.
Local impact: intensified 1-on-1 city contacts to understand local needs and assess skills and resource building; to support city-to-city learning, and issuing a Coalition-wide survey from the end of 2020 that provides insights into local policies and the digital rights aspects within them.
Tools: supported the creation of several digital rights oriented tools/toolkits, including AI accountability mechanisms (such as an AI registry, AI procurement guidelines, and an AI Ethics course) and a concept note on data-sharing developed by our working groups on the basis of several round-tables and sharing of local best-practices. Also, the Coalition launched a best-practice publication, based on city interviews and a preliminary CC4DR toolkit.
The value of the CC4DR: Looking at digital rights from both the local and global perspectives
During the meeting, Coalition members also commented on the added-value of the CC4DR’s work; specifically, the successful development of a safe place for informal exchanges between cities on difficult topics related to digital rights like data privacy, digital equity, and contact tracing. Moreover, the CC4DR has maintained a steady group of committed cities that regularly follow the work of the Coalition. In this regard, members celebrated the cross-continental learning and networking power of the Coalition, albeit recognizing that it is at present mostly concentrated in Europe and North America.
Along the same lines, members emphasized the importance of the multi-level and multidisciplinary work developed by the Coalition. This highlights the CC4DR’s active promotion of digital rights at local and global levels, particularly through the advocacy work and collaboration with UCLG, UN Habitat, and Eurocities.
For the 2021 objectives, Coalition members discussed several key issues:
Ensuring that the work undertaken on digital rights is applicable and linked with overlapping urban policy areas such as safety, education, health, the environment, inclusion and justice, public spaces, public transport, sustainability, employment, and gender equality. Each month, a different topic will be top of mind.
Emphasizing the cross-cutting nature of the work of the Coalition to support the COVID-19 recovery.
Strengthening collaboration with other local government actors, beyond technology offices, was underlined as important moving forward (including the areas listed above).
Widening the coalition’s membership and ensuring that cities from the global south are duly represented in the coalition’s work. Moreover, the core-team of the Coalition will be expanded by adding new members.
The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights has rapidly evolved into an international and informal knowledge-sharing network for cities. With digital rights gaining a central place in the public debate as well as in many local policies from city-members and national governments, achieving these objectives and strengthening collaboration among actors will be essential. In the past two years, the Coalition has steadily evolved from a symbolic coalition into a more pragmatic one. With this, the Coalition is at the dawn of a new phase, where we are eager to fulfill its full potential. In this regard, CC4DR initiatives, like the Applied Digital Rights Challenge and the Digital Rights Hotline, are key in validating and advancing partnerships with other stakeholders and taking advantage of new funding opportunities to foster collaborations regionally and globally.
You can find the Survey here