Mainstreaming human rights in the digital transformation of cities

A guide for local governments

People living in cities around the world use a wide range of municipal services on a regular basis. Services provided to residents such as garbage collection, the provision of playgrounds, parking spaces, streetlights, affordable housing, social support and public transport all require a local government that is committed to facilitating good quality of life in the city. As city governments undergo digital transformation, the digital and physical aspects of the city become more closely connected with digital technologies being used to deliver services, manage urbanisation processes and communicate with residents. In some aspects it is becoming difficult to distinguish between offline and online services.

This online and offline connectedness is impacting public life in our cities and affects different groups
across communities differently. The use of digital technologies, platforms and data by governments and
the private sector affect urban residents, sometimes in unforeseen or unintended ways. For example, young women may face cultural and gender-related barriers that prevent their access to the internet and technology. Ethnic minorities and people on low incomes have high demand for the internet, but often struggle with lack of affordability. Such groups lack not only access, they also experience lower quality of digital services. As groups do not equally access the digital services and systems that generate data, they do not produce the same kinds (or quantities) of data as the rest of the communityiv.

As digital technologies become ubiquitous in our cities, access and use becomes increasingly important.
What if you do not have the skills to access your banking services online, but it’s the only way to manage
financial services? What if you cannot access any information about the sensors in your streets and cannot
know whether they monitor just air quality or collect more data about your community? What if your biking
route is not represented in the datasets that predict travel patterns in the city, but decisions to expand traffic routes affect your neighbourhood directly? What if you need a digital identity to object to a planning decision that directly affects your neighbourhood? To find answers to these and more questions, we need new ways of governing digitalisation that empower residents in urban areas.

Project supervisor: Pontus Westerberg (UN-Habitat)

Principal authors: Livia Schaeffer Nonose (UN-Habitat) and Milou Jansen (Cities Coalition for Digital Rights)

Contributors: Abdinassir Sagar (UN-Habitat), Florencia Serale (UN-Habitat), Leandry Nkuidje (UN-Habitat), Aik van Eemeren (City of Amsterdam), Ana Georgieva (City of Sofia), Colin Birchall (City of Glasgow), Emily Royall (City of San Antonio), Federico Batista Poitier (UCLG), Guillem Ramírez Chico (City of Barcelona), Hamish Goodwin (City of Toronto), Hector Dominguez (City of Portland), Jake
Blok (Digital Rights House Amsterdam), Marc Pérez Batlle (City of Barcelona), Massimo Perrino (UCLG), Marcelo Facchina (CAF - Development Bank of Latin America), Paula Boet Serrano (City of Barcelona), Viivi Lähteenoja (City of Helsinki) and Viviana Demonte (Eurocities)

Design and layout: Natalia Rodriguez (UN-Habitat)

Editing: Natalia Rodriguez (UN-Habitat) and Shivani Rao (UN-Habitat)

Afbeelding credits

Header afbeelding: mainstreaming human rights - afbeelding cover