UTDesignLabSymposium: Constructive controversies

Symposium: Constructive controversies

We are excited to invite you to the symposium about Constructive Controversies, which is the closing event of the project: Designing for controversies in responsible smart cities. This project was set up by DesignLab's former scientific co-director, Peter Paul Verbeek and DesignLab's scientific co-director Mascha van der Voort and was the first Responsible Design project at DesignLab that was financed by the NWO.

After the symposium, Anouk Geenen will defend her doctoral dissertation that was part of this project. Her PhD research was supervised by Mascha van der Voort, Peter-Paul Verbeek and Deger Ozkaramanli.


From phones to the electricity grid to cities, the ‘smartification’ of society is all around us. This digital transition builds on the ubiquitous use of sensor networks, the collection of large data sets and the ability to analyse and apply the gathered data (close to) real-time. The smart city aims at creating a more smooth and efficient urban experience, with optimisation of waste management, energy usage and mobility streams as central aims, in an attempt to create a higher quality of life for the citizens. Even though these goals are worth pursuing at first sight, the smart city is also contested for its tech-push vision, its emphasis on neoliberal ideals, and its lack of citizen participation. 

In other words, the smart city is riddled with socio-technical controversies: conflicts that follow from the complex interaction between the social and technical aspects of society. The association with controversies is often negative, and they are rather avoided then celebrated. However, controversies reveal what is at stake when introducing technology in the urban sphere. In other words, controversies are places where politics ‘happens’: a plurality of perspectives comes together, values are negotiated and new social practices emerge, forming spaces of self-organised participation and value-assessment. 


In this symposium we further explore these socio-technical controversies, the smart city context, and the role that design could play in turning controversies in constructive spaces for collaboration. This symposium closes the 4 year transdisciplinary research project ‘Designing for Controversies in Responsible Smart Cities’, which researched the theoretical conceptualisation of controversies, whilst incorporating their societal character and engaging input from societal stakeholders. 

Together with prof. dr. ir. Ole B. Jensen, prof. dr. ir. Eefje Cuppen and prof. dr. ir. Bregje van Eekelen, we will engage in an interactive debate through a panel discussion. These three renowned researchers will each reflect on and relate their own work to the constructive use of controversies in stakeholder engagement in smart cities design. 

Next, we will explore one of the project’s key design outcomes: Future Frictions. This interactive game allows participants to navigate smart city controversies in a relatable and playful context. In a hands-on workshop, participants will get to experience this game, and its newest evolutions, first-hand. 




12.00 - 12.30


12.30 - 14.00 

Panel discussion 

14.00 - 14.15

Short break

14.15 - 15.15

Workshop Future Frictions 2.0*

15.15 - 15.30


15.30 - 16.00


*To participate in this workshop, the use of a laptop is recommended

This symposium will take place at the DesignLab, room INFORM. 

Speakers bio 

Panel participants: 

Workshop moderators:

Symposium: Constructive controversies