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To Responsibly Fast-Forward How (not) to ‘Try First and Ask for Forgiveness Later’

Living Smart Campus

Project information

Investigation into a design for responsible experimentation within a living smart campus

A Living Smart Campus (LSC) that is truly engaged in promoting radical and disruptive innovations of technology (and related governance), should accommodate for experimental activities that may be at odds with existing legal rules (e.g. on safety) and principles (e.g. on privacy). One way of dealing with such possible constraints is to not apply for a license to experiment, but experiment under the adage to ‘Try first and ask for forgiveness later’. While this is a way of avoiding the often-tedious procedure of applying for an experimental license, and the chance of being turned down, a more responsible approach to experimenting on Campus is preferred.

Preferred firstly, because when things do go wrong ‘irresponsibly’, possible direct costs for compensation may in fact present less of a concern than the harm inflicted onto the project and to the experimenters in terms of reputation and future acceptance of outcomes. Preferred secondly, because creating a responsible experimental setting can bring valuable inputs, such as stakeholder feedback (combining risk analysis and technology assessment), useful to both the experiment itself and to future acceptance of ensuing application – to say noting of the positive reputation of the UT (Campus).


Two avenues of securing responsible on-campus-experimentation are especially relevant. Firstly, to consider which ex ante ethical and legal standards could be relevant to act upon the aforementioned adage, while enhancing the chances at later forgiveness – should there be negative impacts. Outside of clear illegal experimental action, there may be grey areas of legal ambiguity, simply because practices and impacts are so novel that there is no immediately applicable legal rule or precedent. To go forward under a (substantively but  also procedurally) precautionary and diligent normative methodology not only provides relevant experimental feedbacks, reducing risk and supporting acceptance, but also provides (some) protection against future sanctions and, if applicable, claims for compensation. To identify the main normative aspects (basic rules and principles) and formulate a code for responsible on-campus-experimentation would be a key challenge towards design of providing proof of due diligence.

A second avenue, which may come with elements of the former, is to look into possibilities of acquiring an integrated on-campus- experimentation license. Integrated would imply that for a wider category of, in part as yet unknown experiments, a license would be acquired, to avoid a setting where, beyond (perhaps) notification and adherence to (the above code of) general guidelines for responsible experimentation, separate licenses would be needed for each and every separate experiment. Such a license to experiment would not only relate to concerns for which government offices hold responsibilities, such as in environmental permitting, but also to private interests of employees and students (especially when on campus), as well as of campus-residents, being more or less willing to be subjected to or subjects of experimentation. Moreover, such a license could express the special nature and position of the UT-campus, and so in fact be a tool for publicity.

In both approaches the key element will be that on-campus-experimentation is seen as an opportunity to bridge the early stages of in silico and in vitro experimentation, and actual technology commercialization or other types of use.  On-campus-experimentation allows an in vivo experimental setting for (almost) final testing on technical and psycho-social aspects and related fine-tuning, before large scale technology-rollout.

Design Framework

The project is about providing a general design-framework for a code of responsible on- campus-experimentation, encompassing relevant ethical and legal concerns, and being suitable also for incorporation in a comprehensive integrated license for responsible on- campus-experimentation.

In developing the design-framework for responsible on-campus-experimentation it makes sense to focus on experts that seem particularly relevant to the UT, and to which the  campus is a very relevant setting. Experimentation with development and use of drones, as being subject of an NWO/MVI research-project,1 will be used as a point of departure, which also involves societal stakeholders such as the municipality of Enschede, Twente Safety Campus, Twente Safety & Security, Roboned Nederland, and the Dutch Drone development Center, and which fits the model of experimentation from in silico/vitro via in vivo to upscaling/rollout. The project would, however, be undertaking also with a view on a broader range of possible experimental trajectories, such as on driverless cars,2 the use of wearables and perhaps human chipping – all of which involve sensing capacities, tracing and monitoring, and related data-processing and management. The use of drones or robotics could involve UT-support staff, such as involved in campus safety and security.

Duration of the project

The project would have a maximum time span of two years, and would, if linked to the abovementioned drone project, involve academic staff (postdocs – law & ethics) engaged in that project, as well as students signing on to the Master of Public Administration course of Smart rules and regimes, which has the design of experimental legal regimes as its core theme.


The project would be multi-disciplinary in combining ethical and legal aspects (responsible experimental campus space) with technological aspects (of drone development and use in a campus setting).


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