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Herman van den Bosch, professor in management development , posted

e-Estonia: A great example of e-government

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e-Estonia is currently the most ambitious project in technology-assisted policymaking in the world. It includes anybody involved with government and it has changed the daily life of citizens. Almost all public services are involved: Legislation, voting, education, justice, health care, banking, taxes, and police. These are digitally linked to each other via one platform. Only for marriages, divorces and real-estate transactions, a visit to the town hall is mandatory.

The country’s ICT-infrastructure has been developed by government, along with a few Estonian companies. The state has been the driving force behind this project and has attracted the best specialists of the country. Below, I mention some of the features of the project.

Infrastructure

Estonia has developed an ICT-infrastructure – the Government Cloud - that all government agencies and most companies use. This makes possible almost perfect interoperability in accordance with the highest level of IT Security Standards (ISKE).
To be protected against external cyberattacks, such as in 2007, there is a full back-up. This is in a datacenter in Luxemburg, which has an internationally accepted status as ‘embassy’.  It works under Estonian state control and can take over the most critical services seamlessly.

Data protection

Data is not stored centrally. Instead, the government data platform, X-Road, connects individual servers via end-to-end encrypted pathways. In the Estonian system any individual owns all information that is recorded about him or herand any use that is made of it is recorded.
This video explains how X-road works.

 The backbone of Estonia’s digital security is a blockchain technology called KSI. It is designed in Estonia and applied worldwide today.  It guarantees complete privacy and excludes anyone from manipulating the data. KSI blockchain technology documents all actions in the system and protects information without access to the information itself.
The technology has been developed together with Guardtime, a company founded in 2007 in Estonia, that has exporting the system globally and therefore has offices around the world.

The Dutch Judicial Information Service (Justitiële Informatiedienst) has chosen Guardtime’s KSI Blockchain technology for integrity assurance of new e-services. The blockchain integration ensures transparency, verifiability and security of the information that is processed in government systems.

Voting

Whereas most technology advanced countries still let people vote with pen and paper or use primitive voting machines, from 2007 Estonia applies e-voting for parliament election and elections at municipal level.
With e-Voting, voters can cast their vote from any computer with an internet connection anywhere in the world: During a designated period, voters log in to the system with an ID-card or Mobile-ID, and cast a ballot. To ensure anonymity, the voter’s identity is removed from the ballot before it reaches the National Electoral Commission, which counts the votes. Every system of remote voting, including traditional ballot papers sent by post, risks buying or enforcing someone’s vote. Estonia’s solution is the possibility to change his or her vote later with only the last vote counting.

Streamlining decision-making

Governmental bodies at all levels use a paperless information system – e-cabinet – that has streamlined decision making and reduced the time spent on meetings with 80%. Well before the start of a meeting, participants view the agenda items and determine their opinion. If they have objections or want to discuss the subject, they click on a box. The opinions of all participants are therefore known in advance. If there are no objections, decisions are taken without debate.
This video below demonstrates the operation of e-cabinet.

Residency program

Like many other European states, the population of Estonia is shrinking. Increasing the number of babies is complicated, so a digital residency program was launched in 2014, in style with the Estonian e-government project. Any foreigner can become Estonian resident without ever visiting the country and can participate in Estonian services, such as banking. Estonia has liberal rules for technological research and the lowest corporate tax rates in the European Union.
About 28.000 people have applied for an e-residency, including many owners of small businesses from the United Kingdom who want to be based in the EU.

The footing of e-Estonia is – according to the government – to facilitate and improve the life of citizens and to make the government more efficient. This goal certainly has been achieved. The total amount of savings is calculated at 2% of GNP.

Technology can play a role in improving the quality of the formal organization, decision making, the provision of services and the relationship with all stakeholders. In this context, concepts such as e-government (digital government) and e-governance are often used. Estonia offers a great example of e-government. For e-governance - the mutual communication between municipal authorities and citizens using digital tools - we better take Spain as an example, as I will explain in a next post.

I will regularly share with you ‘snapshots’ of the challenge to bring social and ecological sustainable cities closer using technology - if helpful. These posts represent findings, updates, and supplements of my e-book Humane cities. Always humane. Smart if helpful. The English version of this book can be downloaded for free below.

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Herman van den Bosch, professor in management development , posted

Startups: Between the Curse of Becoming a Taker and the Prospect of Being a Maker

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For centuries, entrepreneurship was linked to art and craft and rewarded by personal fulfilment, satisfied customers, and a good life. The term entrepreneur is still associated with giving direction, shape and content to new activities based on personal motivation and skills and thereby creating socially approved value. A description that applies to the self-employed, business entrepreneurs, franchisees or intrapreneurs and includes both commercial, institutional, and artistic activities.
However, there are two problems. Overcoming them opens the way to become a better business.

The plunder of the earth

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has warned that the creative power of entrepreneurship can easily become destructive. A 'maker' becomes a 'taker' once creating value becomes making money in the first place. Indeed, for centuries, companies have robbed resources around the world, destroyed nature, traded millions of slaves and exploited domestic workers, creating the divide between rich and poor countries.
The creative power of entrepreneurship can also be aimed at sustainable prosperity, for their employees, the country, and the world. In that case, the “purpose” of a company precedes the pursuit of profit. Unfortunately, still a minority of all companies are moving in this direction while others pretending.

The decline of engagement and passion within the workforce

There is more. In developed countries, the blatant exploitation of labour has disappeared. Instead, the majority of employment relegates into low strain jobs. Research by Gallup and Deloite has shown over consecutive years that over 64% of all employees worldwide are not engaged or passionate. Find John Hagel explain this in a short video. The reason is clear. 20th century companies have organized their production according to principles of scalable efficiency and have top-down planning and control.  Room for initiative is therefore neither expected nor desired. Moreover, detailed protocols and regulations limit employment for people at a distance from the labour market.
In a rapidly changing world, companies must be adaptive and innovative. They therefore need flexible, interdisciplinary teams with a high degree of self-government and less pay differentials. According to recent research in 17 countries, this type of organizations (8%) outperforms in all respects.

Summarizing, to become a better business requires a double challenge:
·  Replacing the dominance of the pursuit of money with a social and environmental purpose.
·  Mobilizing the entrepreneurial and other capacities of their whole work force by forms of self-organization and shared leadership.

Why focussing on startups?

As only a limited number of companies meet these conditions, employees consider starting their own business. In the US alone, approximately two million workers give up well-paying jobs every year and become self-employed. 127,000 starters were registered in the Netherlands in 2018.  Of them, only a minority will become a startup, which means that they will successfully commercialize a promising technological innovation and grow rapidly on an international level.

Start-ups are potential engines of growth and innovation. In the US, their steady growth is compensating for job losses in the rest of the economy. Dutch startups created 20.000 of jobs in 2018 and 2019. A recent reportoffers excellent documentation of the identity, growth and potential of the 4,311 Dutch startups in 2019, most of which have fewer than 10 employees. 34% of Dutch startups can found in the Amsterdam metropolitan area.

The hope is that start-ups will rise to both challenges by nurturing their social and environmental purpose end fueling the commitment and passion of each employee, and thereby become a better business.

Yet, like any other businesses, startups risk becoming takers rather than makers, trading their social and environmental purpose for the pursuit of money and losing the engagement and passion of their employees. Fortunately, they can prevent this.

Eleven ways to become or stay a better business

1.  Embrace self-organization and shared leadership.
2.  Involve all employees in the continuous strengthening of the social and environmental purpose of the company.
3.  Enable all employees to become shareholders or even better co-owners.
4.  Cherish diversity within the employees.
5. Secure shares in a foundation while enabling shareholders to support the purpose of the company.
6.  Cap the profit to a level that guarantees the continuity of the company.
7.  Ban greed, cancel bonuses, or at most pay a limited and equal allowance to all employees.
8.  Place surplus profits in a foundation that spends money in accordance with the purpose of the company.
9.  Being a fair taxpayer who refrains from tax avoidance practices.
10.Create a supervisory board to monitor the purpose of the company.
11.Focus the founder/director/CEO role on monitoring the purpose of the company and the commitment of all employees and on fueling the discussion on how to deal with changing external conditions.

Rapid societal changes require a reinventing the concept of entrepreneurship. Because of their flexibility and commitment, startups are apt to embrace the dual ambition of pursuing a social and environmental purpose and of mobilizing all employee’s engagement and passion.

My next post will look at how cities can help start-ups to settle, grow and become better businesses. The history of entrepreneurship, its growing distance from ‘makership’ and its possible revival by start-ups is documented in chapter 4 of my e-book Humane cities. Always humane. Smart if helpful. The English version of this book can be downloaded for free below.

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Herman van den Bosch, professor in management development , posted

Tools for circular construction

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The impact of circular principles on the construction sector will be large and beneficial because buildings are responsible for more than 50% of the total use of materials on earth, including valuable specimen such as steel, copper, aluminium and zinc.

The picture above – the interior of the Circle pavilion of the ABN-AMRO bank in Amsterdam is an example of a new building that uses as many existing components as possible and new components of the building are designed to be reused. Think of:

• 1200 m2 of wooden floors
• Partition walls of a demolished building
• 16.000 garments of employees for isolation purposes

By circular construction we mean designing, building and demolishing a building in such a way that, in addition to the high-quality reuse of materials, justice is done to sustainability ambitions in the field of energy, water, and biodiversity and ecosystems.

New materials are often more expensive than new ones
In case of demolishment, nowadays many components are already reused, but at a very low level, for instance concrete and stones as the foundation of new roads. Apart from the limited necessity to construct many new roads, this type of recycling destroys the intrinsic quality of materials and does not diminish the use of new materials. The biggest problem is that recycled materials are often more expensive than new ones.

Evidently, progress can be made by planning, designing, developing, and building circular buildings. A number of options are mentioned below.

Dedicated urban planning
Challenges for planning are the use of inner-city vacant land and issuing mandatory requirements regarding the construction of new buildings, for instance the use of less cement, glass and steel, the mandatory application of a certain percentage of reused materials, and becoming energy positive or at least energy-neutral. Switching to sustainable timber is an option for 90% of homes and 70% of offices being built.

Mandatory reuse of existing components
Reuse of existing materials means that glass is reused as glass and concrete pillars as pillars. The same applies to doors, frames, carpets, wall-cladding materials and so on. To start with, after demolishment all materials must be selected, cleaned, registered, and stored in new-to-develop warehouses. A materials passport, which contains an overview of all materials and components that are used to construct of a house or building, is a useful tool as well. The obligation to reuse a large percentage of existing components has far-reaching consequences for the design and construction of new houses.

Industrial production and 3D printing
Construction of components in factories, deploying industrial processes, will reduce costs by 30 percent and the delivery time by at least 50 percent. In 2014, the Chinese company WinSun printed and assembled ten houses, each 195 square meters, in 24 hours, for an amount of €5,000 per house[1]. The company used 30 - 60 percent less material than in traditional construction. The “ink” for their 3D printers is a mixture of dry cement and construction waste. WinSun plans to open 100 recycling plants in China to convert waste into cost-efficient ink. This video below demonstrates the printing activities of WinSun

Sharing space
The size of apartments will decrease, partly due to costs, but also because of the presence of shared guest rooms, lounge areas and terraces for working and socializing, spaces for washing and drying laundry. The need for office space will decrease rapidly due to sharing space and working home. Already now, IBM has only one desk available for 12 employees. Given the presence of 300,000 employees, this has led worldwide to savings on real estate of around € 1 billion in the past 10 years.

Modularity and durability
A key barrier for better use of floor space is the lack of flexibility in the design of buildings and room configurations. A modular design, which provides for easy replacement of partitions and placement of complete pre-fab units (kitchens and bathrooms, walls, and roofs as well) facilitates adjustments in case of new construction or as the use of a building changes. DIRTT builds interior components that are modular and standardized and offer maximum interchangeability in both existing and new buildings[2]. This video gives an impression of the production and application of these flexible and inexpensive solutions.

Forget new construction at all
Anyway, a first step is more efficient use of existing buildings and houses.
As families become smaller and offices need less space, existing space becomes underused. Many thousands of one family houses can be transformed in apartments. Well-thought adjustments to the lay-out of existing houses and buildings can improve their efficiency without reducing their functionality and amenity. Look here for inspiring examples.

I will regularly share with you ‘snapshots’ of the challenge to bring social and ecological sustainable cities closer using technology if helpful. These posts represent findings, updates, and supplements of my e-book Humane cities. Always humane. Smart if helpful. The English version of this book can be downloaded for free below.

Note from ASC: What are your thoughts on this? Let Herman know bellow.

Herman van den Bosch's picture #CircularCity
Herman van den Bosch, professor in management development , posted

Beyond the smart city: Digital innovation for the Good of citizens

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About ten years ago, technology companies started to provide cities with technology, luring them with the predicate ‘smart(er)’, a registered trademark of IBM.  At that time Cisco's vice-president of strategy Inder Sidhudescribed the company’s ‘smart city play’ as its biggest opportunity, a 39,5 billion dollar-market. During the years, that followed, the prospects rocketed: The consultancy firm Frost and Sullivan estimated the global smart city technology market to be worth $1.56 trillion by 2020.

The persistent policy of technology companies to suggest a tight link between technology and the wellbeing of the citizens, angers me. Every euro these companies are chasing at, is citizens’ tax money. What has been accomplished until now is disappointing, as I documented in the IET Journal.  According to The Economist it is not surprising that a ‘techlash’ is underway: Many have had it with the monopolistic dominance of behemoths like Google, Amazon, Facebook and the like, because of their treatment of sensitive data, the lack of transparency and accountability of algorithm-based decision making and the huge profits they make from it.

Regaining public control

However, let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater and see how digital innovation can be harnessed for the Good of all citizens. Regaining public control demands four institutional actions at city level.

1. Practicing governance
Before even thinking about digitalization, a city must convert into best practices of governance. Governance goes beyond elections and enforcing the law. An essential characteristic is that all citizens can trust that government represents their will and protects their interests. Therefore, it is necessary to go beyond formal democratic procedures and contact stakeholders directly, enable forms of participatory budgeting and deploy deliberative polling.
Aligning views of political parties and needs and wants of citizens takes time and a lot of effort. The outcome might be a common vision on the solution of a city’s problems and the realisation of its ambitions, and a consecutive political agenda including the use of tools, digital ones included.

2. Strengthening executive governmental power
Lack of cooperation within the departmental urban organizations prevents not only an adequate diagnosis of urban problems but also the establishment of a comprehensive package of policy instruments, including legislation, infrastructure, communication, finance and technology. Instead, decisions are made from within individual silos, resulting in fragmented and ineffective policies. Required is a problem-oriented organization instead of a departmental one and a mayor that oversees the internal coherence of the policy.

3. Level playing field with technology companies
Cities must increase their knowledge in the field of digitization, artificial intelligence in particular. Besides,  but they should only work with companies that comply with ethical codes as formulated in the comprehensivemanual, Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritizing Human Well-being with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, drafted by the influential Institute of Electric and Electronic Engineers (IEEE)
Expertise at city level must come from a Chief Technology Officer who aligns technological knowledge with insight in urban problems and will discuss with company representatives on equal foot. Digitalisation must be part of all policy areas, therefore delegating responsibility to one alderman is a bad idea. Moreover, an alderman is not an adequate discussion partner for tech companies.

4. Approving and supporting local initiatives
Decentralization of decision-making and delegating responsibility for the execution of parts of the policy to citizen’s groups or other stakeholders helps to become a thriving city. Groups of citizens, start-ups or other local companies can invoke the right of challenge and might compete with established companies or organizations.

In summary: steps towards seamless integration of digitalization in citizen-orientated policy

1.     Define together with citizens a vision on the development of the city, based on a few central goals such as sustainable prosperity, inclusive growth, humanity or - simply - happiness.
2.     Make an inventory of what citizens and other stakeholders feel as the most urgent issues (problems and ambitions).
3.     Find out how these issues are related and rephrase them if desirable.
4.     Deepen insight in these issues, based on available data and data to be collected by experts or citizens themselves.
5.     Assess ways to address these issues, their pros and cons and how they align with the already formulated vision.
6.     Make sure that digital technology has been explored as part of the collected solutions.
7.     Investigate which legal, organizational, personnel and financial barriers may arise in the application of potential solutions and how to address them.
8.     Investigate undesired effects of digital techniques, in particular long-term dependence ('lock-in') on commercial parties.
9.     Formulate clear actions within the defined directions for dealing with the issues to be addressed. Involve as many expert fellow citizens as possible in this.
10.  Make a timetable, calculate costs, and indicate when realization of the stated goals should be observable.
11.  Involve citizens, non-governmental and other organizations in the implementation of the actions and make agreements about this.
12.  At all stages of the process, seek support from those who are directly involved and the elected democratic bodies.
13.  Act with full openness to all citizens.

I can't agree more than with the words of Léan Doody (smart city expert Arup Group): I don't necessarily think 'smart' is something to strive for in itself. Unlike sustainability or resilience, 'smart' is not a normative concept…. The technology must be a tool to deliver a sustainable city. As a result, you can only talk about technological solutions if you understand which problems must be solved, whether these problems are rooted in the perceptions of stakeholders and how they relate to other policy instruments.

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Herman van den Bosch, professor in management development , posted

How plastics became a perfect example of the take-make-waste economy

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Every year, more than 300 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide, half of which are for single use. Only 10% of all plastics are made from recycled material. Their production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and plastic waste threats our health.

It could have been otherwise, and it still can as plastics are versatile materials which can be valuable parts of a circular economy.

Unilever leads the way in integrating plastics in a circular economy. Better late than never. The company currently produces 700,000 tons of plastic packaging and it intends reducing this massive quantity by a not-very impressive 100,000 tons in 2025. Moreover, the company wants that all its plastic packaging becomes recyclable, compostable of reusable, and that at least 25% recycled plastic is used in the production of new plastic.

Easier said than done

Recycling is easier said than done. Preventing plastics from entering nature requires a labor-intensive and costly system for collecting and separating waste and technology for high-quality recycling of the collected plastic waste. New machines limit this unattractive work thanks to artificial intelligence. They are able to separate 20 different types of plastics. But consumers must be willing to collect used plastics first.

One of the biggest hurdles in recycling plastics is its pollution, for instance because of added dyes. The Dutch company Ioniqa (now part of Unilever) can chemically reduce PET waste to virgin PET. Large plastic users like Coca-Cola intent to co-operate with Ioniqa. This video shows how chemical recycling works.

Reusable high-quality products

If plastic had been designed for a circular economy from the start, the emphasis would undoubtedly have been on reusable high-quality products, in combination with substantial deposits. Together with Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble, Nestlé, Unilever has joined Loop, a platform that develops refillable packaging. Supermarkets that deliver products at home can easily include them in their range. This video shows how the system works.

The ultimate solution

What about using sustainable raw materials like biomass? Unfortunately, biomass from reliable sources is becoming increasingly scarce. Moreover, most bio-based plastics are not biodegradable. If they end up in litter, the effects are as harmful as those of other plastics. Some types of biobased plastics are compostable and might be thrown in the green waste. However, expecting consumers to be able to discern which are and which are not is too much to ask.

Biologically degradable plastics are the ultimate solution. These are biobased materials, which are safely broken down in nature in short time. PHA for example. Unfortunately, years of research have not yet resulted in any viable application.

Ban some types of plastic

A recently opened pilot factory in Almere that cycles plastic waste that otherwise would be burned is a promising step. However, the collection of plastic waste is still inadequate, and a large proportion ends up in nature as visual litter and returns to our food chain as toxic plastic soup. This applies in particular to plastic bags, cups, trays for snacks and soft drinks bottles without a deposit. A ban seems to be the only way-out awaiting a solid system of reuse based on substantial deposits and an advanced system of waste collection and separation and subsequent high-level reuse.

I will regularly share with you ‘snapshots’ of the challenges of us, earthlings, to bring social and ecological cities closer using technology if helpful. These posts represent findings, updates, and supplements of my e-book Humane cities. Always humane. Smart if helpful. The English version of this book can be downloaded for free below.

Herman van den Bosch's picture #CircularCity
Herman van den Bosch, professor in management development , posted

11 building blocks for the transition to sustainable energy

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In five consecutive blog posts, I have explored the opportunities and risks in the energy transition of carbon capturing and storage (CCS), biomass, geothermal energy, hydrogen, and nuclear energy, in addition to solar and wind. Find my conclusions below:

1. Sun and wind energy
I will feel most comfortable in a world deploying energy provided by sun and wind to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This implies a huge transition, which, also brings significant benefits for an emerging sustainable economy.

2. Nuclear energy plants
Instead of opting for an expensive third-generation nuclear power plants, we better invest in the development of fourth generation nuclear energy plants, such as Thorium, or molten salt reactors. Their waste is limited, and they are inherently safe. These reactors could potentially replace outdated wind turbines and solar panels from 2040.

3. Using less
We must also continue using less energy, without undue expectations. After all, clean energy can potentially be abundantly available in the long term, although this is particularly relevant for developing countries.

4. Hydrogen energy
In addition to the use of solar and wind energy, I am opting for hydrogen. It will be used for heavy industry, to level discrepancies in the supply and demand of energy and as an additional provision for heating buildings and houses. The presence of a high-quality gas network is easing this choice. In addition, we use residual heat, biomass of reliable origin and we exploit geothermal energy where its long-term availability is assured.

5. Energy from the desert
By no means we are producing all necessary hydrogen gas ourselves. The expectation is realistic that after 2030 it will be produced in deserts and transported from there at a competitive price.

6. Wind turbines and solar panels
The North Sea and the IJsselmeer will become the most important places for the extraction of wind energy. Besides, solar panels are installed on roofs wherever possible. We care for our landscape and therefore critically consider places where ground-based solar panels can be installed and where wind turbines are not disturbing. Part of the wind energy is converted into hydrogen on site.

7. Capture and store CO2
It could easily last until 2040 before the import and production of hydrogen meets our needs. Therefore, we must continue to use (imported) gas for quite some time.  To prevent greenhouse gas emission, significant capacity to capture and store CO2 must be in place.

8. Gas and coal
Given the availability of temporary underground storage of CO2, premature shutting down our super-efficient gas and coal-fired power stations it is unnecessary capital destruction. They can remain in operation until the facilities for solar and wind energy generation are at the desired level and sufficient hydrogen gas is available.

9. Local energy
Energy co-operations facilitate the local use of locally produced energy, thus enabling lower prices, and limiting the expansion of the electricity grid. To this end, private and neighborhood storage of electricity is provided.

10. Biomass
Reliably collected biomass is deployed as raw material for the biochemical industry in the first place and can further be used for additional fueling of coal and gas-powered stations (with CO2 capture) and as local energy source for medium temperature district heating networks.

11. Take some time
Finally, we must take enough time to choose the best way to heat buildings and houses at neighborhood level. Getting off gas prematurely can induce wrong choices in the longer term. A gradual phasing out of gas heating will enable us to wait longer for the moment when hydrogen (gas) is available to replace the natural gas in neighborhoods where it is the best solution.

Herman van den Bosch's picture #Energy