Empowering Stakeholders in Security Technologies: TRANSCEND’s concept for testing civil society engagement

The main objective of the TRANSCEND project is to strengthen the involvement of civil society and civil society organizations in the development of security technologies. This is crucial because security is a pressing issue in today’s world, and effective technological solutions should consider the interests of various stakeholders. These stakeholders include decision-makers in politics and business, technology developers, operators of security technologies, and citizens.

However, there is a disparity in how much these stakeholder groups participate in the technology’s design and how much they are affected by its use. Typically, citizens have limited involvement in decisions about the design and use of safety technology, even though they are the ones most impacted by it. Certain groups, such as children, people with disabilities, and refugees, often cannot advocate adequately for their interests and require special consideration in the context of security technology. This article examines the question of what potential challenges exist in the engagement of civil society engagement and how they can be addressed.

Challenges in civil society engagement and a strategic approach to address them

One challenge we face is determining when and how to collect and incorporate stakeholders’ perspectives into the technology development process. The difficulty lies in controlling a technology during its early stages, where insufficient information exists regarding potentially harmful social consequences. Conversely, by the time these consequences become evident, it becomes time-consuming and expensive to revise decisions and developments that have already been made. To address this challenge, the TRANSCEND project employs a stage-gate process, which involves breaking down the technology development into distinct phases or stages. At the completion of each stage, a “gate” must be passed, where the progress is evaluated, potential issues are identified, and additional design decisions are made (refer to the figure below). This approach allows for a more systematic and controlled advancement of the technology, ensuring that critical checkpoints are met and potential problems are proactively addressed.

Stakeholder consultation in the TRANSCEND project

In TRANSCEND we have developed methods for citizen and societal engagement and for ethical, human rights and societal impact assessments of security technologies. These methods form the essential “toolbox” that we evaluate during the assessments conducted at specific “gates”. Since a research project like TRANSCEND cannot accompany the complete development process from problem description to deployment, our tests take place at a few selected “gates”, preferably during the early stages of development when adjustments can still be made based on the results of citizen engagement. But how should the stakeholder consultation look? The following figure illustrates the elements that must be specified for each individual consultation process.

(1) The first central element is to include the right stakeholders in the decision-making processes. Aiming for inclusion means dealing with power: not leaving decisions to the usual technocrats but listening to and considering the interests of less powerful or even powerless groups.

Who are the people affected by the use of security technologies and should be involved? Since security technologies are predominantly used in public spaces, everyone is potentially affected. However, the direct involvement of citizens in a grassroots manner is difficult due to the high effort required to identify a sufficiently representative number of citizens and to motivate them to participate. One solution is the involvement of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that can represent the interests of citizens.

Beyond the group of affected persons, there is usually a multitude of other stakeholders (industry, law enforcement agencies, etc.) in every field of application of security technologies, indeed in every individual case.  The challenge for an effective citizen engagement process is to identify the most important of these “other stakeholders” and involve them in a way that does not intimidate or outvote citizens from the outset.

(2) The second central element is the choice of formats, techniques, and tools that are conducive to engaging citizens as much as possible. Here the aim is to enable stakeholders to express their opinions about the security technology in question, regardless of their background and social status. Such methods are collected or developed by the TRANSCEND team in another work package.

(3) It is equally important to constantly and systematically anticipate what could happen and to whom, and to include this in the design of the security technology or application. For the stakeholder consultation, this means deciding which issues should be addressed given the expertise and input required.

(4) Depending on the issues deemed important for discussion with civil society members, an appropriate framework for the assessment of impacts is needed. Criteria need to be defined for when a technology has reached a certain level of “societal readiness” and what would be a desirable level.

(5) Finally TRANSCEND aims to collaborate with “responsive” partners that are interested in responding to the results of citizen engagement. Of course, it is also our goal to convince Research and Innovation stakeholders that citizen engagement in security research is meaningful and feasible.

From theory into practice: Problem-oriented involvement of civil society in four pilot areas

In the context of the TRANSCEND project, it is now important to implement the theoretical approaches in the four designated areas of security research in order to achieve the best possible involvement of various stakeholders. These will be Cybersecurity, Disaster Resilient Societies, Fight Against Crime and Terrorism and Border Management. The project will develop agile, problem-oriented engagement formats to address complex issues between society and technologies, which include cybersecurity, with a diversity of perspectives. The consultations will start in the area of Cybersecurity and Disaster Resilience in late 2023 and will continue until 2025.

If you are interested in joining the activities around the pilots in one of the four areas, please join our TRANSCEND network on Linkedin or contact us with comments or thoughts: contact@transcend-project.eu.

Further reading:

Friedewald, Michael, Greta Runge, Bruno Oliveira Martins, Ilyana Skalli, Bamba Niang, und Camilo Palacio. “Pilot strategy“. Deliverable 3.1. TRANSCEND Project (EU HEU, GA 101073913), 28. Juli 2023.

Authors: Michael Friedewald and Greta Runge, Fraunhofer ISI