The City of San Jose worked with US Ignite and Helpful Places to organize a workshop in November 2022 for city leaders, privacy experts, academics, and policy advocates to explore the need for signage and public communication on smart city technologies and privacy. This convening paved the way for chartering the new California Smart City Signage Working Group.

Why explore signage on smart city technologies?

Sensor technologies can provide incredible benefits for communities–from improving public safety to enhancing mobility and monitoring the environment–but they raise a host of privacy concerns for local governments and for residents who may be distrustful of government intentions.[1] In a recent survey, 66% of respondents said they would not want to live in a “smart city”.[2] Residents’ opposition has resulted in jurisdictions suspending or abandoning the rollout of new and existing technologies, limiting their adoption and reducing their ability to explore how emerging technologies could deliver better services and outcomes.

The opening remarks from San José Deputy City Manager Rob Lloyd and City Privacy Officer Albert Gehami offered an anecdote that illustrates the importance of the topic. They shared that San José’s increased deployment of cameras and use of Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR) drove a surge in requests from neighborhood groups and residents to discuss the technology and privacy implications. By responding to those requests with sustained and consistent engagement, San José fostered public confidence in the City’s use of camera technology to address community needs and related privacy protections. Eventually, residents felt comfortable enough to recommend locations in their neighborhoods for the cameras to be installed.

The Workshop

The workshop used a mix of presentations, discussions, and breakout sessions to facilitate hands-on learning and communication.

Early in the workshop, Helpful Places introduced participants to the Digital Trust for Places and Routines (DTPR) standards. The DTPR standards allow communities to structure information about smart city technologies in a consistent, vendor-agnostic way – making the information available to a variety of communication tools. This open-source standard also includes ways to visually communicate this information through icons and design guidelines for physical signage and digital channels.

After this introduction, participants used the DTPR standards to design signage to address various technology areas, such as automated traffic enforcement cameras, facial recognition, gunshot detection, and public WiFi. They experimented with color, iconography, typography, and other design elements in signage to communicate key privacy concepts but remained focused on purpose, storage, the entity collecting the data, and a QR code that leads to additional information and enables feedback.

Creating the California Smart City Signage Working Group

Transparency and community engagement were the two key priorities that emerged from the workshop. All participants were aligned on the need for a standardized approach to signage and public communication on smart city technologies. Given the diverse array of actors needed to engage constructively on this issue, the City of San José, together with US Ignite and Helpful Places moved forward with creating a California Smart City Signage (CSCS) working group.

The CSCS working group will bring city representatives and expert organizations together to develop further standardized signage and communication strategies that put resident awareness, understanding, and engagement of the novel technologies deployed in public spaces at the center of new smart city implementations across California. The inaugural meeting for the working group will be held in the spring of 2023. All interested California communities and organizations should contact US Ignite at [email protected] to learn how to get involved.