''It is not technology that ought to dictate what makes a good society, but communities of people are the actors that make a good society''

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We are proud to have such a strong and respected panel of jurors that will decide which teams deserve to win next week. Juror Mirjam van Reisen, Professor International Relations and Innovation at Tilburg University & Leiden University shares her story in the run-up to the #Hackathonforgood

What is your expertise as one of the jurors and what will be your points of attention during the Hackathon?
’’In my work, I look at the relationship between technology and society. Digital technology is often associated with being societal-neutral, being a-political. But a lot of choices are engrained within the technology, and technology therefore also informs and shapes society. And this is not always only in positive ways. The problem is that we often forget to think in an explicit way about potential negative effects of technology.

I don't think that designing means avoiding any risks, but there maybe important reasons to carefully look at the design-process of a solutions, to make sure to understand the problem even before deciding the parameters of the solution and by involving the stakeholders, the users, the communities who should benefit from the technology.

My interest will be in identifying how  a problem was researched to come to a certain understanding of the problem, who was involved in defining the problem and scoping the possible solutions to it. I will be interested to understand how the proposed technology is understood to function, if implemented, to serve a community and whether there is any understanding of possible unintended or unexpected negative impacts it may cause.’’

Why is it so important that we try to solve social problems with technology?
’’In this age, society has become incredibly dependent on technology and technology has been promoted as the way to solve almost any problem. Technology is sometimes promoted as a goal in itself. But technology in itself does not make a good society and technology does not in and of itself solve problems. Therefore a clearer understanding of what constitutes a good society and what role technology can play in this, but also its limitations, it really important.

The advance in digital technology and data is so new, that it is incredibly excitement and optimism. However, it is not technology that ought to dictate what makes a good society, but communities of people are the actors that make a good society. Technology may reduce the involvement of people in enabling solutions to their own society.

We are at the beginning of a time where people need to get hold on technology to help define good societies. This is why this hackathon is important, because it brings the message that technology should serve a good society - and that people are central to this.’’

What is your view on the challenges that the hackers will face during The Hackathon for Good?
’’The challenges are very different, and clearly stated from the perspective that they may contribute to a better society.

I will be interested to understand how the teams have understood the problem and translated these problems into technological solutions and what involvement stake holding communities have had in the definition and understanding of the problem and the solution. How central are people that are affected by a problem to its resolution through the technology? Does the technology give people affected by the problem involvement to help solve their own problem? Who is empowered by the solution proposed?’’

Where are you most excited about?
’’I will be very keen to see the approaches of the teams and how they engaged with the challenges they engaged with. I am curious for the ideas and also the ethical approaches they have identified. It is so positive that so many teams were interested in participating and this is incredibly inspiring.’’

Emiel Lijbrink