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Spirituality and values as our common ground
Harald Pechlaner talks about smart city developments and participatory design in St. Petersburg

Harald Pechlaner, head of the Center for Advanced Studies at Eurac Research recently participated in the IV International Scientific Forum "Public Administration. The role of citizens in digital state building", held in the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library in St. Petersburg. Pechlaner contributed to the discussion at the Smart Cities Round Table with a lecture titled "The development of smart cities and participatory design: a contradiction or opportunity?".

Smart solutions for cities are expected to reduce the costs for operating engineering systems, to grow creative industries and to increase attention towards the interests of citizens. The direct participation of citizens in the management of cities is in fact seen as a major goal talking about smart cities. Recent studies however indicate that smart solutions and the real involvement of citizens scarcely influence one another and can rather be seen as parallel courses instead of intersections.

The potential of participatory design

As Pechlaner pointed out based on several cases one great potential solving this dissonance and investigating future perspectives for a digital society is participatory design. Design Thinking enables cross-disciplinary thinking and creates new interfaces thanks to the multitude of technological developments. Participatory Design tries to put a decentralized practice of engagement into effect. This decentralized responsibility in using new technologies can be seen as a very important collective contribution to social development.

Despite the extreme velocity of digital transformation seems to impede to settle a common ground, Pechlaner gave a very optimistic outlook: The common ground to find is a shared value system. This is because taking action on a collective basis is essential to shape the future in a sustainable way. An appropriate and social relevant use of new technologies can only be achieved by mobilizing human intelligence. Mutual respect, appreciation and solidarity are thus the major demands. A capital or stock of trust calls neither for exclusion- nor superiority-theories. Capital of trust may in certain circumstances be the spiritual essence needed to unitedly master transformations brought about by digitalisation.

Exchange and collaboration between eastern and western Europe

The IV International Scientific Forum is organized by the North-West Institute of Management of Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration RANEPA. Harald Pechlaner's participation was thus a great opportunity to increase the scientific exchange and collaboration between eastern and western Europe – one major topic at the Center for Advanced Studies at Eurac Research. Two international conferences already underlined this effort: "Digital Religion" which took place in 2018 and the more recent conference titled "Digitalization, Spirituality and Democracy" in 2019.

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