Responsible Sensing in Amsterdam: A Real World Example Part 1: How the Netherlands Police used the Responsible Sensing Toolkit (RST) a part of a project to design more ethical solutions to control weapons in public spaces ​​

In April of 2021,  the Netherlands Police began participating in a test for the Responsible Sensing Toolkit (RST) workshops as part of several validation and refinement exercises CITIXL and the City of Amsterdam designed to optimise the toolkit so we could put it to the test in the real world and make sure it worked in practice, not just theory. 

The goal for the Netherlands Police was to see if the Toolkit would help them design more transparent solutions for their “Targeted Weapons Control” program and tests that includes preventative frisking with a “random selection pole” for a potential pilot in the second half 2022.  Specifically the mission of the police is to address public safety but there are serious privacy and social equality issues to be addressed in the discovery and design process. 

“The underlying question was – how do we design a solution that will not only be responsible and ethical but also transparent and inclusive?”  

The challenge was to use the Decision Canvas in a “quick scan” that was designed to identify ethical dilemmas inherent in city sensing projects by addressing one essential question for each of the six steps before moving forward with a solution that uses potentially invasive sensing technology.

The problem is that there has been an increase of concealed weapons and related violence; unfortunately carrying weapons has become a status symbol among the youth.  This trend was identified by the police and has become a serious public safety issue over the past few years that led to preventative frisking in public spaces as a potential deterrent. This potentially invasive practice needs to be justified before it can create a positive social impact, so we began with a discussion on proportionality: Is there a balance between the benefit to society and the risk to privacy?  This is a crucial question raised in Step 1: Define User Cases and Goals. If the proportionality is justified how do the Police insure there is no possibly or perception of racial profiling? Is sensing technology justified and if not, are there alternatives? Aided by sensors or not, the selection process must be random and fair, but first and foremost – effective and safe. 

After addressing the remaining steps, it became apparent that the biggest challenge facing the Police was how to communicate to the public these complex issues and potential solutions in a more transparent and inclusive approach.  Moving productively from awareness to a participatory co-creation strategy with communities as a key stakeholder seemed to be the way forward.  Together we had achieved a valuable outcome from workshop 1 – the identification of “attention points” that must be addressed in order to ensure the most responsible and ethical design possible. 

In two short and engaging hours, we were able to establish how to move forward by concentrating on Step 4: Public Engagement and Communication and how to transform the attention points into opportunities for success.  This would be the focus for a second workshop and include members of four communities or “Credible Messengers” from Amsterdam in an open discussion with the Police about the problem, the program, its goals, the ethical challenges, and how to work together. 

In the next instalment of this four part report we will discuss our experience with Workshop 2 and how the Responsible Sensing Toolkit guided the discussion to identify action points for a responsible solution with the valuable input of community representatives. 

For more information about the Responsible Sensing Toolkit please visit 

Workshop 2: Geert-Jan Staal of The Netherlands Police demos the first prototype of the random selection pole with stakeholders and “Credible Messengers” from four Amsterdam districts.
The second iteration of the selection pole took into account the feedback from the credible messengers and in Work Shop 3 it was again tested and we got more feedback.
Geert-Jan Staal shows people at the AMS Urban Living Lab Summit 2022 the final prototype of the selection pole which is ready to test in 25 public spaces in Amsterdam fall 2022.