In the academic year 2017-2018 Delft University of Technology explored the viability and relevance of a new research program on meeting the sustainable development goals through responsible innovation and design for values. The program consisted of fourteen short-term pilot projects and was made possibly by support from The Hague municipality.

Introduction film

About the pilot program

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will shape the international political discourse in the coming decades. In the academic year 2017-2018 Delft University of Technology explored the viability of a research program offering new possibilities for collaboration to the various parties residing in The Hague. The theme, Responsible Innovation for the SDGs, is aimed at employing the innovative capabilities of the Netherlands for global sustainable development.

The research theme aligns well with the strategic research agendas of the departments of the Dutch government, the missions of a variety of international organizations in The Hague, as well as with research activities of the six Dutch universities which are active in the city: Leiden, Delft, Rotterdam, Wageningen, Amsterdam, Groningen and Utrecht. Innovative solutions to global problems also offer corporate partners, entrepreneurs and start-ups interesting opportunities.

Fourteen short-term vanguard projects demonstrated the viability and relevance of utilising responsible innovation research and design for values for the  achievement of the SDGs.

The Hague in the 21st Century

The Hague owes its international reputation to recognizing problems and solving them pragmatically in times of high political tension, arms races and rapid technological change in the beginning of the 20th century. The metropolitan region of The Hague is also internationally associated with the cradle of thinking about World Peace and the International Rule of Law. In order to be able to play a similar role in the world in the 21st century, The Hague is now also facing with the challenge of understanding the nature of the problems of humanity and of offering solutions.

How does The Hague remain one of the most important cities in the world in the area of ​​Peace, Law, Justice and Security in the 21st century?

An essay written by DDFV scientific director Jeroen van den Hoven answers this question, while also providing the background for the pilot program.

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Closing event

The pilot program closed with a symposium on 8 June 2018 in the Peace Palace in The Hague.

More info on the symposium

Pilot Projects in this Program

Flip the cards to read a short description of the projects

Download booklet with summaries of the project findings
child drinking water from a mud pool

1. Water Conflicts; Data Technology Driven Scenario Planning as a Basis for Policy Making

As the impact of climate change is predicted to significantly disrupt hydrological cycles, the odds of conflicts over water are also liable to increase. Given this situation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recently expressed the need for a stronger knowledge base on international water governance and conflict management. Can the absence or presence of water – in the form of scarcity of drinking water or disrupting and dangerous floods – be used as an indicator for global strife in the future? David van Putten, Neelke Doorn, Jan Kwakkel (TU Delft), Marjolijn Haasnoot (TU Delft and Deltares) and Karen Meijer (Deltares) explored this topic and recommend data and technology-driven scenario planning as a basis for policy making to prevent and solve water conflicts.

refugees charging their mobile phones

2. Refugees and ICTs: Innovating towards Inclusion and Integration in Fragile Environments

Refugees have been shown to be apt in developing diverse coping mechanisms, but face many legal, economic and social restrictions in their attempts to make a living. The ‘bottom-up’ product and process innovations of refugees are frequently cited as instrumental to people’s resilience and livelihoods. Refugees in camp situation have been described as ‘untapped’ resources that can be potential ‘entrepreneurs’ and ‘innovators’, particularly if linked to commercial partnerships. However, in fragile environments, with few formal institutions, there is also a risk of the perpetuation of negative economic development that fosters unproductive and destructive enterprise. Holly Ritchie (ISS, EUR) notes that policy makers have little systematic attention for this topic and explores it in her issue paper, with a focus on ICTs. In addition, she also addresses the opportunities and problems with ICT applications for refugees developed elsewhere.

killer robot in Afghan

3. Meaningful Human Control and Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems

“Debates on lethal autonomous weapon systems have proliferated in the last five years. Ethical concerns have been voiced about a possible raise in the number of wrongs and crimes in military operations,” so the researchers in this project, Jeroen van den Hoven and Filippo Santoni de Sio (TU Delft), note. As such incidents tend to significantly disrupt people’s lives and living environment, avoiding such harms as much as possible would be instrumental to achieving a range of different sustainable development goals. Moreover, there are concerns “about the creation of a ‘responsibility gap’ for harms caused by these systems” – which has direct relevance for the achievement of SDG16, to which accountability is central. Investing in research in responsible innovation in this area is thus called for if we accept the reality of the existence of such weapons. This project lays a basis for such research.

plane being loaded with aid goods

4. Improved Airport Efficiency in Humanitarian Disaster Response

Following an earthquake, tsunami or hurricane, most roads, rail tracks and even ports become unusable, as they are blocked for days by debris. Transport via land can be too dangerous for humanitarians, as convoys are frequently target to attacks. Air transport is then often the only possibility to send urgently needed relief supplies and aid workers. However, this can be challenging, especially for smaller airports that usually experience only moderate traffic. They have to often deal with overwhelmed customs officials, unsolicited aid donations, unsafe or unprepared warehouses, a lack of training in disaster response, and sharing a general frustration of not having the right information. In their project, Bart van der Walle, Maria Freese and Kenny Meesters worked on defining the  foundations of a much needed research and innovation program on airports in humanitarian response situations.

people signing a contract

5. ICC: Value Sensitive Design and the Information Infrastructure of E-Courts of the Future

The translation of public values into information architectures faces severe challenges. There are high-level and non-negotiable requirements concerning security, privacy and data protection, accountability, integrity and provenance and sustainable storage of data (in a variety of formats and Big Data). In the operation of the ICC there are all kinds of value tensions by different stakeholders which require a solid information architecture. Openness, for example, is an important value in a process, but at the same time identities should be kept protected (tension of openness vs. privacy). An adequate information architecture can help to deal effectively and efficiently with the main mission of the court, as well as with the value tensions, the sensitive information and various new situations that arise in the world. Boris Shishkov worked on a project addressing this topic.

Refugees standing on a beach

6. Integrated Migration Models for Polic Makers

No doubt will there be many migrants, displaced individuals, and asylum seekers in the near and long term future. If preventive actions (e.g. sustainable development) are not taken urgently and to the level required, then Europe needs to prepare for large migration inflows from neighboring regions. To prevent and be prepared for large migration inflows, insight is needed in causes of migration as well as in the dynamics of migration. Existing studies are often narrative and based on expert knowledge, or based on large amounts of (historic) data. Models are needed to get insight in future migration streams. Some root cause models and migration dynamics models already exist, but they are not integrated. In this project Erik Pruyt (TU Delft), Stefan Wigman, Patrick Steinmann, Erin Bartholomew and Reza Hesan addressed the challenge of integrated migration models in order to explore plausible future migration crises.

Network of ropes

7. Blockchain Applications for Humanitarian Aid

In early 2017, seven UN bodies came together to release a UN Request for Information on Blockchain based international assistance, stating that they had “identified the potential of blockchain technology to dramatically improve the efficiency, transparency and accountability in the international humanitarian, development or peacekeeping assistance.” Governments, start-ups and NGOs are also exploring humanitarian uses of blockchain technology. Some use cases such as cryptocurrencies, are still only speculative and unlikely to be piloted any time soon. Others, such as supply chain and data management, already have proof of concepts and active pilots. The aim of this project by Bartel van de Walle (TU delft), Thomas Baar (Leiden University) and Johan Powelse (TU Delft) was to explore the humanitarian applications of blockchain technology and to provide practical guidance and advice to those interested in pursuing ‘blockchain for good’ pilots and applications.

Serious board game in action

8. Serious Gaming for Improving Humanitarian Aid

Actors engaged in humanitarian interventions and emergency responses regularly work under ambiguous and hazardous conditions. Heide Lukosch, Yan Wang and Simon Tiendersma have explored and tested using a game-based approach to support this work. The thesis was that, firstly, games can simulate in a safe environment the situations that aid workers experience in reality and thus help with training and decision support. The game also illustrates the multiplicity of organizations involved in disaster management and the role of communication and coordination in conducting humanitarian aid work and crisis response. Games can, secondly, also be used as a research tool to analyze the workflows needed to collaborate and carry out aid work in an efficient and safe manner. Used in this way, games help to better understand the field of crisis response and the requirements that stakeholders have for arriving at efficient and effective collaborations.

screenshot from I-Track

9. Monitoring and Tracking Systems for Better Protection of Humanitarian Aid Workers

Today 80% of humanitarian funding goes to conflict-driven disasters. Organizations in the field are confronted with mounting tensions as they seek to maintain access to populations in need. Those who try to provide aid are increasingly risking their own lives and safety. Technology such as satellite imagery, humanitarian UAVs, and more generally speaking remote sensing and monitoring promise to help humanitarian organizations to get access to local populations with limited risk to their staff. TU Delft researchers Tina Comes and Bartel van de Walle play a key role in the H2020 project iTRACK2, a platform and network devoted to the design and development of technologies and policies that provide better protection in complex disasters. Together with their colleagues Lans de Kok and Ferre Westermann, they set out to develop a research agenda on this topic that will tailor the iTRACK project results towards Dutch NGOs and ministries.

10. Drones in the Service of Society; Ethical, Legal and Societal Issues

The word “drone” may conjure images of military and security applications, but the technology is now used across numerous sectors, like agriculture, entertainment, journalism, infrastructure management, and activism. Small unmanned aerial vehicles are widely used by individuals and private companies alike. However, policy development has not kept pace with these new applications. To facilitate the creation of responsible regulations, policymakers need information about the qualitative and quantitative impacts that drones will have on society. In this project Aimee van Wynsberghe (TU Delft) has collaborated with Denise Soesilo (Swiss Foundation for Mine Action, FSD), Kristen Thomasen (University of Windsor, Canada) and Noel Sharkey (University of Sheffield) in order to provide policymakers, academics, and the public with objective information about the ethical, legal, and societal issues related to the drones that provide services to society in these numerous contexts.

Aid workers collaborating

11. High-Quality Collective Intelligence for Humanitarians

Information is essential for an effective and timely response to complex humanitarian situations. Unfortunately, responders rarely have timely, high-quality information available for decisions and actions that are potentially lifesaving. Crowdsourcing of information is currently shifting the way humanitarian information management has been carried out traditionally. This “democratises” the field, greatly increases data volumes, and opens up many opportunities. On the other hand it also raises additional challenging issues regarding privacy, security and the verification of user-generated content. In this project Yilin Huang, Julius Gronendaal, Dimitris-Marios Vaporidis (TU Delft) and Christophe Billen (People’s Intelligence) formulated a research agenda to further advance Verification of Humanitarian Information (VHI) methodologies and Humanitarian Information Systems (HIS).

Robot in a Japanese street

12. Regulation and Governance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and International Law

Artificial Intelligence or AI algorithms are rapidly becoming better as a result of being exposed to large amounts of (big) data. They can now outperform human experts in pattern recognition, reasoning, interpretation and analysis. AI is already being used to classify defendants in court and gauge the risk of repeat offending, in predictive policing, in profiling people and nudging them, and for weaponized systems that are independent of human control. It appears that AI technology has become so powerful in recent times that serious questions need to be raised about its regulation and governance. Yet there is hardly any substantial research in the field of international law and AI. This pilot project by Haye Hazenberg (TU Delft), Berenice Boutin (T.M.C. Asser Instituut) and Jeroen van den Hoven (TU Delft) set out to explore some of the issues and opportunities that AI presents for international law.


13. Responsible Innovation for Legal Empowerment

Legal empowerment is a “process of systemic change through which the poor and excluded become able to use the law, the legal system, and legal services to protect and advance their rights and interests.” Legal empowerment programs offer a good supplement to the ‘rule of law orthodoxy’, which focuses on building legal institutions, particularly judiciaries. Experience shows that the benefits of legal institutions do not automatically ‘trickle down’ to poor and disadvantaged populations. Legal empowerment programs therefore contribute to ‘leaving nobody behind’ (UN, 2016) in the process of working towards the achievement of SDG16. This project, executed by Ilse Oosterlaken (TU Delft), set out to explore a research agenda on responsible innovation to further advance legal empowerment. Special attention is paid to the challenge of measuring legal empowerment, as this contributes to the effectiveness of policies and programs.

slum in the phillipines

14. Informal Settlements: Preserving Communities and Creating Public Goods

According to the UN the world’s population will grow 40% by 2050 and the urban population will double in just 35 years. Of the fast growing cities in the world 95% can be found in the Global South. Many governments in developing nations do not have the capacity or the will to plan for such explosive growth. As a result, approximately 3 billion people will live in informal settlements by 2050. Planners and designers must urgently address problems such as the lack of urban services and infrastructure, but they also need to address topics such as insecurity of tenure, poor accessibility to services and jobs, scarcity of public spaces and, above all, the issue of social inclusion. How to confront informality, so that public goods can be delivered in these settlements? How to make the barriers between the ‘informal’ and the formal city more permeable, in order to achieve social sustainability? These questions were addressed in a pilot project by Roberto Rocco (TU Delft).

Download booklet with summaries of the project findings


  • Haye Hazenberg
    Haye Hazenberg
    Postdoctoral researcher & project manager 'TU Delft in The Hague'

Program coordinator

  • Jeroen van den Hoven
    Jeroen van den Hoven
    Professor of Ethics & Technology

Program leader