Presenting Research For The E-ID Team

Yesterday (Nov. 4) Liesbet van Zoonen presented a range of research results from IMPRINTS for the team of civil servants that is developing new the E-ID scheme for the Dutch government. E-ID is the follow-up of DigiD, and is designed to offer more security, privacy and user choice of means of identification and authentication. It is interesting to see how an incredibly energetic field is emerging around identity management, with a large variety of government, corporate and civic stakeholders. One might almost think this is a ‘hot’ issue, which it is of course, but not for the wider public. At least that is what our research and that of others strongly suggests. When probed, people do have concerns about identity fraud, and card or password theft, but these problems are not top of mind and are not mentioned spontaneously. In addition, there is little detailed knowledge of identity and privacy systems.  On the other hand, there is a well-known dark historical and cultural context around identity management, and some people or their personal networks have concrete experiences with identity problems. This combination makes for an easily triggered and mobilized public outrage about new plans. We have seen that with the ID Card in the UK and now with the UK scheme; in the NL the national electronic patient file has met with fierce controversy; in Germany the ‘neue PersonalAusweiss’ is only taking on very slowly. The public reluctance is difficult to explain with the standard academic models of technology acceptance, which assume rational users who assess ease of use, added value and previous experiences to weigh the pros and cons of new techs and then make an informed decision. We found in the IMPRINTS research that emotion, aesthetics and expressivity (how can I express my identity), are key to understanding enthusiasm or reluctance about new means of identity management. In addition, there is a crucial matter of agency: what is that the user is asked to do? Submit to a system, conduct a transaction, or perform one’s identity in a more expressive way? Admittedly, and somewhat frustrating for the E-ID team, this combination of factors has not produced (and possibly will not produce) a ready-made typology of users that one can take into account when designing new systems. However, it does produce a series of useful sensitizing lenses, so to speak, through which one can look at imagined and potential users, expressed in one seemingly easy question: “how will this make different kinds of users feel?” The afternoon ended with incredibly funny and inspiring improvisation theatre, run by The IMPRO Company, which had managed to transform the ideas and discussions of the day in four hilarious scenes about E-ID. Warmly recommended for anyone who has to run a company or team session.

For more background on the cultural context and the matter of agency read, respectively:

Van Zoonen, L., Turner, G. & J. Harvey (2014). Confusion, control and comfort: premediating identity management in film and television. Information, Communication and Society, 17(8), p. 986-1000.

Van Zoonen, L. & G. Turner (2014). Exercising identity: agency and narrative in identity management. Kybernetes, 43(6), p.935-946.

The outcomes of our user research can be found in:

Van Zoonen, L. and IMPRINTS (2014). What do users want from their future means of identity management? End Report for IMPRINTS. Available from

Written by Liesbet van Zoonen