Tag Archives: Claudio Coletta

Ulysses Workshop, Session 1: Reshaping urban engagement and publics through data and experiments I

[We are happy to share the first set of videos from the Session 1 "Reshaping urban engagement and publics through data and experiments I" of the recent workshop "Reshaping Cities through Data and Experiments". The introduction, session 2 and session 3 are also available]

Economic arrangements and forms of public-private collaboration in Medellin (Félix Talvard)

Medellín’s transformation from a place of violence to one of urban innovation, starting in the late 1990s, has been widely chronicled in the media and substantially studied by geographers, planners and a few sociologists. Two bodies of literature make the bulk of the studies available: one focuses on local development policies, the other on the remaking of the city’s infrastructure to fit development goals. More recent initiatives that simultaneously aim to transform urban governance, citizenship and the built environment have come under little scrutiny, but are important to understand how smart urbanism develops in Latin America and so-called developing countries. I use the case of Medellín to ask questions such as:
- What does an “inclusive smart city” mean in the context of Medellín?
- How do urban innovation and experiments fit in “development” policies and narratives?
- What kind of data is generated and used in such projects, and for which purpose?
- How does this impact citizenship, public-private relations and (mobility) infrastructures?

Data and Experiments as time devices: SBIR, Testbedding and real-time management in Dublin (Claudio Coletta)

Urban experiments have been described as sites where different sustainable, prosperous and liveable urban futures can be tested in the real world (Evans et al. 2016; de Jong et al. 2015; Kullman 2013).
Despite the emphasis on the future, the actual construction of time in smart city development and its associated temporalities received scant attention by research: the desirable futures and the looking forward vision embedded in discourses on urban innovation require thus further scrutiny, especially referring to the actionability and accountability of time devices: the former related to how data and experiments enable urban change and the latter referring to how urban change generated by data and experiments can be justified, monitored and planned as a coherent story.
The aim of this paper is to take time as the main analytical category to account for experimental and data-driven urbanism, and look at data and experiments as devices that produces peculiar time arrangement at large scale. Rather than focused exclusively on the idea of future, the study intends to shed light on the time devices produced by data and experiment in cities: how do they orient urban change? How cities and everyday life in them are affected by and take part to their composition?


We are grateful to the IRC, Ambassade de France in Ireland and the Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute for their generous support and for making possible this event.

Ulysses Workshop “Reshaping Cities through Data and Experiments” – Introduction

[This text is the introduction to the "Reshaping Cities through Data and Experiments" workshop held in Maynooth University, 30th of May, which was the first part of an Ulysses research exchange between researchers from the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation (i3-CSI) at the École des Mines in Paris, and the researchers from MUSSI-NIRSA in Maynooth University, Ireland. UPDATE: The videos of the presentations are now available as the following separate posts: session 1, session 2, session 3]

Introduction: Why smart cities, why data and experiments


Our aim is to advance the understanding of the contemporary cities in relation to urban data and experimentation, creating a link between “The Programmable City” (Maynooth) and “City Experiments” (“CitEx”, Paris). In particular, we want to initiate a transdisciplinary discussion on the theoretical, methodological and empirical issues related to experimental and data-driven approaches to urban development and living. This conversation is vital in a time when cities all over the world – from Singapore to San Francisco, Medellin and Dublin, as we shall see – are increasingly turning into public-private testbeds and living labs, where urban development projects merge with the design of cyber-infrastructures to test new services and new forms of engagement for urban innovation and economic development. These new forms of interaction between algorithms, planning practices and governance processes raise crucial questions for researchers on how everyday life, civic engagement and urban change are shaped in contemporary cities. Our approach is to study smart cities as the unstable and uncertain product of ongoing interactions of data and experiments.

There is a pragmatic reason, indeed. In many cases, being responsible for tax payer’s money, city administrations need to spend their budget very carefully while thinking about possible futures. It brings us to a problem of skills, knowledge and expertise: what do the public bodies know about available technologies and state of the art? How to procure them? How to test them? Once procured and tested, how to know that the adoption of a specific technology would work in the actual urban settings? Which knowledge do data allow and shadow? How to maintain the rolled out service in time?

Thus, experimentation and data become a way to engage with new actors, with new kinds of expertise and skills that enter into the public so as to test projects before committing to large scale rolling out.

But the pragmatic reason is deeply connected with a theoretical and methodological one. Sociologists of science and technology use to saying that the laboratory is now the world: it does not mean that the world should be treated as a mere copy of a laboratory. Rather, it is an invite to expand and unfold the idea of laboratory from an organizational, technical and political perspective. In terms of the smart city discourse, it involves at least three intertwined issues. There is a problem related to the organizational processes and rationalities (how data and experiments interact with organizational change), there is a problem related to technological rationalities (data and experiments are not neutral), and there is a problem related to political rationalities (which are the implication for democracy), all combined and making the smart city discourse complex and undetermined.

Experiments represents a unique place of encounter between theory and practice, which allow us to observe smart urbanism in the actual making, looking at the dynamic apparatus of practices, infrastructures, knowledge, narratives, bodies, etc. and to possibly try distinguish between good ways to combine data and experiment and bad ways to combine data and experiments.

This is where our work in Maynooth University and in the Programmable City project on big data assemblages (Kitchin 2014), algorithmic governance (Coletta and Kitchin 2017), smart city development processes (Coletta, Heaphy and Kitchin 2017), hacktivism and civic engagement (Perng and Kitchin 2016) matches the work that David and his colleagues are doing at CSI.


I shall start with a remark: compared to what has been done by colleagues here, at MUSSI-NIRSA in Maynooth, about cities and data, we actually did a very few. Actually, we have been involved in projects on cities and urban settings only recently. As you might know, the CSI is well known in science and technology studies (STS), especially for its contribution to the early laboratory studies. And our CitEx project clearly draws on this background, notably what we consider as two important results.

In Laboratory Life, Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar (1979) examined in minute details scientists working at the bench, performing experiments, discussing results, and writing publications. What is interesting for us here is to consider the laboratory as a peculiar place, both as a controlled environment configured to conduct experiments and to envision their replication and dissemination, and a site designed to elaborate new knowledge and to perform some demonstrations. Yet the laboratory is not the only significant site to be investigated. As Michel Callon and his colleagues (1988) clearly emphasized in La science et ses réseaux, scientific facts would be nothing without the crucial part heterogeneous networks take place in their production and dissemination. What we learned here is the various ways in which the results of experiments are not only tightly linked to economic networks, but also contribute to perform some political orderings. To put it roughly, these are the two main arguments on scientific experiments we started with to elaborate our CitEx project; these are our basics, so to speak.

This being said, some works on city and urban settings have already taken place at the CSI, and they directly inspire our ongoing CitEx project. Obviously, the book Paris, the invisible city (Latour and Hermant 1996), which is focused on the heterogeneous infrastructures that make Paris works and stands as a city on a daily basis, is particularly relevant in this regard. Contemporary experiments in urban settings are based on exiting infrastructures, dedicated to urban mobility or to data processing and storage, or to both — as it is often the case. The study of subway signs in Paris as an immobile informational infrastructure designed and maintained everyday in order to ease riders fluidity is particularly telling: by shaping both some users’ positions and some particular conditions of a public space, subway signs participate in the enactment of a specific political ordering (Denis and Pontille 2010). But some experiments may also be focused on the infrastructure itself. This is what we investigated more recently, examining the introduction a fleet of 50 electric cars as part of a car-sharing system without fixed stations (Laurent and Tironi 2015). Not only sociotechnical instruments were mobilized to explore social and technical uncertainties and to produce public demonstrations, but also what was actually tested eventually changed during the project.

The CitEx project has been elaborated at the crossroad of STS and Urban studies because, we argue, experiments are a stimulating research site. Tightly coupled with the production and use of data, experiments constitute a particular entry point to explore how part of contemporary cities are currently constituted as laboratories to test various new technologies and infrastructures, as well as forms of urban assemblages and modes of government.

This is why we believe the collaboration with Claudio and his colleagues involved in “the programmable city” project will be fruitful and stimulating.

Claudio Coletta and David Pontille


We are grateful to the IRC, Ambassade de France in Ireland and the Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute for their generous support and for making possible this event.


Callon M (1989) La science et ses réseaux: genèse et circulation des faits scientifiques. Éditions La Découverte.

Coletta C and Kitchin R (In press) Algorhythmic governance: Regulating the ‘heartbeat’of a city using the Internet of Things, Big Data and Society, Special Issue on “Algorithms in Culture”. Pre-print available at https://osf.io/bp7c4/

Coletta, C., Heaphy, L. and Kitchin, R. (2017) From the accidental to articulated smart city: The creation and work of ‘Smart Dublin’. Programmable City Working Paper 29 https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/93ga5

Denis J and Pontille D (2010). The Graphical Performation of a Public Space. The Subway Signs and their Scripts, in G. Sonda, C. Coletta, F. Gabbi (eds.) Urban Plots, Organizing Cities. Ashgate, pp. 11-22.

Kitchin R (2014) The data revolution: Big data, open data, data infrastructures and their consequences. Sage.

Laurent B and Tironi M (2015) A field test and its displacements. Accounting for an experimental mode of industrial innovation. CoDesign 11(3–4): 208–221.

Latour B and Woolgar S (1986) Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton University Press.

Latour B and Hermant E (1998) Paris: Ville Invisible. Éditions La Découverte.

Perng SY and Kitchin R (2016, online first) Solutions and frictions in civic hacking: Collaboratively designing and building a queuing app for an immigration office. Social and Cultural Geography.

IRC Ulysses Award: “Reshaping cities through data and experiments”

We are delighted to announce that ProgCity postdoc researchers Claudio Coletta, Liam Heaphy and Sung-Yueh Perng have been awarded the IRC Ulysses Grant 2016 to start a new research collaboration between the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation (i3-CSI) at the École des Mines in Paris, and the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) in Maynooth University.

The collaborative project, entitled “Reshaping cities through data and experiments”, includes workshops and a series of coordinated publications that will advance our understanding of the contemporary city in relation to urban data and experimentation. The first workshop will take place in Maynooth University (29-31 May 2017) and the second one in the École des Mines, in October 2017.

The overall questions that the collaboration seeks to address are:
1. What data are generated by cities in the context of smart cities and core services such as transport? For whom are these data created and on what infrastructure are they dependent?
2. How are the experiments and demonstrations for urban change organised and accounted? Which actors are involved and how do they engage?
3. How experiments and demonstration through data affect the everyday life of cities, their management and governance practices?

The scientific exchange will explore the following three intertwined aspects that are critical to urban management, governance and everyday life in cities: civic engagement, mobility and automated management.

With respect to civic engagement, the two groups will reflect upon specific ways in which civic initiatives seek to obtain, repurpose and act on urban data for improving quality of life. With respect to mobility, the two groups will discuss the convergence of organisational, technological, political and economic dimensions in initiatives dedicated to innovative mobility practices and demonstrations. They will investigate (1) how such global phenomena are related to wider public or private development strategies (2) how “best practices”, business plans or technical systems circulate from one place to another. With respect to automated management, the two groups will explore the testing of new urban services where the urban environment is used as a living laboratory, such as IoT (Internet of Things) technologies for measuring air pollution and traffic monitoring. Thus conceived the project has two main projected outcomes: to produce scientific and transferable knowledge on the shaping of contemporary cities and to create awareness on the implications of experimental and data-driven urbanism.

Claudio, Liam and Sung-Yueh are honoured and grateful to the IRC for this great opportunity to advance their research on smart cities and build new international collaborations.

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