Tag Archives: citizen science

Data and the City workshop, Session 3 videos

This set of videos make up the final session from the first day of the Data and City workshop. All of the videos from the event are available through our Vimeo account.

Data Analytics and the City

Improving the Veracity of Open and Real-Time Urban Data

Gavin McArdle, Researcher, National Centre for Geocomputation, Maynooth University, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland

Within the context of the smart city, data are an integral part of the digital economy and are used as input for decision making, policy formation, and to inform citizens, city managers and commercial organisations. Reflecting on our experience of developing real-world software applications which rely heavily on urban data, this article critically examines the veracity of such data (their authenticity and the extent to which they accurately (precision) and faithfully (fidelity, reliability) represent what they are meant to) and how it can be assessed in the absence of quality reports from data providers. While data quality needs to be considered at all aspects of the data lifecycle and in the development and use of applications, open data are often provided ‘as-is’ with no guarantees about their veracity, continuity or lineage (documentation that establishes provenance and fit for use). This allows data providers to share data with undocumented errors, absences, and biases. If left unchecked these data quality issues can propagate through multiple systems and lead to poor smart city applications and unreliable ‘evidence-based’ decisions. This leads to a danger that open government data portals will come to be seen as untrusted, unverified and uncurated data-dumps by users and critics. Drawing on our own experiences we highlight the process we used to detect and handle errors. This work highlights the necessary janitorial role carried out by data scientists and developers to ensure that data are cleaned, parsed, validated and transformed for use. This important process requires effort, knowledge, skill and time and is often hidden in the resulting application and is not shared with other data users. In this paper, we propose that rather than lose this knowledge, in the absence of data providers documenting them in metadata and user guides, data portals should provide a crowdsourcing mechanism to generate and record user observations and fixes for improving the quality of urban data and open government portals.

Blockchain City: Spatial, Social and Cognitive Ledgers

Chris Speed, Chair of Design Informatics, University of Edinburgh

City dashboards are typically representations of a city’s accounts, manifest according to values set by the stakeholders. The currency of the data within a dashboard is typically reduced to an assessment of the performance of services largely derived from quantitative sources. As a consequence, dashboards cannot describe many of the transactions that take place between people, nor can they make explicit the values that are brokered between the myriad of city occupants. Whilst such information displays may be useful for mayors to report on the performance of a local government, or use it to set targets that lead to penalties or bonuses, the city dwellers that are complicit in the production of data are not able to convert the information back into a currency that can inform their actions and transactions.
This paper explores the barriers that current representations of data present for building new currencies through which value may be mediated at the level of the city dweller. By reflecting on the potential of technologies such as a ‘block chain’, the paper asks: if you change the representation of value, can it change the values that you can represent?

The blockchain is a public ledger of all of the transactions that have ever taken place using the Bitcoin currency. The ledger is constantly growing in a linear manner as ‘blocks’ are completed through the recording of transactions. A copy of the blockchain exists not in one place like the transactions of a traditional bank, but across the network of nodes in the Bitcoin system. This decentralised framework offers not only a form of transparency to prevent fraud but also a potential platform through which different values can be represented.

This paper speculates on the implications for the city of the near future as services begin to adopt blockchain technology. The paper reflects on the activities of the technology startup community who have an understanding of the principles of blockchain technologies through their adoption of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Via studies of various applications of blockchain technology across these groups, the paper will examine how emerging practices could transform our existing conceptions of value and money. The paper foresees the opportunities for the blockchain to change the way that value flows across the city, and hence lead to new economic and social models for city services.

Beyond quantification: a role for citizen science

Muki Haklay, Professor of Geographic Information Science, Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, University College London

When approaching the issue of Smart Cities, there is a need to question the underlying assumptions at the basis of Smart Cities discourse, and especially to challenge the prevailing thought that only efficiency, costs and productivity are the most important values. We need to ensure that human and environmental values are taken into account in the design and implementation of systems that will influence the way cities operate and governed. While we can accept science as the least worst method to accumulate human knowledge about the natural world, and appreciate its power to explain and act in the world, we need to consider how it is applied within the city in a way that does leave space for cultural, environmental and religious values. The paper will argue that a specific form of collaborative science – citizen science and community science – are especially suitable for making smart cities meaningful and democratic.

Code and the City workshop videos: Session 5

Session 5 is our last session of the Code and the City workshop. Video of the previous sessions are here: Session 1, Session 2, Session 3 and Session 4.

Session 5: Cities, code and governance

Coding alternative modes of governance: ‘Smart cities’ to ‘data cities’
Alison Powell, Media & Communications, LSE

Within the last twenty years the concept of the “smart city” has emerged and re-emerged, focusing on various ways that technology layers new capacities over existing urban infrastructures. These “smart cities” are changing. The “smart city” of the early 2000s was a communicative city, while the smart city of the 2010s is a data city. The dynamics of these are different: a communicative city promises representation through voice – the ability to speak and listen – while a data city promises representation through information – information collected about individuals is fed back to civic decision makers who enact decisions based upon it. Data is thus a product flowing from citizen to government. In data cities governance is also different: both communicative and data cities could be the result of top-down governance decisions or subject to bottom-up reconfigurations, the ways that those decisions are enacted are quite different. A communicative city promises a democratic value to citizens of greater access to information, while a data city promises a value to governments of greater access to data about citizens. This structural inequity is particularly evident when we consider what must happen to data in a data city – it must be calculated.

Within a macro-political perspective, centralized calculation of data gathered from citizens is essential for developing visions of responsive, data-rich, centrally controlled smart cities. This seems to close off the potential for an alternative mode of governance for the contemporary data city. However, the expansion of participatory culture has created efforts to democratize collection of data about cities, through citizen science projects including air quality and noise mapping. In these projects, the legitimacy of the hierarchical city is challenged by the oppositional data collected by citizens, taken as evidence of an opposition between the “constituted knowledge” of institutions like city governance and the “adaptive knowledge” of loosely organized communities of practice (see Mansell, 2013). This contest of knowledge contrasts the two modes of combining citizenship, technology and space, the ‘hierarchical city’ and the ‘peer to peer’ city. Participatory data collection does seem to enact an alternative to centralized authority, but it is not clear whether data – without calculation – is really shifting governance.

Building upon the central contrast between hierarchical and peer to peer cities, this paper considers how the “micro politics” of cities are altered as calculation is integrated into civic participation. Drawing on historical and contemporary examples of peer to peer cities including community networks, citizen science, it argues that peer to peer calculation is the most significant yet most difficult activation of alternative governance of urban space.

Big data and stratification urban futures
Agnieszka Leszczynski, Geography and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham

Code has been recognized as intimately implicated in the socio-­spatial stratification of cities. Big data in particular are underwriting a sweeping intensification of practices of socio-­spatial sorting, which refers to the organization of city spaces into social and economic categories so as to categorize and effectively manage the individuals who inhabit them. These practices directly shape and reinforce material urban geographies of social disparity. One of the primary areas where we find evidence of this is in the increasing leveraging of big data towards the prefiguring of urban spatial pre-­futures of deviance. Big data and attendant analytics are reproducing and reifying disenfranchisement alog axes of race, class, socioeconomic status, and geography at scales from the city as a whole to individual neighbourhoods so as to create material spaces for specific kinds of vertical surveillance interventions (e.g., increased police presence), and to justify the targeting of particular neighborhoods and neighbourhood populations for these practices (e.g., by prefiguring them as criminalized a priori). The ways in which this is enacted in practice is
discussed with reference to, amongst others, the EMOTIVE Twitter analytics software program designed as a riot prevention system in the UK, and the Chicago Police Department’s turn to big data analytics as a predictive policing measure.

The cryptographic city
David M. Berry, Media & Communication, University of Sussex

Questions about opacity and transparency have been turned upside down in the post-Snowden era. With the certainty of tracking technologies, surveillance and monitoring, a new turn towards anonymity, opaque presence and crypto-identity has emerged in digital networks. This paper looks to examine questions of cryptography and encryption in relation to the city, particularly in relation to the increasing mediation of life through algorithms, software and code. Key questions are the relationship between opacity and opaque presence and notions of publicness and city space, but also the way in which the city as a programmable city will increasingly rely upon the cryptographic layers. Through an engagement with the notion of ‘capture’ the paper seeks to think through the limits of what we might call plaintext code/space and reflect on the crypto code/spaces and their materialities.

Additional Videos from previous sessions

Session 4 – Cultural curation and urban Interfaces: Locative media as experimental platforms for cultural data
Nanna Verhoeff, Department of Media and Culture Studies, Utrecht University

My contribution is concerned with the way in which urban interfaces are used for access to cultural collections – whether institutionally embedded, or bottom-up, participatory collections. Designed in code and exploring affordances of new location-based and/or mobile technologies for urban space-making, these interfaces are thought to be powerful tools for ideals of participatory urban culture. I propose to approach these “projects” as curatorial machines, as urban experimental laboratories for cultural data. This entails a threefold perspective, on curation, on code, and on principles of creative (sometimes artistic or playful) experimentation.

For this, we may remind ourselves of the curatorial project of museal and archival institutions, of preserving, and “caring” for the object, as well as creating new contexts for the object and providing access for an urban public – a field which is very much in transition as a result of current ambitions for new public engagement and ideals of participation, pervasive in all socio-economic and political regions of contemporary culture. Simultaneously we witness the current interest in the principles of data curation as the care for, interaction with, interpretation and visualisation of digital data, as the datafication and codification of culture invades all corners of urban life. Design of interfaces is central in how we can access, work with, and make meaning with digital culture. Departing from the concept of dispositif in the analysis of interfaces, I propose to bring together the fact that the interfaces are coded and designed, to (playfully) experiment with their affordances.

In my approach to this intersection of datafication of, and the proliferation of interfaces for “culture”, I aim to develop heuristic tools for critical evaluation of this phenomenon, broadly bracketed as [urban interfaces] as interfaces of cultural curation.

Oxford Internet Institute Paper: Crowdsourcing: A Geographic Approach to Identifying Policy Opportunities and Challenges Toward Deeper Levels of Public Engagement

Tracey Lauriault presented a paper co-authored with Peter Mooney at the Oxford Internet Institute last week and as promised to those in attendance here are the slides including the references.  The abstract can be read on the The Internet, Policy and Politics Conference website along with many of the other papers and abstracts.

References in order of appearance:
  1. Goodchild, Michael F., and Linna Li. 2012. “Assuring the Quality of Volunteered Geographic Information.” Spatial Statistics 1 (May): 110–20.  doi:10.1016/j.spasta.2012.03.002.
  2. Goodchild, Michael F., 2007, Citizens as sensors: the world of volunteered geography, GeoJournal, 69 (4), pp. 211–221
  3. Conrad, Cathy C., and Krista G. Hilchey. 2011. “A Review of Citizen Science and Community-Based Environmental Monitoring: Issues and Opportunities.” Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 176 (1-4): 273–91. doi:10.1007/s10661-010-1582-5.
  4. Browna, Greg  and Kyttäb, Marketta , 2014, Key issues and research priorities for public participation GIS (PPGIS): A synthesis based on empirical research, Applied Geography, Volume 46, January 2014, Pages 122–136.
  5. Ogiek Peoples visualizing their traditional lands Nessuit, Kenya, Good practices in participatory Mapping (2009), International Fund for  Agricultural Development (IFAD)
  6. Brabham, Daren C., 2013, Using Crowdsourcing In Government. IBM Center for The Business of Government
  7. Google Flu Trends
  8. Mechanical Turk
  9. Notification Edit Service


  1. Haklay, Muki. 2013. “Citizen Science and Volunteered Geographic Information: Overview and Typology of Participation.” In Crowdsourcing Geographic Knowledge, edited by Daniel Sui, Sarah Elwood, and Michael Goodchild, 105–22. Springer Netherlands.
  2. Hickling Arthurs Low (HAL), 2012, Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) Primer, CANADIAN GEOSPATIAL DATA INFRASTRUCTURE INFORMATION PRODUCT 21e, Science & Technology Policy Research and Analysis Resource team, GeoConnections. Ottawa: Natural Resources Canada.
  3. Coleman, D., Georgiadou, Y., & Labonte, J. , 2009, Volunteered Geographic Information: the nature and motivation of produsers. International Journal of Spatial Data Infrastructures Research, Vol 4.


  1. Kitchin, Rob and Lauriault,Tracey P., 2014, Towards Critical Data Studies: Charting and Unpacking Data Assemblages and Their Work National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUI Maynooth) – NIRSA National Institure for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA,
  2. Haklay, M.; Antoniou, V; Basiouka, S; Soden, R; Mooney, P; 2014, Crowdsourced Geographic Information Use in Government. Global Facility for Disaster Reduction & Recovery (GFDRR), World Bank: London, UK.


  1. National Biodiversity Data Centre
  2. Coastwatch
  3. Nunaliit Cybercatographic Atlas Framework
  4. Engler, Nate ,Teresa Scassa, and Taylor, D. R. Fraser , 2014, Cybercartography and Volunteered Geographic Information, Chapter 4 in D.R. Fraser Taylor and Tracey P. Lauriault, Developments in the Theory and Practice of Cybercartography, 2nd Edition, Elsevier.
  5. Cybercartographic Atlases
  6. Canadian Geomatics Community Strategy “White Paper” and Scenarios, 2013, prepared for Natural Resources Canada by Hickling Arthurs Low Corporation (HAL).
  7. Programmable City Project

Presentation slides from 'Open Data and Evidence Informed Decision Making' seminar

The 1st Programmable City Seminar filled the house with Ireland open data advocates, NUIM Students, NIRSA & NCG & StratAg & AIRO researchers, Media Studies Faculty, Computer Science Faculty, geographers, public servants, the folks at Dlublinked, technology media, the project team and others.  The audience reflected the trans-disciplinary nature of the Programmable City Project.

You can access presenter bios here and we will soon release the video recording of the event.

Stay tuned for the 2nd Seminar in January 2014.

Presentations are in order of appearance: