Field Guide to Public Data Projects

The United Nations has suggested the need for a “data revolution” to address urgent transnational issues such as climate change and inequality. It has endorsed not only improving national statistical data collection, but also opening public sector data up for broader societal re-use, as well as exploring the capacities of emerging forms of digital data, infrastructures and devices in understanding and responding to public problems.

Over the past decade, open data and civic tech initiatives around the world have been set up to promote the re-use of public data for participation and involvement; citizens are gathering their own data on air, soil and biodiversity; and journalists and activists are increasingly using and creating data to support their investigations and campaigns around economic, racial and ecological justice.

What do public data projects do? How do they invite and enable participation and action, and to what end? How can they be studied? How can we critically engage with their histories, social lives and politics? How might studies of these kinds of projects lead to modifications in data practice?

The Field Guide to Public Data Projects explores methods and approaches for finding, following, gathering and comparing different kinds of projects involving public data – from data portals to data communities, sensing practices to mobile apps.

Exploratory research for this project is being developed with support from the King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship (KURF) scheme at King’s College London.

Ways of Listening to Forests

How can we sense and make sense of forests with devices, techniques and our bodies? How might we cultivate an interdisciplinary “arts of noticing” (Tsing) for attending to forests and their role in critical zones?

Engaging with themes in the Critical Zones exhibition and catalogue curated by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, this project explores different ways of listening to forests, drawing on different traditions, techniques, methods, media and approaches – from “Shinrin Yoku” (forest bathing) to sensing devices, data sonification to sound walks and storytelling.

The project includes a public workshop with ZKM as part of the Critical Zones exhibition to explore and compare different approaches and the possibilities and limits of forest experiences under current sensing conditions between immediacy and mediation.

For more on the use of digital data and devices to cultivate sensibilities towards trees and forests, see the Critical Zones field book and catalogue, including this chapter on “The Datafication of Forests”.

Image: Sound Sketch – Forest Rain – Liz K. Miller

Data Portal Explorer

What do data portals do? This initiative explores digital methods and approaches for studying data portals as online devices.

This includes gathering an international research group on data portal studies, as well as developing a prototype tool and open source software library for repurposing data portal metadata in order to examine public sector datafication and the configuration of portals as sites of participation around public data.

Digital Methods Recipes

How can we share different ways of doing things with digital data, methods and infrastructures? How can text, images, video, GIFs and other materials be used to provide accounts of digital methods, cultivate sensibilities towards interpretive work, surface tacit knowledge and encourage reflection on decisions, tools, devices, assumptions and materials?

This is a project to assemble and publish digital methods recipes and “how-tos” for research, teaching and collaborations from across the Public Data Lab.

You can see a preview of some of these here: http://recipes.publicdatalab.org/

A set of recipes developed as a collaboration between digital methods researchers at the Public Data Lab and digital journalists at First Draft can be found at: https://firstdraftnews.org/long-form-article/digitalrecipes/