We Count! NYC

Our Inaugural Public Life Data Design Sprint

In May 2018, Gehl Institute hosted We Count! Public Life Data Design Sprint, with support from our partners at Stae and Samsung Next. The three-day event series brought together 115 urbanists, coders, civic technologists, designers, and others to create better ways of collecting, understanding, and designing with open data about people in public space. On the final day, nine teams pitched their digital and paper prototypes to the jury, with the Data 4 Democracy team (pictured above) winning the top prize.

Why a Design Sprint?

Back in October 2017, Gehl Institute launched the beta Public Life Data Protocol, a common language for collecting and sharing data about people moving through and spending time in public space. The open Protocol offers metrics for city agencies, designers, and other groups to begin measuring elements of public life, and makes the data more easily comparable and scalable across neighborhoods and cities. The public life tools People Moving Count and Age & Gender Tally, both available for free download on our website, use categories outlined in the Protocol.

After months of collaboration with our partners at the Municipality of Copenhagen, City of San Francisco, and Gehl, the practice, we were thrilled to release the Protocol into the world. But drafting the Protocol was only the first step. What really matters now is whether the metrics are adopted and, ultimately, play a role in enhancing the public life of cities.

We learned during the creation of the Protocol that there are barriers and challenges to its use. Data collection can be costly and time-consuming, for example. We don’t yet have a compelling digital data collection tool. Importing, analyzing, and storing that data can also add technical and technological challenges for agencies and groups collecting public life data.

To better understand how the Public Life Data Protocol can be better used to inform data collection, input, organization, analysis, and visualization, Gehl Institute hosted We Count! Public Data Design Sprint.

The event series was made possible with generous support from our partners: Stae, Samsung Next, Gehl, San Francisco Planning, Seattle Department of Transportation, BetaNYC, Urban-X, Arup, Sam Schwartz Engineering, and Digital Placemaking Institute. Over the course of three days, we introduced participants to the Protocol and asked them to design and pitch new approaches for transparently using public life data for public benefit. We’ll offer a few examples below.

Participants try out our public life tools to study social activity in Madison Square Park.

Testing + Prototyping with Public Life Data

We Count! was broken into three sessions. First, Gehl Institute and our collaborators offered an introduction to public life and the Protocol, followed by a workshop on the public life tools in Madison Square Park. Second, we hosted a party, where participants formed teams. Third, we kicked off a full-day design sprint, in which multidisciplinary teams dove deeper into the Protocol and designed products and tools that will make the specification easier to use, and more likely to be taken up around the world.

Equipped with 48,600 public life data points from three cities, each team selected a design prompt to respond to (see below). We found that most teams were interested in prompts related to data scope, collection, and input, with a few exceptions.

Over the next six hours, teams developed their proposals and rehearsed their pitches with mentors from both the private and public sector. The winning teams were selected by a jury consisting of Story Bellows, Partner at CityFi, Paul McConnell, Head of Design at Intersection, and Shin-pei Tsay, Executive Director of Gehl Institute. Proposals were judged based on usability, scalability, ability to promote public life, and how they addressed challenges outlined in the design brief.

Winning proposals included:

  • A mobile data collection and input tool that makes it easier for anyone to enter their public life data with simple dropdown menus, a modular data entry process, and autofill functions in relation to time, date, and weather
  • An assisted-vision data collection app that captures an image of a place, identifies what’s there, shares the images with human users who can correct errors, then deletes the image to protect privacy
  • A stationary activity mapping app that enables users to playfully create a visual diary of a space using emojis
  • A database and platform for academics, designers, and community members to upload and share reports, public life data, and scholarly articles, helping one another formulate research questions and answer them

The top prize went to Data 4 Democracy, which developed a “public life needs assessment tool,” where users can take a quiz about their research interests, and are then directed to specific data fields in the Protocol, along with survey tools, to help them execute a public life study.



What’s Next?

We’ll be hosting another public life data design sprint this winter in the Bay Area. Please let us know if you’d like to attend and/or sponsor! In the meantime, you can access the design sprint materials–including the program, prompts, datasets, and slide decks from winning teams–at wecount.gehlinstitute.org.

Also, stay tuned for another post by the Data 4 Democracy team about their winning proposal, coming soon to our website.

And thanks again to our incredible sponsors: Stae, Samsung Next, Gehl, San Francisco Planning, Seattle Department of Transportation, BetaNYC, Urban-X, Arup, Sam Schwartz Engineering, and Digital Placemaking Institute.

Would you like to be part of our Public Life Data Protocol Project? Gehl Institute is seeking a Data Fellow to collaborate with us on to turn ideas from the Design Sprint into reality. For more information, reach out to jennifer@gehlinstitute.org.