Public Life Data Protocol

The Public Life Data Protocol (the Protocol) describes a set of metrics that are important to the understanding of public life—people moving and staying in public space—and aims to establish a common format for the collection and storage of such data. Used in conjunction with the Public Life Data Tools or other observational methods for collecting data about people in public space, the Protocol provides the structure for the data you collect.

Based on four decades of research and application of data about public life to shape public policy, planning, and urban design, the Protocol is an open data specification intended to improve the ability of everyone to share and compare information about public life activity in public space. In recent years, practitioners and cities have incorporated people-centered metrics and public life data into their engineering models, investment decisions, and design choices. These methods, based on decades of research, have now been applied in hundreds of cities around the world. There is tremendous potential to make public life datasets more compatible, scalable, and comparable across different cities and regions.


Gehl Institute and its partners—Gehl, the practice, the Municipality of Copenhagen, the City of San Francisco, and with support and input from Seattle DOT—have together developed and launched the Public Life Data Protocol.

Gehl Institute initiated the co-creation of the Public Life Data Protocol to make public life datasets more compatible, scalable, and comparable across departments, agencies, cities, and regions. The departments of urban planning (San Francisco), data (Copenhagen), transportation (Seattle), combined with the Gehl practice’s experiences in over 250 cities, speak to the diversity of possibilities to develop and use public life data.


The protocol will be open for any and all to use, and will create a common language for cities to compare different spaces within their city limits, and to then compare their data with other cities. It ensures a high level of quality and accuracy while enabling more people to collect, share, and compare their data. Using public life data to create benchmarks and performance metrics for urban policies and programs is now a possibility, enabling cities to better serve people. An open, common language brings us that much closer to achieving our goal of making people more visible to policymakers, designers, and planners in public space.


We invite anyone who cares about their public spaces–and not only design or planning professionals–to be empowered by the guidelines and contribute to the growing knowledge base.



Image by Mark Englert/Gehl.