Public Life Data Protocol

The beta Public Life Data Protocol is a common language for measuring activity in public space.

The Protocol is the very first open data specification for the collection, organization, and sharing of public life data. Launched in October 2017, the Protocol was designed with partners from private and public sectors to improve the ability of everyone to share and compare information about public life.

Download the Public Life Data Protocol here

Why Public Life Data?

City governments, public agencies and officials, and the private companies that support them collect large amounts of data on things like traffic flows, property values, crime statistics, and more. These measurements shape analysis and decisions about policy and design. But the ways that people use or move through public space generally gets left out of this process. When information about people’s activities in the public realm is collected, it’s often without public engagement or significant open collaboration. Much of this data is inaccessible except to those who pay.

There is tremendous need and opportunity to make public life data–data about people moving and using public spaces–more accessible, scalable, and comparable within cities, across cities and regions, between agencies, and at different scales. The use of open data standards enables a range of users to collectively make public information more useful, accessible, and democratic. The ability to share research and compare outcomes is essential to making good planning and policy decisions affecting the places and spaces where citizens live their daily lives.

The Protocol

Gehl Institute and our partners from the Gehl practice, Copenhagen Municipality, San Francisco City Planning, and Seattle Department of Transportation have created an open data standard to support the collection, application, comparison, and scalability of public life data: The Public Life Data Protocol.

The Protocol describes the data architecture necessary to support more systematic surveys of public life, creating a shared language. It is 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.

Design Sprint

Gehl Institute organizes data design sprints, where interdisciplinary teams can learn about the Protocol and experiment with new approaches for collecting, inputting, organizing, analyzing, and visualizing public life data. We Count!, our first design sprint in New York City, brought together 115 urbanists, coders, civic technologists, and designers for three days of training, mingling, and experimenting. Upcoming design sprints will be in the San Francisco Bay Area and Singapore.

To learn more about our design sprints, including the program, prompts, datasets, and slide decks from winning teams, please visit

Seeking Public Life Data Fellow

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 Sprints into reality. For more information, reach out to

You can learn more about the events by visiting