We Count! Public Life Data Design Sprint

The winning design sprint team: Data 4 Democracy. Credit: Caitlin Brady.

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.