Participatory Analytics & Visualisations to Make Sense of Urban Data

Enabling the Smart Citizen

In recent years we have seen a significant increase in the volume and accessibility of (big) urban data sets that describe many aspects of urban living. One of the major challenges in the analysis of urban data is to understand the complex interrelations between different data sets within particular contexts. While this task is generally approached using traditional methods of data analysis, such means of study do not generally support the exploratory and serendipitous discovery of meaning. Visual analytics is a field of research that uses information visualisation techniques to support teams of experts in the exploration and collaborative analysis of data. Visual analytics is increasingly applied in the study of urban environments, for instance in the analysis of geographic phenomena in urban areas.

In this project we aim to explore means that allow everyday citizens to visualise and make use of urban data through the development and study of a data-exploration and visual analytics framework targeted at lay users. We argue that providing citizens with means to visualise key aspects of their urban environment such as energy use, commuting options or property development patterns in their neighbourhood can help making big urban data accessible to everyday citizens. Similarly, a tool that supports the visual analysis of urban data can become an effective communication tool, facilitating the discussions between urban planners and citizens and allowing them to mutually explain and critique planning decisions. Lastly, the use of a visual analytic platforms opens up the possibility that gained insights can be shared with other users. Such a platform could be seen as a crowd-sourcing tool that utilises the local knowledge of citizens to attribute meaning to (big) urban data sources.

As owners of a substantial amount of urban data, local governments can play a key role in enabling smart citizens to significantly contribute in solving urban challenges. In order for this to happen, new and continuous models of engagement between the two need to developed and trialled. The Smart Citizen project has played an important role in facilitating South-East Queensland Councils to join the Open and Agile Smart Cities Network, an international network of cities committed to demand-driven approaches to Open Data and open, interoperable standards. As part of this partnership with the cities of Brisbane, Gold Coast and Springfield, as well as the Open Data Institute Queensland, we are committed to find new ways of engaging a broad range of citizens, from technicians, designers and data scientists, to community advocates, policymakers and local government representatives to engage with Open Data and each other towards trans-disciplinary solutions to challenges faced by these cities.

The goal is to go beyond “hacking” towards a better common understanding of urban issues, which data sets can assist in tackling them and how these data sets need to be provided for best support. This implies a bottom-up approach to deriving Open Data standards by abstracting from concrete use-cases and needs of the local community. The work will be embedded in existing models of innovation precincts and urban innovation centres, in order to foster an ongoing stream of engagement activities and projects between local governments and smart citizens.

Funding / Grants

  • QUT Signature Project (2015 - 2016)
  • Ms Irina Anastasiu