City Sensing Data Futures

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  • 2023

  • Design Research

Commissioned By:

City of Melbourne

Designed In:

Australia

City Sensing Data Futures is a research collaboration between Monash University’s Emerging Technologies Research Lab and City of Melbourne. It created and demonstrated an ethics-based inclusive design for the capture and use of real-time city data in public spaces, which respects values of: trust, privacy, transparency, open communication and care.


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  • CHALLENGE
  • SOLUTION
  • IMPACT
  • MORE
  • The establishment of the emerging technology testbed environment in the City of Melbourne enables the council to partner with the community and other organisations to explore ways that Melbourne can grow as a digital city, respond to city challenges and create new opportunities using emerging technology and data. Sensors and data capture technologies provide significant opportunities for Cities to gather and share knowledge about local environments. Yet little is known about how people experience, engage with and imagine their own future uses of city data, creating the challenge of ensuring trust, privacy, transparency, communication, engagement and inclusion for local communities.

  • Our interdisciplinary team of designers, ethnographers and smart cities and digital trust experts created bespoke design ethnographic field research and in situ prototyping methods to produce new knowledge and outcomes. The project delivered three innovations: a locally tailored design proposal including a digital-material prototype that reflected the Council’s values and ethics in relation to trust, transparency, engagement and inclusion; a transferable and scalable research, design and communication methodology for creating public trust in data collection in city technology testbeds; a set of key implications for the design and implementation of City Data sensing based on ethnographic and design research.

  • The City Sensing Data Futures report was launched publicly in September 2022 at an event hosted by City of Melbourne. With support from Council, the report has been broadly circulated throughout the local council and other local governments, and applied throughout their Smart Cities programme. City of Melbourne have also implemented the design proposal across 10+ sites that leverage emerging technology and data collection. The research project and findings have been highly profiled by the media. Methods and findings developed through this design research have been featured in a growing number of international academic publications, and presented at international conferences.

  • This design research project created a genuine long term partnership between the Emerging Technologies Research Lab and City of Melbourne, from 2020 to 2022 involving nine researchers from design, anthropology, political science and geography, and including three PhD candidates. The first stage of the design research was undertaken online during pandemic circumstances, involving the creation of one of the first pandemic innovations in online ethnographic fieldwork and workshop methods. The second stage involved new innovations in ethnographic field methods, prototyping and field collaborations with City of Melbourne colleagues. “This body of research has been instrumental in improving how City of Melbourne approaches smart city initiatives to uphold the community values of transparency, accountability, privacy and care. These impacts can be seen from start to finish of smart city projects - from improving project delivery methodology for increased citizen engagement through to increasing the universal access of the digital-physical artefacts used for community storytelling. By focusing on the why, rather than the what and how (a common downfall of tech and data driven initiatives) - we are already seeing improvements in our engagement and better project results” Tegan Kop, Smart City Incubator | City of Melbourne