21-09-2016  Week Note III – Design Challenge

The future of civic engagement is characterised by both technological innovation and new technological user practices that are fuelled by trends towards mobile, personal devices, broadband connectivity, open data, urban interfaces, as well as cloud computing. With a focus on efficiency and profitability, most cities in their top-down endeavour to become 'smart' largely disregard the socio-cultural nuances of their citizens. This project explores media and technologies that foster citizen engagement and particularly strive to enable a more diverse public to not only have a voice, but to actively contribute to the constitution of the public realm.

The design challenge reads as follows:

How might we use civic media and technology in order to incentivise civic engagement and entrepreneurial activity?

During my first weeks of research I came across various concepts that are discussed with regard to public interventions. Often considered informal actions, these were initiated through bottom-up approaches from a few volunteers driven by passion and conviction. Urban activism is likely connected to political claims, and often uses unsolicited architecture as experimential ground to raise awareness as well as to point on critical, but overlooked issues within cities. Events that are commonly of temporary nature, in which objects are placed in the public space supported by residual actions that try to trigger bigger debates about the city's broader approach to its citizens and its infrastructure. They are mostly tactical, provocative actions that can increase the flow of communication between citizens and government. To ensure that these often small-scale tactical interventions do not remain just installations, strategic design is needed to enable replicability and legibility, and so lasting system change. In this project I want to explore tools that are strategically implemented between institutions and citizens with specific focus on communication.

How can city governments make room for citizens to not only give constructive feedback, but also to contribute ideas in the form of project proposals?

This endeavour is about support and long-term reach, further away from activism, and closer to entrepreneurial activities and grassroots initiatives. For instance, how can cities motivate citizens to start strengthening the community and engaging with society through i.e. self-organised public cultural happenings. More over, how could the city accommodate in making available abandoned buildings for cultural use. My aim is to explore the distribution of public space as well as new ways to navigate policies. By rethinking civic media and technology I want to challenge preconceived notions of smart cities and open data sets already used in Europe.

Particularly for this project, I'm interested in developing a digital tool that helps to negotiate space, permission, and interest between citizens and city officials in Copenhagen. I envision an interactive data visualisation that might challenge existing public online services with a more experimental approach. 'Interactive data visualization' is understood as a way of displaying and navigating real-time data flows, i.e. mapping the relationship between space and people within a city in new ways and let them interact with each other. Inspired by Oriana Persico's and Salvatore Iaconesi's project 'Human Ecosystems' – I imagine a simpler approach towards any programmed solution that, of course, challenges me, but also matches my capabilities in code.

My vision for this project is of rather conceptual nature, trying to nudge prevailing conditions of digital public services by being excited about the democratising power of web technologies and its applications for cities. Here, I see huge opportunities for interaction designers to collaborate with public institutions, city planners, architects, etc..