Boston fieldwork

Boston and Brookline from the tower in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Boston from the tower in Mount Auburn Cemetery

From April 2nd to 30th five of the Programmable City team travelled to Boston (or rather as we quickly learned the Metro-Boston area, which is a conglomerate of 101 municipalities) to undertake fieldwork, staying in Cambridge.  Over the course of a busy month the team:

  • conducted 75 interviews/focus groups;
  • had 25 informal meetings;
  • undertook participant observation at 3 civic hacks;
  • were given 4 tours of facilities and 2 of the city;
  • presented 7 invited talks (at MIT (3), Harvard, Northeastern, UMass Boston and Analog Devices);
  • attended 8 other workshops/conferences (Bits and Bricks at MIT; Using Technology to Engage Constituents and Improve Governance at Northeastern; Civic Media meetup at MIT; Urban Mobility in Green Cities at Boston Univ; Microsoft Civic Innovation; Climate Change Policy after Paris at Boston Univ; Digital GeoHumanities at Harvard; City Mart at NY Civic Hall).

The interviews were conducted with a range of different stakeholders including municipal, regional and state-level government officials, various agencies, university researchers, and companies.  The research focused on mapping out the smart city landscape in general terms, with a particular in-depth focus on various data-driven initiatives in the metro area, transportation solutions, civic hacking, the development of civic tech, procurement of smart city technologies, and emergency management response.

Along with the 29 interviews conducted on previous visits, we now have a rich dataset of over 100 interviews to analyse in order to make sense of the Boston Metro area’s use of smart city technologies and to compare with Dublin (for which we have a couple of hundred interviews).  That said, we’ve not quite finished with the fieldwork and a couple of team members will be back at some point to extend their work.  We’ll also be returning for the Association of American Geographers conference which is being held in Boston in 2017 to present some of our findings.

We would like to thank everyone who agreed to take part in our research and for generously sharing their knowledge, insights and time, and also for helping to introduce us to other potential interviewees and generally steer us in the right direction.  We very much appreciate the excellent hospitality we received during our visit.  The next task is to get all the interviews transcribed and to start the coding work.  No small task!

Rob Kitchin

Seminar: “Smartcontracts and smartcities, displacing power through authentication?”

We are delighted to have Dr. Gianluca Miscione as a guest speaker on Wednesday 18th May at 3pm, Iontas Building, room 2.31 for the fourth of our Programmable City seminars this year.

Gianluca Miscione joined the group of Management Information Systems at the School of Business of University College Dublin in June 2012. Previously, he worked as Assistant Professor in Geo-Information and Organization at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and Geo-Information Management, Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation, University of Twente, Netherlands. He received his Ph.D. in Information Systems and Organization from the Sociology Department of the University of Trento, in collaboration with the Sociology Department of Binghamton University New York and the School of International Service of American University in Washington DC. While at the Department of Informatics of the University of Oslo, he broadened his research on information infrastructures on the global scale. Gianluca conducted and contributed to research in Europe, Latin America, India, East Africa, and on the Internet. The focus remained on the interplay between technologies and organizing processes with a specific interest on innovation, development, organizational change and trust.

Gianluca will be talking about organizing processes related to automation of authentication in “smart contracts” exploring what novel forms of ‘sociation’ smart contracts entangle with.

ProgCity_Seminar_2016_1_GM

Reflecting upon hackathons by their participants

Thomas James Lodato and Carl DiSalvo give a good overview of what hackathons are in their recent article:

Hackathons are rapid design and development events at which volunteer participants come together to conceptualize, prototype, and make (mostly digital) products and services.

Coupling with the rapid pace of conceptualising a product or service, prototyping and making do with limited time and resources during the event, is the competition with other teams for the prizes, ranging from cash rewards to a spot in an incubator programme that could potentially transform the initial idea at a hackathon into a startup success.

We often see coverage of the winning teams, their ideas and sometimes their presentations before the judging panel. However, we do not necessarily know how participants reflect upon their own experiences, problems they encounter along the way and adjustments to their goals and strategies under time pressure.

In this blogpost, we try to give a glimpse of these aspects by asking participants how and what they did in the Global Data Fest/Smart City Hackathon which took place in Dublin between 6 – 8 March, 2015. The videos were taken before the teams presented their ideas to the judges, which means they did not know who were going to win and thus the conversation was not about their ‘winning experiences’. Instead, the videos are about how they took into account of all sorts of challenges and the advice they received from the mentors to finish their project. In doing so, we also wish to create cultural memory for the participants and for one the various pursuits of transforming Dublin into a smart city.

Here they are!

Project: Life Tracking

Project: EmuLUX

Project: CityBuzz

Project: BikeRack

Project: Bintel

Project: BedCount

We thank the participants and also David Prendergast from Intel, who also gave a talk for our seminar series, for making the videos happen.

Sung-Yueh

Unpacking Dublin as an emergent smart city

The Smart Dublin (SD) initiative has been promoted by Dublin City Council in collaboration with the other three local authorities of the Dublin city region to identify “open challenges” and to “drive innovation and collaboration in the development of new urban solutions, using open data and with the city region as a test bed”. (1)

Since its commencement in June 2015, the Smart Dublin initiative has conducted four one-day workshops with the employees from each local authority (Dublin City Council, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, Fingal County Council, South Dublin County Council) to draw on their practical knowledge of the challenges facing the Dublin region, as well as to note all the existing cases of smart city technologies and practices in each area for a new website, SmartDublin.ie, explaining Dublin’s merits as a Smart City and the challenges ahead.

From June to December of 2015, a number of case studies (2) and challenges have been collected and identified, and then further studied by Prog City project researchers to create case study texts for SmartDublin.ie. The ‘soft launch’ of SmartDublin.ie was on the 5th of October 2015 with a number of these case studies, and the final, more complete, website will be launched on the 8th of March, 2016, at Dublin City Hall.

Wow! Tickets for @smartdublin launch event snapped up in a few hours.We want you there!Last few tickets click here https://t.co/C7UhD0UGgX

— SmartDublin (@smartdublin) February 19, 2016

SD intends to act as a driver and connector for a step-change, coordinative transformation in Dublin’s smart city policies, moving from an approach based on the ‘creative city’ and entrepreneurism towards a larger emphasis on service delivery and efficiency, although keeping the link with start-ups and open innovation processes as well as developing different forms of procurement and the deployment of smart technology in an urban setting.

In particular, a specific form of procurement, called “procurement by challenge”, has been adopted by SD from Citymart, a consultancy agency located in Barcelona. Traditionally, procurement is based on identifying both problem and its solution, and then tendering for the chosen solution. In contrast, “Procurement by Challenge” is based upon, firstly, identifying problems as “open challenges to entrepreneurs and citizens”, and secondly, seeking the solutions themselves using this process, awarding the actual development contract to the team which came up with the best solution. (3)

Thus conceived, SD is at the centre of various events and projects occurring in Dublin since autumn 2015 (Web Summit, SD soft launch, Open Agile Smart Cities seminar, Future of Cities seminar, Smart City tour, Smart District etc.). Its mandate is to provide a platform for smart city governance and innovation in order to make Dublin a global player in smart cities and the Internet of Things, while coping at the same time with the limited role of the public sector in urban transformation due to the recent recession and related austerity drive and the commensurate need to reduce the costs of public services.

The new ‘smart city atmosphere’ created and promoted through SD shows the following interrelated features, marking a significant change in the how Dublin tackles governance and innovation:

  • a challenge-driven form of urban innovation: it reframes the procurement relations between public and private sector to mobilise resources focused on “problems instead of solutions” and to establish shared governance practices and standards;
  • a test-bedding approach: urban space becomes a distributed laboratory in which to test smart city technologies based on big data and the Internet of Things, creating test sites that might help solve challenges faced by Dublin; “allowing to explore smart city solutions in a space small enough to trial and wide enough to prove”;
  • mutable scales: a shift from the Dublin city core to the Dublin city region scale as a joint endeavour of the four local authorities. This changes to the scale of “networked cities” when confronting with the global settings,  such as in the case of Open Agile Smart Cities.

A number of recently initiated ProgCity case study projects aim to explore how these changes affect Dublin urban space and management, starting from the settings where the new forms of procurement and test-bedding are generated and adopted

The objective is to understand how smart city management ideas circulate and interact with the adoption of smart technologies, thus shaping Dublin organizational, technological and everyday settings. Research will focus on different processes occurring in test-bed and procurement:

  • accidental smart urbanism through multiple co-existing, co-evolving and conflicting forms of algorithmic governance applied to traffic control, environmental monitoring and crowd management;
  • anticipation and demonstration as coordination devices and performative devices: how procurement and testbedding embody and enact anticipation and demonstration dynamics, how they interact with the spatial change of scale of Dublin and perform its specific material, social, cultural urban arrangements and finally how they make sense of accidental and fragmented smart city landscape.

Two other projects are looking at existing and emerging Smart City case studies in Dublin:

  • Real-Time Passenger Information (RTPI): this looks at the interaction between code and space resulting from the implementation of this technology into Dublin’s transport systems. This case study will seek to examine a real-world data assemblage in relation to how data flows interact with spatial flows;
  • Smart Districts: this work follows an emerging project that seeks to harness the large-scale urban developments in the Dublin Docklands as an exemplar for trialling smart technologies. This will look at how smart technologies become part of urban masterplanning in the context of a large urban development with many actors involved in planning and decision-making.

These two projects will examine real-world examples of transduction and translation; how the city interacts with code, each continually reshaping the other. In the case of RTPI, this is concerned with how code and physical movement interact, and in the case of Smart Districts, how urban space is co-configured with smart technologies.

Together, these projects will seek to unpack Dublin as an emerging ‘Smart City’, following how the concept itself takes form through the interplay of new technologies and new ways of procurement. Also, they will look at how urban big data are tested and used to regulate and shape the temporal and spatial dimension of urban space, as well as social relations.

Claudio Coletta, Liam Heaphy

References

(1) SD report “Local authority challenge identification workshops” (2015, unpublished).

(2) http://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/progcity/2015/12/dublin-as-a-smart-city/

(3) http://www.citymart.com

New paper in Information, Communication and Society: Thinking critically about and researching algorithms

A new paper by Rob Kitchin – Thinking critically about and researching algorithms – has just been published (online first) in Information, Communication and Society.

Abstract

More and more aspects of our everyday lives are being mediated, augmented, produced and regulated by software-enabled technologies. Software is fundamentally composed of algorithms: sets of defined steps structured to process instructions/data to produce an output. This paper synthesises and extends emerging critical thinking about algorithms and considers how best to research them in practice. Four main arguments are developed. First, there is a pressing need to focus critical and empirical attention on algorithms and the work that they do given their increasing importance in shaping social and economic life. Second, algorithms can be conceived in a number of ways – technically, computationally, mathematically, politically, culturally, economically, contextually, materially, philosophically, ethically – but are best understood as being contingent, ontogenetic and performative in nature, and embedded in wider socio-technical assemblages. Third, there are three main challenges that hinder research about algorithms (gaining access to their formulation; they are heterogeneous and embedded in wider systems; their work unfolds contextually and contingently), which require practical and epistemological attention. Fourth, the constitution and work of algorithms can be empirically studied in a number of ways, each of which has strengths and weaknesses that need to be systematically evaluated. Six methodological approaches designed to produce insights into the nature and work of algorithms are critically appraised. It is contended that these methods are best used in combination in order to help overcome epistemological and practical challenges.

The final version is available here and a pre-print version of the paper can be downloaded here.

New paper in Big Data and Society: What makes big data, big data?

Rob Kitchin and Gavin McArdle have a new paper – What makes big data, big data? Exploring the ontological characteristics of 26 datasets – published in Big Data and Society.

Abstract

Big Data has been variously defined in the literature. In the main, definitions suggest that Big Data possess a suite of key traits: volume, velocity and variety (the 3Vs), but also exhaustivity, resolution, indexicality, relationality, extensionality and scalability. However, these definitions lack ontological clarity, with the term acting as an amorphous, catch-all label for a wide selection of data. In this paper, we consider the question ‘what makes Big Data, Big Data?’, applying Kitchin’s taxonomy of seven Big Data traits to 26 datasets drawn from seven domains, each of which is considered in the literature to constitute Big Data. The results demonstrate that only a handful of datasets possess all seven traits, and some do not possess either volume and/or variety. Instead, there are multiple forms of Big Data. Our analysis reveals that the key definitional boundary markers are the traits of velocity and exhaustivity. We contend that Big Data as an analytical category needs to be unpacked, with the genus of Big Data further delineated and its various species identified. It is only through such ontological work that we will gain conceptual clarity about what constitutes Big Data, formulate how best to make sense of it, and identify how it might be best used to make sense of the world.

The paper is available for download as a PDF here.