Data Walking: How the City's Data Shape our Lives


Photo Credit: Melina Jana Harzer

Anna Ptasinska for Shifted News

Data and algorithms shift and shape how we engage and interact each day. Understanding how this data affects our everyday behavior is something that is necessary for human progress and development. Katrin Fritsch & Helene von Schwichow are two Masters students in media and communication studies respectively who have hosted a Data Walking Workshop at the POP-UP Room at #rp18.

What is data walking you may ask? It's a term describing a research process coined by Alison Powell where data is gathered through collaborative walks around urban spaces. The process allows people to observe, reflect and seek insight into how data influences the civic space when they are taking on roles as photographers, note-takers, and map-makers. Through this, the concept of data is drastically shifted. With it comes new understanding of what data means for key social issues.

Living in a society where many aspects of our lives are translated into data, the term ‘datafication’ is a recurring theme during this workshop. “This term [datafication] is used so we can look at how, more cryptically, data shapes our behaviors and our social lives” explains Katrin. 

The idea for the workshop hosted by the two was used to help people understand their positions and engagement with urban spaces, because in this day and age, everything is integrated. 

They have pushed for data to become more noticeable than before. “We want people to understand and know how to hack the data traces that they are leaving, how they interact and move around cities through Google Maps, and how this shapes their decisions,” says Helene. 

While many still separate the concept of digital and analogue in the form of binary thinking, this workshop shifted the thought processes for us to realize that the two worlds are more entangled with each other than we initially thought. 

During the workshop, people are separated into groups where roles are defined to help people understand data from a technical and an individual perspective. These groups then disperse to assess where to walk and what data to observe. Later, upon their return, each group reports back and narrates their walk, what they’ve observed within the space, and how this has made them question data. 

With a better understanding of data and technology within our everyday lives, society can become more culturally-aware and mindful of each other and the spaces which we occupy.