More-than-Human Data Interactions in the Smart City
How might we design urban spaces to be more hospitable for a fox? How might a worm or a nettle plant experience the neighbourhood we live in? What kinds of urban data might a parakeet find useful? And how might digital infrastructure help us create more equitable living spaces for all urban inhabitants, human and non-human, big and small?
These are some of the questions that we have been asking in a research project called More-than-Human Data Interactions in the Smart City – or MoTH Cities.
There are many different ways data is collected about people, services and resources in our cities. Some of this data helps organisations make key decisions about the ecological health of urban spaces. Much of this data is managed by local authorities or environmental organisations and not always available to local communities seeking to improve their neighbourhoods with a diverse range of species. Data collection technologies and sharing strategies have also been designed with a focus on human behaviours and interactions.
In this project we used creative methods to decenter the human and instead draw attention to the ways in which humans and non-human others—such as soil, trees, foxes, weeds and insects—rely on each other to flourish in urban spaces. We are exploring what it means to design for data interactions through what we call a more-than-human perspective. This is to imagine other ways data could be collected, repurposed and interacted with to support diverse forms of life and enrich the ways that different species live together in the city.
Research aims and objectives
The overarching research question of this project is: How can we design data interactions in the smart city for more inclusive and sustainable urban cohabitations?
In order to answer this question, we have the following further research questions:
- How can we decenter the human in data interactions in smart cities?
- What new roles could data have across future urban interactions to better account for interdependencies of more-than-human smart cities?
- How can we broaden our perspectives of sustainability within smart cities beyond the dominant top-down, modernist, efficiency-led and behavioural-change narratives of sustainability that are typical in human-centered perspectives of data within smart cities?
We are exploring possible answers to these questions through a programme of participatory and design-led engagements with a variety of (human) stakeholders in London and elsewhere in the UK. These include workshops in community gardens and the development of proposals, design experiments and research tools that explore human/non-human relationships across different scales. Throughout, we are exploring opportunities for more-than-human data interactions that enrich multi-species relations by decentring the human and emphasising the diverse interdependencies necessary for all life to flourish.
The project is a collaboration between academics across five institutions and two project partners.
The team include investigators: Sara Heitlinger, Alex Taylor, Rachel Clarke, Cagatay Turkay, Alison Powell, Bill Gaver, and Andy Boucher; and researchers: Naho Matsuda, Andy Sheen, Dean Brown, Jen Molinara, Liliana Ovalle, and Mike Vanis.
Participating institutions include City, University of London, London School of Economics, Warwick University, Newcastle University, and Goldsmiths, University of London.
Project partners: Cordwainers Grow and the Roving Microscope.
The project received funding from the EPSRC-funded Human-Data Interaction network plus (EP/R045178/1 Human Data Interaction: Legibility, Agency, Negotiability / GU project reference 301671) through a call for projects on Beyond “Smart Cities” “– Human Data Interaction and the Future of the City.