Our friends over at the Tactical Technology Collective have recently published a new book summarizing their work on communication strategies for activism and advocacy. “Visualizing Information for Advocacy” is structured as a guide how to use visualization and data displays in advocacy campaigns for maximum impact. The authors distinguish between visualization and representation, whereas the former is understood as a display of factual data, while the latter as a display of a concept, often to appeal to personal values or emotions. These definitions might not have canonical status, but they work for the point the authors want to make. The text weaves in many historical and recent examples, starting with a great historical piece about the rendering of the Slave-Ship Brookes including its human cargo, an example of an effective use of visualization in a campaign for the abolition of slavery.
The book also mentions a number of visualization and data collection tools - almost in passing - which can be used to collect, analyze and visualize data. These references are clearly intended as starting points for further investigation. The only aspect I am missing in this book is what happens after the data is collected, the best visualization or representation chosen - how to turn these visualizations into action, disseminate them to the right people, forge alliances and embed them into other activities.
Overall, I am happy to see more books addressing visualization not in a generalized and abstract way, but with regard to a specific goal - how to affect policy and the political discourse. In this sense, our Accountability Technologies and Visualising Information for Advocacy make perfect companions.
After hard work by everyone involved, we are finally able to announce the publication of Accountability Technologies.
A big “Thank You” to all the authors and contributors.
cover (visualization of plagiarism in the doctoral dissertation of a former German defense Minister) by GutenPlag/User8
Table of Contents
Introduction Dietmar Offenhuber, Katja Schechtner
Data Is Political: Investigation, Emotion and the Accountability of Institutional Critique – Amber Frid-Jimenez, Ben Dalton
Civic, Citizen, and Grassroots Science: Towards a Transformative Scientific Research Model – Public Lab
Bejing Air Tracks: Tracking Data for Good – Sarah Williams
Legibilty from Below – Dietmar Offenhuber
Newspaper Front Page Analysis: How Do They Tell the Story? – Pablo Rey Mazón
Accountability Tech — Tools for Internal Activism – Leonardo Bonanni
Fighting Corruption Where and When It Happens — Ambient Accountability – Dieter Zinnbauer
Political Read-Write Culture and the Logic of Collective Action – Interview with Lawrence Lessig
Reflections on a Swarm – Plagdoc
Crowdsourcing a Street Fight – Aaron Naparstek
The Fab City: Hard and Soft Tools for Smart Citizens’ Production of the City – Tomás Diez
Answers from Within – Katja Schechtner
Crowdsourcing Situational Awareness – Interview with Patrick Meier
The foreword by Gabriele Kaiser, architekturforum oberösterreich”
“The basic need of civil society to live in responsibly planned and managed cities, to be involved in the planning process, or to at least be informed about it, has become a renewed focal point of debate in the past years.
While the incipient criticism of the institutionalized and oft-unquestioned decision- making chain of urban planning was accompanied by a basic struggle for more say and participation in the 1970s, the varieties of participation, the technical possibili- ties of knowledge transfer and the understanding of transparency—keyword Open Data—have fundamentally changed in today’s information society. Much suggests that the classic distribution of roles between public and “individual” responsibility and the interface between citizens, activists and government have to be re-negotiated under new conditions.
With the help of visualization, analysis and measurement tools subsumed under the term Accountability Technologies, as well as socio-cultural practices, extensive data on noise, environmental pollution, mobility and corruption, for instance, can be compiled and represented. This book exemplarily shows which socio-political areas of action are opened up by Accountability Technologies, but also which critical aspects are tied in with them. Such as, for example, the seemingly simple insight that the enormous convolutes of availably-made data are neither neutral, nor do they imply a better understanding of complex processes “per se.” The subtitle of this book indicates the direction: Accountability Technologies are to be understood as Tools for Asking Hard Questions, not as keys to ultimate answers.
Like the volume Inscribing a Square: Urban Data as Public Space (Springer Verlag, 2012), edited by Katja Schechtner and Dietmar Offenhuber as well, this publication also rests upon the precondition that architecture and urbanism go far beyond the physical space and the singularity of built structure. The basis for this book is pro- vided by the second edition of the symposium Sensing Place/Placing Sense, again carried out with exceptional cooperation between the AIT Austrian Institute of Tech- nology, the Ars Electronica and the afo architekturforum oberösterreich within the scope of the Ars Electronica Festival 2012.
Thanks to these initiatives at the interface of several disciplines, the increasingly dense interweaving of urban data and their physical context has been continued in such an exciting way under the aspect of Accountability Technologies. I would like to thank all those involved, especially the two editors, for their competence and commit- ment in realizing this book.
What began as a one-off publication now reveals itself—also in its graphic appear- ance—as a mutually related, mutually stimulating twosome.”
In his 1965 movie Alphaville, Jean-Luc Godard takes us to a city regulated and controlled by the omniscient computer “Alpha 60” based on principles of logic and reason. Allegedly, Godard originally intended to name his movie Tarzan versus IBM (Darke, 2005). As of 2012, this working title seems more pertinent than ever. The past year was marked by two big themes for cities and technology: first, the ubiquitous arrival of “smart city” solutions, peddled by companies such as IBM and CISCO to municipal governments in order to upgrade and optimize their urban infrastructure through information technology. Second, the success of civic protests and disobedience, coordinated bottom-up through social media—the “Arab Spring,” Wikileaks, the Spanish May 15 or the American Occupy movements, just to name a few.
This is a book about how information shapes the city: its sensory experience, its infrastructures and its places. We are interested in the ways different groups use urban information to make sense of public spaces and change them. Therefore, two processes are of special interest:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction Dietmar Offenhuber, Katja Schechtner
On Ambient Information Malcolm McCullough
Active Listening Sites Stadtmusik
SONIC VISTA — Re-Tuning Human Attention in Public Space, Listening to the Power of a City O+A Bruce Odland / Sam Auinger
On Infrastructure Legibility Dietmar Offenhuber
Tuneable Touch Ebru Kurbak
LightBridge: Embracing the Messiness, Exposing the Analytics Susanne Seitinger
Surviving in the Sentient City Mark Shepard in Conversation with Dietmar Offenhuber and Katja Schechtner
Taken Square: On the Hybrid Infrastructures of the #15M Movement Jose Luis de Vicente
Safecast Sean Bonner
On the Collection and Utilization of Human Mobility Data Katja Schechtner
Sense of Patterns Mahir M. Yavuz
Notes on the Design of Participatory Systems — For the City or for the Planet Usman Haque
The Killer App for Technology-infused Cities isn’t Efficiency, it’s Sociability
Anthony Townsend in Conversation with Dietmar Offenhuber and Katja Schechtner
Place Pulse MIT Media Lab
The Significance of Becoming Actors Sandrine von Klot
Kazamidori — Weathervane h.o
Top-Down/Bottom-Up Urbanism Nashid Nabian, Carlo Ratti
ZeitRaum Ars Electronica Futurelab
From Artifact to Artifice: The Mediatized Decomposition of Public Space Oliver Schürer
Los Ojos del Mundo MIT Senseable City Lab & Fabien Girardin
Here Now! Social Media and the Psychological City Sarah Williams
A great new tumblr from my friend Dieter Zinnbauer
How is your government talking to you?
What do all those official signs and placards that we encounter daily in public space add up to? What kind of general tone, what kind of sense of citizenship are authorities conveying through all the public signage that they are putting out?
My unscientific guess: it’s pretty loud and bullying. A felt 90% of public signs are about what is verboten!, what you are not allowed to do and all these prohibitions are communicated in a very harsh way.
So the take away is: we have lots of responsibilities and there are lots of rules we better comply with. But how about telling us a bit more about our rights? What we are entitled to and can expect from our governments? This is what ambient accountability is all about. A nice effort to reverse the patronizing and bullying public messaging comes from Russia. The Transparency International chapter there has come up with a very creative sticker campaign to encourage citizens to snap pictures of public services and their (dis)functions. Check out above how their smiley camera breaks up the stream of public prohibitions.
Is anyone aware of any more scientific assessment of these public semiotic landscapes and the type and tone of messaging that is prevalent? Please do get in touch!
Basurama’s Pablo Rey will organize a public waste audit at the MIT media lab this Saturday. Last year, I worked with Pablo on an similar project in Berlin.
from Pablo: “We are working on the logistics for the Picturing 2 tons of waste installation. I’ve made an initial draft of how we want to proceed with the rearrangement of waste. The first approach is to classify waste by material (recyclables, food waste, wood, metal, etc). Then to organize waste by color and then use that separation to construct different data visualization. It’s yet unclear if we are going to be able to weight it, maybe measure volume and estimate weight? The data visualizations can be based on the numbers extracted from previous MIT or Cambridge audits.”
The beginning of useful visualization / search tools for a inherently messy and difficult data set. Browsing and searching the diplomatic cables is surprisingly smooth …
Activists Organize March And Rally Against Police Stop And Frisks. (AFP Photo / Mario Tama, source: rt.com)
Yesterday, Manhattan’s Federal District Court has ruled the stop and frisk practice of the NYPD, which allows police offices to search and question any citizen they suspect of being about to commit a crime, unconstitutional.
I will use this not entirely unexpected ruling as an occasion to talk mention a few related social accountability initiatives. The NY Civil Liberty union has acquired a data set of all stop-and-frisk incidents since 2003, that clearly shows the racial bias of this practice.
In a class project, the ITP student Luis Daniel used this data set to analyze the spatial patterns of these incidents. The demographic information disclosed in the supposedly anonymous data makes it possible to identify individuals with a high degree of likelihood, as the computer scientist Latanya Sweeney has demonstrated elsewhere. Based on this premise, Daniel was able identify individuals that were stopped more than 5 times in 2011 alone, all of them concentrated in a few precincts of the city.
Solutionism presumes rather than investigates the problem it is trying to solve, reaching for the answer before the questions have been fully asked.
I’m thrilled that a team of Peruvian developers has developed an Arduino-based environmental sensor that can monitor UV radiation, humidity, temperature, and particulate matter. But will the data hold up in a court case when environmental activists sue industrial contaminators? And if not, then why collect the data at all?
David Sasaki, On Hackathons and Solutionism
Yes I totally agree - this sentiment was in fact the initial impulse for the accountability technologies initiative. In the flood of sociopolitically motivated data and technology projects, it is essential to focus on questions of how to make these efforts actionable.
thanks Jose-Luis for the link!
Ambient accountability can be broadly described as all efforts that seek to shape, use and engage systematically with the built environment and public places and the ways people experience and interact in them, in order to further transparency, accountability and integrity of public authorities and services.
The concept provides a fresh perspective to think about accountability mechanisms as strategic spatial interventions that empower people right in the place, right at the time when they have to deal with potentially corrupt public officials and service providers, or when they happen to pass by project sites or institutions where corruption issues may surface.
Many Bills, a project by IBM researcher Yannick Assogba, is a visual explorer for congressional legislation introduced by individual state representatives.
The site tries to reveal what the different parts of a bill (and their relationship to the representative) may be about.
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