Data Empowerment Design Studio

Co-creatively imagining and realizing alternative urban futures

We developed the idea for Data Empowerment Design Studio’s when working on citizen empowerment in smart city research, as we sought ways to productively engage citizens in matters that - at first sight - seem (or are considered) complex, invisible, untouchable, unchangeable and uninteresting to (by) them. However - informed by the concept of the Right to the City - we strongly believe that city-making should be a democratic process in which citizens can engage in developing future images of their neighbourhoods and cities and be involved in their development and governance.

We consider futures-driven design processes as an effective means to support citizens to collectively and collaboratively develop their thoughts and to render their opinions and concerns regarding their ‘Right to the City’ tangible. According to Christopher Le Dantec (2016), long-term co-creative design processes help to bring together different stakeholders with different concerns, beliefs and interests to jointly - as ‘publics’ - explore and address social issues. These design processes should be organized in such a way that those who are affected the most have the most prominent voices in the process. Ideally, this would support them in developing their own organizations or movements to bring about change (cf., Mulder & Kun, 2019).

In Data Empowerment Design Studios, we use futures and design-driven processes to engage stakeholders in city-making, with the intention to develop publics, by

  1. designing the process and
  2. supporting co-creative development of shared imaginaries and prototyping of associated objects, services, processes, strategies, policies, organizations and actions to render these communicable, tangible, manageable, negotiable and testable.

According to Kurt Lewin, a pioneer in the field of action research, actively working on (designing) something and developing knowledge about it go hand in hand. Action researchers initiate, facilitate and actively participate in initiatives and experiments, while at the same time observing and analysing these activities (Wittmayer & Schäpke, 2014). Ideally, they are intensively involved in concrete projects/experiments for a longer period of time, through which they, together and on equal footing with those involved, explore problem and solution spaces, design and perform experiments, make iterations and adjustments, and learn by doing.

From: Rijshouwer. E. (2022). Een pleidooi voor toekomst- en ontwerpgedreven actieonderzoek ten behoeve van data empowerment in de slimme stad.