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We first heard about the project SenseCityVity from Prof. Daniel Gatica-Perez (EPFL, Switzerland) and Prof. Salvador Ruiz Correa (CNS-IPICYT, Mexico) at the SEED grant conference hosted by the Cooperation and Development Office at EPFL. It was immediately obivous that the spirit of the project had something in common with ours, and we would like to learn more about the project, and possibly collaborate on some aspects.

To our delight, Prof. Gatica-Perez agreed to come talk about the project to the EPFL Spring 2015 team.

The action part of the project in the first year was a crowd-sourcing of “problems you see” by local technical school students in the Mexican city of Guanajuato, a UNESCO World Heritage site, a former colonial mining town. As computer and data scientists, they have analyzed the geolocalized social media data to “make the invisible, visible”.

There were several points articulated that is relevant to any project that have community and technology aspects. Here, we use Prof. Gatica-Perez’s slides to illustrate those points.

1) – That data and technology has its biases – socio-economic (age, education, income…), activity (pretty, trendy, cool places, things to do,…), and this maps out into a spatial bias – where not all of the city is represented, which becomes evident when the data and the activity are mapped onto the city.

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The project aimed to expose what is hidden by these biases, and engaged students at a local technical highschool to make it happen.

2) – The project became what it is, through letting the participants define what is important in communities.The diagram of the people and the process illustrates this well. There were co-design workshops that refined the project – “all the actors could see themselves where and how to participate on this diagram”. You can see the multidisciplinarity of the SenseCityVity project team here.

In short, it is good to practice some tested design methods. Prof. Gatica-Perez shared some links on co-design and using personas to have concrete discussions on participatory design.

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3) To have FUN – the community aspects, with small working teams coming together – made it different from, for example, fixmystreet, or Google’s efforts to crowd source and map the favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There is communication and community building. This is led by the team in Mexico.

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There was a Film Festival at the end to share the experiences- here is one of the films from the festival:

4) In addition, there is documentation on a different level. There are analytics, that validate this method as a way to use crowd sourcing for urban planning. By publishing academic papers, making contributions to computer science, urban planning, development, and social awareness available for the academic community: Ruiz-Correa, Santani and Gatica-Perez, “The Young and the City: Crowdsourcing Urban Awareness in a Developing Country”. [pdf].

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In the second year, they are working with the grandpas and grandmas to incorporate a historical layer to seeing the urban environment. We look forward to following the project as it grows – you can follow their facebook page or twitter account.

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