Human Ecosystems in New Haven: the human-driven data city and the ubiquitous commons

Human Ecosystems in New Haven: the human-driven data city and the ubiquitous commons

Back from a Yale World Fellowship the Human Ecosystems project has started in the city of New Haven with the active participation of the City of New Haven Administration, Yale University, the Grove, and multiple organisations throughout the city, exploring the futures of smart cities and smart communities, and the radical transformations which are taking place in our societies and our daily  lives with the advent of ubiquitous technologies.

Human Ecosystems in New Haven: Mayor Toni Harp and Salvatore Iaconesi

Human Ecosystems in New Haven: Mayor Toni Harp and Salvatore Iaconesi

The Project

The Human Ecosystems project captures public conversations from major social networks to describe the flows of information, knowledge, opinions and emotions in cities.

Public conversations are harvested from the city and processed using Natural Language Analysis to understand what people talk about, their emotions, the places, people and brands they mention, and the ways in which all of these flow and change across time, geography and contexts, also in relation to news, events, and situations.

All of this information is released under the form of a real-time source of Open Data, so that it becomes accessible to the whole population, under a reciprocity license.

This information is used to create a wide, accessible, inclusive education process, through a museum and a diffused laboratory.

The museum is called the Real-Time Museum of the City, and it allows visitors to experience the flows of information, knowledge, emotions and opinions through a series of interactive information visualisations featuring maps, social graphs and timelines.

In the museum people can understand how to ask questions to the city, by combining themes, locations, emotions and languages.

Very interesting questions can be asked through this system.

For example one might want to understand how people in the city feel about their work (for example by asking “which people fear about losing their job?”), getting geographical maps and relational graphs as a result, showing in which neighbourhoods people have expressed such emotions, the relations constructed through the conversations about the topic, and their evolution through time (for example to understand the transformation of the situation as time goes by, or in relation to specific events or news).

The questions can be focused on specific languages, (for example Italian and Spanish, among the 29 supported languages), to be able to identify specific communities and social groups.

This possibility is further expanded in the diffused Laboratory of the Human Ecosystems.

Here workshops are held for citizens, children, elderly, designers, researchers, artists, entrepreneurs, organisations and public administrations to teach them ways in which they can use this data for their own purposes.

Children can use it in playful ways to learn more about their city, and to create school projects. Designers can use it to create interesting visualisations or services. Artists can use the data for artworks, novel forms of craftsmanship, toys or other forms of creative uses. Researchers can use it for anthropology, economy, statistics, sociology, urban planning, psychology, linguistics, and more. Entrepreneurs can use it to invent novel services, and to bring up new forms of shared economies. Public administrations can use the data to implement dashboards to monitor communities, or to create participated decision making processes and governance processes.

In general, Citizens can use the data to understand more about their cities, about the ways in which communities and groups form, about how information, knowledge and emotions spread across the communities, and how to organise themselves, using peer-to-peer modalities, to achieve form of civic action, novel shared and participatory economies, citizen funding for projects and initiatives, coordination practices for mobility, recyclyng, working, sharing time, caring, and much more

And, of course, these are only a few of the possible uses.

Human Ecosystems in New Haven

In New Haven we have started the project together with Yale World Fellowship, New Haven City administration, Yale Urban Design Workshop, Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, Yale Center for Emotional IntelligenceThe Grove New Haven, Yale Design and Innovation Club, Peace Islands Institute, the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven and the Italian Society of Yale Students and Affiliates, with the support of the Eisenhower Fellowships.

Human Ecosystems in New Haven: the poster of the opening

Human Ecosystems in New Haven: the poster of the opening

We have started the data harvesting process using the technique explained here, and we have started hosting it on a temporary data store which we used to create the first visualisations, used for presentations, workshops and exhibits.

During our stay in New Haven we have already performed a series of presentations and workshops, to introduce the project to the communities in the city, and to get a feeling of how the Human Ecosystems could be introduced in the city.

The workshops, for example, provided citizens, students, designers and young entrepreneurs with a set of basic tools which can be used to access the data which has already been captured, to produce visualisations and concepts for services and applications.

Among the most interesting outcomes in terms of topics that were assessed are mobility, recycling, racial issues (during our stay the Ferguson facts took place), gender issues, active citizen participationhealth and well-being, with students, citizens and artists producing a variety of concepts, visualisations and insights.

An initial exhibit was held on December 9th at the New Haven City Hall, at the presence of Mayor Toni Harp, to officially present the project to the city, and as inauguration of the activities which will follow up in these next months. In the exhibit 12 prints were made to depict a series of indicators in the city: the geographic distribution of certain emotions in the city; the languages spoken; the analysis of the communities interested and engaged in important topics such as mobility and education; a description of the flows of opinions related with different news and events (such as the elections and the Ferguson unrests) happened during our stay.

An interactive version of the exhibit was held on December 12th at the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, in which visitors could actually play with the data, and start using it in accessible ways to ask questions to the city.

At the current time the main objective is to combine the resources and opportunities offered by all of the partners to make the transition of the data and of the harvesting and processing operations to servers which are hosted by the city administration, so that they can be maintained and preserved as a shared, public value, a commons.

This will happen within the first quarter of 2015, so that all the follow-up activities will be able to start:

  • the implementation of dashboards for traffic, mobility, education, art, culture, emotions, gender and racial issues, of the languages in the city, and more;
  • the start of the on-going education processes, through workshops, classes and by facilitating peer-learning modalities;
  • the connection with other sources of Open Data which are available in the city;
  • the first research projects on Linguistics, Emotional Intelligence and Urban Design.

We are also working together with the many universities and other education institutions of the area (for example high schools and libraries), in order to make sure that the data (and its related practices) becomes perceived and available to all of them, as well as the object of exploration, student projects, artworks, designs and more.

The Ubiquitous Commons

During our stay in New Haven, a series of critical issues also emerged, as part of a broader, international discussion about the effects of ubiquitous technologies and about the algorithmic/computational shift in political and economic schemes, and in the transformation of power architectures.

Among the most interesting issues which were raised are:

  • Surveillance
    • What happens when all of our daily actions, gestures and even our bodies constantly generate data through social networks, sensors, health devices, mobile transactions, in the Big Data scenario?
    • How can we become aware about who has access to the data we produce, in the age of computation and algorithms, in which, for example, everything we post on social networks is processed by myriads of different and opaque algorithms enacted by different agencies (social networks operators, advertisers, researchers, secret services, telcos…)?
    • How can we protect ourselves, to make sure that this data we produce is used only by the people and organisations we decide?
  • Access
    • How can we access this data in ethical and open ways?
    • Now we are in a scenario in which we, the people who produce this data, are the only ones who cannot use it: the operators can access it; secret services can access it; secret services can access it; corporations can access it (by purchasing it);
    • Only we are left out from the enormous benefits which can come through this form of access, to create new economies, new participatory practices, new forms of community and collaborative caring, new jobs, new social roles, and much, much more.
  • Inclusion
    • How do we deal with the fact that this data only represents one part of the population? (e.g.: the people who use social networks)
    • How can we create more inclusion, for example creating literacy and access to Internet and social networks, or by using the Human Ecosystems in extended processes, designed to include larger parts of the community?
    • How can we create bridges among different communities, and within them?
  • Divides
    • How do we deal with the fact that only a limited part of the population is able to deal with this data, or with the concepts which this data defines, or with technologies in general?
    • How can we enact processes and practices through which more literacy is created, and in which peer-to-peer caring is developed, to diminish the divides?

All of these themes are really connected with one another.

We respond to these critiques in a series of ways:

  • Education
    • Education constitutes a major, fundamental component of the Human Ecosystems project;
    • learn what kinds of information and knowledge can be generated by combining different types of data and types of data;
    • learning how to use the data; learn about its existence; learn its possible uses; learn how to create new uses for it;
    • learn how to teach other people, of different kinds, occupations, communities and cultures, at various levels of technological, technical and cultural skills;
    • learn how to understand how this information is used, and how to protect yourself and your community from usages which you do not want to allow, through critical use of tools and practices, and through the knowledge of the law;
  • Linked Open Data
    • connect the data/information/knowledge produced through Human Ecosystems to other forms of data (such as census, energy, transport, communications, and data coming from sensors, other sources of Open Data, and more);
    • learn how to use these connections to understand what is on the maps and also what is not on the maps (for example because there is no network coverage in that area, or because mainly elderly people live in that specific area);
    • learn how to design alternative ways in which to generate data in more inclusive ways, and how to link/connect these to the other data sets;
  • Toolkits
    • toolkits (technical, technological, and legal) for privacy, to avoid surveillance, to make sure that our data is accessed in the way we want (see Ubiquitous Commons);
    • toolkits to create information visualisations, to develop applications, apps, services (technological, programming, documentation);
    • tools for workshops, presentations and lessons, designed for multiple types of audiences, communities and targets, including active citizens, children, students, researchers, public administrators, entrepreneurs, artists, designers;
  • Participatory practices
    • focus on the possibility to understand the Relational Ecosystems of cities to create participatory processes which engage entire communities, and which use bridges among different ones to create inclusion and activation;
    • use the approaches of P2P Ethnography to gain better understandings about the social architectures of cities, and share this knowledge and methodology with the citizens in order to enable them to create inclusion and accessibility beyond social networks, and to create shared actions and knowledge;
    • focus on the Third Information Landscape, capturing the polyphony of micro-histories on the territory of the city, and using them to describe the territory in complex, emergent ways;
  • Ubiquitous Commons

The Ubiquitous Commons, in particular, is the initiative which enable to confront all of the previous issues.

As described on the website:

“The Ubiquitous Commons is the commons in the age of Ubiquitous Technologies.”

It is an international effort which is being dedicated to finding ways in which to transform the “rights to use” of the data and information we produce through ubiquitous technologies, turning into a protocol.

Wether it’s data generated on social networks, biosensors, cameras, or processed through layers upon layers of algorithms combining energy, financial, mobility, or other techniques, the Ubiquitous Commons is a protocol, allowing people to declare how they wish their data to be used: by who, for what purposes and in which ways.

If this has become common practice (for example using the Creative Commons) for videos, sound files and images, it is still complicated and, sometimes, even impossible for the data which we generate everyday through ubiquitous technologies.

The Ubiquitous Commons will be a toolkit composed by:

  • an international legal toolkit using which people and organisations will be able to declare how they wish the information and knowledge produced under these schemes and modalities shall be used;
  • a series of technical/technological tools to establish a “protocol” using which people and organisations may declare how these kinds of information and knowledge have “some rights reserved”;
  • the schemes according to which these information and knowledge may be “protected” or “published”, across civic uses, private ones, limited private (with a specified set of subjects..), public domain or else;
  • a series of accessible, usable, inclusive ways in which people and organisations will be able to use the Ubiquitous Commons in their daily lives and practices.

Currently, this is among our priorities, with the collaboration of Yale University, the Metodista University in Brazil, ISIA Design in Florence, the P2P Foundation, LABSUS at Luiss University, NeFuLa, Art is Open Source, and all the other city administrations, organisations and people which have joined the Human Ecosystems project up to now.


Here, below, some images about the Human Ecosystems in New Haven, and the press coverage it received up to now.

The opening at City Hall:

A lecture at the Yale School of Management:


The workshops at the Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design (CEID):


Workshop at the Grove, focusing on design and innovation:


Press coverage of the Human Ecosystems in New Haven: