The first year geography students at the University of Exeter use the data walkshop format for their ‘Data Geographies’ field trip. Here’s the description, syllabus and reading list for the trip.


Users of facebook and other social media may be very careful about what personal data they make available online, what privacy settings they use. But how do these concerns about personal data transfer to urban environments? When we’re walking along a street, catching a bus, using public transport, visiting a shopping centre, taking money from a cashpoint, having a coffee with our friends, … anything, what kinds of data transactions are taking place? How is personal information that we hold in our own ‘data technologies’ helping us to do these things? What other data technologies are in place where we are, collecting personal data from us? Where are these data relations most intense? Where are they weaker? How, in everyday life, do we surf and resist them, understand, mediate and disrupt the ways in which we are captured and processed as data? How do these technologies shape behaviour, commerce and place? These are the questions that we’ll be asking in this exercise, through taking part in a ‘data walkshop’.

Research focus

How can ‘data walking’ help us to better understand the geographies of our personal information?

Key introductory readings

Hitchen, G. (2015) Art, Data, Money – a walkshop. 16 October ( last accessed 20 October 2015)

McPherson, E. (2015) What is big data? Discovery through a data walkshop. Social media and human rights ( last accessed 20 October 2015)


What should we do?

Make sure you have read the bog posts above (Hitchen 2015 and McPherson 2015) before coming on the field trip.

We will begin this activity with a short exercise drawing attention to the data technologies we carry with us. After this, you will work in six small groups, walking in different directions from our starting point, doing what’s called a ‘flashmob ethnography’ (Forlano & Matthew 2014).

Each group’s task will be to walk through a particular urban landscape looking for the following:

  • places/interactions/technologies where personal data is provided/broadcast
  • places/interactions/technologies where personal data is checked or collected
  • one place where personal data exchange seems particularly intense
  • another place where personal data exchange is particularly quiet

Within the groups, each member has a separate research task to help record these data geographies.

Person 1 draws a sketchmap of where you go, and labels that map.
Person 2 writes notes about what you find, where, and how you discuss it.
Person 3 takes photographs of ‘data technologies’ along the route.
Person 4 collects things found en-route that have personal data in them.
Person 5 talks to people along the route to find out more information (buys something, for example)
Person 6 is the timekeeper, making sure the group get back to the starting point when they have to.

What data should we end up with?

By the end of your data walk, you will have – as a group – collected a wide variety of research data which, put together, will enable you to demonstrate how concerns about personal data and privacy have detailed and varied geographies in Bristol’s urban landscape. Together, you should be able to piece together a story of your data walk, the ebbs and flows of data intensity, the hot spots and cool places, and what you learn and feel about ‘big data from the bottom up’ (Couldry & Powell 2014).

Other relevant readings

Academic readings

Couldry, N. & Powell, A. (2014) Big data from the bottom up. Big data and society July-December, 1-5 (download here

Forlano, L. & Mathew, A. (2014) From design fiction to design friction: speculative and participatory design of values-embedded urban technology. Journal of urban technology 21(4), 7-14 (download here

Van Dijck, J. (2014) Datafication, dataism and dataveillance: big data between scientific paradigm and ideology. Surveillance and society 12(2), 197-208 (download here