This is a guest post by Katrin Fritsch and Helene von Schwichow who invited the visitors of re:publica 2018 to go on a data walk and thereby gain new perspectives on data in urban space.

We were excited when we received the confirmation for our data walk at re:publica 2018 in Berlin. As our workshop in the programme was only scheduled for an hour, our main aim was to give the participants an introduction to data walking and show them the possibilities of the method. Therefore, we only briefly explained the concepts and sent the groups on a short data walk in order to create awareness and leave time for the discussion.

Around thirty participants with various professional backgrounds joined our data walk and formed six groups. In our introduction we explained our broad definition of data, current dynamics of datafication and the idea of walking as an ethnographic method. At this point we also talked about the flaneur, a literary figure who is exploring and “reading” the city by going on large, extensive walks and has a special tradition in Berlin. We then explained the concept of data walking, the procedure, and the four different roles. In order to simplify the data walk we furthermore decided to renounce the role of the collector. We equipped each group with a clipboard, pens and paper and released them on their first data walk.

After twenty minutes of walking, we reunited the groups outside and initiated a discussion on findings and ideas. Very quickly we started a debate on how to really define data. Groups brought interesting examples ranging from disco balls over flashing lights to sounds. Based on that, we could start to talk about datafication and its relation to space. The massive amount of brand logos spotted was for many groups not only an indicator of datafication at re:publica, but also of the commercialisation and capitalisation of urban space.

Another interesting notion one group member brought into the discussion was the idea of security guards as data points, observing the moving people around them and hence not only having a lot of information, but also creating structures of power through surveilling others. This led us to give examples of CCTV cameras in London and show the relevance of data walking as a form of critically questioning information asymmetries, issues of privacy, and power structures.

Finally, we also discussed whether data simplifies our understanding of the environment in order to make our movements in the city more rapid, efficient and easy. This intersection between time/speed and data led to a great analogy with the literary figure of the flaneur as someone who positions himself against the speed of the city.

To summarise, re:publica18 as a conference for digital culture was a stimulating surrounding for the data walk, and all participants were very interested and committed. Even though one hour was surely not enough to sufficiently experience data walking, we believe we gave an introduction to the method and made people aware and excited about it.

Through the feedback and interest we got afterwards, it seems that more and more people are planning to do data walks in their cities, which we consider a great success.

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Pictures by Manuel Beltrán