A Maynooth University researcher has been awarded a €2.4 million (US$2.5 million) European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant for a project to map out property and planning data in Dublin and bring it to life in new ways using creative and artistic approaches.
It is hoped that the new methodology can contribute to tackling issues such as the city’s affordable housing crisis and could ultimately be applied to sectors beyond property.
The five-year ‘Data Stories: Producing stories about and with property and planning data’ project will document in detail how property data is collected and used by different agencies such as government departments, local authorities, homeless organisations and real estate companies.
According to Professor Rob Kitchin, charting a full property and planning data ecosystem for a city in such “forensic detail” has not been done in this way before.
“The key idea of the Data Stories project is to focus critical attention on the underlying evidence base for planning and property activity,” he told capitaltribunenews.com. “Planning and property data are a key to how cities are understood and managed. They inform government policy, shape public perception and guide billions of euros of investment relating to land use and development, public and private housing, homelessness, commercial real estate and infrastructure.”
The project aims to tackle two key issues that have been identified with the evidence base: fragmentation of data across organisations and the fact that data is often taken at face value without meaningful assessment of its quality, veracity and ‘data politics’.
Phase one of the project will chart the city’s data ecosystem, incorporating all the databases, their content and interconnections across state, business and civic society stakeholders, including transnational exchanges. The aim is to examine how data is generated, processed, shared and governed, and to identify any gaps.
Phase two will focus in more detail on how 12 case study stakeholders use data. As well as using traditional interviews, focus groups and observation, the participants will be invited to collaborate with writers and artists to help them think more creatively and critically about their data through techniques such as improvisational writing, word play and data visualisation.
Kitchin said: “By their very nature, creative approaches should produce different kinds of insight and knowledge than traditional methods as they are designed to prompt reflection, exploration and experimentation.
“We have run some research-creation workshops in a previous project, and while participants were often sceptical beforehand, they found them very productive because they opened up new ideas and possibilities that led to new lines of work. Running the creative methods alongside traditional social science methods will enable us to assess their salience and utility.”
It is not the first time Kitchin has applied creative approaches to city thinking. In 2019, he co-edited a book titled How to Run a City Like Amazon, and Other Fables which uses speculative fiction to reflect on how cities are managed and governed.
While the latest project will focus on Dublin, the aim is for the approach being developed to be applicable to other cities in Ireland and abroad. The methods and concepts could also be applied to other forms of data beyond property, such as health, education and transport.
The new research team will include four researchers, two creative writers, and two artists at Maynooth.
ERC Advanced Grants are awarded for “ground-breaking, high-risk” projects by researchers who demonstrate originality and significance in their work.
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