Due date : April 26 (end of day)

The goal of this assignment is to sensitize you to the ways in which data is continually produced in contemporary social settings. In another context we might talk about the opportunities this holds for social researchers, many of whom have welcomed the "data deluge" as an opportunity to invent new ways of knowing the social. In the context of this class, however, we will mostly discuss its ethical implications---the ways in which the research process is shot through with ethical concerns when it takes place in data-saturated environments.

Canadian media scholar Alison Powell came up with the idea for data walkshops with the express purpose of "opening up civic discussions about data and its ethics within urban space." A variation on the ethnographic go-along method, it has been adopted by scholars around the world, including the Centre for BOLD Cities in our own region.

Powell describes the data walkshop as "a radically bottom-up process of exploring and defining data, big data and data politics from the perspectives of groups of citizens, who walk, observe, discuss and record connections between data, processes of datafication, and the places that they live in" (p. 213). In this assignment, you will plan, carry out and report on a data walk. Each student will submit a brief report (around 800 words) with supporting materials such as maps, photographs and notes taken en route. While we take inspiration from Powell's format (also succinctly discussed in this interview), we make a few modifications. We trust the assignment description that follows is detailed enough, but please let us know if you have any further questions.

During the walk, you will focus on data hubs: objects or sites that collect data. Examples include customer loyalty cards, ATMs, traffic cameras, RIFD tracking systems, OV chip card scanners, QR codes, parking meters, air quality meters, but the list could go on and on.

A data walk should involve participants, each taking on a different role, such as navigator, note-taker or photographer. For the purposes of this assignment, you should involve at least one other person, meaning you will complete it in pairs. You are free to involve more people, but only if that doesn't cause you extra work or delays. Your participant could be a roommate or a family member (not a fellow CADS student, but somebody coming to the walk with a different perspective).

Plan your walk someplace convenient, for instance in your own neighborhood, and restrict it to about one hour. You should make at least a rough plan for your walk ahead of time. Most importantly, remember these questions from Powell's summary, and try to set yourself up for an affirmative answer: "Can [these activities] provoke joy, curiosity and engagement? New ways to tell stories and new ways of thinking about why data matters?"

You may also ride by bike, but we advise not to drive unless you or your participant is unable to be mobile in other ways.

Your report should address the planning, execution and your reflection on the data walk. You may take the following points as a guide as you complete the assignment:

  1. Plan your walking route ahead of time. Make a map or list some landmarks you intend to pass on your walk.
  2. What will you look for? Which data hubs do you expect to encounter along the way?
  3. Collect evidence. Take pictures or bring back objects from your walk.
  4. Tell a story. Why did you walk where you walked? What was an important thread that you decided to follow? What did you learn about your environment? Did the other participant in your walkshop see things differently?
  5. Discuss the results. How visible are the data hubs you spotted? What kinds of data do they collect? Who owns the data? Where are they stored? What value might they bring to you or others? What do you think are the "costs" of data collection---in terms of the technology required for its collection, the likely environmental impact, encroachments on privacy, or possible "chilling effects"?

Please write your report in clear and coherent prose. Use proper references as needed.

Here's hoping your walk is stimulating and sunny! ☀️