Data Commons

Data Commons investigates society's relationship with data and how it could have a beneficial future as an open resource.

This included a probe kit, a sensitizing probe, and a co-creation workshop.
Design Research & Methods project (ECUAD)
January - April 2019 (3 months)
Co-Design Facilitator
Graphic Designer

(along with Jennymae Lapurga, Declan O'Reilly, June Tang, Charlie Van)
How do we navigate the ethics and environmental impact of data storage?

How can we reframe our relationship with data for a positive future?
Problem Space
We looked at environmental issues surrounding data centres and people’s relationships to data.

There is a lack of understanding of what data is and how it is stored in data centres. As our interactions with digital devices are so seamless, we are often unaware of the energy needed to store data.

Pictured: Allison Chan, Jennymae Lapurga, Ash, Evan C., Natasha D., Rain
Mapping Our Research Process
Through our analyses of the outcomes from our cultural probe kits, our new perspective of data generated a shift in the direction of our inquiry.

We began to explore the ethics of data and a speculative future for how data could be used for good and fairly among the people.
iProbe: Cultural Probe Kit on Data Storage
As consumers produce and consume data via browsing the internet or generating and uploading content (via touch points like social media), we wanted to investigate our participants' personal relationships with data.
Paper Cards
(Data in Social Media)

A big part of data storage is from social media, which connects to self-expression. Each paper card had a prompt to create their own post.
We got people to express themselves through the physical paper so they can understand the physicality of data.
Data World Map/Calendar
(Data in Community & Global Interactions)

It asked to visualize their relationship with data on a global and national scale, mapping out the messages they send to people across Canada and the world.

Data calendar made participants think about how many messages/files/photos they put out daily, and the times they pick up their phones.
Data Will
(Sentiment & Longevity of Data)

We looked at perceptions about data after death and asked if they had someone they want to transfer their data to.

Participants didn’t really care about data after death, because they believed it would be “destroyed”.

Snapchat Persona
(Facial Data)

This was to see how people felt interacting with and sharing content with a “random” user.

While we didn’t gain much back from it, Herman became a person for participant to interact with.

USB Diary
The USB asked participants to drop files to build a biography, complete a diary (prompts to upload music, photos, and other files), and even text us their day using only emojis.
Data, from what we’ve gained from our co-creators, is used with a lot of sincerity and well-meaning intentions. One participant said her files were “gifts to us”.
Data Is Sentimental and Builds Identity
Our participants weren’t just accessing and generating data needlessly, they were using it for sincere interactions with real people.

The messages that connect all of us in different parts of the world, music files that we keep, and the photos we enjoy and share with one another are all positive things that are happening with data that is part of our identity.

This subject was one which could lead to far more impactful conversations and co-creation.
Sensitizing Probe: Analyzing Where Our Data is Hidden
Our sensitizing probe aimed to reveal this knowledge about data that not all of us are aware of: metadata, how much is being harvested, and what we can do with this information.

We wanted to get people to think about the data they have but aren't aware of, and the probe is meant to be a thought exercise rather than something to gather more information on our participants.
FB/Google Data Harvest
Go on Google and Facebook and request their data packages.

Check the data Facebook and Google gathers from their accounts.
Log the amount of time they spent on their phone, either with the phone screen time app, or on paper
Screenshotting Ads
Screenshot any ad they see on their phone or laptop and draw their own hypertargeted ad.

The idea is to see how targeted these advertisements can be.
After downloading the data packages, we wanted to use this to think about how data can be used as a commons.

We asked participants to listen to the “Palaces for the People” podcast by 99% Invisible to understand the concept of data as a commons.
Co-Creating to Envision Possibilities for Data as a Commons
Our co-creation workshop was based around our new understanding of using data as a commons and how that data might be used or regulated, and whether or not data would be beneficial or detrimental to society if accessible by different sectors and industries.
1. Ice Breaker
To begin our co-creation workshop, ourselves and our co-creators who accessed Facebook’s “My Information” site, introduced each other with an embarrassing status or post from the year 2009 of our Facebook accounts’ existences.
2. Sensitizing Probe Kit Review
We went over what the co-creators found from the probe kit data harvest. Some found it comforting to see all their data, while others found it scary.

Hyper-targeted ads happens often for participants and sometimes it feels like their mind is being read, but others also said they’re never really on topic.
3. Brainstorming on Data
We used this activity to prepare participants for more complex discussions, to segue into explaining data as a commodity engaging in more complex discussions, and current events regarding big data. 

Making them stand helped make more engaging discussions.
4. Data as a Commons
We split into groups of two to contemplate how the data commons may be used in different sectors or industries. For this activity, we provided a number of cards, each with a different sector or industry, including: Health, Disaster Preparedness, Education, Environmental, Water Resources, Urban Planning, Food, Small Business, Transportation, Crime, Charities, Agriculture, Finance, and Waste Management.

Each pair took two cards, and was asked to discuss the positive and negative implications of each sector or industry having access to the data commons, and then place them on the whiteboard and write out their reasonings.
Discussing these sectors and how they could use data in a beneficial or detrimental way also helped us look into participants’ perspectives on the discussed sectors and revealed other social, political, or cultural issues.

For instance, everyone agreed that data collection for Disaster Preparedness would be very beneficial in assisting people in crises.
Regaining Power in Our Relationship With Data Through Speculative Thinking
By keeping our co-creation open-ended, we wanted to inspire our participants to start thinking about and discussing these issues, and hopefully incorporate these reflections into their own practice.

Our speculations aim to cultivate conversations about this wicked problem as a first step to reconstructing our seemingly passive relationship with data and developing a more positive future.
Lessons Learned

Discussion of Data Ethics is Necessary More Now than Ever
It's a really grey area subject, people don’t all necessarily agree on data ethics: for example, when discussing the idea of data commons being used for small businesses. We couldn't agree on whether or not this is ethical or unethical.

Probe Kits Offer Both Quantitative & Qualitative (Personal) Data
Data gained from the probe kit was more meaningful than we had assumed. In what they were willing to share with us, we became less pessimistic on the topics of data.

Changing Our Relationship with Data Can Create Positive Environmental & Behavioural Changes
Changing the carbon footprint of data does not change how people interact with it. However, changing the value of data to the corporations that are engaging in the environmentally detrimental practice of storing such vast quantities of data can produce behavioural changes in people.