Collecting Stories

We began the DATAstudio project in July 2016 by collecting narratives in Woenselse Heide and De Tempel. What were the questions, needs, ambitions and wishes of the residents of this part of Eindhoven? Working in partnership with Kennisland, we parked our DATAbus in the Henri Dunantpark, and our 10-person team spent a week gathering 23 stories from local residents with the aim of identifying their needs. We wrote up the stories and published them online after obtaining interviewees’ consent. Every conversation began with the question: What is it like to live in this neighbourhood?

Photos: Wieteke Vrouwe

Data Deserts

As we analysed the narratives, a picture quickly emerged: one of growing gaps between original residents and newcomers, between young and old, between those with and without higher education, and between poor and rich. The impact of technology on people’s lives turned out to be negligible by comparison. We linked the residents’ stories to available data and then discussed our findings in a series of workshops and talks with officials, designers, data specialists, researchers and citizens, devising follow-up actions. It quickly became apparent that little to no data existed to support issues like loneliness, social cohesion and fear of change. We dubbed such lacunae “data deserts” and held a design discussion about the subject based on selected quotes from the interviews on 26 October 2016, during Dutch Design Week. We spoke with a highly diverse audience about what alternative information-collecting methods were needed to “irrigate” these deserts. A fairly unambiguous conclusion emerged: hard data must always be enriched with “soft” information to accurately identify issues in society.

Photo: Jeroen van de Wiel


Educational programme

We wanted to know what the neighbourhood looked like through the eyes of children. How could their “soft” information enrich the existing map? The result was MapLab, a three-part workshop programme for primary school pupils between the ages of seven and 10. MapLab was developed by Anab Jain and the Eindhoven educational designers Beam it Up in partnership with the DATAstudio’s project team. The children mapped features of the area around their school, from the scariest alleyway to the best hiding place. We collected their findings, in the form of photographs, stories and drawings, linking them to an interactive online map (see, a new application developed by the DATAstudio. In this way, we gained a qualitative understanding of the lived experience of a commonly neglected yet interesting segment of the population.

Photos: Fieke van Woerkom


In the course of 2017, using the local knowledge gathered and working in partnership with Play the City, we developed the serious game Woenseltopia. Playing the game allows citizens to work together to explore the possibilities data can offer for improving their neighbourhood. Its secondary purpose is to bring different populations and age groups closer together by getting them to jointly look for solutions to various spatial and social problems. The game is therefore an interesting instrument for identifying and defining needed changes as well as discussing and testing new ideas with residents. The game is based on an imaginary scenario: a wall is secretly built around Woenselse Heide and De Tempel overnight, making it impossible to leave the area for nine years. Woenseltopia generates many new insights that could be useful in the real world, as players must find ways of ensuring sufficient food, health care, and appropriate housing and public space using available data. How many cows will be needed if everyone keeps eating meat, and will there be room for them? Is it a good idea to sacrifice parking spaces for vegetable gardens? Could elderly people living alone offer parts of their homes for others to use?

Photo: Linda Vlassenrood

Embassy of Data

Drawing 63,000 visitors, the Embassy of Data exhibition, which took place during the Dutch Design Week 2017, brought the DATAstudio’s three-year programme to a highly successful conclusion. The “embassy’s” purpose was to increase awareness around the possibilities and opportunities as well as the threats and shortcomings presented by the collection of digital data.

To this end, we invited visitors to take part in a personal conversation about data – and more specifically an exhibition devoted to the data collection points located within a 400-metre radius of our location in a former V&D department store. In June 2017 we began making an inventory of those data sets in the research area over which the city of Eindhoven had control. Which data was being collected where, and for what purpose? And to what extent was that data accessible to the public?

At the exhibition, a data panorama created by the information designer Richard Vijgen presented visitors with the beginnings of a never-before-visualised picture of Eindhoven’s efforts to become a smart city. Though the panorama was unquestionably incomplete, it precisely mapped hundreds of data points (locations of sensors, cameras, antennas and clusters of dwellings) within a 400-metre radius.

At the data desk, we talked with visitors about the value of data. How familiar were they with the subject? Which data did they think should be collected? And under which conditions would they be willing to contribute their own?

21 – 29 October 2017, former V&D department store Eindhoven

Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij

Becoming a Smart Society


Around the world, a lot of cities seek to harness data to make themselves cleaner, safer, more efficient places. To this end,
they use digital tools that process data, but also, to an increasing degree, generate it. They collect and analyse this data in their search for solutions to a growing number of problems, social and otherwise. But things sometimes go wrong with the monitoring and interpretation of data. Furthermore, issues like loneliness and social cohesion aren’t easy to capture in data form. So the first
step in building a smarter society isn’t to collect even more data
or develop newer, better technology. Building a smarter society begins with identifying and understanding the demands and needs that are relevant for that society. We placed this task at the heart of the DATAstudio’s programme when we formulated it in 2015. How could we identify desires and changes in society, and how could data add value to the process? Was it possible to increase citizens’ awareness about how data is used? To what extent could we incite government and other parties to increase transparency for citizens with respect to how they use data? And what new design questions would arise? The programme concluded with a digital publication featuring essays by Dan Hill, Anab Jain, Sukanya Krishnamurthy, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Ekim Tan and Linda Vlassenrood (ed.) that situate the work of DATAstudio in a broader context.

Research, exhibition and workshop curated for the 2019 Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture

People’s needs are rarely put at the centre of global data collection. Dalang Fever 3 is a participatory research project aiming to understand the desires and needs of residents in Dalang, a rapidly transforming neighbourhood on the outskirts of Shenzhen. Dalang Fever 3 consists of research, an exhibition and a workshop.

Very little data – except from inaccessible user data – is available on the migrants living and working in this remote and often overlooked area. Het Nieuwe Instituut and the International New Town Institute (INTI) collaborated with Impact Hub Shenzhen to independently collect quantitative and qualitative data anonymously to provide genuine insights and a richer sense of the human interaction, needs and network in the area. The research team collected structural and semi-structural data from 350 people living and working in the research area of Dalang through interviews and online questionnaires.

Dalang Fever 3 proposes the next steps for improving living conditions and the urban environment. A multidisciplinary data and design team with spatial and social expertise will analyse the collected data in a workshop at the biennale, using their different lenses to propose improvements in Dalang. It will be an iterative process that questions the use of data in order to incorporate people’s needs into the continuous transformation of the area. How should we collect data and make it accessible? What spatial, organisational and digital transitions should be instigated?

Exhibition and graphic design: Koehorst in ‘t Veld

21 December 2019 – 8 March 2020: 2019 Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture
Client: Het Nieuwe Instituut + International New Town Institute

Photo: Toon Koehorst