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Program Or Be Programmed: The implications of small data, local context and “Do-It-Yourself” technologies.

  • Codebase 38 Castle Terrace Edinburgh, Scotland, EH3 9DZ United Kingdom (map)

Hackathon and Symposium

Free Event

Register here for Hackathon(morning session)
Register here for Symposium (afternoon session)

“In a digital age, we must learn how to make the software, or risk becoming the software. It is not too difficult or too late to learn the code behind the things we use—or at least to understand that there is code behind their interfaces. Otherwise, we are at the mercy of those who do the programming, the people paying them, or even the technology itself.”  ‘Program or be Programmed’ ( Rushkoff, 2010)

This is a two-part day of events: a morning hackathon and an afternoon symposium. The events are open to; individuals from start-ups and SMEs, academic researchers and students, civic activists, and people who just like making technical stuff or debating its use! Participants are welcome to attend either or both of these events, depending on availability.

As Big Data is becoming the standard raw material for creating technological products and services, participants in these two linked events will revisit Small Data, and discuss its potential uses and the implications for technologists, designers and end users. Questions raised during the hackathon and symposium will address topics around; the relationships between citizen generated data and design innovation, the open data movement and the sharing economy, and mechanisms or toolkits to support new models of creativity. The advantages of small data, according to Kitchin (2014), include its focus on specific cases and its ability to tell individual, nuanced and contextual stories. As Kitchin says; “… if big data is an unmanageable deluge, then small data can be oases of data within a data desert”.

These events will present examples of urban and civic participation in technology development, using these to spark audience debates around processes of grass roots innovation. The events, comprising two half-day parts - a hackathon and a symposium - will invite participants to interrogate and debate these and other related viewpoints, drawing on hands-on practical activities and presentations of current case studies. Questions that arise from the statements by these writers discussed above will be addressed in the symposium event, and hopefully further questions will emerge from audience participation to be presented to the panel for discussion and debate.

Presented by the EU H2020 funded MAZI project (Developing a DIY networking toolkit for location-based collective awareness, the event will present an alternative view on data technology, focusing on “small” data, citizen empowerment and grassroots action. The MAZI project is a three year project investigating the uses of low-cost community WiFi networks and the software services that can be built with them. MAZI is working on four pilot studies, in Berlin, debating rights to the city; in London, helping marginalised communities find a voice when faced with gentrification; in Zurich, encouraging democratic participation; and in Greece, exploring how artists can help local communities reflect on their situation.References:Rob Kitchin. .

This will be a hands-on session building working technologies, and developing innovative scenarios and use-cases for low-cost, location-based products and services.

Outline programme


9.30 - 12.30 (max 30 places) freeRun by James Stevens of SPC, Deptford, London & Mark Gaved of the Open University.Materials will be provided, but participants are welcome to bring extra materials, a suggested list will be provided.The hackathon will use MAZI project DIY WiFi networking technologies and toolkits based on Raspberry Pi


13.00 : Welcome and introduction 

Michael Smyth (Edinburgh Napier University)  

13.15 : Keynote speaker: Sarah Kettley

Chair of Material and Design Innovation at the University of Edinburgh, where she also Head of the School of Design. 

Rainbows and Unicorns: figuring design research and practice through the Person-Centred Approach 

This talk will engage with the concept of transgression in design research through an account of ethics and politics in participatory design. It will situate my own work within the context of technology development and readiness levels, and the increasingly toothless notion of ‘user centred design’ as it becomes simultaneously subsumed by commercial drivers and appropriated by new fields of practice. I will introduce the recent project, An Internet of Soft Things, which applied and reflected on the Person-Centred Approach (PCA) as a way of doing design research with mental health service users considering near-future Internet of Things service contexts enabled by e-textile interfaces.  

14.00 : Break

14.15 : MAZI project case study presentations  

Examples of Do-It-Yourself Networking from Deptford (London), Prinzessinnengarten community garden in Berlin,  Housing cooperatives in Zurich,  unMonastery nomadic practice in Greece.  

Michael Smyth (Edinburgh Napier University)  

Mark Gaved (Open University) 

James Stevens, Founder member of SPC, Deptford, SE London.

15.00 : Panel discussion and audience debate with invited panelists from MAZI and other projects. 

16.00 - 18.00 : Social session - Coffee, drinks and networking showing exhibits and demos from the morning Hackathon and from the MAZI project.