Public Life Data Protocol

What is Public Life?

Public life is the social life of public spaces; the everyday life in the public realm; and civic life. It is the life people live outside their homes, workplaces, and cars. To study public life is to learn about how people behave and use public space. A public life/public space study can encompass many forms of data collection, from mapping benches to counting cyclists to conducting interviews.

These methods:

—Count and collect data points about people moving through and staying in public spaces
—Help researchers of all kinds of backgrounds tell stories about what is happening in public space
—Help people making design, policy, or technology decisions to understand baseline user conditions in order to measure the impacts of projects, programs or designs

The tools only tell us part of the story about a space. Sometimes, the most valuable information you gather in a public life/public space study is something you observe, input from community stakeholders, or a conversation you have that simply comes out of spending time in a space.

Why Public Life Data?

City governments, public agencies and officials, and the private companies that support them collect large amounts of data on things like traffic flows, property values, crime statistics, and more. These measurements shape analysis and decisions about policy and design. But the ways that people use or move through public space generally gets left out of this process. When information about people’s activities in the public realm is collected, it’s often without public engagement or significant open collaboration. Much of this data is inaccessible except to those who pay.

There is tremendous need and opportunity to make public life data–data about people moving and using public spaces–more accessible, scalable, and comparable within cities, across cities and regions, between agencies, and at different scales. The use of open data standards enables a range of users to collectively make public information more useful, accessible, and democratic. The ability to share research and compare outcomes is essential to making good planning and policy decisions affecting the places and spaces where citizens live their daily lives.

Join us as we make data about people and the spaces we care about more open, usable, and shareable.

The Protocol

The Public Life Data Protocol is the very first open data specification for the collection, organization, and sharing of public life data. It is designed with partners from private and public sectors to improve the ability of everyone to share and compare information about public life.

Gehl Institute and our partners from the Gehl practice, Copenhagen Municipality, San Francisco City Planning, and Seattle Department of Transportation have created an open data standard to support the collection, application, comparison, and scalability of public life data: The Public Life Data Protocol.

The Protocol describes the data architecture necessary to support more systematic surveys of public life, creating a shared language. The Design Sprint will use the Protocol as a basis for inspiring interdisciplinary teams to develop products, programs, concepts, and visualizations that can be shared with anyone and everyone interested in designing better cities for people.

The Public Life Data Protocol seeks to improve our understanding of public life, for all.