Stitching the city with a new collaborative data library

Posted on December 15, 2021

Architecture (and other) students routinely collect fine-grained visual and qualitative spatial data while working on projects. This data is collected through transect walks, participatory action research, community mapping and participatory geographic information system (GIS) methodologies. It is often collected in the same areas year after year. What if all this data could be captured, geo-located and made available for future studies?

This is the question that inspired the architecture departments of the University of Pretoria and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden to collaborate on a project funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT).

The Stitching the City – from micro-data to macro views project involved the collection and sharing of traditional and non-traditional spatial data at a street and precinct level in a georeferenced online platform. This cross-disciplinary micro-data can then be layered and easily accessed by researchers from different disciplines, as well as designers and community members.

Each year, students gather remarkable amounts of data on an ad-hoc basis and in many formats, which is not adequately stored and cannot be re-used for other purposes or by students working in the same area in subsequent years. To overcome this absence of systematisation, a methodological framework for knowledge facilitation has been developed to enable the effective collection and storage of meaningful and useful visual, and place- and human-based spatial data that can accommodate different types of micro-scale data.

The framework consists of a shared data collection methodology for the effective collection and storage of fine-grained multi-format geolocated data for interdisciplinary use (the ukuDoba method) and a collaborative data library for educational purposes. In isiZulu, the word “ukuDoba” means “to fish”. The rationale behind this method is thus to help researchers to “fish” for the data they need and – over time – contribute to the larger data “pool”. In this way, a digital commons is created for research related to communities, cities and environments.

A digital platform or toolbox was first established for the collection, maintenance and analysis of the data identified in the methodological framework through the combination and integration of existing open-source tools and technologies such as smart phones, tablets and digital cameras. The collaborative data library was then tested at two urban sites in which the partner universities are already active: Mamelodi East, an informal settlement in the City of Tshwane, and Hammarkullen, one of ten city districts in Gothenburg, Sweden.

The testing and development of the toolbox took place in the University of Pretoria’s Urban Citizenship Studio in Mamelodi and in Chalmers University of Technology’s Social Inclusion Design Studio in Hammarkullen. Researchers in the University of Pretoria’s Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology were also involved in the development of the toolbox. The outcome of the collaborative project was the publication of a manual on the ukuDoba method, which outlines the methodological framework.

The manual presents a step-by-step guide on the ukuDoba method to effectively collect, convert and store different types of data digitally on an online platform. These steps include research design, form design, data collection, data conversion, data analysis and interpretation, and the storage of the data in a data warehouse or GeoNode.

The collaborative data library that is an outcome of this method has the benefit of being able to provide a very rich longitudinal dataset that can be used by planners and policy makers to make decisions based on more than just demographic data. This is particularly relevant in the new world of Big Data analytics and digital twinning.

It has already assisted in the implementation of several innovative digital twinning and visualisation projects. In addition to the Hatfield Digital Twin City initiative, the method has found application in the development of the Digital Twin City centres at Chalmers University of Technology, and the VisLabs visualisation centre at the Universeum public science centre and museum in Gothenburg, Sweden.

The ukuDoba method and its related work efforts, experiments and data repository development contribute directly to a larger conversation about how to construct meaningful digital commons related to our cities, communities and environments to support 21st-century concerns. Commenting on the development of the method at its launch at the University of Pretoria’s Future Africa Research Centre on 15 November 2021, Prof Chrisna du Plessis, Head of the University’s Department of Architecture, remarked that this innovative platform is opening up opportunities for transdisciplinary decision making that have not been possible in the past. This will enable policy makers and researchers to obtain information at the right time, with all the finer detail that is required to make appropriate and relevant decisions.

The collaboration between the University of Pretoria and Chalmers University of Technology that led to the development of this method is being taken a step further with planned future collaborations on digital twinning, as well as the design of a collaborative online master’s degree in Public Interest Design. This programme will exploit the strengths of both institutions in terms of urban citizenship and social inclusion design. The proposed programme will be presented according to a carousel model with international registration and endorsement.

A copy of the ukuDoba Manual can be downloaded at the following link:

The Department of Architecture welcomes feedback and enquiries regarding the manual.

Contact: Prof Chrisna du Plessis – [email protected]

- Author Estie Powell
Published by Dudu Mathe

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