[14.09] Direct Science for Direct Democracy

How and under what conditions does improving the amount and reliability of data via participatory projects of data collection or analysis enhance and enrich the Swiss political debate on different levels of political decision-making? :arrow_right: directscience4directdemocracy.ch

I look forward to taking part in the upcoming hackathon on Saturday, September 14 in Bern, which the organizers consider to be an important step towards launching a national initiative for applying citizen science methodologies to inform the processes of direct democracy.

Some of the main players in citizen science as well as academics on direct democracy are represented amongst the organizers, and the outcomes of the hackathon should help to inform proposals for future practical projects, both grassroots and academic, which can be developed in future public events and research projects.

This event is part of an interesting cross-country collaboration, and follows a public lunchtime Science at Noon presentation on Friday with a focus on Open Science and Open Data, that should be an excellent brainstormer for the following weekend. See also the newly published Factsheet on Open Science in Switzerland (PDF 0.4MB), which this video introduces:

I posted a challenge for the hackathon, Open urban data for citizen science and sustainability, excerpted below:

What is the problem you’re trying to solve?

Fully fledged citizens of dense, rapidly developing modern neighbourhoods and cities need to access and understand the plans, proposals, and predictions that impact their lives and enterprises. Participatory budgeting and legal change in city development obligates democratic societies to put construction into a more personal context: such as, how developments relate to commuting, socioeconomics, quality of life, health indicators, and the environment. To involve more of the residents it affects, construction science needs to be more open to interpretation.

Fully fledged citizens of dense, rapidly developing modern neighbourhoods and cities need to access and understand the plans, proposals, and predictions that impact their lives and enterprises. Participatory budgeting and legal change in city development obligates democratic societies to put construction into a more personal context: such as, how developments relate to commuting, socioeconomics, quality of life, health indicators, and the environment. In other words, construction science needs to be more open to interpretation.

How do you plan to solve it?

From citizen to planner, there is a need to imagine and extrapolate the consequences of construction, yet in a dense urban landscape, the dependencies and impacts of change quickly become tangled in a web of specialist information. Citizen science and artificial intelligence can help us to understand how construction impacts society at every level: with crowdsourcing and open data, we can involve the civil society in helping to build velocity in such efforts. In our startup CIVIDI (https://cividi.ch/en ), we are working on making cities more sustainable with data science. At DS4DD, we would like to brainstorm a scientific basis for data publication, share knowledge about urban data, and hack on a prototype to exemplify how research policy could encourage data reuse in the context of democratic processes and Sustainable Development Goals.


Join us on September 14 and feel free to share feedback or ideas here or on Twitter.

OK, the crowd has spoken and it looks like the preferred hashtag is #DS4DD :slightly_smiling_face:

In addition to the challenge above, there have been three pitches shared. I’m hoping to see some of you folks from the open data community there on Saturday - in the meantime, what are your thoughts on these proposals, and do you have something of your own - a dataset, an approach, a provocation - to share?


Empowered by ICT and low-cost DIY sensors, citizens are increasingly collecting data on issues touching closely they daily life. The AirLogger sensor and application, developed by a student at the University of Geneva, allow citizens to measure air quality while moving in the city, producing a map of values at the street level. More …


The legal and political context on the local level needs to be known. There is a need for some local expertise in order to come up with meaningful results. How should local level referendum data be collected, mapped and what kind of practical applications can be envisaged once current and historical data become available? More …


The Swiss healthcare system is reputed to be one of the best – and most expensive - in the world. About 13% of the Swiss GDP goes towards healthcare, with spending rising five times faster than salaries. However, accessing the right service (hospital, specialist) at the right time may be tricky. Depending on the particular patient and disease, some location service may be more relevant than others (i.e., hospitals with a greater experience in performing a certain procedure, based on the mere number of cases). More …

Announcement from the organizers:

We are sorry to inform you that “Direct Science 4 Direct Democracy” hackathon, planned for Saturday, 14 September 2019 has been postponed .

We enjoyed an excellent response from interested participants, however we struggled with achieving the number and diversity of potential attendees that we were aiming at. We decided then to move the hackathon to a moment that would allow larger participation and bigger impact. Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.

However, some people have already made travel arrangements and others believe that hackathons are after all born out of grassroot movements of people committed to a cause.

Therefore, some of us will hold an informal gathering on the same topic from 10am until 4pm still at Polit Forum Bern (Marktgasse 67, 3011 Bern) . This informal event may be considered as a grassroot community buildup for the postponed hackathon. Since the event will be informal, we won’t be able to provide catering. Please bring your own food or we can buy food nearby in downtown Bern.

^ I’ll be there in the morning.

Despite organizational issues that prevented a full-blown hackathon from taking place, about ten of us got together on Saturday across the square from the Federal Palace to dive into the projects and issues that have been proposed. One of the people in charge of the Bern Polit-Forum introduced us to the location and it’s fascinating history. What was once a jail, was now a place to ask hard questions about democracy and human rights issues. They keep it open for events on topics similar to ours, and run great exhibitions like the current one dedicated to upcoming elections: Wozu Wahlen? (“why vote?”). We felt inspired also by the happenings of the last 24 hours, the launch of the Democracy Foundation at the @Publicbeta_CH festival in Basel.

We discussed the foundations of today’s workshop, organized by Open Geneva, a non-profit that has been running hackathons and participative workshops since 2017. I felt honored to welcome their community members to Bern and introduce them to some of the hacky activities and locations of our region. There was lots of discussion about the motivations and parameters of citizen science events, something that has been a recurrent topic on this forum.

We had a :sunny: lunch just outside, from a Food Truck of Blindspot - Inclusion and Diversity Switzerland, surrounded by children and young adults from the annual meeting of the Pfadi Kanton Bern, who were organizing escapades throughout the city, and the Musikfestival Bern which featured some really cool gigs like Bern rauscht - Hörspaziergang durch die Altstadt (an aural walk through the old city).

Our afternoon was spent supporting the project with the most clear ambitions in the room: the AirLogger sensor, pictured at the top of this post, which was announced ahead of the event by a team of people motivated to bring Open Hardware into the hands of citizens, and get them involved in monitoring the environment and contributing to science.

We took their prototype device on tour to gather data (humidity, temperature, particle counts) through the surrounding streets, interviewing locals on the why about what they think of the device, how they might consider supporting the project. Since its election time, there were several parties running campaigns outside, and so we asked for a political opinion on the project. Many thanks to Regula Rytz for spontaneous and very constructive comments. Their next milestone is to take part in Science Booster - stay tuned!

Thanks very much to everyone who made the journey to Bern and crushed the Röstigraben last weekend :slight_smile: à tout bientôt!