Bologna. The relational ecosystems of the city becomes a commons

Human Ecosystems (HE) is an international city based project running from 2013. Its main goal is to explore the mutation of public spaces in cities, designing performative strategies to promote citizen participation and ubiquitous, peer-to-peer innovation processes, in which citizens and other types of urban dwellers are able to use the city’s infoscape: its informational landscape.
The project has already been instanced in various forms in urban settings such as Rome, Sao Paulo, New Haven, Montreal, Toronto, Berlin, Lecce, Bari, Budapest and, nowadays, in Bologna.
Together with the UC – Ubiquitous Commons research effort, the project aims at describing a ubiquitous infoscape in which data becomes an accessible, usable part of the landscape, just as buildings, trees, roads, and in which it is clear and transparent (although complex and fluid) what is public, private, intimate. And in which people, as individuals and members of society, are able to use their data to construct meaningful actions.

The project: how it works
HE is a complex technological system for cities and a new space for artistic, cultural and creative performance.

The systems massively captures data in real-time from entire cities and transforms it into a commons, available and accessible by anyone, and manageable collaboratively. Data is captured from major social networks (such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare) and other data sources (such as census, land registries, energy, mobile traffic, and the many types of Open Data source which can be present in the city), and processed in near-real time using a variety of techniques (georeferencing, natural language analysis, emotional analysis, network analysis, data integration and fusion techniques, standard statistics techniques).

The result of these processes is a real-time Open Data source (a new immaterial commons) in which citizens become sensors, with their interactions and everyday expressions in the new and controversial space formed by social network.

Together with the data commons, the project is composed of two other main components: the RTCM – Real Time Museum of the City and a wide, inclusive education program, teaching citizens, children, elderly, artists, designers, researchers, public administrators, professionals and more to understand how to use HE and the Relational Ecosystem of the city and how to engage citizens in the process.
Human Ecosystems, workshop at SESC Vila Mariana, S. Paulo

Human Ecosystems, workshop at SESC Vila Mariana, S. Paulo

The RTMC is an iconic space in which the Ubiquitous Infoscape and the Relational Ecosystem of the city becomes perceivable and  materializes in the public space of the city. Designed as an interactive museum and a lab, people can explore the real time flows of data, information, knowledge, communication, emotion, opinion in the city, understanding its life and how it evolves over time. In the museum, people can learn how to use HE to collaborate, to perform research, to create artworks and designs, to find themselves within the Relational Ecosystem and to ask meaningful questions to the city.
All of the technologies related to HE are released as Open Source, and are actively maintained from an international community of practitioners in technologies, arts, sciences and humanities.
RTCM - Real Time Museum of the City , S, Paulo, SESC Vila Mariana

RTCM – Real Time Museum of the City , S, Paulo, SESC Vila Mariana

The Bologna case
From October 2015, Human Ecosystems started in the City of Bologna, creating a major case in the history of the project.
In its previous experiment so far, the role of the City administration was relatively limited, being research centers, universities, public museums and civil society the key partner of the project.
With Bologna things turned out to be different: for the first time, the City administration is the main driver of the process.
Bologna is historically one of the most advanced administration in Italy. It is the place in which the first experiments of electronic government and governace were born, and more recently the famous “social street” movement. It brings us the the “collaborative policies” adopted by the current city administration: an effort to define the “city as a commons”.

Who talks about collaboration in Bologna on social networks? And how? What are the more collaborative neighborhoods? Which topics are more discussed by citizens? What emotions are they expressing? Who are the hubs, the influencers, the bridges between communities and the experts of collaboration? In which languages does collaboration happen in town?

HUB – Human Ecosystems Bologna will support “Collaborare è Bologna”, the policies for collaboration promoted by the City administration.
HUB - Human Ecosystems Bologna: emotional map

HUB – Human Ecosystems Bologna: emotional map

Matteo Lepore, Councillor for the Digital Agenda and the Promotion of the City, states that:
With this project we intend to concretely experience the use of big data. We have launched the new civic network in Bologna and the city wi-fi, extending the coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with free access, offering high speed connection to schools, theaters and soon to enterprises and homes. We are reaching now the European goals for 2020, with social networks at the center of our innovation policies. We are aware that the digital ecosystem is an infrastructure for development, growth and inclusion. But to make this leap, we have to learn to systematize the data we produce: with HUB, we are going in the right direction, in particular considering the transition of Bologna toward metropolitan area and the public investments to come“.
Sponsored by ANCI – National Association of Italian Municipalities and LabGov – LABoratory for the GOVernance of the Commons, the project will show the relational ecosystem of participation, cooperation and collaboration in the City of Bologna in its digital dimension. From October 7th to December 7th 2015 an interactive exhibit will transform the spaces of the Urban Center Bologna into a temporary version of the RTCM, enabling citizens and visitors to observe the themes, places, emotions and opinions of the “Collaborative Bologna”, as they are addressed and publicly expressed on major social networks by citizens, discovering and creating unexpected connections.
At the end of the exhibit, the collected data will be released as set of Open Data, published by the open data portal of the city.
HUB - Human Ecosystems Bologna: visualizations

HUB – Human Ecosystems Bologna: visualizations

This is a major breakthrough: for the first time the relational ecosystem as of a city, as it is expressed publicly on social network by city,  becomes formally a commons secured by public institution. A process in which, as society, we can begin to question the controversial public/private/intimate space  of social network – as well as the upcoming Internet of Things scenarios.

At the present time, most individuals generate data in ways in which they don’t realize or understand, and which they cannot understand, due to the opacity of collection processes, algorithms, classifications, parameters.And individuals are, currently, the only ones who cannot fully benefit from Big Data: to organize themselves; to create meaningful, shared initiatives; to understand more about themselves and about the world around them.

This overall scenario is what we confront with with our projects. Thanks to the City of Bologna today we are moving a big step forward.


HE – Human Ecosystems

“Collaborare è Bologna”

“Human Ecosystems @Ars Electronica 2015”, on “Fastforward 2” by Motherboard, 1° episode

Human Ecosystems in S. Paulo (BR), documentary by Universidade Metodista

Human Ecosystems in New Haven (USA), documentary by YWF – Yale World Fellows


HUB – Human Ecosystems Bologna is a project promoted by:

the City of Bolognawith the support of:
ANCI – Associazione Nazionale Comuni Italiani

LabGov – LABoratory for the GOVernance of the Commons

Concept and Realization:
HE – Human Ecosystems / AOS – Art is Open Source

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