Data Civics Observatory

The Data Civics Observatory is about the representation of people and communities through mixed, experimental, digital methods using a range of media, platforms and data.

A simple black and white icon of a campfire. The icon depicts a small bonfire with three logs arranged in a triangular shape at the bottom and flames rising above it. The design is minimalist, using only black lines on a white background for the illustration.

We are a research collective dedicated to exploring and representing the character of places and the people, institutions and infrastructures that make them.

Our approach prioritises the technological, material, historical, institutional, and sentimental qualities of places, how they are made and how they are experienced. Taking our lead from Edinburgh’s pioneering planner, landscape architect and sociologist, Patrick Geddes, we designed the Data Civics Observatory to use innovative data and platforms, methods and media to research space and place in new ways.

Our aim is to work with people, communities and organisations to research and represent their diversity and expertise particularly in vibrant and challenged areas. We focus on how data-driven innovations can shape the way we see and govern cities, regions and nations. 

We explore place-based challenges from social inclusion, spatial inequality and community representation to tourism and traveltech, levelling up policy and the financing of net-zero infrastructure.  We use data drawn from social media, locative media platforms, archives, democratic innovations, and digital ethnography to inform our research, knowledge exchange and teaching. The results are shared in a wide range of media including publications and reports, film and photography, websites and exhibitions. In collaboration with the Postgraduate Researcher run project, The Platform Social, we run a range of seminars, workshops and events. These activities support and explore the broader CAHSS research themes of cities, governance and democracy, identity and inequalities, cultural heritage, and data & digital. 

Fundamentally, the Data Civics Observatory is about exploring how data driven innovations can enhance interdisciplinary knowledge, collaborations and relationships between the University, EFI, the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region and beyond.

“The Data Civics Observatory is about putting Patrick Geddes’ ideas to work in a twenty-first century context, where what we know about cities, how we live within them, govern them and plan for their futures comes from data-driven innovations, from technologies and internet platforms.”

Liz McFall – Director, Data Civics Observatory

In focus

Five people sitting with clipboards having an engaging discussion.

Consultation and participation exercises are hard work. The Data Civics team at the Edinburgh Futures Institute, led by Chancellor’s Fellow Liz McFall, has been experimenting with projects designed to recognise and work around the issues.

In practice

Community Leadership in North Edinburgh: Report from the Knowledge Exchange Labs 2022

Community Leadership Report Cover

Edinburgh Futures Institute’s (EFI) Data Civics team was funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to undertake knowledge exchange and shared learning with local bodies in North Edinburgh – drawing on previous research on both community empowerment and digital cultural regeneration. 



Google Earth-generated image of the Granton Gasworks structure in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Futures Institute’s Granton project team are working with the City of Edinburgh Council, community organisations and other stakeholders to help imagine futures which address local needs, using data-driven technology.


3d illustrative map of city

The Platform Social

How are digital platform interventions reshaping the societies, communities, and economies that we study? The Platform Social is a PhD-run research network that explores these questions through focused reading groups and collaborative workshops.

Gas works cylinder

Supporting local acceleration in Granton through inclusive, data driven and participatory engagement

This ESRC-LAF supported project was conducted in partnership with the Granton Waterfront Development team at Edinburgh City Council, Edinburgh Palette and Granton Hub.

Case study report

Granton Civicscope

Civicscope  uses photographic, digital and archival resources to witness the city, its architectures and its voices evolve through time and space.


Institutional investment and the built environment in the context of ‘Levelling-up’ policy

The investment funds of life insurance and pension companies have had an outsized and scarcely remarked impact on the built environment in cities and towns across the world.

Black and white image taken from above

Films and the AWED (AreWeData) collective

AWED were brought together by accident and a shared interest in making films, installations, texts and other web-based artefacts, that explore the use of new forms of ‘big data’ and old forms of archival data in how places are imagined, represented and planned.

Yellow footsteps and arrows printed on wooden floor


CovidArcadia was a project supported by the Scottish Funding Council to document, map, and analyse responses to the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions brought in by local businesses in Edinburgh.

keysafes beside edinburgh door with airbnd logos on them all

A processual exploration of Airbnb

If how we see a place is a product of where we stand and what tools we use to look, Airbnb is an intriguing case for the Data Civics Observatory. Addie McGowan’s doctoral research explores the processes of Airbnb and how they reconfigure our sense of place, both online and off.

A black sign with the words "LEITH WALK" written in bold, white, uppercase letters.

Leith Walk from the Data Civics Observatory

In this original short film our regular collaborators, brutalist architectural photographer Simon Phipps and independent researcher Darren Umney, take a birds eye view of Leith Walk from Google Earth Studio.

Meet the Data Civics Observatory core team

Addie McGowan

Addie McGowan

Postgraduate Research Fellow
Headshot of Elif Buse Boyuran

Elif Buse Doyuran

Postgraduate Affiliate
headshot of liz mcfall

Liz McFall

Director, Data Civics

Our extended team

Our wider network of researchers, artists, designers, and partners 

Join us to challenge, create, and make change happen.