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Reimagining Regeneration – Supporting local acceleration through data-driven participatory engagement

In this article

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.

Edinburgh Futures Institute supports cross disciplinary research which uses data-driven innovation and collaboration to drive change. By working with local communities and councils and integrating data-driven techniques, we can imagine futures which address local needs in creative and practical ways.  

Situated in the northwest of Edinburgh’s waterfront on the Firth of Forth, Granton is an area with a rich agricultural, port, residential, commercial and industrial history. In the post-industrial context of the early 2000s, Granton became the subject of several masterplans under different landowners designed to tackle the persistent socio-economic deprivation that has characterised the area for decades. Despite this, Granton remains among the top 5% of multiply deprived areas in Scotland (SIMD, 2020). The Futures Institute’s Granton project team are working with the City of Edinburgh Council, community organisations and other stakeholders to support the Development Framework change using a range of digital, participatory, and creative methods.

Data Civics

Today’s cities are full of data. Whether we mean to or not, as we interact with a city, we generate vast amounts of information which reveals patterns in our behaviour. For example, when we use online maps, we provide information about our location and movement patterns. When we post on social media, we are creating data about how we are interacting with a place and how we feel about it. By gathering and analysing this kind of data, information about the everyday life of a city and the needs of its citizens can be used in its future planning.

Data Civics at Granton

As part of the Granton Waterfront Development, an Inclusion Lab led by Dr Oliver Escobar is using participatory methods to support local representation and engagement in the development process. Although public participation and engagement is a priority in local planning and placemaking activity, under-representation, particularly among women, minority ethnic groups, younger and older demographics, and people with disabilities, is a persistent problem. Therefore, Dr McFall and her team are using complementary Data Civics techniques to better understand the needs of all local citizens.

By investigating how place is represented on digital platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TripAdvisor, Google Maps, and Airbnb, the researchers are gathering broader insights into the area. They are also collecting photographic data, information about the ways certain businesses operate in the area (for example, Yell, Moovit and Indeed) and the roles of charities, volunteers, communal spaces and historical sites. Collecting this type of data deepens the knowledge which can be used to inform regeneration. It also means that underrepresented voices within the area can be better represented in planning and placemaking activities.

What Next?

As well as generating data which can be specifically used for driving regeneration at Granton itself, the project aims to provide a model for how communities can be involved in civic development in the future. The team aims to build toolkits which help deepen community engagement and participation in future regeneration projects. They hope that these resources will help local governments and researchers better understand the importance of listening to and amplifying local voices and provide tools to facilitate this.

Researcher profile

Dr Liz McFall is a Chancellors Fellow with EFI and Director of our Data Civics programme. Her research focusses on how people engage with markets particularly for technical and complicated propositions like insurance, credit and urban development projects, big data-driven innovations, and how these link to cities and civic planning. Her work on the Granton Waterfront Development project aligns with our Data Civics, GovTech and PublicTech themes, which aim to explore how civic government can use data-driven innovations to respond to the transformation of communities, cities and societies.

Funding and Acknowledgements

This project is funded by the ESRC as part of their local acceleration pilot scheme.

Research Team

Dr Liz McFall, Dr Lesley McAra, Dr Oliver Escobar, Dr James Henderson, Dr Steve Earl, Dr Vassilis Galanos, Dr Kath Bassett, Addie McGowan and Josh Ryan-Saha

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