Critical Questions of Data and Planning
The use of data and planning is a controversial topic that has spurred multiple discussions both in the professional and academic sector. There are evident advantages of using this tool in order to improve planning processes but some potential dangers have also been detected.
It cannot be denied that data access can help in improving the management of cities by providing real time information and even predicting possible outcomes. However, it is dangerous to believe that any type of issue in the cities can be faced by the use of technology and data analysis. A technocratic view such as this one has de risk of an understanding of data as inherently objective, without political, or other, ideologies attached to it (Kitchin, 2014). Open data can be an excellent tool to provide more transparency in government and to challenge top down planning (Goldsmith & Crawford, 2014). However, algorithmically shaped processes are black boxes that make impossible to track the complete decision making process, potentially causing accountability issues (Foth, 2017). In addition, open data can also be used as a tool to increase participation in decision making and community engagement “bolstering existing communities and defining new ones” (Goldsmith & Crawford). On the other hand, the same data can provide tools to governments and private entities to surveillance citizens, being used as a tool of control (Kitchin, 2014). The flexibility and dynamism of data related services can be an excellent to serve a broader public than more traditional methods. Consequently, open data and e-governance platforms can be used as a tool to promote diversity in planning and reach minority groups. However, it has been detected that algorithm based processes tend to foster homophily and like-mindedness (Foth, 2017). In addition, they enhance the danger of individuals living in a “bubble made of their own self-declared preferences (Thrift, 2014), reducing serendipity and diversity in social interactions.
In conclusion, data is a powerful tool that can be very helpful for planners but, as any other tool, it will only replicate the intentions of those yielding it. Consequently, being aware of its subjectivity, limitations and dangers should be inherent to anyone that makes use of it.