Can open data encourage civic participation?

Written by / on 24th
Leeds Art Crawl

In June, independent game developers Wetgenes previewed the alpha version of a game they are developing for the Leeds Data Mill. The game – #LeedsArtCrawl is one of the several experiments we are carrying out at The Data Mill to encourage civic participation using the medium of open data.

Why create an art crawl?

The idea for #LeedsArtsCrawl emerged after a series of discussions with Kriss and Shi, who are the people behind Wetgenes. I first met them at the Leeds Data Mill hack event held at Leeds City Museum in March. Over a course of two days, they conceived and developed a game using public funerals data. It was a remarkable effort in using open data to raise awareness and encourage discussion about a serious issue.

Wetgenes describe themselves as a feral games developer on their website. I was intrigued by this description and curious about their approach. So one afternoon we met in Leeds to talk about ideas and possible projects. At the time they were working on a very interesting gamification project for a major initiative in Mexico City and I was keen for them to apply a similar approach for a Leeds Data Mill experiment.

We decided to focus on public art as Leeds has a strong link with sculpture. Prominent artists Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore trained at the Leeds School of Art. The city is part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle and is considering a bid to become the European Capital of Culture in 2023.

There are 200+ public artworks distributed across the city. Some are very visible, others, not quite so. They also vary considerably in medium and style. So our goal is to create a comprehensive dataset about the public art offering across the city.

Can we crowdsource data?

The image at the beginning of this post hints at the strong social element of the experiment, which involves selfies and hashtags. These are just two examples of how we are constantly generating and sharing data based on our actions, behaviours and observations. Some might consider this to be a source of white noise, but there is a wealth of information hidden in this data stream. Take a look at this article on Fastcompany, which is just one of several projects across the world that is trying to crowdsource data through active public participation.

If we are able to crowdsource relevant and useful data, does that help us create a useful blueprint for civic participation and decision making? Furthermore, can such interventions help raise the profile of the city’s cultural offering, not just amongst its residents, but also nationally and internationally? This ties into tourism, public policy and economic development.

These are just some of the big questions we are keen on explore. But in keeping with the rapid prototyping approach we follow at The Data Mill, we will start small, build, measure and learn.

How to get involved

  1. Turn on location on your phone (We need to know where the public art is.)
  2. Take a selfie or photo in front of a public art in Leeds
  3. Tweet the photo using #leedsartcrawl as the hashtag so we can add you to the gallery

View other peoples photos

Check out the photos using #leedsartcrawl or by visiting

Blog post by

Abhay Adhikari (@gopaldass)
I am interested in the context & values that define our Digital Identities. I work with various to define the#FutureofWork. Blog for The Guardian.


Get Involved

Are you feeling inspired? Got a shed load of data you want to share? Or maybe your pet project is finally ready to unveil. Whatever the reason we are always happy to hear from you. Share your stories and suggestions with us here.


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