Research, wearables and data

As opposed to some of our more commercially minded projects, Numbers that Matter was rooted firmly outside the corperate world. Our core partners and associates were founding members of Madlab - Manchesters Community Workshop and the team ethos was more open source rather than patent nazi.

Numbers that Matter was born out of a ‘CX lab’, which is an ordinary way for collaborations and projects to come about for the Creative Exchange. It started out as the ‘death watch’, a rather dramatic representation of the numbers that actuaries and insurers have access to, with which they assign you a commercial value and ascribe you an estimation of how long you will last!

As opposed to some of our more commercially minded projects, Numbers that Matter was rooted firmly outside the corporate world. Our core partners and associates were founding members of Madlab Manchesters Community Workshop and the ethos was more Open Source rather than Patent Nazi.

 

The central concern and motivator for the project and its research approach is civic wellbeing. From a tech trends point of view – yes wearables are very in vogue, but like many products and services that arise out of a technology community dominated by white, middleclass males just past adolescence – they tend to reflect the concerns of that dominant demographic.

 

The 'Numbers That Matter' to that group of elite technologists result in dating apps, gym performance monitoring and gamification, scary services like BroPro and a plethora of bar finding apps. Naturally as a gross generalization about a demographic this isn’t a nuanced picture, but you get the idea, they are not generally producing applications that will incorporate and respond to the needs of a mid-50s woman with mobility issues with a dumb (not smart) phone.

Wearables are also naturally quite ego-centric - focused on the individual in question, reflecting their status and image of themselves in a performative manner, not so much in a self reflective, or civic minded way. Which is where community wellbeing came in, as opposed to the solo ‘ill being’ that the death watch symbolized, complete with corporate tie in possibilities with luxury brands and rolex.

 

Instead we are more interested in wearables and applications that reflect some of the 5 indicators of wellbeing, that can extend our senses in ways that result in more meaningful and interesting ways of working as a community or a locality; wearables that empower the user, that don’t necessarily view them mainly as a cash cow, taking their data in an underhand manner and monetizing it by selling it to the actuarys, NSAs and GCHQs of the world...

 

Crucially then, we’re really very interested in data.

 

Data is an ugly word, it’s isolating, it’s scary, it has come out of its academic and computational natural habitat and become a dominant word and concept in everyday life.
Public discussion around data; your data, open data, privacy and commercialisation of our collective data, is characterized by clumsy analogys – and blundering bbc reporters. It’s either the next big thing unlocking billions of growth for the economy, or ‘hackers’ in the sinister mid—90s sense are going to steal it and manipulate yours using a public phone box and impenetrable numbers of huge importance.

 

There is a lot of data, a lot of data that is about individuals but not a lot of data that is for individuals and their communities.

 

Numbers that Matter wants to use rich ethnographic ways of discussing and talking about data to design more meaningful ways of accessing and building with our data - not limited to designing for the tech elite of early adopters instead responding to the day to day needs and concerns of a locality.