Data Patchwork

Data Patchwork Project from Knowle West Media Centre on Vimeo.

Overall aim

To encourage active citizenship in Knowle West by developing a visual online platform that displays community-generated data. This will highlight local issues and promote regeneration and positive lifestyle changes.

What were the aims? [What did we want to achieve?]

  1. To empower local residents to make changes to their lifestyles, such as healthy eating, job aspirations and transport
  2. To encourage local businesses into the area.
  3. To highlight prevalent local issues with a view to generating change.

What were the objectives? [How did we plan to achieve this?]

  1. To design, build and market an engaging online survey to encourage local people to answer questions that might at first appear ‘boring’.
  2. To build an innovative installation that enables people to answer the survey questions by interacting with physical objects – thereby bringing the community together and including people without computer access.
  3. To visualise the collected data on a website for the audience to access, use and analyse.

Who were the intended audience?

Primarily Knowle West residents, but the project has potential to be spread city-wide.

How did we do it?


  1. Designed and coded an online survey game.
  2. Built an art installation with a difference: The Living Living Room was constructed entirely from cardboard, with each piece of furniture representing a question in the survey. Each piece of furniture was connected to a computer so that residents could move and play with it while simultaneously answering questions in the survey.
  3. Created the “Information Station.” The Station displays animations, created by KWMC’s Junior Digital Producers, which explain aspects of community life using the information collected from the online survey and installation.

Data Type: Community generated and live data feeds from weather

Team needed: 8 Junior Digital Producers, Project Manager, Coder, Sculptor, Installation / Programming Facilitator

Techniques: extensive coding workshops, workshops on the relevance of community engagement and techniques e.g. Fun Theory, workshops on front and back end web development, animation using JavaScript, illustration, drawing vector graphics in Adobe Illustrator or Flash.

The recipe

Tools / Ingredients

  • At least one computer – Windows or Mac, desktop or laptop, it doesn’t matter as long as it has the capabilities to handle the software below. For the installation, you will need one computer per Arduino board.
  • HTML, CSS, JavaScript – to build the survey website and the visualisation website
  • TweenMax – JavaScript library of code short cuts for web animation
  • jQuery – JavaScript library of code short cuts
  • Text Wrangler / Sublime Text – text editors for writing code
  • PHP, MySQL – to build the database and back-end
  • Max/MSP, or Pure Data (PD) – to program the installation
  • Arduino boards – to control the installation
  • Lots of wire – to build the installation
  • Touch sensor pads – for the user interface of the installation
  • Adobe Illustrator – to draw visualisations / animations for website, and posters for promotion
  • Adobe Photoshop – a useful tool for creating digital images
  • Flash – useful tool for creating animations. However, web animations should be made using JavaScript as Flash is not usable on some web platforms
  • Final Cut Pro / Premiere Pro / After Effects – useful for making online promotional videos, but not essential to running the project
  • Graphics Tablet – useful for drawing computer illustrations but not essential
  • Social media page – to promote the installation
  • Adobe InDesign software – useful for creating posters / flyers to promote project but not essential
  • WordPress – ready made online platform useful for syncing pages (not essential)
  • Logic / Adobe Audition – for sound recording for installation and promotional videos
  • Microphone / mixing desk – to record sounds



Stage 1 – The survey

    1. Devise survey questions and possible answers. Keep it simple: the fewer questions you ask the less the risk of overcomplicating things! Spend some time doing this, because the types of answers will greatly affect everything you do next. For instance: what format will you use for the questions? Are the answers multiple choice? How many answers can be chosen at once? Make sure your questions are not leading.
      This will impact how the data will be stored in the database and how it can be visualised. The simplest way to make a survey is to make sure that all of the answer types are the same: e.g. all ‘yes’ or ‘no’, all multiple choice with one possible answer, and so on.
    2.  Think about how to make the website fun and good looking, but also easy to navigate and functional.
    3. Sketch out the site on paper, being as detailed as possible, before designing “wire frames” – simple prototypes of the structure of your web pages.
    4. Design the images and animations that are going to represent the questions and upload or embed them into the site.
    5.  Connect each question to the database so the answers will be stored, and create a master document so you can see which entries relate to which question.
    6. Buy a domain name and get the site online.
    7. View your site in different browsers to make sure it works on Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, etc and also view it on different platforms, as many people use their phones to view the internet.
    8. User-test your site: check all of the links work and test it with multiple users to ensure it won’t crash if 100 people access it at once!
    9. Launch a social media campaign to promote your site.

Stage 2: The Installation

    1. Think about the objects you could build for your installation that could be easily wired up to connect to the database: what could you build that is both engaging and will ensure that all of the survey questions are answered in the same way? For example, if one of your online survey questions has 12 answers, this must be exactly the same in the installation in order to match up to the database.
    2. Build the objects that will be wired up. You could get some help with this from an expert sculptor or artist.
    3. Wire the back of your objects to Arduino boards and add touch sensors to the side of the installation piece that will be facing the user. Label all of your wires and note which input matches each question. You will need this information later so it’s important to do it right at this stage.
    4. Connect the Arduino board to the laptop.
    5. Run Max/MSP or PD on the laptop and create a patch that enables you to both control the installation function, and store the data in a .txt document, or add it straight into the online database if you have Wi-Fi. (For more information about this, tutorials are available online).
    6. Think about the best way to reach your desired audience to promote the installation. This might be creating posters, flyers and videos, visiting local groups, giving out personalised invitations, spreading the word online, informing the local press, or a combination of these. Market the installation using a range of techniques that your desired audience is likely to see.
    7. If you have stored your data in a .txt file, transfer all your data into the online database.

Stage 3: The visualisations

When you have some data in your database (from online hits and visitors to the installation) you can begin to think about visualising the information.

Go back to your aims – what are you aiming to achieve with your visualisations? Why did you collect the data, and what are you aiming to gain from it?

For instance: if you asked a question about how people usually travel with the aim of getting more people cycling, think about how you can visualise the data you have in order to make that happen. Look for patterns in your data. Do people who have said their favourite breakfast is a full English normally drive a car to work? What are the obesity statistics like for the area? If you combine these three stats you imply there is a connection – and you prompt the viewer to draw their own conclusions. They may deduce: “Cycling is better than driving because it’s better for my health.” Obviously you can’t change the results – the data is what it is and some of the findings may surprise you – but it’s best to consider how can you use the data you have to work towards your goals.


Data Patchwork was inspired by Knowle West Media Centre’s (KWMC) ‘City Dashboard’ project, which aimed to make local open data more accessible and allow Bristol residents to find interesting and relevant information about their city.

The Dashboard prototype, developed with artist Dane Watkins, was an online space where citizens could see how well the city was performing and view visual representations of open data gathered across the city’s neighbourhoods, such as health statistics, house prices, crime levels and traffic flow.

The aim was to inspire people to take an active role in the life of their city, from trying something new in their lives to actively seeking to make differences in their area. Bristol residents were invited to participate in the development of the prototype, beginning with a workshop in September 2013.

In light of feedback from a group of residents and existing available open data, we decided to gather citizen-generated data, focusing on community priorities in Knowle West, and create a Community Dashboard.

Knowle West is an area of approximately 5,500 households in South Bristol, covering the Filwood electoral ward and parts of the neighbouring wards.  KWMC has been based there since its inception in 1996. Knowle West is a resilient, close-knit community with many active social groups, well-used green spaces and allotments, and a rich history.  However, the area ranks highly in deprivation indices for income, employment, health and education – in Bristol and the UK as a whole.

Over the years local amenities have closed, including the cinema, swimming pool and pub, and there are many empty shops. The area has suffered from negative stereotyping and stigma and recently there have been problems with dog mess, litter, and fly tipping. From previous community engagement work, KWMC learned that people in Knowle West felt disappointed in the cleanliness and lack of facilities in the area, and felt let down by promises of change that have not been fulfilled.

KWMC hoped that taking an innovative approach to gathering information would engage a larger number of residents and discover if this discontentment remained. Working closely with the Neighborhood Planning Group, a questionnaire was drafted to find out residents’ current lifestyle choices and their hopes and ambitions for themselves and their area.

To reach as many people as possible, KWMC’s Junior Digital Producers (JDPs) were asked to think about unique and interactive ways to gather data and present it in a way that grabbed people’s attention and made them want to talk about it.  The method they chose also needed to function as an online survey that was fun and therefore more likely to be shared virally. The group decided to create interactive games to collect information and use art to explore the findings – and Data Patchwork was born.

The project had three stages. First, the JDPs coded and illustrated an online survey game: Data Patchwork. Then they built an art installation with a difference: The Living Living Room was constructed entirely from cardboard, with each piece of furniture representing a question in the survey. Each piece of furniture was connected to a computer so that residents could move and play with it while simultaneously answering questions in the survey. The final stage was the creation of an online space called the Information Station. The Station displays animations, created by the JDPs, which explain aspects of community life using the information collected from the online survey and installation.

The data visualisations in the Information Station clarify local issues, such as the disparity between perceptions of crime (high) and the number of incidents (falling), and identify the barriers that residents feel prevent them from working in their dream jobs and travelling in their preferred way. It also illustrates whether there is demand for facilities such as a supermarket in the area, with a view to encouraging local enterprise. The Information Station even suggests local activities based on popular responses and the weather conditions that day!

KWMC hopes that by making local information more accessible, Knowle West residents will feel empowered to work together to identify and tackle issues, and become more active citizens.