The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis


Sarah Williams | Data Action: Using Data For Public Good

20 January 2021, 5:00 pm–6:00 pm

CASA Seminar Series 2020/21

Event Information

Open to





Dr Max Nathan

Data Action presents a corrective to standard data practices by acknowledging that data represents the ideologies of those who control its use. This talk will describe Data Action, a methodological framework, which asks advocates of big data analytics to rethink how they work with data to make the process more responsive to the people their work affects. By centering trust and co-ownership in the data analysis, the “Data Action” principles allow for a creative process that involves building, analyzing, communicating results, and then ground-truthing the findings through site visits and interviews—thus reworking the analytics based on the input all along the way. Collaboration with policy experts, government, designers, and the public is essential to the “Data Action” approach: the results generate policy debates, influence civic decisions, and inform design solutions to help ensure that the voices of people represented in the data are neither marginalized nor left silent “Data Action” is a call to action that asks us to rethink our methods of using data to improve or change policy and to empower local communities. By showing that humans are often at the center of data analytics projects. Through narratives of projects that embody the “Data Action” principle, this talk will illustrate the ways we can use data for a tool for empowerment rather than oppression.

About the Speaker

Sarah Williams

Associate Professor of Technology and Urban Planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Sarah Williams is currently an Associate Professor of Technology and Urban Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she also directs the Civic Data Design Lab and chairs MIT’s new undergraduate program in Urban Science. Williams’ combines her training in computation and design to create communication strategies that expose urban policy issues to broad audiences and create civic change. She calls the process Data Action, which is also the name of her recent book published by MIT Press. Williams is co-founder and developer of Envelope.city, a web-based software product that visualizes and allows users to modify zoning in New York City. Before coming to MIT, Williams was Co-Director of the Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation (GSAPP), where she was a member of the Million Dollar Blocks team which is well known for using visulization to highlight the costs of incarceration. Her design work has been widely exhibited including work in the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Venice Biennale, and the Cooper Hewitt Museum. Williams has won numerous awards including being named top 25 planners in the technology and Game Changer by Metropolis Magazine. Check out her latest exhibition, Visualizing NYC 2021, at the Center for Architecture in New York City which opened November 19th.

More about Sarah Williams