What is Citizen Sensing?

As our cities get ‘smarter’, more digital sensors are appearing in our cities: on lampposts and buses, in our phones, even in litter bins! Sensors are detecting and collecting information about us and our environment, such as motion, temperature, light and noise. But how much do we know about the information these sensors are collecting and who is using it?

Illustration of people using sensors near a city bus

Globally, there has been a surge of interest in ‘citizen sensing’: people using sensors, often low-cost and self-built, to collect data that helps them find out more about issues they care about.

Fukushima map

Fukushima, Japan

For example… In Fukushima, Japan, through a project called SAFECAST people built and used low-cost sensors to measure radiation and pollutant levels which were not being released by the government after the nuclear disaster. Citizens were then able to make informed choices about how to navigate their city and avoid the worst affected areas. This is one clear example of ‘citizen sensing’, you can see more on the ‘Get Inspired’ section.

‘Our mission is to provide citizens worldwide with the tools they need to inform themselves by gathering and sharing accurate environmental data in an open and participatory fashion’ – SAFECAST blog

Community Meeting

Community Group – Photographer: Ibolya Feher

When individuals and communities are part of designing and building their own digital sensors, previously mysterious ‘smart’ technologies start to have a clear purpose: helping to ‘make sense’ of the world and take steps to change it for the better.

Citizen Sensing starts from a place of remembering that humans are powerful data sensors that can hear, smell, taste, touch and see. The real power of digital sensors lies in how they can connect with, combine and enhance existing human resources and knowhow.

What are the advantages?

The advantages of Citizen Sensing
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