Future Cities - City of Melbourne partnership

Seat sensor, image copyright of Kari Dahlgren

In the City of Melbourne precinct there are a number of technologies currently in use that monitor weather, understand pedestrian activity, tell us when bins are full, or monitor public space through CCTV - but how do the city’s inhabitants understand these technologies?

As many examples around the world show, urban testbeds for emerging technologies often falter when they do not engage the public as a partner from the beginning. They are confronted with pushback that can sour public opinion, spur activist movements, and ultimately impede or undermine a planned project. The City of Melbourne values a transparent approach to data collection across its jurisdiction. ETLab’s research expertise is helping the City to understand how Melbourne users can engage with new smart initiatives as part of the CoM’s strategy for the future city.

“This is an important initiative to provide a community lens on emerging technologies that have the potential to transform the way we run the city for the benefit of all Melburnians”

Councillor Phillip Le Liu, City of Melbourne

The ETLab team will unpack how the City of Melbourne community can be engaged early in the process of testing new technologies  through a three-pronged focus:

  • Awareness: what is the public's actual understanding of how emerging tech works, beliefs about what it is meant to do, and experiences of its impacts?
  • Perception: what are the public’s values and goals, hopes and fears about how emerging tech should (and should not) be designed and deployed?
  • Partnership: what ways can the public be empowered as a partner in the project, rather than, at best, seen as simply a passive user or, at worst, excluded, ignored, and stereotyped based on assumptions of their behaviours and values. Rather than a public-private partnership, we can think of this relationship as a public-public partnership.

The team will use a mixed-methods approach involving desk research, stakeholder interviews, and digital ethnography with the local community. Their findings will inform the City of Melbourne’s work in designing and implementing an APP-based method for urban sensing in Melbourne.  The project will deliver a workshop for key policymakers in the City of Melbourne, to inform their implementation of urban sensing, technology testbeds, broader smart city strategy, and a report to City of Melbourne that crystallises ETLab’s findings and offers guiding principles for further development of communications tools.

“By helping the City of Melbourne engage with the local community early in the process of testing new smart technologies and planning the future city strategy, this project will contribute important insights into how people perceive, value, and use emerging technologies in the urban environment”

Dr Jathan Sadowski Chief Investigator, ETLab

About the Monash ETLab team:

  • Jathan Sadowski is the lead Chief Investigator to the project. He is organising the spotlight case studies and conducting interviews with stakeholders
  • Kari Dahlgren is a CI on the project and leading the Melbourne-based ethnography through developing innovative virtual methods
  • Debora Lanzeni is CI on the project. Working from Spain she is leading the international spotlights and contributing her smart cities expertise to the project
  • Sarah Pink is CI on the project, she provides initial research design and framing, expert guidance on ethnographic and workshop methods
  • Bianca Vallentine is the Project Manager for the team

The project is a collaborative partnership with City of Melbourne

Read the Report: Experiences and Perspectives of Urban Sensing in Melbourne

Read more

Report: Experiences and Perspectives of Urban Sensing in Melbourne


Smarter if not smart cities, New Electronics (UK)

Project contact

Contact: Bianca Vallentine

Email: bianca.vallentine@monash.edu