Blog: Data and the Future City: a dramatic exploration

11th April 2016

CCS Project Manager, Fiona MacLennan, shares her reflections on a recent script reading at the Traverse which brought together researchers from the University of Edinburgh Schools of Engineering and Informatics with theatre makers to explore research into the future of our cities.

We often think of art and science as being almost opposing disciplines. Yet at Creative Carbon Scotland we find ourselves benefiting from opportunities presented by bringing artists together with scientists, engineers and technicians to explore approaches to dealing with climate change. Artists can often respond with enthusiasm and a novel viewpoint to problems which seem intractable to the problem solvers while scientist can bolster authenticity in a work of art. Our own recent project ArtCOP Scotlandduring which artists responded to the December Paris Climate Summit, revealed the myriad of ways in which artistic practices could help to discuss and explore our relationship with the social-political issues surrounding climate change.

The Traverse recently hosted an interesting example of this approach with a joint production from the Traverse Theatre and the University of Edinburgh Schools of Engineering and Informatics of Data and the Future City.

A group of research staff at the department of Informatics at Edinburgh University were approaching the task of gathering research proposals. Faced with the prospect of organising yet another workshop along the usual lines which would come up with the usual ideas, a chance suggestion that they ‘talk to someone at the Traverse’ culminated in a dramatized presentation of 11 possible scenarios.

Each of the scenarios dealt with a different possible aspect of living in a future version of Edinburgh where personal data was being used to provide services for (and control of) the population. The academics involved each wrote a short dialog which explored possible uses of ‘Big data’ ranging from medical services (e-doctor) to punishments for minor offending (off-points) with benefits and disadvantages explored and discussed.

The dialogs, voiced by 6 actors, reading direct from the scripts, were thought provoking and ranged from tragic to comic and engaged the audience in a way that a list of workshop inspired research ideas never could.

The process of writing, dramatizing and presenting the scenarios took place over 3 half days and was both inspiring and difficult for both the scientists and the artists but illustrated how the arts can provide a voice for a wide range of communities who struggle to communicate and audiences who would otherwise have limited opportunities to hear diverse messages.

Creative Carbon Scotland runs a range of projects to bring together the arts and environmental sustainability. Find out more about our work here.


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We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

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