Smart Social Strategy Lab (3S) produces urban innovation, promotes urban resilience, and ensures sustainable development across social, economic, and environmental domains.
an idea and a place
Smart Social Strategy Lab (3S) relies on innovation to promote urban resilience and ensure sustainable urban development.
We develop data-based models of urban social life and make them accessible to decision makers and residents.
We believe that these models need to be accessible to the wider public and encourage civic participation.
These models are projected at our visualization theater: A unique space for assembly, learning, and dialogical development.
The space provides an immersive experience of standing within the 3D model of the city, with its multilayered complexity, and allows participants to touch the data and engage in experiential and experimental planning.
Our Techno-Social Methodology
- Collecting multiple official and informal data
- Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to layer data in a ‘social digital twin’
- Analyzing the data, with a focus on interaction and complexity
- Visualizing the Findings to suggest new ways of seeing
- Using the models and visualization to foster productive dialogue between decision-makers, interest groups, and citizens
This way, the Lab develops policy and decision-making tools adequate for meeting social and economic challenges, in highly complex environments and in the face of planetary challenges. Our interdisciplinary team brings together data scientists, geo-informatics specialists, urban planners and architects, artists, and social scientists to create social impact tools and protocols and participatory technologies.
Because we live in a world where extensive urban development is primarily driven by economic interests that ignore social needs and lead to environmental crisis. Smart Social Strategy mobilizes the technologies, languages, and cultural resonance of data to focus planning and policy-making processes on what matters most.
Because most people rely on visual and tactile orientation to make sense of the world, yet decision-making processes expect citizens and decision-makers to read and understand the technical language of experts. Smart Social Strategy seeks to democratize decision-making processes by making data accessible and open to the people.
We partner with local municipalities, non-government organizations, and local communities to co-produce change. Without ignoring power imbalances and conflicts of interest, we bring together the government and civil society to support truly public policy.
Developing the Smart Social Strategy toolbox
Urban studies developed in response to the Industrial Revolution and industrialization’s severe effects on cities and their social structure, among other things. One of the responses in the world of urban planning was New Urbanism: an attempt to return planning and architecture to the human scale, and to use them to better understand environmental and social principles such as diversity, crowding etc.
However, the twenty-first century has made it clear that we erred in terms of scale: crises have become more global, more complex, and much more dangerous, for example, in the form of wildfires, pandemics, and food and water crises that have frequently exacerbated social problems such as spatial inequality and political instability. An understanding of the intensity of events has resulted in theoretical, methodological, and policy responses on a much broader scale. On the level of policy, the United Nations formulated the SDG as integrative goals, thereby providing policy makers with content and concepts to contend with the crises of the twenty-first century.
In the social sciences, Neil Brenner has coined the term “planetary urbanism,” inviting us to view cities as a connected global sphere that defines all resources of the planet according to its needs: demography, the movement of trade, the division of goods, crops, etc. In urban studies, Michael Batty has proposed viewing the city as a problem of high complexity.
This approach began as a theory, but even more so as a methodology. Researchers using this approach have called for the development of technology-based methodologies capable of contending with problems of high complexity.
Equipped with a global conception of cities, with policy goals, and with the conviction that technology can help us respond to problems of complexity, the concept of smart cities began to establish itself, first as a theory, then as a toolbox, and then as a market of products.
In academics, urban labs dealing with urban innovation, in search of simple answers to complex questions, have been established. Our lab is part of this trend; however, its unique aspect and its beating heart is sociology and anthropology, and the interdisciplinary world that has been built around them. Many developments in the world of smart cities focus on the physical environment and on technology that deals with the lives of people, even though the development teams do not include experts in the fields of sociology, anthropology, or ethics.
Our research project strives to bring about a social turn in the paradigm of smart cities. It is an applied study that on the one hand develops tools, and on the other hand documents and analyzes their implications for and their impact on relevant realms. The movement between these two areas stems from a dual obligation: one to critical theory and another to the desire to develop a theory and a methodology in response to the challenges of the present period. Guiding these challenges is the need to attend to and manage the social content worlds in contexts of urban planning and management. That is to say, we seek to translate social insights and conceptions into the working worlds of urban planning and architecture by creating a language of representation and through advanced modeling.
Areas of Work
Producing a representational language based on technologies that support advanced visualization
In this sense, the lab constitutes a “black box” producing a new representational language by translating insights – which we have grown accustom to consuming in words – into a language of architecture and planning: color, shape, line, and transparency. We ask what are the limitations of the textual dimension in the communication of social insights in urban planning? And continuing onward from this question: How can social issues (such as loneliness, poverty, and social gaps) be translated into the visual language that is so commonplace in urban planning? One of our responses to this question is presented in the article on “Social Topography,” which refers to a representational language for one of the major problems of our time: spatial inequality. Social topography, which is represented in 3D, allows us “to see cities as we have never before seen them.” In this project, we asked: How do 3D technologies help us attend to social inequality for the sake of decision making in planning? Does the representational language known as “Social Topography” facilitate more effective results in the planning process? We responded by means of focus groups with regional planning committees operating in Israel, which is a study that is currently still in the writing stage. However, the visual dimension is only one component of this research project. The smart cities toolbox enabled us to expand the ways in which social modeling is conducted, which is also our second trajectory of research.
Development of architectural, mathematical, and sociological models for analyzing the social effects of the planning process
At this stage in the research, we asked: How can 3D computerized modeling help us address the social implications of processes shaping urban policy? Our response was to develop the “Social Urban Digital Twin”: a computerized representation of the city and the neighborhood that relies on big data and is capable of engaging in urban geo-simulation and machine learning. In this way, it turns urban sociology on its head, enabling us to identify social phenomena using AI technology. Here, the research question is: How do 3D data-based modelling technologies facilitate the representation and modeling of social content worlds? Our major argument in our article on the Social Digital Twin (which is currently undergoing a second review process) is that these technologies help us advance the theory of urbanism that holds that physical and social fabric must be regarded as a single urban framework. Forms of data organization, representation, and advanced analyses have further enabled us to meld the physical and the social fabrics. In addition to its theoretical contribution, it is an applied article that proposes a new protocol for social modeling that fuses the fields of sociology and anthropology with the technology and builds the ethical worlds that stem from it.
Responding to the lacuna revealed by the research in the realm of urban innovation
Researchers argue that whereas technological development occurs quickly, the ways of assimilating these technologies in the everyday organizational life of cities do not receive extensive attention. This question is sharpened and made more dramatic when we deal with the social content world, which is the responsibility of departments that suffer from an immense digital lag in comparison to other departments of city administration (such as engineering and security, to name two). Therefore, the lab’s research team developed a protocol that constitutes a theory and methodology for use in coordination with the Social Digital Twin, which it reviews in the article “Smarter Participation: Co-Governing Urban Aging with a Neighborhood Digital Twin.” This study, which is currently under review for publication, proposes a new methodology for addressing the gap between smart city technologies and their ability to inform policy making. Utilizing a digital twin city in the context of participatory design thinking, the protocol presented in the paper consists of five milestones that facilitate joint decision making in realms of urban welfare (such as urban aging, for example). This protocol offers cities and neighborhoods a methodology that can enable them to embrace digitalization and data-based decision making, enhancing their ability to contend with and manage the complex realities of the city.