Design the Future
January 19–20, 2016: Training
January 20–22, 2016: Conference
San Francisco, CA

Incubating sustainability: Fostering collaborative, data-driven design in developing-world contexts

Xiaowei R. Wang (Mapbox)
1:15pm Friday, 01/22/2016
Design for a greater good
Location: Generals Residence Dining
Average rating: ***..
(3.00, 2 ratings)


Data literacy is an increasingly important skill throughout the world. An emerging set of tools provides ways for marginalized communities and groups in the developing world to produce and generate data. Xiaowei Wang gives an overview of the Nomadic Mapping Collective in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, a project sponsored by the US Department of State and ZERO1’s Arts Incubator program. The Nomadic Mapping Collective is a highly novel organizational model that encourages geographic data literacy and ownership, supports long-term sustainability, and impacts urban policy in the informal settlements of Ulaanbaatar.

Many programs and initiatives have sought to use crowdsourcing or codesign to map informal settlements in Ulaanbaatar. In the case of many NGO initiatives, community members are unable to access the data gathered by the project or participate in design research, only for the resulting designs to have little long-term effect on or sustainability for their communities. The Nomadic Mapping Collective sought out ways to collaboratively design presentations of geographic data in nontraditional, nonaerial views and give ownership of the data to the people whose settlements were being mapped. Along the way, the project confronted numerous emerging issues around collecting data in developing contexts, including a reluctance on the part of the community to engage, be surveyed, or be recruited into the project.

Topics include:

  • Basic data literacy
  • What we take for granted in understanding data literacy
  • Survey design and research for codesigning map data visualizations
  • Strategies, organizational models, and precedents for collective ownership of intellectual property and data in developing countries
Photo of Xiaowei R. Wang

Xiaowei R. Wang


Xiaowei R. Wang is a designer at Mapbox. Her work and research is at the intersection of participatory geography, interactive art, and information ecologies. Her work has been featured in IEEE publications, the New York Times, and the Guardian and on the BBC and CNN. Recent projects include Lux meridiani, a video game focused on sci-fi ecological scenarios developed at the Headlands Center for the Arts, and the Nomadic Mapping Collective, created as part of the American Arts Incubator program, a US Department of State initiative implemented by ZERO1.

Xiaowei is one of the cocreators of FLOAT Beijing, a project combining art, technology, and environmental sensing that was an INDEX: Design to Improve Life finalist in 2013.