The Quantified Self Festival

Begin with one city. Invite everybody: “Let’s track the things we care about for 100 days!” Share tools, grow networks, inspire friendships. End with a grand celebration. Leave the data behind as a gift to the city.

Photo of Gary Wolf
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Let’s organize a great civic self-tracking festival to help everybody make new discoveries with data. The template and infrastructure we build can be used anywhere, by anybody.

Traditionally, research questions about health and wellness are addressed from the top down. Professionals choose which health measures are important, while citizens are seen mainly as sources of data and recipients of expert advice. The aim of our Quantified Self festival is to turn this world upside down, inspiring individuals, families, and communities to define what they’d like to track, and why, while enlisting experts, civic leaders, journalists, and technologists as supporters of a broadly popular adventure in knowledge making. 

We’ll use our Quantified Self experience to involve diverse partners, including schools, community organizations, city political leaders, media organizations, research institutions, technology companies, and health care providers. By aligning all participants around a common mission of supporting individual and community self-discovery, we’ll accelerate cultural change.

Our festival involves some technical infrastructure so that participants can easily register, share projects, find tools, and lend each other support. We will involve the developers who have been a big part of the Quantified Self movement, as well as the tech community more generally, to provision the festival. A guiding principle will be that participants have maximum control over their own data. We’ll end with an exposition at a major civic venue, where we'll celebrate what we've done and learned together.

Innovation is typically figured as the product of individuals or small teams working together towards a known goal: making a device, building a database, curing a disease. Our proposal arises from a different idea about innovation. Although we see incredible inventiveness in our field, it’s obvious that conventional knowledge systems, especially in health care, can’t easily handle the increase in data and the diversity of questions that comes with the advent of new self-tracking tools. What we need most is not a new invention, but a new way of thinking. So our Quantified Self festival has three aims: to inspire and support broad, popular engagement with our own data; to make new, significant discoveries about ourselves and our communities; and, most importantly, to celebrate a more democratic way of making knowledge.

UPDATE: Here is some more detailed information about our QS Labs Team: For our Quantified Self Festival, we'll be calling especially on the expertise of our Advisory Board member Michael Olmstead, founder and president of  e2k/Events for Change. Michael has produced civic events for Jon Stewart and Stephan Colbert, the NFL, America's Cup, Pachamama Alliance, World Cup Soccer, and many other groups.

Describe your project in one sentence.

We will design and produce a civic Quantified Self festival where everybody is invited to participate, celebrate, and learn.

Who is the audience for this project? How does it meet their needs?

The essence of this project is that it’s for everybody. By including the broadest popular audience in a fun, city-wide self-tracking festival, built on a durable, open registration platform, we’ll allow diverse groups, including citizens, journalists, toolmakers, researchers, civic leaders, and health care providers, to make new discoveries together.

What does success look like?

Thousands of participants, hundreds of projects, dozens of hosts and sponsors, climaxing in a day long celebration of the discoveries we’ve made asking our own questions of our own data, followed by inquiries from cities around the world asking: “How can we do one?”

Your Location

San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA


Join the conversation:

Photo of Natasha

I think this could be a lot of fun, but I gotta ask the question about privacy....I'm nervous about how much I already put out there, what's to make us feel good about putting out more?

Photo of Gary

Thank you for this spot on comment. One of the goals of the QS Festival (and the QS movement generally) is to keep the locus of control over personal data as close to the individual as possible. The aim of the Festival is not to stoke the Big Data inferno, but to help people collect and use their own data, for their own purposes. What we think might be worth sharing in the context of our communities and our cities is not some giant aggregate of data, but rather the stories we make from our data, and some of the community infrastructure to help people find each other and support each other.

I jumped over to your MOVE project and commented there, because I was inspired to see what you are doing to support storytelling. Our videos aren't quite at your level (!) but for clarity's sake, here's example what some people in the community are up to:

Photo of Gary

I just realized the story I posted didn't have Sara Riggare's story of tracking her Parkinson's tremors, but was a different talk she gave about using this tracking for research; the tremor tracking talk hasn't been posted yet. SO, how about another example, a story about 10,000 glucose measurements. :-)