DIF Studio The power of data and information in cities

  • Speakers:
  • Mara Balestrini

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In a world where governments and businesses know more about us than in any previous period of time, protecting our privacy and claiming a democractic use of this information is more important than ever.

Cities host more than half of the global population and this figure is expected to increase to 66% in 2050. They are also central to much of the world’s cutting-edge innovation, acting as hubs for designing and testing out new business models and technology at scale.

But if we want smart cities, we need smart citizens, which means guaranteeing access to opportunities to develop skills that allow them to critically interact with new technologies.

Tune in to this session with Mara Balestrini, a systems thinker and the CEO of Ideas for Change to explore how citizens can harness their city's data and use it to address local problems.


Mara Balestrini

Mara Balestrini

CEO Ideas for Change

Mara is a Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) researcher and a technology strategist. She is the CEO of Ideas for Change, an innovation agency advising cities, businesses and institutions. Mara’s work sits at the intersection of civic technology, data, co-creation and Action Research. She has authored over 30 publications on these subjects and coordinated projects such as Making Sense EU, Bristol Approach and #DataFutures. Mara is also a co-founder of SalusCoop, the first Spanish cooperative for citizens’ health data.

Mara earned a PhD in Computer Science from the Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities (ICRI-Cities) at University College London (UCL). She also holds a BA in Audiovisual Communications and an MSc in Cognitive Systems and Interactive Media. She is Senior Faculty at the IAAC and a visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art (RCA). Her work has been awarded at ACM CHI, ACM CSCW, Ars Electronica, among others, and featured in international media such as the BBC, The Guardian, The Financial Times and El País.


Laura Franco Henao

Laura Franco Henao

DIF Programme Coordinator

Laura’s role at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation involves coordinating, developing, and helping run the Disruptive Innovation Festival (DIF). Working effectively with internal and external teams to make this programme globally significant, Laura ensures that the DIF plays a key role in the Foundation’s mission to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.

After finishing her bachelor’s degree in Economics, she moved to the international development field. She has published some of her research in the African Population Studies journal. She also holds a masters in Development Studies from the Institute of Development Studies. Her dissertation focused on how the circular economy can help address environmental and social challenges in Uruguay.

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