Collective investigation in San Francisco with the students minoring in Public Affairs and Innovation

From 7 to 20 February 2016, the twelve students minoring in Public Affairs and Innovation (PAI) went to San Francisco as part of a study trip to participate in a collective investigation. In the frame of the CitEx project (City Experiment with urban mobility practices), involving a partnership with the Institute for Sustainable mobility (Renault-Nissan Alliance), the investigation explored the linkages between infrastructures, urban innovation and mobility policy in the San Francisco Bay area. During these two weeks, three researchers (Madeleine Akrich, Brice Laurent, David Pontille) and a PhD student (Félix Talvard) from the CSI, as well as a researcher from LATTS-ENPC (Stève Bernardin), contributed to interviews and ethnographical observations with the students and supervised their work.


Associated to all the stages of the fieldwork – from the preparation of the interviews to data analysis and delivery of the results – the PAI students worked hard with the teaching team to collect a vast empirical material (in particular more than fifty semi-directive interviews). A large variety of actors and of sites were studied: from various levels of urban governance (State, county, city, municipal agencies) to the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem (industrialists, start-ups, incubators, investors), to large urban development programs such as Transbay Transit Center or prominent academic institutions such as UC Berkeley. The collective reflection sessions held each day after fieldwork brought forward a set of interconnected issues (housing shortage, transport congestion, conflicting methods of decisif_talvard_2on-making) combining technical aspects, economic considerations and political issues. The contemplated solutions, centered on an experimental mode of innovation and citizens’ incentives meant to change their behavior, revealed the importance of data as economical and political entities, as well as reconfigurations of public-private partnership relationships at the heart of urban innovation.

Back in Paris, the students, along with the supervising team, compiled these analyses in order to issue a report of about sixty pages providing a comprehensive, if not exhaustive picture of the urban mobility innovation policies in San Francisco. On April 13th, the students set out the survey results before representatives of the Sustainable Mobility Institute, the research division of the Renault Group and the CSI. The excellent reception of their work gave rise to a second presentation before the Inspectorate General of the Ministry of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and the Sea, on April 19th. As for the CSI researchers involved in the CitEx project, they are currently exploiting the results of the investigation, in particular through scientific communications: at the LATTS (Ecole des Ponts ParisTech) on May 10th, at the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin on May 26th and at the Ministry of Environment on June 7th, for instance.


Photo #1: Participative « tools» designed and used by the NGO San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association (SPUR). San Francisco, February 2016. Photo credit: Madeleine Akrich.
Photo #2: Students and researchers visiting Perkins & Will, an urban planning office in San Francisco. San Francisco, February 2016. Photo credit: David Pontille.