Sens-Us explored how physical survey systems could be used for large scale, nationwide information gathering – such as an alternative to the UK Census. Currently the UK Census is a multi-page survey document, that is sent to all households in the UK every 10 years. The Census covers lost of themes related to how people live their lives in the UK, and even though it is a requirement for every household to complete, response rates can often be low because it can be an arduous and time consuming task. We wanted to explore how to transform this large document into something that could be more embedded into everyday life so that citizen feedback could be provided in more contextualised settings, as small chunks of information on an ongoing basis, rather than in one large decontextualised survey document in 10 year snapshots. For example, imagine contributing to health questions at the doctors surgery, or answering transport questions while waiting at a bus stop.


Sen-Us is a set of five physical input stations that address different themes including Demographics, Health, Belonging, City Life, and Trust. Some themes are similar to those covered by the current UK Census, such as demographics and health, but other themes are more progressive, such as querying how much people feel they belong where they live, and questions probing who they trust and don’t trust in civic life. Some sensitive and more provocative questions were also included to explore if people are still willing to answer such questions on a physical machine in a public space. To interact with a Sens-Us input station, firstly an NFC card (like an Oyster card) is inserted which activates the box. Questions are then answered by sliding sliders, pushing buttons and turning dials. When finished, the card is removed and the answer data is stored with the card ID. This allows answers from the same person to be linked across different boxes, as the same person should use the same card to interact with each box. In addition to the five input stations, Sens-Us also includes a large interactive visualisation pillar which displays various infographics of how people have answered the questions. By inserting the NFC card, a person can also see how other people have answered in comparison to themselves.

The installation was deployed and open to the public at Somerset House for 2 months at the start of 2015, during which time over 850 people use the system. Based on this success, Sens-Us was also installed as part of the 2015 WebWeWant festival in the Southbank Centre.

The project provided many interesting results in relation to gathering data from the public in this more physical and less private manner.

Firstly, we compared the data gathered through Sens-Us with data gathered from an identical online survey (which was completed by a comparable number of people) to see if there were questions or themes that people were less inclined to answer in the more public setting of Sens-Us. Interestingly, there was very little difference between what people answered online and what people answered through Sens-Us. The question which raised most privacy concerns was about salary, but the majority of people still answered this on the Sens-Us box. Some were observed moving the physical salary slider to a different position when they were done so the next person would not see their actual answer.

Secondly, we asked people about their experiences and privacy concerns when using the Sens-Us system. It emerged that the physical design of the Sens-Us input stations led to some interesting assumptions about how the system worked. Some believed that the data was held on the NFC card, when in fact this was just a simple ID card with the data being stored on a secure server under that card ID. Others assumed that the input stations were not connected to the Internet because they didn’t look like a typical computer or connected device. This raises interesting questions about how to design interactive public devices to communicate their affordances to users, and reduce such misunderstandings.

For more information, check out the project webpage:

Sens-Us Project


Connie Golsteijn, Sarah Gallacher, Licia Capra, and Yvonne Rogers. 2016. Sens-Us: Designing Innovative Civic Technology for the Public Good. In Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS ’16). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 39-49. DOI:



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