Sarah Barns


b. 1986, HK.

About me

Sarah is a strategist, researcher and producer who works with cities to shape digital investments that support and cultivate creative and inclusive communities.

Her diverse portfolio of projects and expertise reflects close to 20 years working at the forefront of digital transformation across media, urban policy and the arts. Originally trained as an urban historian, and with experience as a public broadcasting strategist, communications policy adviser, arts advocate, and smart cities researcher, Sarah has a unique understanding of the challenging urban technology landscape and its implications for placemaking and urban public policy investments.

Today Sarah supports city governments to design and deliver inclusive public programs and digital activation initiatives with diverse cultural and community partners. She is one half of urban media arts practice Esem Projects, and a respected digital adviser to urban designers and policy makers in the fields of smart cities, digital placemaking and cultural strategy.

Sarah is also a mother of two daughters, a soundwalk composer, avid music fan, and an aspiring Romana’s Pilates instructor ;-).

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clients Past and Present

CSIRO / Data 61
Sydney Airport Corporation
Urban Growth NSW
City of Sydney
Liverpool City Council
Arts Centre of Christchurch
Arts SA
+ more


Some more about me

Emerging technologies have always shaped the lens through which I engage with cities and public culture. A former convergent media policy adviser and researcher, I developed the ABC’s first location based mobile app in 2008 and later, its organisational digital strategy. I have worked as an urban consultant for engineering firm Arup; and have led pioneering international research programs on smart cities and platform urbanism, helping to shape CSIRO’s Future Cities program. In late 2019 my book on platform thinking for connected cities will be published.

My PhD was on the historical futures of real-time cities, which included some deep dive excavations of Sydney’s archival soundscapes, and explored sound-led augmented reality experiences of historical moments in the shaping of Sydney.

In 2010 I founded the digital placemaking practice Esem Projects with my partner Michael Killalea, one of the most talented designers and producers I know ;-). We lead teams of creative pioneers to program and build magical and meaningful events, activations and installations in the public domain - have a look a some of the places and communities we’ve worked with over here.

As a strategy and policy adviser, I support cities and property owners to understand the building blocks of data governance shaped by internet of things (IoT) technology, and to leverage investments in data platforms to support community engagement and placemaking.

You can check out some of my reports and publications over here.

Thanks for stopping by - and feel free to get in touch to start a conversation.

Things I’m proud of…

  • My book Platform Urbanism: Negotiating Platform Ecosystems in Connected Cities (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).

  • Supporting the development of South Australia’s first Arts Plan in 20 years (2019).

  • Working with the girls of Liverpool Girls High School to deliver the Visions of Peace digital placemaking trail (2018).

  • Delivering a keynote defending the need for a ‘new deal on city data’ as part of the Media Architecture Biennale in Sydney in 2016.

  • My work as a curatorial lead and interpretation designer for the Arts Centre of Christchurch’s Rutherford’s Den redevelopment (2015-6).

  • Writing the Australia Council for the Arts’ first Creative Industries Strategy, and subsequently working on the establishment of UTS Creative Industries Innovation Centre (2005; 2008).

  • My development of the ABC’s first location based mobile app, focused on experiencing Sydney’s history through diverse audio-visual collections (2008).

  • My daughters, Lena (born 2008) and Annika (2010).

  • Cultivating creative collaborations with teams of awesome and inspiring people.

Ok, that might not be everything, but it’s a start!

Want to stay in touch? Follow me on Twitter, or reach out on Linked In