Sarah Barns



Focused at the intersection of digital disruption and urban transformation, my work under the banner of Cities Plus Data concerns the way data-driven platforms and methods are reshaping our urban environments, with major implications for the way cities are planned, managed and governed. 



Key Questions

  • How are new data-driven services reshaping the the way we plan, develop and design good places?
  • What are the new business models emerging in the creation of data-driven urban infrastructures?
  • How can city governments act as custodians of the city's data ecologies? What efforts are being done in this area? 
  • What counts as best practice data governance for smart cities?
  • What benefits do open data initiatives bring about for cities? 

Recent Talks & Presentations

  • 'Cities Plus Data: New vocabularies for city living'. UrbanGrowth NSW Keynote Presentation for half-yearly all staff meeting, July 2016. 
  • 'Cities in the Age of the Platform'. Keynote for the Media Architecture Biennale / Vivid Sydney, UNSW, 1 June 2016. View on slideshare. View the video online here
  • 'When two worlds collide: Data Strategy and Strategic Planning for Smart Governance'. UNSW Smart Cities Symposium, April 2016.
  • 'Platform Cities: The practices and politics of data driven urbanism'. Presentation to UK Urban Studies Foundation Postdoctoral Research Forum, April 2015. View on slideshare. 
  • 'Open City? Platform Urbanism and the data driven urban innovation agenda'. Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University, February 2014. 

Academic Publications on digital cities

Research into urban digital transformations has been supported through an Urban Studies Foundation Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship (2013-16), undertaken through Western Sydney University at the Institute for Culture and Society. 

Book Platform urbanism: Reframing the urban in an era of platform scale (In preparation).  

  • Acuto, M., Barns, S., Cosgrave. E., and McNeill, D. (2017) ‘Digital Infrastructures and Urban Governance’, Urban Policy and Research, forthcoming special issue on infrastructure governance in Australia and NZ (Accepted for publication August 2016). 
  • Barns, S. (2016) "Mine your data: open data, digital strategies and entrepreneurial governance by code". Urban Geography. Vol. 37 , Iss. 4,2016. 
  • Barns, S. and McNeill, D. (2016) Online Storytelling and the Non-Fiction City, Journal of Urban Cultural Research, Volume 2 Number 3. 
  • Barns, S. (2014) ‘Plus ça change? Remaking the city, ‘one site, one app, one click at a time’. City, April 2014. 
  • Barns, S. (2012) “Street Haunting: Sounding the Invisible City.” Foth, M. Satchell, C. (eds) From Social Butterfly to Engaged Citizen, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 
  • Barns, S. (2012) “The spatial imaginary of real-time cities”. Design Philosophy Papers Special Issue on Mapping Ecologies of Place, December 2011. 

Industry Reports & Other writing

  • "Roadmap for the Greater Sydney Commission Dashboard". Written on behalf of Data61/CSIRO for the NSW Department of Environment and Planning. August 2015. 
  • Open Data and the G20: The value is there to share.” The Conversation, 19 June 2014. 
  • Appy-land or Geekistan? The open questions of open data.” The Conversation, 3 December 2013. 
  • "An integrated online and mobile strategy for the ABC". Authored organisation-wide digital strategy on behalf of ABC Online Executive, August 2013.
  • "The Sensing City": Research Report on global smart city initiatives for Roger Dennis, Futures Forecaster, 2012.
  • Digital Readiness Strategies on behalf of Arup, 2012.
  • ABC Digital Emergencies Strategy, Research and outcomes of Mapping Emergencies, 2012
  • National Digital Literacy Research Framework, 2008
  • Australia Council Creative Industries Strategy, 2005




Dr. Sarah Barns is a respected researcher and urban digital strategist in the area of city data strategy, smart cities and digital storytelling.

Her work over the past decade has taken place at the intersection of urban transformation, place-making and digital disruption. How technology innovation shapes our cities — our places, our infrastructures and our built and cultural fabric — has been a long term preoccupation.  

From 2013 Sarah has held an Urban Studies Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Western Sydney University where she has developed an international research program addressing the rise of the data economy as a major game-changer for cities and policy makers. This work has informed a set of strategy and consultancy projects with organisations such as Data61/CSIRO, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, the NYU Centre for Urban Science and Progress and the ABC to facilitate data discovery and governance strategies underpinning smart city policies and digital engagement opportunities.

Sarah's work today builds on her early career in innovation policy and program development for organisations spanning the ABC, Arup, the Australia Council for the Arts, and the Creative Industries Innovation Centre. For more of the story, visit Sarah's LinkedIn profile. 


Urban Indicators Adviser & Digital Strategy, Data61/CSIRO, 2015-16

Future Cities Advisor on Smart Cities & Digital Strategy projects. This has included the delivery of a Strategic Roadmap for NSW Department of Planning and Environment on a digital dashboard for the Greater Sydney Commission, and creation of the City Data Lab proposal. 

ABC Digital / Organisational Strategy Lead, 2013-4

Contracted as Project Manager to ABC Managing Director Mark Scott and ABC Innovation Director Angela Clark to drive the development of an integrated online and mobile strategy across News, Radio, Commercial, International and Innovation Divisions of the ABC. Authored strategy document for sign off by ABC Executive.

Digital Urban Strategy, Various Projects, Arup 2011-13

Contributed strategic communications and digital strategy services for both internal and external clients. Projects included data visualisation services for integrated Sydney transport planning in partnership with internal urban design team; strategic communications services for the Environmentally Sustainable Design Team; and regional digital strategy services for Moreland and Hume Regional Development Australia (RDA) Committees. Creative concepts for built environment clients (Mirvac, Macquarie Bank). 

Senior Digital Strategist / Producer, ABC Innovation, 2011-12

Employed by ABC Innovation to drive and deliver cross-divisional Digital Emergencies Strategy. This required management of the ABC’s digital coverage of floods, cyclones and bushfires during the ‘emergencies season’ and included development and implementation of the ABC Mapping Emergencies pilot project using Twitter API, refresh of ABC Emergencies website and forward mobile platform planning.

Manager Strategic Initiatives, UTS Creative Industries Innovation Centre, Enterprise Connect, 2008-11

Project managed successful UTS bid to host the Australian Government’s Creative Industries Innovation Centre (CIIC), awarded $17m in funding over three years. As Program Manager of Strategic Initiatives, I designed and delivered cross-industry partnerships and programs to foster and enhance recognition of the value of creative innovation across the Australian economy. Led the development of a national digital platform for creativeinnovation, established an industry research framework for creative economy firms and advised on federal government policy for design-led manufacturing initiatives.