Decoding Security, Coexistence and Vigilance in Medellín

“Decoding Security, Coexistence and Vigilance in Medellín” was a research-focused project aimed at analyzing and visualizing open data on security and surveillance in Medellín. The project brought together 20 young researchers from various fields (Political Science, Mathematical Engineering, Economics, Psychology and Marketing, among others) and divided them into six groups, each led by a mentor. Over the course of eight weeks - conducted weekly from March 2 to April 27, 2022, with a closing ceremony held on May 4 - the participants worked collaboratively on research questions, such as gender-based violence in Medellín, identification of criminal "ghettos," sentiment analysis on Twitter related to security perception, spatio-temporal characterization of motorbike theft, creating efficient alerts to prevent homicides using machine learning, and exploration of visualization methods for communicating homicide rates. The issues were raised by governmental and non-governmental Medellín institutions, including the Center for Political Analysis of Universidad EAFIT, the Information System for Security and Social Coexistence (SISC), and Casa de las Estrategias. Throughout this period, the participants worked diligently to provide insights and solutions to the challenges presented by the institutions.

The project sought to explore how data could improve local dialogue and public policies regarding security in the city. The workshops fostered an environment for meaningful dialogue, encouraging active engagement among key stakeholders, invited guests, and experts in the field. The participants also benefited from the guidance and mentorship of experienced mentors, who brought their research and data science knowledge from the public sector. The mentors provided support and expertise throughout the process, helping the participants refine their research methodologies and develop effective data-driven solutions. “Decoding Security, Coexistence and Vigilance in Medellín” aimed to bridge the gap between qualitative knowledge acquired through the Research Sprint: We Are Recording You Medellín and stakeholders who may not typically engage with security and surveillance issues.

By utilizing data gathered through surveillance efforts, the project aimed to develop participants' skill sets to address security questions that could potentially influence policies or public initiatives. The interdisciplinary nature of the project emphasized the importance of integrating quantitative and qualitative methodologies to analyze public problems effectively. The project also highlighted the significance of rigorous data analysis and clear communication of findings to support interpretation and understanding. When asked how one can "decode" security, surveillance, and coexistence, the project designer Sara Arango Franco emphasized the importance of recognizing that there is no single unique code for understanding these concepts. She highlighted that data is always a limited representation of reality, but it should not be disregarded. True decoding occurs when someone comprehends the process through which data and numbers become representations and can interpret them effectively.

The participants gained insights into the digital security footprint of Medellín's citizens and contributed to the monitoring and evaluation of digital technologies used for security services in the city. Additionally, the project had direct impacts, such as the development and publication of a homicides dashboard by one of the teams, and the implementation of the early alerts project as a pilot by its project supporter. “Decoding Security, Coexistence and Vigilance in Medellín” successfully brought together researchers, stakeholders, and data to shed light on security and surveillance matters in Medellín.

To read the summarized version of the report, click here for English and here for Spanish. To access the complete academic report in Spanish, click here.

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