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Digital Trust for Places and Routines

What if you could learn about all the technology around you just by scanning a QR code?

We’ve probably all had the experience of walking down a street, spotting a camera on a light pole overhead, and wondering what exactly it’s doing there. What kind of camera is that? Who’s watching the footage from the camera? What are they using the data for?

We think if we make this information more available and ask for feedback, we can open up community-led conversations about what technology people do and don’t want on the streets of Boston. That’s why we’ve partnered with technology transparency organization Helpful Places to try out DTPR (Digital Trust for Places and Routines) signage in Boston. 




As more effective data-based urban planning becomes possible through new technology, Boston is considering deploying interconnected sensors in our public spaces. We believe people should be able to quickly understand how data collection technologies work, and the purposes they serve. So we're putting in place infrastructure to let residents know about data collection in the public realm and solicit their feedback.


Helpful Places is a social impact enterprise with a creative approach to public technology transparency. Led by Jackie Lu, Helpful Places stewards DTPR, an open-source communication standard designed to increase transparency, legibility, and accountability for technologies in public spaces. 

Boston was the first ever city to experiment with DTPR, and we’re excited about both what we’ve learned here and what cities around the world are now exploring in partnership with Helpful Places.

Co-Creating A DATA LAnguage

A common language is the first step towards a culture of transparent and contestable data management. The DTPR taxonomy was developed to easily inform residents about: 

  • The purpose of data collection
  • The technology used 
  • Who is accountable for the project outcomes
  • What happens to the collected data

Learn more about the icons we use and what they mean.

How it works

How it works
See the Sensor
  • Notice the icons
  • Scan the QR code
Learn about the data collected
  • Understand the purpose of the data collection
  • Get informed about how your data is used
Tell us what you think
  • Share your thoughts on this method of data collection
  • Help us improve this experience 

Experiments around Boston

DTPR stickers at tremont and boylston
DTPR signage at Tremont and Boylston streets

DTPR stickers at Kenmore lyft zone
DTPR stickers marking a ride share study zone in Kenmore Square

DTPR stickers on a signal pole
A closeup of the signage in Jamaica Plain

In our first experiments with DTPR signage, we printed skate-style stickers that we attached to poles at sites around Boston where we deployed technologies like traffic sensors. People were able to learn about how the technologies worked. We learned that the stickers look cool, but don’t always hold up as well through rough Boston winters. 

In our second phase of experiments, we tested DTPR signage around Boston’s first ever deployment of air quality sensors for a major reconstruction project. Along Cummins Highway in Mattapan, we set up more durable and redesigned signs on poles near each air quality monitor. With our Civic Design Cohort, we learned from conversations with residents that the new signs’ formats and conversational language work, but people want information about data collection presented in narrative context about their lives and neighborhoods, and want more open access to the data collected by the City. We’re working on this, as well as on deploying signs in areas where people can engage more easily and for longer.

DTPR signage in Mattapan Square 1
DTPR signage in Mattapan Square

DTPR signage on Cummins Highway
Signage along Cummins Highway

MONUM Summer Fellow Neha Kulsh and Civic Design Fellows Ava Nordling, Sara Lopez, and Angie Seul, with Technologist for the Public Realm Yo Deshpande, conducting interviews with Mattapan residents about DTPR
Testing out new sign designs in Mattapan

Building a transparency network

We were glad to participate in the first ever DTPR City Cohort, with fellow municipalities Washington DC, Innisfil Ontario, and Angers Loire Metropolitan Region. Together we shared learnings and experimented with new formats for signage deployment. 

It’s exciting to see Helpful Places’ work and this approach to technology transparency catching on in cities across the world. The experiments have also gotten recognition from the World Economic Forum and the American Planning Association, among many others. We're looking forward to what comes next.

Your thoughts

What do you think of this approach to public realm technology? Would you like to see DTPR signage on a technology in your neighborhood? Reach out to us at and to Helpful Places at

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