Counting public gatherings in 2017-Washington Post article

The point of this post is to show how complex and grassroots public gatherings can be counted and measured. The two main researchers quoted in these Washington Post articles are Erika Chenoweth and Jeremy Pressman, both respected analysts of the details of large-scale civil movements and gatherings. As a data junkie, I have followed this effort with a great deal of interest (and have even counted some of these gatherings in my own town to check others’ counts) and look forward to more of the analysis of both the methodology and the actual count data. The analysis included not just the number who gathered but who and what was being protested or being supported, where these events were held, what symbols were used, how many arrests were made.

For March 2017, we tallied 585 protests, demonstrations, marches, sit-ins and rallies in the United States, with at least one in every state and the District. Our conservative guess is that 79,389 to 89,585 people showed up at these political gatherings, although it is likely that there were far more participants.

Certainly, food and farming systems should note some of the systems used for collection and analysis. For example, the Crowd-Counting Consortium may be something that national entities involved in any grassroots data collection systems like food systems should discuss creating for their own use.

Here is their counting method:

We arrived at these figures by relying on publicly reported estimates of march locations and the number of participants involved in each. We started a spreadsheet and called for crowdsourced information about the location and number of participants in marches. Before long, we had received thousands of reports, allowing us to derive low and high estimates for each event. We carefully validated each estimate by consulting local news sources, law enforcement statements, event pages on social media, and, in some cases, photos of the marchers. When reports were imprecise, we aimed for conservative counts; for example, if observers reported “hundreds” of participants, we reported a value of 200 (“thousands” was 2,000, “tens of thousands” was 20,000, etc).

An example of their public data set.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/04/24/in-trumps-america-whos-protesting-and-why-heres-our-march-report/?utm_term=.ce99baecf0b6

Visitor counts

Over the last few months (and years really), I have spent a great deal of time asking people for input into valid ways to count market visitors, and in researching how other sectors (festivals, fairs and city planning for example) conduct these counts. Most researchers working with markets recognize that asking them to do what is commonly called a full count is unlikely to happen at most markets. So they employ some version of a sample counting system where, for one time span everyone is counted and that is used as a representative total for the entire day.

The research team at University of Wisconsin-Madison led by Dr. Morales working with Farmers Market Coalition in their combined AFRI-funded Indicators for Impact three year project, is piloting a method of 20-minute intervals counts at entrances every hour for the 9 markets in the pilot. That method certainly has the potential for a more precise estimate than the method currently used by many markets of counting everyone within the market for one time slot each hour. By the way, here is an update on that project.

In all cases of market counts however, the labor required taxes the market leadership and the methods used have not been found to be entirely accurate or appropriate for the many types and layouts of markets that exist across the US.

Still, we keep trying and know that sooner or later, the technology will be available to make this easier for markets and other food system projects. Seems like it is closer than ever, based on the article I found recently about a study to analyze pedestrian and transportation uses in one city which mentions one company that provides counting tools and analyzes those counts, often using existing cameras. The cost is still uncomfortably high for markets, but when technology adapts, products often become more suitable to our odd little world of pop up tents and milling groups of people.

Stay tuned in other words; the possibility is very close for precise counts of visitors for markets, which in turn will allow for better data use and more support for our hard-working markets.