This paper is an output of a two day 'Festival Lab' held at the Future Everything Festival, Manchester, UK, March 2015. The Festival Lab invited a team of academic researchers to develop a model of public engagement during the festival that would explore specific research questions around mobility, data awareness, and civic engagement. From this brief the academic team developed the Festival Lab 'PuBLiC', and created an activity arc that involved participants borrowing bicycles and responding to structured and unstructured research questions about the future of cycling and data use in the city of Manchester. Equipped with iPhones with bespoke software for collecting short textual comments, photographs and GPS data, participants became integral actors in one-day field studies, taking the role of both subjects and authors of this paper. We present findings and observations noted by participants and researchers, discussing the significance of these as triangulated in a closing workshop plenary session. Finally, we conclude by reflecting on the paper creation process itself, a collaborative, intensive, fast-paced approach that challenges the very framework of academic authority and public engagement.