Changing departments – the pros and cons of being away from home discipline(s)

Last weekend, I updated my Linkedin page to indicate that I’ve now completed the move between departments at UCL – from the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geomatic Engineering to the Department of Geography. It’s not just me – the Extreme Citizen Science group will be now based at the Department of Geography.

With this move, I’m closing a circle of 20 years – in September 1997 I came to the Department of Geography at UCL to start my PhD studies at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (At the time, CASA was an inter-departmental centre with links to the Bartlett, Geography, and Geomatic Engineering). At the end of my PhD studies, in 2001, after four years of self-funding the PhD by working as a sysadmin in Geography, research assistant in CASA, and few other things, I was looking for opportunities to stay in London for a while.

Today, the plight of EU academics in the UK due to Brexit is a regular feature in the news. In a similar way, as a non-EU person, I had to take into account that every job that I’m applying to will require organising job permit, and consider how long it will last. This ‘silent’ part of the academic experience that was there for many people is becoming common knowledge, but that’s another story…

With that in mind, I have applied to quite a diverse range of jobs – and finding myself shortlisted at urban planning at MIT, Geography at Leicester, Geography at LSE, Geography at the Hebrew University (where I’ve done my BSc and MA), and Geomatic Engineering at UCL, in addition to management consultancy, and a GIS software company. The MIT, LSE and the commercial jobs weren’t successful, and Leicester offer came too early in the write-up process. In the end, UCL Geomatic Engineering materialised at the right time and this is where I ended.

I found myself staying at the department (including its merger with Civil and Environmental Engineering) for 15 years until it became clear that it is time to move because an incompatibility between the direction that my research evolved and the focus of the department. I did consider staying within the faculty of Engineering – some of my work is linked to computer science, and to interaction with geographical technologies which is related to Human-Computer Interaction, but it felt just as incompatible – after all, most of my work is appearing in journals and conferences that are not valued by computer scientists but by geographers. It was good to discover that my interest in moving to the Department of Geography was welcomed, and now the process is complete. So what have I learned in these 15 years of being a geographer (geographical information scientist) in a civil engineering department? and what reflections do I have about being a researcher of one discipline but having an academic position in another?

Straddling fences

Let’s start from my own position – Nadine Schuurman & Mike Goodchild interview from 1998:

NS Some of the human geographers have partially built their careers upon writing critiques of GIS. How meaningful is participation in these debates for people in GIS?
MG Quite meaningful for geographers interested in GIS. If I were advising a new graduate student on how to succeed in geography these days, my advice would be to try to straddle that fence. It wouldn’t be to come down on either side of it because you have to be able to talk to the rest of the discipline and yet you have to be able to use the technology (Schuurman 1998, emphasis added)

This matched also recommendations that I received before starting my PhD, and my own interest from previous studies in linking social aspects in the environment and society interface with GIS and technology. During my PhD, I was lucky to be linked to three areas of studies at UCL – CASA, with its focus on GIS, computer modelling and visualisation, the Environment and Society Research Unit (ESRU) in Geography, and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Usability Engineering expertise in the department of Computer Science. The result was that my PhD thesis had both a technical part, as well as social-theoretical part. It also demonstrated in papers that I wrote collaboratively during the PhD – for example, a technical paper about the use of agent-based modelling, was followed by a social theoretical paper about the methodological individualism that is embedded in the models at the time.

The technical part of my academic identity was part of the reason that Geomatic Engineering accepted me, and at least at the beginning I tried to fit in – e.g. by directing my attention to technical aspects of GIS data and processing representations and supervising a PhD on 3D data storage. However, participatory aspects of GIS continue to interest me – so I seized opportunities to develop this area. For example, once I heard about OpenStreetMap, I directed my research effort towards it, or when I learned about London 21 Sustainability Network effort to create a London Green Map, I offered help and designed MSc projects to support it. Since 2007, my research became more concentrated on participatory mapping and citizen science. As a result, the work that is linked to geomatic engineering (i.e. surveying, precise measurements, photogrammetry) shrank, as well as relationships with other areas of work in the department, this eventually led to where I am now.

Considering that I have found myself as an interdisciplinary researcher in a department that is completely outside either my ‘home’ disciplines (either Geography or Computer Science), had benefits and challenges.


The most important benefit, which eventually paid off, was the disciplinary freedom. While at the point of promotion applications, or specific evaluators for a research applications and such, I did provide a list of people who relate to my area of work (Geographic Information Science), on the day to day work I was not judged by disciplinary practices. Shortly after securing the lectureship, Paul Longley introduced me to the 3Ps – Publications, Pounds (grant money), and PhD students as criteria that you should pay attention to in terms of career development. Because of my involvement with London Technology Network, I’ve learned about the fourth P – Patents (as in wider impacts). With this insight in mind, I was aware that around me, people cannot evaluate my research on its merit so they will check these general matrices, and as long as they are there, it does not necessarily matter what I do. This freedom provided the scope to develop the combination of technology development which is embedded in social science research which I enjoy doing.

Disciplines do set which journals you should publish in, what conferences you’re expected to present in, and similar aspects of an academic career. Being outside a discipline means that I could publish sometimes in computer science (my top cited paper) and sometime in geography and urban studies (my second top cited paper). Noticeably, I don’t have a single publication in a pure geomatic engineering journal. This allowed for exploring different directions of research that if I was inside a disciplinary department, I would not necessarily be able to do.

The second important benefit was to learn how to communicate with engineers and people who do not see the research from the same perspective as you. Because I was in an engineering department, I was applying to the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (the categorisation of my research on EPSRC website are interesting – and I know that they are not what I entered to the system!) and that meant that I needed to think about the reasons that someone who reviews my applications or judges them on a panel will see the benefits from their perspective. I had to learn how to think about structuring research applications, or submissions to REF so they are convincing and relevant to the reader – there was no point in going over the philosophy of technology reasons for researching VGI because this does not help in convincing the reader that my research is worth funding. Highlighting the technical advances and the potential for wider societal impact was more important.

Third, the position that I found myself in was pushing my interdisciplinary understanding further. Not only I had to get used to the engineering mindset and support engineering education (to a very minor extent), I also was in a position that I was doing participatory action research but within an engineering department, which made it more palatable for various researchers in the natural sciences and engineering to approach me while applying for funding. They needed a “safe” person to carry out a participatory part of a wider research project, and I guess that being based in an engineering department made it look this way.  Over the years, I had discussions if the group that I led can be considered as “social scientists” on a project, because of the departmental affiliation. I found it puzzling, but I guess that for reviewers who look less at the details of each applicant’s background, and used to look at affiliations, this worked.


The most obvious downside of being out of a disciplinary department is the issue of resources – this was frustrating while also understandable. Many requests for resources, such as appointing a lecturer in my area, were turned down. Throughout the whole period, the activities that I was carrying out were interesting, or even one that worth highlighting at a departmental level from time to time. When it came to the hard decisions on investment and resource allocation, the activities were not part of the core mission of the department and therefore not fundable. This left me with a continual need for bootstrapping and figuring out ways to secure resources.

The second downside is a version of the imposter syndrome that I started calling  “the hypocrite syndrome”. This is the downside of the communication across disciplines (and therefore epistemologies and ontologies) that I mentioned above. It is the feeling that while what drives the research is a social theory, the process of writing an application is about dampening it and emphasising technical aspects. A good example for this is in my paper about data quality of OpenStreetMap – if you read carefully the paper, it’s fairly obvious that my main reason to carry out quality assessment is so I can have a measure that will help me to show the social justice aspect of the project. Most of the papers that cite this work take it as a paper about data quality. It was a useful way of developing my research, but it doesn’t make you feel that you have provided a holistic description of what your aims are.

A third downside is the additional effort that was required to keep in touch with the development of the discussions in your home disciplines – I frequently went to geography conferences and followed the literature on HCI and computer science, but this is not a replacement for attending regular departmental seminars or even noticing discussions during departmental meetings, that keep you up to date with the general development. In Geography, I was lucky to be on the board for a leading journal (Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers) for about 5 years, and that provided another way to keep in touch and learn about the discipline.

Overall, I don’t regret the decision to go for an engineering department. The journey was interesting, I have learned a lot through it, and have developed my academic career this way. In hindsight, it did work well. What will happen next? I don’t know – I’ll probably need to reflect in 5 years what were the impacts of joining a disciplinary department…


New paper – Exploring Engagement Characteristics and Behaviours of Environmental Volunteers

Engagement in environmental volunteering

A new paper that is based on the PhD work of Valentine Seymour is out. Valentine has been researching the patterns of volunteering in environmental projects at the organisation The Conservation Volunteers. In the paper, we draw parallels between the activities of environmental volunteers and citizen science participants. The analysis demonstrates that the patterns of participation are similar.

The paper is open access and available here

The summary of the paper is:

Environmental volunteering and environmental citizen science projects both have a pivotal role in civic participation. However, one of the common challenges is recruiting and retaining an adequate level of participant engagement to ensure the sustainability of these projects. Thus, understanding patterns of participation is fundamental to both types of projects. This study uses and builds on existing quantitative approaches used to characterise the nature of volunteer engagement in online citizen science projects, to see whether similar participatory patterns exist in offline environmental volunteering projects. The study uses activity records of environmental volunteers from a UK environmental charity “The Conservation Volunteers,” and focuses on three characteristics linked to engagement: longevity, frequency, and distance travelled. Findings show differences in engagement patterns and contributor activity between the three UK regions of Greater London, Greater Manchester, and Yorkshire. Cluster analysis revealed three main types of volunteer engagement profiles which are similar in scale across all regions, namely participants can be grouped into “One-Session,” “Short-Term,” and “Long-Term” volunteer. Of these, the “One-Session” volunteer accounted for the largest group of volunteers.

Crowdsourced: navigation & location-based services

toyosemite-mapOnce you switch the smartphone off from email and social media network, you can notice better when and how you’re crowdsourced. By this, I mean that use of applications to contribute data is sometimes clearer as the phone becomes less of communication technology and more of information technology (while most of the time it is an information and communication mixed together).

During my last year summer break, while switching off, I was able to notice three types of crowdsourcing that were happening as I was mostly using my phone for tourism:  the set of applications that I used during the period was mostly Google Maps, Waze, and Sygic for navigation (Sygic is an offline satnav app that uses local storage, especially useful as you go away from signal – as in the case of travelling to Yosemite above). I also used TripAdvisor to find restaurants or plan visits, and in a tour of Hollywood, we’ve downloaded a guided tour by “PocketGuide Audio Travel Guide”. There were also the usual searches on Google to find the locations of swimming pools, train schedule, boat tours and all the other things that you do when you’re travelling.

The first type of being crowdsourced that I knew was there but I couldn’t notice was with every action that I’ve done with the phone. Searches, visiting websites and all the other things that I’ve done as long as the phone was on. I know that they are there, but I have no idea who is collecting the traces – I can be quite certain that the phone company and Google were getting information, but I can’t tell for sure – so that’s hidden crowdsourcing.

The second type is being passively crowdsourced – I know that it happened, and I can sotosanjose-lastdayrt of guess what information is being recorded, but I didn’t need any action to make it happen. Checking the map on the way back to the airport at the end of the journey, show how geolocated images and information are being put on the map. Google Maps assume that I visited known locations, mostly commercials, along the way. It was especially funny to stay in a suburban place that happened to be the registered address of a business, and every time we went to it, Google insisted that we’re visiting the business (which doesn’t physically exist in the place). At least with this passive crowdsourcing, I am knowingly contributing information – and since I’m benefiting from the navigation guidance of Google Maps as I drive along, it is a known transaction (regardless of power relationship and fairness). screenshot_20160808-154540

the third and final type of process was active crowdsourcing. This was when I was aware of what I’m contributing, to which system, and more or less how. When I provided an image to Google Local Guides  I knew that it will be shared (I am though, hugely surprised how many times it was viewed, but I’ll write about Local Guides in a different post). I was also actively contributing to TripAdvisor about some place near Venice Beach. A certain surprise also came from Waze, which, in a day of experiencing Los Angeles famous traffic, provided me with a message that ‘I’m one of the top contributors on this route’ after 3 reports. Of course, I can’t tell if this message is real, but if 3 reports are enough to make you a top contributor, the number of reporting participants must be very low.

Few other observations: it was interesting to see how embedded is the consideration that you will be online all the time – Google Maps suggested to download a route when they had information that part of the journey will not be covered by mobile signal, but the application didn’t behave well with offline data (Sygic did). Both Waze and Google Maps behaved very erratically when I passed a blocked slip road and didn’t follow their navigation guidance. For quite a distance, they continue to suggest that I turn around and use the blocked road.

The other aspect that was very apparent is the built in methodological individualism of all these apps – even though I was only with my partner, we found the PocketGuide Audio Travel Guide awkward to use – we wanted to experience the tour (which is interesting) together. The app is just difficult to use when you try to go with other people and discuss things together. This is partially how phones are thought of, but touring is not only a solitary experience…


RGS-IBG 2017 – The role of expert knowledge in socio-environmental policy and decision making

Notes from two talks from the session on the role of expert knowledge. Details of the session in full are here.
The potential of citizen science to inform expert understanding: a case study of an urban river in London
Iain Cross (St Mary’s University, UK), Rob Gray (Friends of the River Crane Environment),  Joe Pecorelli (Zoological Society of London, UK)
Richard Haine (Frog Environmental, UK)
Abstract: “Increasingly, expert knowledge is becoming only one of many sources of understanding that influence environmental decision making and policy formulation. Traditional, top-down and technocratic modes of knowledge production are being challenged and, through what has been termed the ‘participatory turn’, knowledge is often co-produced among ‘experts’ and ‘non-experts’. A particularly widespread source of ‘non-expert’ knowledge is the citizen science (CS) community. CS projects can enable data to be collected over spatial or temporal scales that would be prohibitively expensive or logistically impossible for ‘expert’ data collection techniques. Whilst this data might be highly useful for policy and decision making, there can be a tension between the perceived reliability, accuracy or value of CS data compared to ‘scientifically collected’ data. This paper explores this tension in the context of an urban river CS project in London, through interviews with ‘experts’ and ‘non-experts’ from a variety of stakeholders. It highlights how significant events affecting the river environment mobilised public interest and the subsequent generation of ‘non-expert’ knowledge of the river. The paper provides an insight into how the perceived credibility and value of CS data by ‘experts’ can evolve over time, to become a significant driver of decision making. Key factors that have shaped this process include formal reporting mechanisms, partnerships with local authorities and statutory bodies, and corroboration of CS data with ‘expert’ data. The paper argues that CS blurs the traditional boundary between experts and non-experts and therefore challenges traditional definitions of ‘expert’ knowledge in environmental decision making.”
Iain Cross discussed citizen science as a source of expertise in an urban river. The situation is multiple stressors and degraded situation, ecosystems that deserve attention. They are subject to social/cultural interaction with the environment and nature. This makes it useful for citizen science – people volunteer to local groups, and also desire to do something – the intersection of volunteering and activism, there is a potential pool of local residents, and need for data. Look at the small catchment in west London ith multiple transport routes, lots of draining: urban run-off, sewage, domestic misconnections, surface water – and there are two major incidents in 2011 and 2013. The catchment partnership was created as a compensation for a major pollution incident. The £400K established a partnership that is working through the delivery of specific projects. Citizen science in three areas: water quality, riverfly monitoring, outfalls safari to identify where they are and their sources. The citizen science had a key role in the management decision. Try to identify differences between direct influence – data is used for regulation, and indirect. Examples for direct: reprioritisation of water company outfall projects (so where they dedicate resources to address them), and enforcement and additional investigations based on the data. Indirect – more reporting of water quality, empowering to understand the process a common language on what the regulator need, and exporting the model to neighbouring catchments. The research try to understand how did it became a credible source of knowledge, understand its influence and what happen in the future, through semi-structured interviews. So far there are 3 interlinked themes: early engagement with water company, a tight leadership of the project, and reliable data. Participants understand the regulatory environment , harmonisation of expert practices and reporting at conferences. In terms of project management 0 influence of certain people – and past contact and engagement with citizen science. The champions are very important – even within the regulators. The last thing is the production of good quality data – awareness of accreditation, QA process, spatial and temporal coverage attention and interpretation and reporting of data.
Expert and Experiential Knowledge in Pollinator Policy: The Perspectives of Beekeepers Siobhan Maderson (Aberystwyth University, UK)
Abstract: “Recent policy initiatives aim to counter the precipitous decline of pollinators and thus secure their role in food security and broader ecosystem services. The practical experiences and observations of beekeepers are recognised as having the potential to both monitor, and improve, the wellbeing of pollinators As part of wider trends towards participatory governance, many initiatives notably stress the importance of engaging with beekeepers, as well as scientists, and other stakeholders whose study or practice holds the potential to improve environmental conditions that impact pollinator wellbeing. However, such multi-stakeholder engagement still prioritises ‘experts’, and struggles to adequately incorporate knowledge which contradict wider policies. This paper will discuss the perceptions of beekeepers on the relative influence and use of ‘expert’ and ‘experiential’ knowledge in pollinator policy-making. Unlike the expert scientific knowledge relied upon by policy-makers as central to EBPM, beekeepers’ understanding of bee health engages with systemic factors that are often hard to quantify or prove according to conventional scientific criteria. Beekeepers’ views result from long-term observation and engagement with specific local environments. Beekeepers are also a disparate community, holding contrary views on land use, agriculture, and the best means of ensuring pollinator wellbeing. My current PhD research focuses on interviews with long-term beekeepers whose tacit expertise is widely recognised throughout diverse beekeeping communities. I address the knowledges appropriated, and sidelined, in current pollinator policy, and how experiential knowledge is utilised by experts. I also address the challenges resulting from beekeepers’ tacit knowledge contrasting with current agricultural, land use, and economic policies.”
The research is concerned with pollinator decline, the threat to food security and the beekeepers seen as key stakeholders – both as monitoring: grounded knowledge in wellbeing and have the practical knwoledge. They can provide direct knwoeldge. The beekeepers also have a history of collaboration with scientists – e.g. providing details on harmful material (spraying incidents). Research include 36 beekeepers, archive and ethnography – many have a long term experience in the field. The discourse is about enthusiasm, citizen science, lay knowledge and related areas. She understand about environmental knowledge and observations, understanding their position within the community of practice and association, and also understanding views of policy making process and on the scientific process. The interviewees have massive knowledge – playing roles of inspectors, farmers, teaching others, board members of association, some several generations of beekeeping families – detailed local knowledge. The interviewees have STEM background. The results are showing that beekeepers combine tacit and explicit knowledge, and have profound specific local knowledge – microclimate, forage. Also had experience of involvement in policy and scientific research – they engage with entomologists. They do have empathy with farmers, frustration with voluntary initiatives and the wider food systems are seen as responsible for the problems. They collect data on phenology in the area, weather etc. There was a question about the debate and someone sceptic to media and public response to pollinator. In terms of participation in research – they do read scientific papers, but they feel that it is one way system – they put input and don’t feel that scientists take their views seriously. They feel lack of addressing local needs and policy process. They are doing lots of scientific processes – microscopy, pollen analysis and all sort of other information.

RGS-IBG 2017 – Just air? Spatial injustices, contestation and politicisation of air pollution (session notes)

These are notes from some of the talks from the two sessions on Just air? during the RGS-IBG conference in 2017. Details of the sessions are available here and here.
Passive, reactive and participatory governance of the air: three approaches under scrutiny
Nicola Da Schio, Bas Van Heur (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium)
Looking at infrastructures, knowledge, and contestation as elements of their analysis. Scientific knowledge and experiential knowledge. Part of Smarter Labs project – living lab projects in 4 cities and in “Brussels living Lab” there are doing air pollution through a specific tool (low-cost black carbon monitor). They refer to the literature “government with science” of Whitehead – assumes knowledge production in the context of air pollution – generating knowledge is an essential part of managing it. It allows noticing how to make air visible and invisible, seeing the information about it as air infrastructure and examining the actual space for citizens to understand it. See different ways of participation – citizen receive information, consulted, and citizens are empowered to be governed. Similarly – deficit model, feedback model and collaborative research/citizen science and potential where co-production of knowledge appears.They also consider three roles for citizens: passive, active, co-produce. The situation in Brussels in fragmented institutional context – different bodies don’t talk with other organisations. Air quality is regional competence and understood as an environmental issue (not health – not even seen as such). Vibrant civil society, especially environmental organisations. Air pollution is seen traditionally as technical that should be left with experts. In the passive – government with science is passive, the reactive is in EIA, and the active role is in a project such as expAIR. Looking specifically as Mainstream GWS is being used by a regional governmental agency and interregional bodies. Citizens receive information and there are different policies. there are 13 measuring stations, providing information about the typical situation, and data analysis is done through BelATMO AQ index that is for communication, not for science. The information is communicated on a website with different colouring. Focus on ambient air pollution – just environmental matter. Pollution is only regulated contaminants, and spatial and temporal coverage across the area, and no special attention to specific places or the variability across space. There are contestations both from above (EU) and from below by the NGO Client Earth challenge to the government. They are contesting the policy with the same body of knowledge but also using different data. The expAIR project used 8 wearable devices for black carbon, the leading actors include the government and NGOs – the participants discuss the results. Conclusion – two different forms of knowledge:
the individual exposure that is seen as an environmental problem, while the participants sa group issue. The officials used it in different ways. The monopoly of air knowledge by the government is being challenged, in spite of that, it remains technical matter (analysis of the data), but co-production of knowledge but not being used, there is extensive scepticism towards citizen science. The role of instruments: faith in the tools/device which goes beyond what they can do. Huge faith in the information from the tool. A key moment is awareness of limitation.
On the other hand, there is the issue of who is doing the measurements, and the community has faith in the measurement of the citizens than the authorities. Another aspect is the proliferation of methods and devices around air and its multiple manifestations – so much more is measured and more visible. It can be politicised – the aim is closing the debate down so it is measured to address it. There is contradictory nature – how to open it up the discussion. In Delhi, there is state monitoring infrastructure = contested by civil society who use their own sensors and everyone agree that the state infrastructure is better, and other people don’t have the resources to confront the state produced data – the presence of data and data quality. Also which air to measure – is it about indoor or ambient which bring the gender, class and marginalisation.
There are issues of inclusion and exclusion in the production of knowledge – to minimise exclusion, the Brussels project makes a specific effort to include different groups. A key element of exclusion – only attract those that are already interested, and it can be challenging. In Delhi, there is also the issue of people who can understand English and understand the information and ability to be involved in the articulation of the systems.
How a large-scale citizen science project managed to combine scientific rigour, policy influence and deep citizen engagement by measuring ambient air quality in Antwerp Suzanne Van Brussel (Ghent University, Belgium)
Huib Huyse (KU Leuven, Belgium)
Abstract: Citizen Science projects are increasingly recognised as a stepping stone for triggering behaviour change and building social capital around environmental issues. However, overview studies observe recurrent challenges in many citizen science projects in terms of combining high levels of data quality with deep citizen engagement and policy influence. This paper reports on the findings of the CurieuzeNeuzen project (, a large scale citizen science project on air quality conducted in Antwerp in 2016, which managed to deliver simultaneously in the three result areas described above. CurieuzeNeuzen was initiated as an academic offspring by the citizen group Ringland, currently the largest citizen initiative in Belgium in the area of mobility, city planning and livability. Through CurieuzeNeuzen, 2000 citizen studied the air quality levels in and around Antwerp and were intensively deliberating on possible causes and solutions. The findings from CurieuzeNeuzen were picked-up academically and contributed actively to policy debates on air quality at the level of both city and region.”
Looking at Antwerp from a planning perspective – a need for sustainable mobility that requires behaviour change – so framing citizen science.  See behaviour change through social capital and citizen science as a catalyst and there need scientific rigour, effective policy uptake, and engaging enough citizens in the project. They are evaluating if the project managed to achieve this. They identify benefits and challenges and internal and external values. The CureuzeNeuzen CS project was designed as a co-created projects – measuring ambient traffic and aimed at behaviour change. The project included monitoring over 2000 locations across Antwerp – focusing on spatial distribution. The project focused on the number of volunteers, the validity of monitoring and the devices, they also used a well-tested method: diffusion tubes – cost effective at this scale and provided guidance on how to install them. The methodology was approved by the Flemish environment agency. They provided high detailed data-set which demonstrated the variability. The traffic intensity and distance from ring-road provided the explanation for variability. They compared results to models which underestimated the level of pollution. The policy uptake – there was involvement of research institutions, city administration who see it financially but since advantage. The local press also noticed it. The participation was driven by interest about air quality (91.8%) and also participation in a scientific project. People had a perception about the levels of air quality and a small group didn’t understand the issue (3%). For 58% the results matched their expectations. Of the 10% that found that the quality is worse than expected, didn’t want to put a poster about the data and its results due to concern about the message about their area. In terms of outreach, the project reached many more people than the direct participants. In terms of the perceptions of behaviour change, they are interested in seeing a change in less use of the car and more use of cycles, also selecting different routes to walk.
The politics of small particles: following PMs and their mobilities
Gordon Walker and Barbara Maher (Lancaster University, UK)
 The paper is following nano particulates – 50 nm and smaller. It’s the evolving science of air quality. Science has an important role in the governance of air – Boudia and Jas (2014) and Whitehead (2009) – its an evolving understanding of what the air is and how science comes to matter and air become part of policy formation. Barbara Maher is now looking at particulate and magnetite in the brain – with Gordon interest close to STS. The very high-resolution images of magnetite nanoparticles in brain samples – it was done with brain samples which are coming from cadavers and noticing nano-particles – 100nm to 10nm. particles that are crystalline or spherical. They have different sources. There are particles that are natural – from biogenic (from nature) but the spherical particles are non-biogenic – they are traces of the Anthropocene in the brain. Magnetite is abundant in urban airborne pollution. It’s a new visibility of small particles and their mobility, as well as new vulnerability – moving beyond the lungs but this is a different route that allows them to move to the brain directly. The early stage science opening up questions about the harm “matter out of place” – and what harm they are doing: potentially in Alzheimer and Dementia. Important “possible hazard” – very early stages.
The implications of rolling out this science – this and other forms of harms. What the geography? We don’t know what is the distribution of non-particles. No simple relationship with larger particles distribution also their circulations, accumulation is complex and uncertainties. Also, the sources are indoor and outdoors (e.g. toner), but even open fire. Filtering the diesel particles increased the production of nano particles. Also produced by breaking in cars. There are also complex temporalities of exposure and harm – like asbestos and might be that it only happens when people live long enough. So it can be disruptive of the assumed making and also what kind of justice – it’s not distributional: no classic analysis is possible, and it might not work. It is also procedural and epistemic – can get people involved but who to involve, whose voices should come – e.g. industrial environment, and is the work in the workplace that tested diesel can provide lay epidemiology. Ethical issues of how to respond to self-diagnosis.
The question is how disruptive will new making visible and what politics will come along with nature-culture, health consequences, responsibility, are there specific sites of contestation – work environment, places.
The politics of science and the media: the controversy on record air pollution in Oxford Street and other debates on bad air in London
Anneleen Kenis (KU Leuven, Belgium)

“This paper studies how air pollution as a largely invisible social-natural artefact has been translated into an issue of contention and debate in London during the last 20 years. Starting from the coverage of air pollution in five main newspapers, the paper identifies the critical discursive moments which significantly changed the terms of the debate. The staging of Oxford Street as the most polluted street in the world, the controversy around Sahara Dust as a ‘natural’ explanation for a smog episode in 2014, and the action of Black Lives Matter at London City Airport, which stated that those who are the first to die are not the first to fly, are just a few of the examples of initiatives that put air pollution on the agenda in recent years. The paper investigates the decisions, choices and exclusions that inevitably take place in this staging of air as a political issue. Already at the level of the construction of a scientific ‘fact’, processes of inclusion and exclusion take place. The spatial location of monitoring stations, the focus on particular pollutants and the chosen time frame influence the way the ‘fact’ of air pollution is constructed. But important choices also take place in the translation of these scientific ‘facts’ into ‘political ‘problems’. From high to illegal levels of air pollution, from the number of deaths to the level of costs, from people’s health to children’s health: these constructions all influence the terms of the debate. The emergence of political fault lines and antagonisms and the (lack of) activity of a whole range of social actors result from this and will in their turn further push the debate in specific directions. The paper analyses how this complex set of relations, and the forms of power involved, determined the framing of air pollution as we know it today.”

Media analysis of air quality in London which done in KCL group. Part of identifying how air is translated from largely invisible social natural artefact into political issues. Looked over 1594 articles in Guardian, FT, The Independent, Telegraph, Times. Started with quant analysis. Looked from 1997 to 2017. and noticed debate going on, until April 2014 from which it starts jumping up and especially growing very much now in 2017. The long period of low interest – the assumption is that “it’s all already there”, doesn’t lead to wider debate. Single articles, small spikes for all sort of reasons. April 2014 – Sahara dust and Oxford Street pollution – politicians dismiss it as a natural phenomenon that it is not serious. This is a moment that makes air pollution visible. There is another peak in 2015 in April 2015, the same story – the conflict seems to be overcome – are pollution is recognised as serious and man-made. Need new conflict lines – this is provided in July 2015 because of the Heathrow 3rd runway and VW scandal. There are conflict lines that are emerging and leading to interest: mayoral elections, MPs noticing public health emergency, Sadiq Khan making it a priority in May and Brexit debate toward the vote is noted. Last period from Sep 2016 and Mar 2017 you get social divisions and also “black lives matter city airport action” also the client earth work. Newspapers were selected according to who set the terms of the debate.

The upward spiral can come to saturation, or alternatively, new issues come to the foreground, say other issues.

Discussion points: other cases of impact on the brain include a mobilisation of the lead cases – and how people were thinking of bodies and vulnerability.

PhD studentship in collaboration with the Ordnance Survey – identifying systematic biases in crowdsourced geographic information

Deadline 31st August 2017

UCL Department of Geography and the Ordnance Survey are inviting applications for a PhD studentship to explore the internal systematic biases in crowd-sourced geographic information datasets (also known as Volunteered Geographic Information – VGI).

The studentship provides an exciting opportunity for a student to work with Ordnance Survey on understanding the use of crowd-sourced geographic information MH DSCN0571and potentially contributing to the use of such data sources by national mapping agencies. Ordnance Survey is an active partner in its sponsored research and offers students opportunities to work on-site and to contribute to workshops and innovation within the business. In addition, the student will be part of the Extreme Citizen Science group at UCL, which is one of the leading research groups in the area of crowdsourced geographic information and the study thereof.

For more information about the project, the studentship and details how to apply, please see here. or below:


Start Date: October 2017

Funding status: Applications are invited from UK and EU citizenship holders.

Funding Body: EPSRC and Ordnance Survey

Funding Details: The scholarship covers UCL student fees at the Home/EU rate and provides a stipend of £16,553 per annum tax free. Travel expenses and research equipment will also be provided to the successful candidate.

Project Description:

UCL Department of Geography and the Ordnance Survey are inviting applications for a PhD studentship to explore the internal systematic biases in crowd-sourced geographic information datasets (also known as Volunteered Geographic Information – VGI).


There has been a rapid increase in information gathered by people from all walks of life who are using connected devices with an ability to collect and share geographic information, such as GPS tracks, photographs with location information, or observations of the natural environment in citizen science projects. There is now a vast array of projects and activities that use this type of information, and each project has its own characteristics. Yet, it can be hypothesised that some of the characteristics of crowd-sourced geographic information will be systematically biased, and these biases differ between projects and data sources.


Crowd-sourced datasets will have some systematic biases that repeat across crowd-sourcing platforms. For example the impact of population density, business activity, and tourism on the places where data is available, or a weekend or seasonal bias of the temporal period of data collection. Others biases are project-specific – for example, some projects manage to attract more young men, and therefore places that are of interest to this demographic will be over-represented. One of the major obstacles that limit the use of such data sources is understanding and separating systematic and project-level biases and then developing statistical methods to evaluate their impact. In order to use such datasets to identify hidden features and patterns, there is a need to identify what are the relationships between a dataset and the world.

The aim of this research project, therefore, is to create a large collection of crowd-sourced GPS tracks and pedestrian trajectories, and use conflation techniques and advanced analytics to develop methodologies to identify and estimate the biases. Once this is done, the aim will be to identify hidden characteristics to be more confident about the patterns that are being observed.

Studentship Description

The studentship provides an exciting opportunity for a student to work with Ordnance Survey on understanding the use of crowd-sourced geographic information, and potentially contributing to the use of such data sources by national mapping agencies. Ordnance Survey is an active partner in its sponsored research and offers students opportunities to work on-site and to contribute to workshops and innovation within the business. In addition, the student will be part of the Extreme Citizen Science group at UCL, which is one of the leading research groups in the area of crowdsourced geographic information and the study thereof.

The project will run for four years and will be supervised by Prof Muki Haklay from UCL and Jeremy Morley from Ordnance Survey. Professor Muki Haklay, who is a professor in the UCL Department of Geography and who has a track record of research and publication relating to crowdsourced data management and quality. Jeremy Morley is the Chief Geospatial Scientist at Ordnance Survey, leading the long-term business research programme, and has research experience in crowd-sourced geographic information.

 Person Specification

Applicants should possess a strong bachelor’s degree (1st Class or 2:1 minimum) or Masters degree in Computer Science, Spatial statistics, Ecology, Geomatics, Geographic Information Science or a related discipline. The skills required to build the required database of case studies and the programming and analytical skills to assess biases and develop algorithms for their identification, are highly desirable. Candidates will ideally have some relevant previous research experience and should also have excellent communication and presentation skills.

The funding is provided for 4 years, and will involve spending time at the Ordnance Survey in Southampton.


Applications are invited from UK and EU citizens residing in UK. In particular, applicants must meet EPSRC eligibility and residency requirements found here:

Application Procedure

Applicants should send the following by e-mail to Judy Barrett ( and Prof Haklay (

  1. Cover letter, including a personal statement explaining your interest in the project.
  2. Examples of academic writing and outputs from past work (e.g. a dissertation or assignment)
  3. Academic transcripts
  4. A CV

Shortlisted applicants will be invited to interview during September 2017. Any incomplete applications will not be considered.


PhD studentship in Extreme Citizen Science – development of data collection tools with non-literate participants

For more information on ExCiteS and ECSAnVis, please visit here and here.

Studentship Description

The ExCiteS research group has been developing Sapelli since 2012 – this is a platform that facilitates data collection across language or literacy barriers through highly configurable icon-driven user interfaces. The successful candidate will join a team of anthropologists, ecologists, geographers,  computer scientists and designers and focus on extending the undertaken research work. This will include the design, prototype and implementation of Sapelli components that answer the needs and wishes of participants in citizen science projects. The research will mainly include aspects of data collection such as data validation, user authentication and designing user interfaces for non-literate participants. We will specifically focus on engagement of non-literate people and we need to understand how the process, from data collection to analysis, can be made meaningful and useful for their everyday life. The project will include working with non-literate forest communities in central Africa and seek to enable these vulnerable communities to conduct their own environmental monitoring or mapping. For more information, see papers by Stevens et al. 2014 ( and Vitos et al. 2017 (

Person Specification

The applicants should possess a good honours degree (1st Class or 2:1 minimum) in a relevant discipline such as Computer Science, Electronic Engineering or Human-Computer Interaction. The ideal candidate should also hold an MSc in Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction, Human Factors, or Geographical Information Science and must have proven experience and skills in Software Engineering or Human Computer Interaction.

The ideal candidate should have excellent verbal and written communication skills and should be able to work as part of a team to design, develop and deploy software prototypes. Preferably, the candidate should have experience in programming in Java and Android and have a good understanding of code management systems such as GitHub. Skills in using Python would also be desired. Finally, since the case studies might involve travelling to central Africa, the candidate should have a willingness to travel in remote forest locations and thus French language skills would be desirable. The ability to be patient and understanding with local people is essential in this regard.


Applications are invited from UK and EU citizenship holders.

Start Date

Between September and December 2017, at time that is suitable to the candidate. A successful candidate will be asked to work with the Extreme Citizen Science group for two weeks (expenses covered) before registering to the PhD programme.

Application Procedure

Applicants should send a cover letter, 2-4 page research proposal, examples of academic writing (e.g. BSc or MSc dissertation), code outputs from past work and CV to Michalis Vitos ( and Judy Barrett ( The cover letter should include a personal statement explaining your interest in citizen science, why you are interested in our project and how you would see your work integrated into ExCiteS vision and activities. You are welcome to contact Prof Muki Haklay ( or Michalis or any other ExCiteS members with queries about your proposal or for an informal conversation. Deadline for application – 31st August 2017.

Funding Notes

Duration – 3 years

Funding –The scholarship covers UCL student fees at the Home/EU rate and provides a stipend of £16,553 per annum tax free. Travel expenses and research equipment will also be provided to the successful candidate.

Funding Body: European Research Council (ERC) and UCL.