PhD Studentship – How interaction design and mobile mapping influence participation in Citizen Science?

Geographic and scientific information created by amateur citizens, represents a shift from authoritative data towards information generated by the general public through collaboration.   The increasing emergence of such data has been brought about by the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, and mirrors other information sharing activities such as Wikipedia and Flickr.  Such activity has also contributed towards the emergence of citizen science where the general public not only collect scientific data (such as noise or pollution information) but also participate in its processing and interpretation, benefitting as a group from the resulting output.  Much of this information is geographic in nature and can be communicated to the participants  through maps and geographic visualisations.

The PhD forms part of, and will be contextualised by, the European Union FP7 project everyAware.  This project will integrate digital technologies and theoretical analytical techniques to collect both physical  measurements and subjective opinions about environmental conditions – such as pollution measurements for cyclists alongside their impressions of the environment – using crowd-sourcing techniques on mobile devices (such as Android devices or iPhone – for example, see  The data, collected through four case study sites in the UK and Europe, will be analysed and user-oriented results fed back to the end users.  A crucial challenge for this project is the seamless integration of participatory sensing with subjective opinions, allowing the investigation into the opinion dynamics mechanisms taking place in the communities.   Within this project, UCL team is responsible for the building of a set of tools that will enable citizens to integrate live, personalised environmental information in their behavioral choices and orientations. The research will investigate, both theoretically and empirically, the drivers of shifts in public opinion, with subsequent changes in individual behaviour, by means of targeted environmental knowledge and information dissemination.

More specifically, the PhD will examine two aspects of citizen science:

  • Whether factors such as human-computer software interface design, interaction processes, access to maps of the resulting scientific data and associated qualitative information can be used to recruit people to citizen science projects.
  • Can these concepts be used to retain participants and encourage additional, more regular, ongoing and repeated contributions to such activities.

Given the technical nature of the project, we expect that the candidate will have a strong background in programming, preferably including experience of application development for mobile devices.   The candidate should also hold an MSc. in Computer Science, Geographical Information Systems, Human-Computer Interaction or other related disciplines.  An interest in interaction and usability, in particular looking at the perspective of non-expert users, would be an asset.    This position is open to all European Union Citizens.  The stipend will be at least £16,500 (tax-free).  Additionally, PhD tuition fees will be paid for by the everyAware project. Some travel may be required to everyAware Case Study locations in the UK and Europe.

To apply:

Please send a CV and a personal statement explaining your interest in citizen science, usability and geographic information, why you are interested in the project and how you would approach the development of a mobile application for everyAware, with examples of previous software development to me at

Application Closing Date: 1st May 2011

Public engagement with water conservation in London

In 2009, Ud Doron, who studied on our MSc in Environmental Systems Engineering developed a research project together with Tse-Hui Teh, who is doing her PhD on urban water issues. The project was co-supervised by Sarah Bell.

The focus of the project was on a series of participatory workshops to understand the relationships between urban residents and water technology. The workshops explored the perceptions and actions of environmentally aware citizens. Ud also explored the use of environmental information by the participants of the workshops.  The output of this work is now written and published in the Water and Environment Journal.

The paper is titled Public engagement with water conservation in London

The abstract is:

Understanding water demand and consumers’ capacity for change is essential in underpinning water demand management and water efficiency programmes. This paper presents the outcomes of a qualitative study, which used discussion groups relating to water infrastructure with environmentally aware citizens in five London boroughs in the Lower Lea River Basin. The results showed a subtle interaction between users, water and technology. Users are generally unaware of their own water consumption. Individual perceptions of changes in water behaviour are constrained by habit and lack of knowledge about what changes can be made and how. Knowledge of environmental information was described as the inspiration behind making any changes. The paper concludes that access to information about water resources, infrastructure and conservation measures should be enhanced because although information sources are abundant, participants claimed they were inaccessible without considerable effort. Finally, an emphasis should also be put on helping the public form a more substantial part in environmental decisions.

and the paper is accessible in the early view section of the  Water and Environment Journal