GIScience 2016 notes

The bi-annual Geographic Information Science conference is one of the focal point on the field. This year, it was held in Montreal. You can find my talk in a long and separate post. Here are some notes of talks that I took during the meeting.

The conference started with reasons for the location, and a tribute to Roger Tomlinson

Monica Wachwicz, which open the conference with the first keynote, explored her experience in managing a complex set of projects that deal with sensing the environment using geospatial technologies. She summarised her insights:

She aslo described the challenges of recruiting computer scientists, mathematicians, & social scientists to multidisciplinary team.

In the poster session, the work of Daniel Bégin stood out (and he later won an award for it)

Dennis Hlynsky gave the keynote on the second day. As an artist, he is using digital technologies to see the world around him, focusing on the individual and the group. We live in worlds and there are other ‘worlds’ around us – some of too fast, some too slow, some you can’t sense – from gravity to chemistry. He views the creative process as something that is based on guidelines (e.g. Warhol daily procedures), opportunity, being a resident (living in a place and taking it in). Making a playful mess. Critique (is it working, is it not? What my artwork communicate? does it need more or less?). Make sense (we are sense making creatures, telling stories, making sense of things we don’t understand). However, many times he does not know what he is doing and explore things. To witness in a place, what you are witnessing and conveying is important: verbal storytelling, narrative, science and experiments, drawing and painting, photography and film, text, maps, data analysis. We’ve tried to mechanise witness – for example perspective, which force understanding the world from a single point of view. Photography is also a form of mechanisation. There is also the issue of mechanisation in emphasising efficiency which part of industrialisation. The technology changes in photography is important. Until the 1970s, the cost of photographic equipment was limited the opportunity of what is recorded. Since then, the acceleration of sharing photos and evidence change things, with the affordability of cameras in phones. The process of taking photos with phones (which are cameras) make the recording of moments in life much more common, but also the need to switch them off in order to be at the moment. There are many opportunities to do creativity with cameras – for example, providing them to all the students in class, and created a system that allow people to share images, but explicit human intuition to link things, not an automatic tags analysis. There are subsets of the world that communicate with each other, even if they can’t understand it fully.  Interestingly, YouTube is focusing on data driven relationships, while Vimeo is about human led curation. There are different was of organising and understanding the world. The claim that an image is worth a thousand words can be turned on its head – you need to understand the context and meaning of the world, and this is not possible without it.

Helen Couclelis talked about ‘Encyclopedia Gallica of (improbable) event and the why GIScience is not like physics’. The informational standpoint, events, processes, endurance, non-event, do not have a user independent definition. Road networks look different from a perspective of a tourist and biologist, so we need to find a way to create information that support their use. Events are more complex: flood – flood can be an event, process to those in charge of evacuation, occurrences for disaster statistics, noise to everyone else. As metascience – GISCience is a framework for optimising the relation between the interests of information seekers and data in any spatio-temporal domain. She suggest a user-centred GIS with the notion of R-Events to help in search process. The empirical and informational aspects in information systems as distinct epistemic layers.

Genevieve Reid & Renee Sieber compared indigenous ontologies of time. It provide a case for inclusive semantic interoperability, and ensure representation and accessibility for indigenous knowledge. SNAP/SPAN frameworks for ontologies have a very basic notion of time in a Newtonian way and as always progressing and unilinear. In contrast, in TEK, time can be spiral, branch, triangle, cyclical, or double spiral – future that incorporate the future (in Maori culture). Eastern Cree culture see part and present leading to the future. In TEK time is not temporal but social. There are no fix – creation stories include notions of creating a river through a specific story. Time also has an agency. On the basis of these different concepts, she progress to suggest an inclusive model of relationship trough ontological representation. Time is not a simple model but into spatial temporal relations. GIScience can’t ignore the different social constructions of time – excluding indigenous concepts is ontological violence and risk of loss of indigenous knowledge.

Lex Comber et al. talked about “A Moan, a Discursion into the Visualisation of Very Large Spatial Data and Some Rubrics for Identifying Big Questions”, while looking at trends in anti-depressant. Databating meaning manipulation of database. There is an increasing amount of data, and demands (experiences of changing title from GIScience to Data Analytics, create challenges). There is a lack of asking serious questions or knowing what is it for, and ‘letting the data talk for itself’. There is opening of data – for example, GP practice prescription: the practice, the drug, the postcode of the patient. The Postcode can be linked to geography. Demonstrate that it’s possible to producing stupid results by only going data fishing. If we have a plan, on the other hand, we can see urban/rural areas. Need to use: view, refine, and zoom. If you are looking for a needle in a haystack, then making the stack bigger is not making it easier.

Jim Tatcher et al. (delivered by David O’Sullivan) ‘Searching for a common ground (again). Mentioning Golledge et al. 1988 A ground for Common Research. Need to identify common terms and how they are used.  The model of seeing the world as layer cake, is still significant. Harvey Miller mentioned it in 2003 that Euclidean space can be problematic, and it is associated with the quantitative geography. However, in old books that are all sort of representations that look different. From Bunge to Haggett, there are representations that are not Euclidean. The paradigm of GIS caused the adoption of this model. Tobler’s first law actually appeared as ‘throwaway remark’ and travelled through geography in different ways. Need to consider why Euclidean is accepted for granted when in earlier period there were many experimentation.

Has GIScience Lost its Interdisciplinary Mojo?

The GIScience conference is being held every two years since 2000, and it is one of the main conferences in the field of Geographic Information Science (GIScience). It is a special honour to be invited to give a keynote talk, and so I was (naturally) very pleased to get an invitation to deliver such a talk in the conference this year. The title of my talk is ‘Has GIScience Lost its Interdisciplinary Mojo?’ and I’m providing here the synopsis of the talk, with the slides.

My own career is associated with GIScience very strongly. In 1992, as I was studying for my undergraduate studies with a determination to specialise in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) by combining computer science and geography degrees, I was delighted to discover that such studies fall within a new field called GIScience. The paper by Mike Goodchild that announced the birth of the field was a clear signal that this was an area that was not only really interesting, but also one with potential for growth and prospects for an academic career, which was very encouraging. This led to me to a Masters degree which combined environmental policy, computer science, and GIS. During my PhD, I started discovering another emerging area – citizen science, with two main pieces of work – by Alan Irwin and Rick Bonney marking the beginning of the field in 1995 (I came across Irwin’s book while looking into public understanding of science, and learn about Bonney’s work much later). According to OED research, the use of citizen science can be traced to 1989. In short, GIScience and citizen science as a recognised terms for research areas have been around for about the same time – 25 years.

Over this period, I have experienced an inside track view of these two interdisciplinary research fields. I would not claim that I’ve been at the centres of influence of either fields, or that I’ve analysed the history of these areas in details, but I followed them close enough to draw parallels, and also to think – what does it mean to be involved in an interdisciplinary field and what make such a field successful? 

The use of terms in publications is a good indication to the interest in various academic fields. Here are two charts that tell you how GIScience grown until it stalled around 2010, and how citizen science have been quiet for a while but enjoying a very rapid growth now.

First, from Egenhofer et al. 2016 Contributions of GIScience over the Past Twenty Years, showing the total number of publications with the keywords GIS or GIScience, based on a Scopus query for the years 1991 through 2015, executed in July 2015. Notice the peak around 2009-2010.

gisciencepublications

And here is Google Trends graph for comparing GIScience and Citizen Science, showing that in the past 8 years citizen science has taken off and increased significantly more than GIScience:

gisciencecitizenscience

I think that it’s fair to say that these two fields as inherently interdisciplinary.

In GIScience, as Traynor a Williams identify already in 1995: “Off-the-shelf geographic information system software is hard to use unless you have sufficient knowledge of geography, cartography, and database management systems; are computer-literate” and to these observations we need to add statistics, algorithms development, and domain knowledge (ecology, hydrology, transport).

Citizen Science also includes merging knowledge from public engagement, education, science outreach, computer science, Human-Computer Interaction, statistics, algorithms and domain knowledge (e.g. ecology, astrophysics, life science, digital humanities, archaeology).

Both fields are more than a methodology – they are contributing to scientific research on different problems in the world, and only a very reductionist view about what they are will see them as ‘a tool’. They are more complex than that – which is why we have specific scholarship about them, periods of training, dedicated courses and books, conferences and all the rest.

A very shallow comparison will note that GIScience was born as an interdisciplinary field of study, and experience consolidation and focus early on with research agendas, core curriculum which was supposed to lead to stability and growth. This did not happen (see Patrick Rickles comments, from an interdisciplinary research perspective, on this). Take any measure that you like: size of conferences, papers. Something didn’t work. Consider the Esri UC, with its 15,000 participants who are working with GIS, yet only a handful of them seem to be happy with the identity of a GIScientists.

In contrast, Citizen Science is already attracting to its conferences audience in the many hundreds – the Citizen Science Association have 4000 (free) members, The European Citizen Science Association 180 (paid) – and that is in the first 2 years since they’ve been established. It doesn’t have an explicit research agenda, and have an emerging journal, but the field also benefits from multiple special issues – there is almost a competition among them.

As a GIScientist this is a complex, and somewhat unhappy picture. What can I offer to explain it? What are the differences between the two fields that led to the changes and what we can learn from them? It is worth exploring these questions if we want the field to flourish

Engaging with Interdisciplinary research

The wider engagement with these fields is also linked to my personal and direct engagement in GIScience research that goes beyond disciplinary boundaries. Over the years, I was also involved in about 20 multidisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary projects. I also found myself evaluating and funding x-disciplinary projects (where cross, inter, multi or trans  stand for x). The main observations from all these is that many times, projects that started under the interdisciplinary flag (integrating knowledge from multiple areas), ended with mostly multidisciplinary results (each discipline addressing the issue from its own point of view). However, here are nine lessons that I’ve learned, which can also help evaluating the wider fields of GIScience and citizen science.

First, Get them young & hungry – when established professors are joining an interdisciplinary project, usually they have a clear personal research agenda, and the likelihood that they will be open to radically new ideas about their area is low. You can get excellent multidisciplinary projects with experienced researchers, but it is much harder and rarer to have interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary project – there is too much to lose. That mean that early career researchers are the most suitable collaborators who can develop new directions. At the same time, in terms of job potential and publications, it is very risky for PhD students to get into interdisciplinary research as this can reduce their chances of securing an academic job. With appropriate funding (as we done in Bridging the Gaps) and specific support to people at the more secured stage of early career (after securing a lectureship/assistant professor position), we’ve seen interdisciplinary collaboration evolve.

Second, in x-disciplinary projects, you’ll find yourself being undermined, unintentionally which will hurt. Disciplines have different notion of ‘truth’ and how to get to it (in philosophy: epistemology and ontology). What is considered as an appropriate methodology (e.g. fixation with randomised control trials), how many people need to participate, how they are selected and more. When people from another discipline use these concepts to question your practice it can feel as undermining the expertise, and the disciplinary knowledge that you are offering to the project…

logo-ercThird, there are also cases of being undermined, intentionally. Interdisciplinary proposal are evaluated by experts from different fields, and no matter how much they are told to focus their comments on their discipline, they will comment on other aspects. Moreover, proposal evaluators can assess the novelty in their area, not the overall innovation, reducing the likelihood of ‘outstanding’ mark that make it more likely to get funded. For example, in an early version of what was now funded by both EPSRC and ERC, a Research Challenges Board rejected the proposal because it “seemed so high risk to us is that there are many links in the chain… is it clear that even if everything works there would be real value from these sorts of devices? You use the example that the forest people might be able to tell if there were poachers in the area. Yet can that really be shown? Do forest people understanding probabilistic reasoning? If there any evidence that illiterate people can use maps, digital or otherwise?“. It’s important to note that both ERC and the EPSRC programmes were aimed at risky, interdisciplinary projects, but in more standard programmes, it is difficult to get funded.

Fourth, look out for the disciplinary scrounger. They might not be aware that they are disciplinary scrounger, but this is how it happens: Interdisciplinary research open up new tools and methodologies and people who know how to use them for the research team as a whole. While there is a supposed shared goals that will provide benefits to all sides, a savvy researcher will identify that there is an opportunity for using resources to advance their own research in their discipline, and find ways to do that, even if there are no apparent benefits to the side that give the resources. This act is not necessarily malicious – from the researcher perspective, it is exactly a demonstration of interdisciplinary contribution.

Fifth, in an interdisciplinary research it is critical to develop a common narrative, early. As the project progresses, it will shift and change. Because of the disciplinary differences, it is very easy to diverge and work on different issues, with some relationship to the original proposal. Especially in case where the funder evaluate the project against the proposal (e.g. in Horizon 2020), it’s critical to have a common story. The project can be harmonious and show good progression, but without a common narrative that is shared across the team, there can be troubles when it come to evaluation by external people as the outputs do not all fit neatly to their idea of what the project is about. In another project, Adaptable Suburbs, we deliberately shared reading lists between teams to help understanding each other, which bring us to…

Sixth, highstreetconsider the in-built misunderstanding. Terminology is an obvious one. For Anthropology, scale, from small to large is individual, household, community – and for cartography city is small scale, while house is large scale. However, these are easy – it can take time, and long discussions to discover that you’re looking at the same thing but seeing something completely different. As Kate Jones suggested when she worked on the Successful Suburban Town Centres project. In the image above urban designers see the streets, but not the people, while human geographers who look at census data will tend to see the people, but not the urban structure that they inhibit. There are many other examples of subtle, complex and frustrating misunderstanding that happen in such projects.

Seven, there will be challenges with publications – those that are written. Publications are critical academic outputs, and important for the individuals, teams, and the project as a whole. Yet, they are never easy – different disciplines have very different practices. In some, the first position in the author list is the most important, in another, the last. Some value single author monograph (Anthropology), other conference paper with multiple authors (Computer Science). This creates tensions and a need for delicate discussions and agreement. Moreover, and linked to Six – writing joint publications is an opportunity to expose interdisciplinary misunderstanding, but that make the writing process longer.

Eight, it is important to realise that many times interdisciplinary publications will never be written  – because academic careers, promotion criteria, visibility, and recognition depends on disciplinary practices, within projects disciplinary papers and outputs are written first. The interdisciplinary outputs left to a later stage – and then the project end and they never get written. They are actually dependent on voluntary investment of multiple contributors, which make it very difficult to get them done!

Finally, nine, is the importance of coffee and lunch breaks (and going out together). Team members in interdisciplinary projects are usually coming from different departments, and it is challenging to organise a shared space. However, by putting people together – computer scientists sitting next to a geographer, designer, anthropologists – it is possible to achieve the level of trust, relationship and the development of new ideas that are needed in such projects. In ExCiteS, we have a designated ‘social officer’ for the group.

On the basis of these experiences, I’d argue that Interdisciplinarity is always hard, risky, require compromises, accommodations, listening, and making mistakes. The excitement from the outputs and outcomes does not always justify the price. Frequently, there is no follow-on project – it’s been too exhausting. The analysis that Patrick Rickles done across the literature can provide you with further information on challenges and solutions.

From projects to research fields

Considering the project level challenges, viewing interdisciplinary areas of studies emerging is especially interesting. You can notice how concepts are being argued and agreed on. You can see what is inside and what is outside, and where the boundary is drawn. You can see how methodologies, jargon, acceptable behaviour, and modes of operations get accepted or rejected – and from the inside, you can nudge the field and sometimes see the impact of your actions. Here are some observations about GIScience and citizen science evolution.

First, citizen science seem to be growing organically, without a deliberate attempt to set a research agenda, define core curriculum, or start with nationally focused research centres, in contrast to GIScience, who had all of these. There is an emergent research agenda: data quality, motivations & incentives, interaction design, management of volunteers, and more. These are created according to views of different people who join the research area, opening opportunities for new collaborations. It is noted that GIScience, in practice, allowed for many other areas to emerge – for example crowdsourcing, which was not in the last version of the research priorities that are listed on UCGIS website, and also seemed to stop doing these exercises.

Second, there is an interesting difference in inclusiveness. Although there are different variants of citizen science, across events, conferences and projects, there is an attempt to be inclusive to the different variants (e.g. volunteer computing or ecological observations) though tensions remain and need maintenance. In GIScience, there have been inclusive activities, of workshops that brought together people from Human-Computer Interaction in the late 1980s, or the excellent series of meetings about GIS and Environmental Modelling. There is clear separation, for example in spatial analysis, where different methods are now appearing in ecology, but they are not shared back with the general GIScience. It is worth considering how to make such events and consider active inclusiveness, where researchers from different areas will find their place and reasons to participate.

It might be that citizen science is also more inclusive because of the interaction with people outside academia (participants) and the need to focus on things that matter to them, whereas GIScience has largely been for/by scientists. However, citizen science gets backlash for “not doing REAL science”, but it’s still grown. Maybe, in the process of GIScience trying to validate itself, it’s cut itself off from other research areas (even though GIS use continues to grow)?

Third, there is a sharp difference in the relationship with practitioners – GIScience decided to focus on fundamental questions and laws, while citizen science is a deliberate integration between researchers (the science of citizen science) and practitioners who are running volunteering programmes. The interaction between practice and science is bringing research questions to light and provide a motivation for addressing them with interdisciplinary teams. It might be that separation between science and systems in GIScience need to be blurred a bit to open up new opportunities.
bookcoverFinally, GIScience benefited from having a disciplinary name, and attention by a growing group of researchers who are committed to the field – job titles, positions, journals and conference do matter in terms of visibility and recognition. Citizen science, on the other hand, is only now starting to have a proper home and networks. There are ongoing discussions about what it is, and not everyone in the field is using the term ‘citizen science’ or happy with it. The actual conference that led to the creation of the Citizen Science Association was titled ‘Public Participation in Scientific Research'(!). The coherence and focus on understanding how important key phrases are, more than dislike of their potential meaning is valuable for the coherence of a field and stating that you have knowledge that can be shared with others.

New areas for Interdisciplinary research

To complete this discussion, I point to the opportunities that citizen science open for interdisciplinary collaborations with GIScience – It provides examples for longevity of VGI data sources, that can be used to address different research questions. There are new questions about scales of operations and use of data from the hyper local to the global. Citizen science offer challenging datasets (complexity, ontology, heterogeneity), and also a way to address critical issues (climate change, biodiversity loss). There are also usability challenges and societal aspects.

In final account, GIScience got plenty of interdisciplinary activity in it. There are actually plenty of examples for it. In terms of ‘mojo’ as being attractive for researchers from other area to join in, there are plenty of opportunities – especially if the practice of using GIS within different research and practice problems is included in the framework of GIScience.


This post benefited from discussions and comments from Patrick Rickles, who is our local expert in GIS use in an interdisciplinary settings. You should check his work.

Science Foo Camp 2016

Science Foo Camp (SciFoo) is an invitation based science unconference that is organised by O’Reilly media, Google, Nature, and Digital Science. Or put it another way, a weekend event (from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon), where 250 scientists, science communicators and journalists, technology people from area that relate to science, artists and ‘none of the above’ come and talk about their interests, other people interests, and new ideas, in a semi-structured way.

As this is an invitation only event, when I got the invitation, I wasn’t sure if it is real – only to replace this feeling with excitement after checking some of the information about it (on Wikipedia and other sites). I was also a little bit concerned after noticing how many of the participants are from traditional natural science disciplines, such as physics, computer science, neuroscience, chemistry, engineering and such (‘Impostor syndrome‘). However, the journey into citizen science, since 2010 and the first Citizen Cyberscience Summit, have led me to fascinating encounters in ecological conferences, physicists and environmental scientists, synthetic biologists, epidemiologists, and experimental physicists, in addition to links to Human-Computer Interaction researchers, educational experts, environmental policy makers, and many more. So I hoped that I could also communicate with the scientists that come to SciFoo.

I was especially looking forward to see how the unconference is organised and run. I’ve experienced unconferences (e.g. WhereCampEU in 2010, parts of State of the Map) and organised the Citizen Cyberscience Summits in 2012 & 2014 where we meshed-up a formal academic conference with unconference. I was intrigued to see how it works when the O’Reilly media team run it, as they popularised the approach.

The event itself run from the evening of Friday to early afternoon on Sunday, with very active 45 hours in between.

wp-1469243960730.jpgThe opening of the event included the following information (from Sarah Winge, Cat Allman, Chris DiBona, Daniel Hook, and Tim O’Reilly): The Foo Camp is an opportunity to bunch of really interesting people to get together and tell each other interesting stories – talk about the most interesting story that you’ve got. The main outputs are new connections between people. This as an opportunities to recharge and to get new ideas – helping each person to recharge using someone else battery. The ground rules include: go to sessions outside your field of expertise – an opportunity to see the world from a different perspective; be as extroverted as you can possibly be – don’t sit with people that you know, as you’ll have a better weekend to talk to different people. The aim is to make a conference that is made mostly from breaks – it’s totally OK to spend time not in a session; the law of two feet – it’s OK to leave and come from sessions and coming and going. It’s a DIY event. There are interesting discussions between competitors commercially, or academically – so it is OK to say that part of the conversations will be kept confidential.

wp-1469414697362.jpgThe expected scramble to suggest sessions and fill the board led to a very rich programme with huge variety – 110 sessions for a day and a half, ranging from ‘Origami Innovations’, ‘Are there Global Tipping Points?’, to ‘Growth Hacking, Rare disease R&D’, and ‘What we know about the universe? and what we don’t know?’. Multiple sessions explored Open science (open collaborations, reproducibility, open access publication), issues with science protocols, increasing engagement in science, gender, social justice side by side with designer babies, geoengineering, life extension, artificial intelligence and much more.

In addition, several curated sessions of lightning talks (5 minutes rapid presentations by participants), provided a flavour and extent of the areas that participants cover. For example, Carrie Partch talk about understanding how circadian cycles work – including the phenomena of social jet-lag, with people sleeping much more at weekends to compensate for lack of sleep during the weekdays. Or Eleine Chew demonstrated her mathematical analysis of different music performances and work as concert pianist.

I’ve followed the advice from Sarah, and started conversation with different people during meals, or on the bus to and from SciFoo, or while having coffee breaks. Actually everyone around was doing it – it was just wonderful to see all around people introducing themselves, and starting to talk about what they are doing. I found myself learning about research on common drugs that can extend the life of mice, brain research with amputees, and discussing how to move academic publications to open access (but somehow ending with the impact of the cold war on the investment in science).

I have organised a session about citizen science, crowdsourcing and open science, in which the discussion included questions about science with monks in Tibet, and patient active involvement in research about their condition. I’ve joined two other sessions about ‘Making Science Communication Thrilling for the Lay Person‘ with Elodie Chabrol (who run Pint of Science) and Adam Davidson; and ‘Science Communication: What? What? How? Discuss‘ with Suze Kundu, Jen Gupta, Simon Watt & Sophie Meekings. Plenty of ideas (and even a sub-hashtag to get responses for specific questions) came from these sessions, but also realisation of the challenges for early career academics in developing their skills in this area, with discouraging remarks from more senior academics, and potential career risks – so we also dedicated thinking about appropriate mechanisms to support public engagement activity.

Another fantastic discussion was led by Kevin Esvelt about ‘Better than nature: ethics of ecological engineering‘ – when this involve gene editing with techniques such as CRISPR with potential far reaching impact on ecological systems. This session just demonstrated how valuable it is to have interdisciplinary conference where the expertise of the people in the room range from geoengineering to ecology and ethics. It was also a mini-demonstration of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in action, where potential directions of scientific research are discussed with a range of people with different background and knowledge.

The amount of input, encounters and discussion at SciFoo is overwhelming, and the social activities after the sessions (including singing and sitting by the ‘fire’) is part of the fun – though these were very exhausting 40 hours.

Because SciFoo invitees include a whole group of people from science communication, and as SciFoo coincide with Caren Cooper stint of the twitter account @IamSciComm account where she discussed the overlap between citizen science and science communication, I paid attention to the overlap during the meeting. The good news is that many of the scientists had some idea of what citizen science is. I always check that people know the term before explaining my work, so it’s great to see that term is gaining traction. The less good news is that it is still categorised under ‘science communication’ and maybe a useful session would have been ‘What is the problem of scientists with citizen science?’.

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For me, SciFoo raised the question about the value of interdisciplinary meetings and how to make them work. With such a list of organisers, location, exclusiveness and the mystery of invitation (several people, including me, wonder ‘It’s great being here, but how did they found out about my work?’) – all make it possible to get such an eclectic collection of researchers. While it’s obvious that the list is well curated with considerations of research areas, expertise, background, academic career stage, and diversity, the end results and the format open up the possibility of creative and unexpected meetings (e.g. during lunch). My own experience is that to achieve something that approach such a mix of disciplines in a common ‘bottom-up’ academic conference is very challenging and need a lot of work. The Citizen Cyberscience summits, ECSA conference, or the coming Citizen Science Association conference are highly interdisciplinary in terms of the traditional academic areas from which participant come – but they require to convince people to submit papers and come to the conference. Usually, the interdisciplinary event is an additional commitment to their disciplinary focus and this creates a special challenge. Maybe it can be possible to achieve similar interdisciplinary meetings by getting endorsements from multiple disciplinary societies, or get support from bodies with wide remit like the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering.

Another thought is that the model of reaching out to people and convincing them that it is worth their while to come to such a meeting might also work better in allowing mixing, as open call are impacted by ‘self deselection’ where people decide that the conference is not for them (e.g. getting active participants to a citizen science conference, or ensuring that papers are coming from all flavours of citizen science).

Another delightful aspect is to notice how the unconference format worked with people that (mostly) haven’t experienced it before – the number of slots and opportunities was enough for people to mostly put their sessions forward. Although the call for people to be extroverts, the people with less confident will prepare their ideas more slowly, and can end up outside the grid. It was nice to see how some places in the grid were blocked off during the early stages, and then release to ideas that came during breaks, or for sessions that were proposed more slowly and didn’t secure a spot. There might be also value in restricting people to one session, and then progressing to more? What are the steps that are required to make an unconference format inclusive at the session setting stage?

In contrast to the approach in academic meetings to control the number of parallel sessions (to ensure enough people are showing up to a session), SciFoo is having so many, that most of the sessions are with a small group of about 10 or 20 people. This make it more valuable and suitable for exploratory discussions – which worked well in the sessions that I attended. In a way, at its best, SciFoo is many short brain storming sessions which leave you with a wish to discuss for longer.

If you get an invitation (and being flattered is part of the allure of SciFoo), it is worth going on the Wiki, give a bit of a description of yourself and think about a session that you’d like to propose – +1 can help you to get a feeling that people will be interested in it. Think about a catchy title that includes keywords, and remember that you are talking to intelligent lay people from outside your discipline, so prepare to explain some core principles for the discussion in 5 minutes or so. Don’t dedicate the time to tell people only about your research – think of an issue that bother you to some degree and you want to explore (for me it was the connection between citizen science and open science) and consider that you’ll have one hour to discuss it.

Follow the advice – say hello to everyone and have great conversations during breaks, and don’t go to sessions if the conversation is more interesting. Another take on the meeting is provided by Bjoern Brembs on his blog, with whom I had the open access conversation (and I still unsure how we ended with the Cold War).  Also remember to enjoy the experience, sit by the ‘fire’ and talk about things other than science!

 

 

Esri User Conference – Science Symposium

 

Esri Science Symposium

As part of the Esri User Conference, Dawn Wright, Esri Chief Scientist, organised a Science Symposium that gave an opportunity for those with interest in scientific use of Esri GIS to come together, discuss and meet.

Dawn Wright opened and mentioned that the science symposium is aimed to bring people people from different areas: hydrology, ecology or social sciences – together. The Esri science programme is evolving – and there is official science communication approach. There are different ways to support science including a sabbatical programme. Esri will launch a specific challenge for applications of data sets for students with focus on land, ocean and population. Esri will provide access to all the data that is available and the students are expected to carry out compelling analysis and communicate it. It is an activity in parallel to the global year of understanding. There are also sessions in the AGU meeting that are support by Esri staff.DSCN1690

Margaret Leinen (president, American Geophysical Union) who is working on marine and oceanography gave the main talk ‘what will be necessary to understand and protect the planet…and us?‘. Her talk was aimed at the audience in the conference – people who’s life focus is on data. What is necessary to understand the planet is data and information – it’s the first step of understanding. There are many issues of protecting and understanding the planet – we need to understand planetary impacts on us. The first example is the way we changed our understanding of climate change on the ocean. When we look at the change in sea surface temperature in the 1990 we can see changes up to 2 degrees F. The data was mostly collected in traditional means – measurements along the paths of ships. Through studies from ship records over the years, we have created a view of ocean heating – with different results between groups and researchers with lots of hand crafted compilation of records. In the last decade things have changed: ARGO floats are going up and down through ocean, and make all the data is available – there are 3839 operational floats, reporting every week. This is a completely new way or seeing the data, with huge scale international collaboration. Now we can see the annual cycle and determined the slope in the change in heat content. We have a 10 years time series for the depth of 0-2000m. We have a much more detailed information of the changes. There is an approach to make these devices that will understand the full planetary budget on heat through the whole depth of the ocean. The EarthScope Facilities also provide a demonstration of detailed sensing data – understanding the Earth and it’s movements. Many seismometers that are used for over a decade – the US array provided a massive increase in the resolution of seismic measurements. In 2011, the network identified the Japanese Honshu earthquake. The measurement provided a new class of earthquake modelling that can be used in engineering and science. GPS also provides new abilities to understand deformation o earth. Permanent GPS receivers – many of them – can provide the resolution and accuracy to notice subtle movement, by using very sophisticated statistical filtering. HPWREN – High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network – provide a way to transfer information from sensors who are very remote, then then linked through line of sight communication, and the network provide a reliable and resilient public safety network. The network support many sensing options. There are fire cameras that are linked to it, that alert to provide real time information to the fire department. WiFire is a programme that aim to deliberately work on this issues. GIS data is used to assess surface fuel. In summary: Earth science is going through huge transformation through collaboration of large groups of researchers who are using dense sensing networks. We can now monitor different processes – from short to long term. We gain new insights, and it is rapidly transform into local, regional, national and global responses.

After her talk, a set of responses was organised from a panel, including: Mike Goodchild, John Wilson, Marco Paniho , Ming Tsou, and Cyrus Shahabi.

John: discussion about GIScience – the examples that we’ve seen point to future challenges. We can train people in the spatial sciences, and insist that they’ll learn another area, or change the earth sciences, so people learn about spatial issues, or somewhere in between, with people becoming aware of each other language. Spatial scientists have little capacity to learn a new areas – and same is true for earth scientists. The only viable path is to work together – it’s about working in interdisciplinary teams and enabling people to work with them. Data acquisition is moving fast and it is a challenge to train graduates in this area. Only recently we start thinking about solutions. Academics are experts in dealing with problems in the world, and instead we need to suggest solutions and test them.

Marco: the principle and ideas are problems that are familiar in GIScience although the specific domain of the problem was not familiar. Issues of resolution and scale are familiar in GIScience. We have a long way to go in terms of details of describing a phenomena. We need to see how systematic are we now in acquiring data? We need details of the maps of the heating of the ocean, and understanding what is going on. What is the role of remote sensing in helping us in monitoring global phenomena? We need to think about down-scaling – get from aggregate data to more detailed understanding something locally. What is the role of citizens in providing highly local information on phenomena?

Ming: we need to remembers about ‘how to lie with maps?’ – we need to be very careful about visualisations and cartographic visualisation. Each map is using projections, cartographic representation, and we need to think if it is the appropriate way to ask if that is the appropriate way to present the information? How can we deliver meaningful animation. Cartography is changing fast, but today we need to look at 2000-5000 scale, but we are using now levels and not scale. The networks and models of wildfire are raising questions about which model is appropriate, how many variables we need and which sources of information, as well as the speed of the modelling. Need to think which model is appropriately used.

Cyrius: there are more and more sensors in different context, and with machine learning we have an increased ability to monitor cities. In case of existing models – we have cases of using more data analysis in computer science.

Margaret: we have new ability to move from data, model, analysis and keep the cycle going. In the past, there was gulf between modelling or observations, we don’t see a divide any more and see people going between the modelling and the data.

Discussion points: We need to consider what is the messages that we want to communicate in our maps – we need to embrace other disciplines in improving communication. We need to implement solutions – how much uncertainty you are willing to accept. Every single map or set of data is open and other people can look and change it – this is a profound change.

The earth system is an interrelated system – but we tend to look at specific variables, but data is coming in different resolutions, and details that make it difficult to integrate. Spatial statistics is the way to carry out such integration, the question is how do we achieve that.

It’s not enough to have data as open but the issue is how to allow people to use it – issues of metadata, making it able to talk with other data sets. Esri provide a mechanism to share and address the data.

There is uncomfortable relationships between science and policy – the better the models, there is more complex the issue of discussing them with the public. How to translate decimal points to adjectives for policy making. This creates an issue to communicate with the public and policy makers. There is a need to educate scientists to be able to communicate with the wider public.

Another issue of interdisciplinarity – encouraged as graduate, but not when it come to the profession. There are different paths. Once you land a job, it is up to how you behave and perform.

Considering the pathways of integration, the challenge between the modellers and the observationalists. We can think about identifying a path.

Machine learning might need to re-evaluate how we learn and know something. There is also need to think about which statistics we want to use.

Margaret: what is different now – a growing sense of lack of being able to characterised the things that are going on. The understanding about our ignorance: in the past we had simple linear expectations of understanding. We finding that we don’t understand, and the biosphere and what is does to the world. There are so many viruses in the sea air, and we don’t know what it does to the world. The big revolution is the insights into the complexity of the earth system. How not to simplify beyond the point that we will loose important insight!

Esri User Conference 2016 – plenary day

The main Esri User conference starts with a plenary day, where all the participants (16,000 of them) join together for a set of presentation from 8:30 to 3:30 (with some breaks, of course). Below you’ll find some notes that I took during the day:

wp-1467087487123.jpgThe theme of the keynote was GIS – Enabling a Smarter World. After an inspirational video (emphasising environmental applications of GIS, including dealing with sustainability and biodiversity), Jack Dangermond, opened the conference by covering a range of applications that fall under smart GIS. Examples include environmental monitoring, energy management for renewable energy and grids. Using the management of land information and urban design (green infrastructure plans, corridors for wildlife etc.), transport –  smart routing reduce environmental impacts, and increase efficiency. Engineering and public work, utilities and telecommunication, business analytics (an area that finally is taking off), public safety and also humanitarian support. We have an increasing understanding of citizen engagement through open data, and the UN is using GIS to share open data in data management for the Sustainable Development Goals. Story telling, and story maps are becoming central to the way information is shared.
We’re living in a world that is undergoing a massive digital transformation – how do we go forward in this wired planet? GIS is a language for understanding the world. We need to address the crisis of sustainability – we need to address the problems together. GIS allow integration, visualisation – a framework to design for the future through geodesign. Turn information to action – from measuring to affecting the world. GIS itself is getting smarter – through technologies and tools, sensors, types of data. Smart GIS is a variety of things: ability to connect to real time information – IoT, remote sensing, connecting everyone – assisting communities to understand what they are doing and acting. It mean integrating spatial data and records with system of engagement. This is possible through Web GIS pattern. Earthquake alerting from USGS tell people to get ready, and also flood analytics. There is an emerging ‘Community GIS’

A leading example of this change is the City of Los Angeles GeoHub– Lilian Coral – chief data officer described how she try to ensure that the city is using data for helping the management of the city. To assist with that, they have developed geohub.lacity.org to enable community organisations to do things with city data. It is using open data and open applications to allow new applications to solve problems. From running a clean Street Index to compare the information between different areas. GeoHub helps to unlock data in the city and can provide  support a range of application. People are used for community data collection on Exide Battery Contamination that happened in LA. LA is aiming to reduce death from accidents on the road, and trying to improve performance over time. They even try to explore walking in LA and reduce car dependency. They learn that the GeoHub is foundation for smart cities and develop a range of hubs for generating and using geographic information for residents.

Awp-1467087506737.jpgfter the GeoHub presentation, Jack Dangermond noted that we have an ability to share geographical knowledge like never before.  The concept of ArcGIS evolved to see it as a hub between a system of records, system or analysis, and system of engagement. Growing important of web services and apps. ArcGIS tools are evolving – collector and Survey123 apps are linking to field workers and data collection. In terms of GIS technology, there is more effort on exploratory spatial data analysis tools (Insights for ArcGIS) and making it possible to analyse Big Data – for example billion transactions – using distributed computations using computer clusters. Application such as Drone2Map can speed up the process of turning drone imagery. There are more development tools for apps, with over 500,000 appearing. The open source apps allow people to developing further. Esri has run 4 MOOCs and may learning resources that are free for use by users of Esri. Esri support 11,000 university and higher education institutions around the world.  The people who are working in GIS, engaged and committed, are the people who are creating a smarter and more sustainable world.

wp-1467087511310.jpgLater in the day, some of the technologies that were discussed include the living atlas which is a whole catalogue of updated base maps, and the use of vector data allow restyling of information in many ways. A growing range of apps for the field, office and for the community support a range of activities. Information for communities include story maps, open data, photo survey, crowdsourced reporter, manager, and polling.

An example for the utilisation of the apps was provided by the talk “Civic Responsibility – Changing Our Approach” from the City of New Orleans (Lamar Gardere, Greg Hymel & James Raasch). In New Orleans they used collector to work with volunteers to coordinate and record a progression of a campaign to raise awareness to mosquito that can be vectors of disease. They also created a very fast survey methods based on images of building, using a crowdsourced image analysis that includes 6 attributes. The photos where collected throughout the city using geolocated wide angle camera. They then prepare the images and created a way of capturing information. They ask people to help in crowdsourcing. An example for geographical crowdsourcing in government, with micro tasks: https://propertysurvey.nola.gov/photosurvey/ . They have also created an application to link people relating to basins and reports from 311 calls. When someone agreed to adopt a ‘catch basin’ (a drain in the street) then they are sharing responsibility to check that it is not blocked before storms arrive and volunteer to clean the drain. They also have a story map, to let people share their pictures and images that are integrated into a story map.

wp-1467087515436.jpgAfternoon session opened with the main keynote “The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World” by Andrea Wulf. She told the story of Alexander von Humbolt, who spend his fortune on a journey of 5 years in south America, the most famous person in his time after Napoleon. He inspired Darwin to go on the Beagle journey. Many people relate to him and his insights. Died in 1859, and after his death people celebrated him – but he is almost forgotten today. Humboldt invented the concept of Nature, noticing the connection between different aspects of the living world, and geography. He also defined global climate and vegetation zones. Pioneering mapping and visualisation – using scientific data as a basis for fantastic maps. He can also be associated with concepts of environmentalism. Her book explores him and his insights. The journey from Quito to Chimborazo was similar to a journey from the tropic to the arctic, and realised that it’s like movement between different regions of the world. He was capable of linking many things together. Humboldt also created new forms of cartography, and have an appreciation to indigenous knowledge. Humboldt ‘Cosmos’ made a physical description of the universe, linking many aspects of nature together and this was his most popular contribution. The network of GIS and the creation of a living atlases in GIS is knowledge that bring power to people and communities – we can see a link to practices in GIS to von Humboldt.

Another major announcement was the effort of “Designing and Creating a Green Infrastructure” with Arancha Muñoz Criado (City and Strategic Planner) and
Kaitlin Yarnall (National Geographic Society). A common initiative of conservation organisations to create a common set of information about green spaces and wild spaces. Esri and National Geographic are joining forces to create information system for this. The notion is to protect green infrastructure across America – a GIS for the whole country, to define the area that need protection. They will provide extensive information and will provide geodesign tools to allow many people to use the information.

wp-1467087519514.jpgAnother important presentation was about “The AmzonGISnet” with Richard Resl and Domingo Ankuash in Ecuador, who use GIS in new ways. 20 years ago, Domingo started to use GIS to help the indigenous tribes that he leads to protect their lands. Many local indigenous members of the community who have GIS skills and who create a self made life plan – their own atlas representing their land and views. He noted that his community “We do not live in the forest, we are part of it”. The are not thinking themselves are poor, but need the support of other people to protect their land – having maps that are strategic and mindful. Using GIS not to navigate the forest but to protect it.

The final talk in the event was about Connecting GIS with Education, noting that  there is more work on GIS in schools across the US and the world. San Andreas High School started only 18 months ago with GIS, with only one teacher getting into GIS, but alrady achieving results through collaboration with GIS Mentors. An area with 98% students who receive free lunches. The GIS is a force for good. They created a story map about teens and drinking & Alcohol abuse, showing analysis and considerations within the process. Students also created data collection for surveying the state of sidewalks using Survey123.

Esri Education Conference 2016 – day 1

I’ve been working with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) since 1988. During the first 2 years, I wasn’t even aware that what we were doing was GIS – it was a mapping/inventory system that run on second generation PC (80286 processors) and was used to map facilities. Once I’ve discovered that this was a GIS, the next thing was ‘and ESRI Arc/Info is the software that you should check’. I’ve heard a lot over the years about the Esri User Conference, but haven’t had the chance to attend it, so this year I’m filling in the gap in my experience of the world of GIS. I’m giving a keynote at the Esri Education User Conference (EdUC), and I’ll attend some other parts of the general User Conference, and report on the experience.

The Education UC opened up with interest in creativity. Angie Lee, who opened the conference, noted her inspiration to the theme from learning about the makers movement and the growing interest in teaching students to code. She noted that many aspects of GIS encourage creativity: developing a story map or building an app. The opportunity that are emerging with new technologies  This is also true in science for the development of hypotheses and methodologies.

The two keynotes on the first day are by Dave Zaboskiwp-1466874989913.jpg
(Professional Artist / Creative Consultant) a former Senior Animator with Disney. Dave suggest that people have an innate ability of creativity. Creativity that is common at a young age but disappear later. Creativity is the willingness to do try things, it’s the courage to take risks. It’s the act of turning a thought into a thing, but we tend to get lost in the process. Resolute imagination is leading to magical results. The approach that he suggests is highlighting a spiral iteration instead of trying to move directly at a goal. There are five key attributes: first – believe in what they are doing. Have a clear narrative, and trying to reduce noise to increase the signal. You can think of things you have no control about them (A list),  issues that you can influence (B list), and a D+ list of things that make you lighter & happy, that make the ‘signal’ in life. The A list should not considered – someone else is going to take care of that and it will be their D+ list. The B list, can be solved at one thing a day, and then focus on the main issues. Then you can focus on the D+ list. Need to collaborate, and risk in a powerful way – when iterating you need to be confident that you can try again. Need to know that it might require throwing work that you have already done. Need to learn to trust you own abilities. Need to be able to allow instead of cognitive dissonant to have allow for information to have creative confusion until the information organise itself in a way that make sense. Completion is also important: acknowledge that people that were involved, analyse and celebrate. When you can declare that you have completed, you can move to the next challenge. Creators believe, iterate , collaborate, risk, and complete.
wp-1466981055360.jpgThe second keynote was by Dominique Evans-Bye, Science Teacher, Clark Magnet High School. She gave a detailed presentation on teaching GIS in high school through project based learning – including diving and operating ROVs. She’s working with low income students, many are from immigrants families. The first project in 2006 that the students done was to analyse sediments and heavy metals in the Los Angeles Harbour. The students collected samples and then analysed the level of contamination in them, and visualising the information on a GIS. In the next stage, they examined contamination in lobsters and they analysed the tissues, with mass spectrometers. They found high arsenic levels. The students gain confidence, and learn through iteration and use the online tutorials of ArcGIS Online and offline to develop skills and use them to analyse their information. The exploration of the problem lead to new questions and ways to represent the information. The students are doing also applications with the Esri collector app, to understand how the litter can end up in the ocean. Another project involved them analysing albatross  migration. Through classes on environmental GIS which was problem oriented and based on all the skills that they’ve gain in operating the research process itself. The students are collaborating, and see the process from projects where they’ve been involved in data collection to analysis. Students experience collaboration with scuba divers from NOAA and other bodies. The students won awards and scholarships as a result of their effort. There are major benefits for creating a creative learning environment with high school students and allowing them to develop their learning through problem solving.

In an afternoon session, I presented a talk that Patrick Rickles prepared, titled GIS and Citizen Science: Combining Open Source and Esri Technologies. The presentation focused on the way that some of the technologies that are developed in the ExCiteS group, such as GeoKey and Community Maps, can work with Esri technologies. The presentation open by explaining the needs and requirements – the interdisciplinarity of the group, and the type of areas that we work with. He then demonstrate, using the work of Challenging Risk project in Seattle, which looks at participatory methods for community preparedness to earthquake and fire. The context of the project mean that there can be 2 way data sharing – from the community to local government so they can see the information in ArcGIS Online, and information from the open data store can be shared on Community Maps. Several other examples for Esri technologies that are in use are shown.

 

Esri Education User Conference talk: Citizen Science & Geographical Technologies: creativity, learning, and engagement

The slides below are from my keynote talk at the Esri Education User Conference 2016. The conference focused on creativity and its relevant to education and the utilisation of GIS (especially Esri software) at different levels of education.

My talk explored the area of citizen science and extreme citizen science and the way geographical technologies contribute to creativity and learning. As I continue to assume that many of the audience don’t know about citizen science, I start with a review of the field as a way to contextualise what we, as a group, try to do.

[The talk is similar, in parts, to other talks that are captured here on my blog (workshop on theory, practice and policy, standards and recommendation for citizen science, or the current developments in ExCiteS). I’m updating the slides with lessons on what seem to work or not in previous talks. Social media is helpful for that – I can see which points people found most useful/meaningful!]

The talk starts with an historical perspective of citizen science, continue with the societal and technical trends that are at the basis of the current growth in citizen science. Having done that, I’m using a typology that looks at domain (academic discipline), technology, and engagement as a way to introduce examples of citizen science activities. I’m using the trailer for the TV series ‘the Crowd & the Cloud’ to recap the discussions on citizen science activities. I also mention the growth of practitioners community through the Citizen Science Associations.

Next, on this basis, I’m covering the concepts and practices of Extreme Citizen Science – what we do and how. I’m using examples from the work on noise, community resource management and earthquake and fire preparedness to demonstrate the concept.

The last part of the talk focuses specifically on creativity and learning from the Citizen Cyberlab project, and I explain the next steps that we will carry out in the Doing It Together Science project. I complete the talk by giving examples for activities that the audience can do by themselves.

Throughout the talk, I’m showing how Esri technologies are being used in citizen science. It wasn’t difficult to find examples – Esri’s GIS is used in BioBlitzes, Globe at Night, links to OpenStreetMap, and support the work that the ExCiteS group is doing. Survey123 and similar tools can be used to create novel projects and experiment with them. ArcGIS Online will be linked to GeoKey, to allow analysis of community mapping efforts. In short, there is plenty of scope for GIS as an integral part of citizen science projects.