Chapter in Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice – Participatory GIS and community-based citizen science for environmental justice action

The Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice has been published in mid-September. This extensive book, of 670 pages is providing an extensive overview of scholarly research on environmental justice

The book was edited by three experts in the area – Ryan Holifield from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Jayajit Chakraborty from the University of Texas at El Paso, and Gordon Walker from the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, UK. All three have affiliations that relate to Geography, and geographic and environmental information play a major part in the analysis and action regarding environmental justice.

The book holds 51 chapters that are covering the theory and practice of environmental justice – from how it is analysed and understood in different academic disciplines, to the methods that are used to demonstrate that environmental justice issues happen in a place,  and an overview of the regional and global aspects of current environmental justice struggles. The range of chapters and the knowledge of the people who write them are making this collection a useful resource for those who are studying and acting in this area (though few top authors in this field are missing, but their work is well referenced)

However, with a price tag of £139.5 for the eBook, the costs put an obstacle for those who need the information, and luckily the policy of Routledge permits sharing the chapters on personal websites.

My contribution, together with Louise Francis, is in Chapter 24 –Participatory GIS and community-based citizen science for environmental justice action. In this chapter, we provide an overview of the use of participatory GIS in environmental justice action, but in particular, a detailed explanation of the methodology that we have developed a decade ago, with contributions from Colleen Whitaker, Chris Church and other people that worked with us a the time. The methodology is now used in the activities of Mapping for Change.  The methodology supports both participatory mapping and citizen science.

As we note in the chapter “Our methodology emerged in 2007, through the London 21 Sustainability Network project ‘A Fairer, Greener London’, which aimed to give six marginalised communities the opportunity to develop their own understanding of local environmental justice issues and supporting action plans to address them. The project was integrated closely with the project ‘Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities’ which was funded as part of the UrbanBuzz scheme. Both projects were based on accessible GIS technologies and available environmental information sources.

The methodology evolved into a six-stage process that is inherently flexible and iterative – so, while the stages are presented here as a serial process, the application of the methodology for a specific case is carried out through a discussion with the local community.” The chapter provides an example for the implementation of the methodology from the work that we carried out in the Pepys Estate.

If you want to read the whole chapter (and use the methodology, you can find it here. For any other chapter in the handbook, email the authors and they will probably share a copy with you. 


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.

UCL Synergies podcast – Congo Citizen Science

The “UCL Synergies podcasts” is series of interviews with researchers who are working on a shared problem from two disciplinary perspective. It is part of the activities to demonstrate how UCL addresses the grand challenges. The series itself is an excellent  demonstration of the issues that come up in interdisciplinary research and you can find it here

As part of this series, Jerome Lewis and I had a conversation with Sue Nelson on our work. The podcast is about 10 minutes,  and you can listen to it here.

Leveraging the power of place in citizen science for effective conservation decision making – new paper

During the Citizen Science conference in 2015, a group of us, under the enthusiastic encouragement of John Gallo started talking about a paper that will discuss the power of place in citizen science. John provides a very detailed account about the way that a discussion and inspiration during the conference led to the development of the paper. Greg Newman took the lead on the process of writing, and the core analysis was based on classifying and analysing 134 citizen science projects.

My contribution to the paper is mostly in exploration of the concept of place including the interpretation within Human Geography of places as spaces of flows (so the paper cites Doreen Massey). I was also involved in various discussion about the development of the dimensions of place that were included in the analysis, while most of the work was done by Greg Newman, Bridie McGreavy  & Marc Chandler.

The paper is now out and free to read and reuse.

Place-based citizen science framework (a) before and (b) after leveraging the power of place. Note that after leveraging the power of place, the citizen science circle is enlarged to reflect a potential increase in participation, data collection, and quality of conservation decision making and that the overall influence of decision making also grew. Note also that the relative size of Zone One increased while the inherent capacity of the power of place remained the same size.
Place-based citizen science framework (a) before and (b) after leveraging the power of place. Note that after leveraging the power of place, the citizen science circle is enlarged to reflect a potential increase in participation, data collection, and quality of conservation decision making and that the overall influence of decision making also grew. Note also that the relative size of Zone One increased while the inherent capacity of the power of place remained the same size.








While it is, for me, expected that place will have an important role in citizen science, it is excellent to see that the analysis supported this observation through consistent classification of citizen science projects across three collections. The model above suggest how it can be used.

The paper development process, however, demonstrate the power of cyberspace, as the team met regularly online and shared documents, details and drafts along the way, with important regular online meeting that help it to come together. The paper started with all of us at the same place and at the same time, but this interaction was enough to sustain our team work all the way to publication.

The paper is open access and the abstract for it is:

Many citizen science projects are place-based – built on in-person participation and motivated by local conservation. When done thoughtfully, this approach to citizen science can transform humans and their environment. Despite such possibilities, many projects struggle to meet decision-maker needs, generate useful data to inform decisions, and improve social-ecological resilience. Here, we define leveraging the ‘power of place’ in citizen science, and posit that doing this improves conservation decision making, increases participation, and improves community resilience. First, we explore ‘place’ and identify five place dimensions: social-ecological, narrative and name-based, knowledge-based, emotional and affective, and performative. We then thematically analyze 134 case studies drawn from (n = 39), The Stewardship Network New England (TSN-NE; n = 39), and Earthwatch (n = 56) regarding: (1) use of place dimensions in materials (as one indication of leveraging the power of place), (2) intent for use of data in decision-making, and (3) evidence of such use. We find that 89% of projects intend for data to be used, 46% demonstrate no evidence of use, and 54% provide some evidence of use. Moreover, projects used in decision making leverage more (t = − 4.8, df = 117; p < 0.001) place dimensions (View the MathML source= 3.0; s = 1.4) than those not used in decision making (View the MathML source= 1.8; s = 1.2). Further, a Principal Components Analysis identifies three related components (aesthetic, narrative and name-based, and social-ecological). Given these findings, we present a framework for leveraging place in citizen science projects and platforms, and recommend approaches to better impart intended outcomes. We discuss place in citizen science related to relevance, participation, resilience, and scalability and conclude that effective decision making as a means towards more resilient and sustainable communities can be strengthened by leveraging the power of place in citizen science.

Reading ‘Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction’ in place

9781615192434At the beginning of the year, I received an email from Mary Ellen Hannibal, asking for a clarification of the ‘extreme citizen science’ concept. Later on, Mary Ellen provided me with an early copy of ‘Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction‘, and asked if I will be willing to recommend it. I read the first part of the book before travelling to Sci Foo Camp, and was happy to provide a statement (I wouldn’t overstate the value of my endorsement when she received ones from Bill McKibben and Paul Ehrlich).

The part that I read captured my interest, and I finished reading it on the way to Sci Foo and shortly after it. I’ve enjoyed reading it, and at many points I stopped to think and absorb the rich information that Mary Ellen provided within it. At the beginning, I was expecting an account of the personal experience of doing citizen science and understanding its place in the world – much like Sharman Apt Russell ‘Diary of a Citizen Scientist’ (a wonderful book which I highly recommend!). However ‘Citizen Scientist’ is a very different type of book, with a much richer internal ‘ecology’. The book is weaving five themes – the impact of the mass extinction that we are experiencing around us; a very personal account of losing a parent; the history and development of ecological knowledge of coastal California; Joseph Campbell’s literary framework of the ‘hero’s journey’, and the way it can be linked to John Steinbeck and Ed Rickets work around Monterey; and the current practice of citizen science, especially around the Bay Area and coastal California. These themes are complex on their own, and Mary Ellen is doing a great job in exploring each one of them and bringing them into interaction with each other. As I went through the book, each of these was explained clearly from a well researched position, with the experiential aspects of citizen science – including the frustration and challenges – beautifully expressed. As you read through the book, you start to see how these themes come together. It most be said that most of these themes are worrying or raise the notion of loss. Against this background, citizen science plays the role of ‘hope’ at the corner of Pandora’s box – offering a way to connect to nature, nurture it and redevelop a sense of stewardship. A way to preserve the cultural practices of the Amah Mutsun tribe, nature, and a sense of connection to place.

Near Yosemite I felt very lucky that Mary Ellen got in touch and shared the book with me – it was just the right book for me to read at the time. After the Sci Foo Camp, I have stayed in central California for 4 weeks, touring from Mountain View in the Bay Area, to Ripon in Central Valley, to Oak View in Ojai Valley, near Ventura and Los Angeles. Reading the book while travelling through places that are linked to the book gave the visits deeper and richer context and meaning. Many of the encounters throughout journey were linked to the topics that I mentioned above – you don’t need to be any kind of hero to experience these! Some of these encounters include the following.
DSCN1924First was the fascinating session at Sci Foo Camp, in which Tony Barnosky discussed the issue of global tipping points (which are discussed in the book) and their wider implications, with few days later travelling towards Yosemite and experiencing the change in very large landscapes following fires and thinking ‘is this a local ecological tipping point, and the forest won’t come back?’. Then there was a visit to San Francisco Golden Gate Park, and passing by the California Academy of Sciences (Cal Academy, the San Francisco Natural History Museum), whose story is covered in the book. Another reminder of extinction came while travelling down the famous California State Route 1, which was eerily quite and empty of other cars on a weekend day, because of the Soberanes Fire that was devastating the forest nearby (and has not stopped). Or stopping by the Mission in Santa Barbara and thinking about the human and natural history of the coast, or just looking at the kelp on the beach and appreciating it much more…

I’ll try to write more about citizen science and its hopeful aspects later, but as for the book – even if you don’t travel through coastal California, I am happy with what I’ve said about it: ‘an informative, personal, emotional and fascinating account of a personal journey to ecological citizen science. It shows how our understanding of our environment and the need for urgent action to address the mass extinction that is happening in front of our eyes can be addressed through participatory science activities’.

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?’.


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!



New Paper: The Three Eras of Environ-mental Information: the Roles of Experts and the Public

Since the first Eye on Earth conference in 2011, I started thinking that we’re moving to a new era in terms of relationships between experts and the public in terms of access to environmental information and it’s production. I also gave a talk about this issue in the Wilson Center in 2014. The three eras can be summarised as ‘information for experts by experts’,’information for experts and the public, by experts, and in experts language’, and ‘information for experts and the public, by experts and the public, in multiple forms’.

Finally, as part of a book that summarises the outcomes from the EveryAware project, I’ve written a chapter that explores the three eras of environmental information and provide a more detailed account of each of them.  You can access the paper here and it should be cited at

Haklay, M., 2017, The Three Eras of Environ-mental Information: The Roles of Experts and the Public, In Loreto, V., Haklay, M., Hotho, A., Servedio, V.C.P, Stumme, G., Theunis, J., Tria, F. (eds.) Participatory Sensing, Opinions and Collective Awareness. Springer. pp.163-179.

The book includes many other chapters and I’ll put several of them online later in the year. you can find the book on Springer site.