Justice and the Digital symposium notes

The Digital Geographies Research Group of the RGS-IBG held the annual symposium at the University of Sheffield, under the theme “Justice and the Digital”. These are partial notes from the day

The symposium opening session focus on the important question “What’s Justice got to do with it?”

DSC_0956Jeremy Crampton covered three issues – practices of surveillance in the context of smart cities. Surveillance is seen as an Orwellian term, and a problematic term – for one thing, it does not affect everyone in the same way – for example, argument that ongoing camera used by police reducing complaints about police actions (though we can figure out the complexities); secondly, the increased use of AI and facial recognition, and finally, surveillance rely on recialised/biased approach to societal ordering. This can be understood and explored through database ethnographies.

The second point is the way in which digital services are being delivered (e.g. Amazon) and they are similar to Red Lining practices from the mid 20th century.

The final demonstration of the complexities is the competition from the government in the UK between universities to use technology to increase transparency and inclusion. If you don’t address structural problems, the technology is not the solution.

The challenge is to induce transformations and not just accept views.

 

 

 

Emily Tomkys Valteri (OXFAM) – looking at digital inequalities – the past 50 years we have seen major digitisation and fusing of digital and physical with transformation to the fourth industrial revolution and the narrative of acceleration by showing how long it takes to reach 50 million users for a technology  – from 50 years to few days. Existing technologies are used in new ways. We see self-mobilisation – e.g. #MeToo or #IWillGoOut for women in India. Social media raise awareness to campaign and add additional pressure. Digital cash provides support to people to access markets – in Kirkuk electronic vouchers are safer than cash for women to use. There is also aspects of historical knowledge: education, where people who are displaced use to live, what they have done, and that is being used to support new opportunities. There are new opportunities and technologies have a potential to disrupt existing spaces.

But – there are issues of gender divide and women are less likely to own a mobile phone and even to use it. The phone is not in a neutral space. Design of technology – women hold 17% in tech jobs and therefore it is designed by men. MIT checked AI in facial recognition and demonstrated huge differences between the ability to identify light colour men and dark skin women. Technology and social media can be hijacked by the government to spread specific narrative – e.g. in India where the ID programme is blocking people from access to services and are being hurt, or Myanmar distributing false stories on the Rohingya minority.

People look at the promise of technology and rights and ethics later – blockchain is a good example. they might be useful in digital work, but we need to put the vulnerable people first. We need rights and standards first (from the @HHI_Signal diagram below)

 

Oxfam knows that they can’t confront the latest technology. We need a rights-based approach; second co-create and co-design and work with users and not for the users; we need to bridge the private and public sector.

James Richardson (The Good Things Foundation) – digital inclusion charity. Working in the UK, Kenya and Australia. The perspective is in terms of individuals using the system. Digital exclusion implies different things: Internet and the access to such systems (but it is possible to reach out through other means). There are personal circumstances that change the internet from usable to a lifeline. 4.5m people in the UK who are offline and many of them see themselves as absolutely fine without it. Patterns of usage are important – 6 hours a day or a month: it is important what they do and how. There is a linkage between usage online and offline. Higher social economic use digital to enhance their cultural capital. Lower levels more likely just to follow. Digital can increase inequality instead of reducing it.  Need a level playing field for content, Information literacy about the interval – depends on your source of information – also issues of specific bubbles. Digital self-efficacy is the ability to change things is locked by the end of schools, a third of learners who haven’t finished school find the learning and joining the digital difficult. Find the internet “not for people like me” – a serious injustice. Barriers that exist in social forces that influence life before school.

Dorothea Kleine – concluded with some reflections. First, conceptualise justice – which is a topic of over many millennia of discussion from Plato to Sen. Different concepts and types of justice: distributive, retributive, procedural, interactional, organisational, environmental and more… Need to notice the issue of representation (visual, voice), access (digital divide), usage opportunities, the way it change economic relations, the physical and material artefacts, the data, control, and co-production with the digital and how we extend them with digital tools, and how the digital plays in spaces of protest.

There’s a need to move from discussion of the global north to other areas and view of the digital from another area. In particular, the capabilities approach to development (Sen approach) – expanding the freedoms that people enjoy. What life people want to live and enjoy. Is the digital supporting the future that we want or hindering it? There are vast differences between countries and genders. There are also dimensions of just access and usage – availability, norms of use of time and space. There are many barriers for mobile phone use -family have a major influence on mobile phone use in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Algeria – social norms influence digital spaces. We should also design for equity, in which we give marginalised people an advantage.

Discussion about academic collaboration: data on digital exclusion is a topic for research – OXFAM experienced the difficulties of preparing data for analysis, or Good Things experienced involvement in RCTs. There is a major churn in the field – when people don’t share information and leave the organisation, then starting to standardised surveys – come with best practice survey and in paper and data collection tools, so they should use it. There are issues about the design of technology and the way that it is applied – also outcomes structures. From universities perspective, the push to impact can allow for new collaboration and sometimes asking the tougher questions.

For the main part of the symposium, I’ve joined Strand 3: Justice and Global Digital Inequalities. 

I gave a talk about the concepts of passive and assertive inclusion, with citizen science as a demonstration of the complexities of inclusion.

[There were digital shorts – a short presentation on digital currencies and psych-social wellbeing of participants in ICT4D projects, LGBT+ use of tech in the development context – didn’t noted that part]

Further discussion was provided by Emily and James who discussed more their morning presentations:

Emily – following on – two things about inequalities: context matter and access is not enough. We need to consider the context. Adding something (technology) still happens within wider inequalities in society. Oxfam project check feedback mechanism, this is part of core humanitarian standards and request from funders – lots of time it’s a hotline and suggestion box with zero responses. The reason for the lack of use of the suggestion box is that the gang that control camp was monitoring it and there is also high illiteracy. So power dynamics in the group are huge and impacting. Gender is particularly complex and access will not be enough – confidence, a perception that people will be afraid to use it, potential harm. e.g. a potential link of increase domestic violence with women empowerment project. Quite often in ICT project – they are based on practical needs, e.g. living conditions such as radio broadcasts and SMS, but need to address underlying problems. In the digital identity in different cases, the potential for empowering women, in multiple cases male relatives got involved in the process – e.g. not a place for women to go to the registration centre. Issues of taking pictures, or a male agent touching a thumb of a woman in the process. Some exciting things happening – e.g. social media and messaging on violence against women, e.g. creating a safe space for discussion online and offline.

James – covering the funding model – digital is powerful but need context. How digital by default influence equality. The shared commitment of the organisation is the use of ICT to improve life – addressing loneliness, age, ethnic disadvantages. People who come to the centres have multiple problems – e.g. people with debt problem partially because of digital literacy issues. The people in the centres are acting like carers and addressing the problem regardless of what it is so not putting boundaries. The funding model of the organisation – they work from digital inclusion to general inclusion. Instead of projects, they get funding for a holistic inclusion help. Because of the austerity, there is a need to consider the mix of funding to keep the light on and similar issues – expectation that volunteers will take the slack and work for free. For example, the support in immigration issues that is done with ad-hoc translation by the local community member who speaks the language and English. The third sector and government should be involved in developing policy.

The Digital Shorts include:

Andrea Jimenez – how innovation and entrepreneurs help development – the language that is being used to argue that this is the routes for getting out of poverty. Looking at innovation hubs. Issues of justice – how entrepreneurship became a way to get out of poverty, and especially for women. You can’t entrepreneur a way out of a system. Also, Bird point about can’t fit women into a system that it is inherently male. Need alternative narratives that are using from the global south and how to look at innovation and entrepreneurship with a local view.

Hannah McCarrick – analysing the way that soil, ICT and smallholders in Tanzania interact. There is an e-agriculture to increase agricultural productivity. Examining the local knowledge of farmers and how it matches the knowledge in the ICT system. Tanzania is providing a good place to explore the relationships between.

Closing Panel: Justice and the Digital: What can geographers’ contribute?

Ayona Datta (King’s College London) – Smart Cities in Postcolonial Context. Justice and the digital in the context of urban transformation in India, and translation to gender experiences. A key aspect is not only spatial justice but also the notion of time justice, a history of pushing for empowerment and against the triple burden. Time poverty is important for women and the bigger smart cities – efficiency, more for less. Digital space is imposed top down. Societal norms are limiting the use and potential of digital products. There is a potential for using WhatsApp diary as a way to record it and mapping it on GIS. There is some visual crafting of narratives – some digital spaces are used in a manipulative way.

Muki Haklay (UCL) –  I explored the aspects of geographers, digital technologies, and environmental justice. The link in the area of environmental information started in the 1990s (with Aarhus and Principle 10) and there is an assumption of use of information and science in order to join decision-making process, which led to early use of ICT such as in Renee Sieber paper on Conforming (to) the oposition from around 2000, it is somewhat horrifying to see how scientification and use of technology now consume large areas of development and humanitarian support to communities in the UK and elsewhere. This actually gives us an opportunity to think about the way the digital impacting justice and environmental justice provides a space to see that over a longer period, with problems in the lack of provision of easy to use information that is understandable and usable. Geographers contribution is through abilities to move between domains and knowledge – the aspect of being an undisciplined discipline. There is an effort by geographers to build new systems to demonstrate that alternatives are possible, but there is also a certain futility and utility of digital interventions. Rethinking concepts of participation, and putting it in the context of scientification of society, and the way digital tools are influencing this process.

Sam Hind (University of Siegen) – the practice of process and demonstrations. Generally, don’t use the term justice, and more thinking about care and ethics. Look at justice through care in the study of geography from the past. Developing new care through a digital platform. 2007 AAG address, Silk “Caring at a distance” – use the example of large charity events such as Live Aid created relationships. Important media in relationships, but we can take some idea to think of mobile mediated sense. Carrying at a distance through mobile media. We can check “interface objects” that effect the type of decisions that are made by people who access these systems. Could we generate new interface objects and how they influence carrying relationships?

Desiree Fields (The University of Sheffield) – financialisation of the private rental sector. Two ideas – through a narrative through tech are claims of transparency, which is the politics and invisibility – face recognition, redlining etc. Tech assumes transparency as a good for itself – the question who is making things visible, why and for whom? transparency is not necessarily empowering – marginalised people and places are being made transparent in order to be controlled. Politics of visibility have lots of justice is important. In NYC the JustFix it is a platform for helping to collect information to address injustice from landlords. The second aspect is the question of the pace of change, how the rapid pace of change – e.g. following technology which disappears. We focus on rapture (disruptions) – we should also look at continuities. Social, power, and political powers are not changing that fast. For example, the interaction between real-estate activities and technologies.

 

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Identifying success factors in crowdsourced geographic information use in government

GFDRRA few weeks ago, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), published an update for the report from 2014 on the use of crowdsourced geographic information in government. The 2014 report was very successful – it has been downloaded almost 1,800 times from 41 countries around the world in about 3 years (with more than 40 academic references) which showed the interests of researchers and policymakers alike and outlined its usability. On the base of it, it was pleasing to be approached by GFDRR about a year ago, with a request to update it.

In preparation for this update, we sought comments and reviews from experts and people who used the report regarding possible improvements and amendments. This feedback helped to surface that the seven key factors highlighted by the first report as the ones that shaped the use of VGI in government (namely: incentives, aims, stakeholders, engagement, technical aspects, success factors, and problems) have developed both independently and in cross-cutting modes and today there is a new reality for the use of VGI in government.

Luckily, in the time between the first report and the beginning of the new project, I learned about Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) in the Giving Time event and therefore we added Matt Ryan to our team to help us with the analysis. QCA allowed us to take 50 cases, have an intensive face to face team workshop in June last year to code all the cases and agree on the way we create the input to QCA. This helped us in creating multiple models that provide us with an analysis of the success factors that help explain the cases that we deemed successful. We have used the fuzzy logic version of QCA, which allowed a more nuanced analysis.

Finally, in order to make the report accessible, we created a short version, which provides a policy brief to the success factors, and then the full report with the description of each case study.

It was pleasure working with the excellent team of researchers that worked on this report: Vyron Antoniou, Hellenic Army Geographic Directorate, Sofia Basiouka, Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sport, Robert Soden, World Bank, Global Facility for Disaster Reduction & Recovery (GFDRR), Vivien Deparday, World Bank, Global Facility for Disaster Reduction & Recovery (GFDRR). Matthew Ryan, University of Southampton, and Peter Mooney, National University of Ireland, Maynooth. We were especially lucky to be helped by Madeleine Hatfield of Yellowback Publishing who helped us in editing the report and making it better structured and much more readable.

The full report, which is titled “Identifying success factors in crowdsourced geographic information use in government” is available here.

And the Policy Brief is available here. 

Lessons learned from Volunteers Interactions with Geographic Citizen Science – Afternoon session

The context of the workshop and the notes from the first part of the workshop is available here. The theme of the second part of the day was Interacting with geographical citizen science: lessons learned from urban environments

Volunteer interactions with flood crowdsourcing platforms – Avi Baruch talk is based on a completed PhD on the aspects of volunteers in flood monitoring and response. There are different types – incident reporting floodline, media outreach, online volunteering, and collaborative mapping. He looked at Tomnod as a system that is currently used to engage volunteers in tagging satellite images. Looked at forums and interviews with the most active participants. Most volunteers where over 50 and there is a good balance by gender. 23% stated that they had a long-term health problem – finding it addictive and spending 8-10 hours a day. Engaging volunteers is an issue: there was not enough feedback on how the information was used and how they are performing, which Tomnod team haven’t done. at least 10% of comments were concerned with the quality of their contributions. Without feedback, it is hard to judge. Tomnod allow people to explore the map and they can share location, but then people concentrate in one area. Restricting people to an area didn’t work well. Core motivations were based on altruistic reasons, and retirement, disability and health were reasons for engagement. The second part of the PhD project includes the development of a citizen science platform to report (floodcrowd.co.uk) and doing the development through an iterative process. The form allows people to report flooding incidents. All the information that is provided is location, and type of flooding, and then people can report further details. In communities, that experience flooding preferred a hard copy. All sort of information was submitted, mostly about surface mapping – many people who are potential participants didn’t want to engage with the app. Need further co-production with the people who contribute the data.

Volunteers Interaction in Technology Driven Citizen Science contexts: Lessons learned from senseBox and openSenseMap – Mario Pesch & Thomas Bartoschek SenseBox have been developed over the past 4 years. It came out from teaching computer science in school – focus on environmental sensing which the students wanted to see on the web. Sensing temp, humidity, pressure, light, UV-light. People wanted to participate in the project from outside school. in 2014, they had 50 sesneBoxes – most connected only for few weeks (8m records). After a while, people find it complicated and they wanted to do something on their own. They created a DIY sensing box for home and for school. The component allows people to create things without soldering. They set out reference stations next to official monitoring station – people asked about it. You always need to consider the limitation of the system. SensorBox home 2.0 was looking more at air quality and more options to send the data – measuring in places without WiFi so they added GSM and now they have 1500 sensing stations and people also want to work with the data and you can do basic interpolation. The platform is device independent and people use it for other systems. Also supporting mobile stations, They keep the project open – it can be adjusted to people own needs.

Lessons learned from volunteers’ use and feedback of the Cyclist GEO-C App – Diego Pajarito, Suzanne Maas, Maria Attard and Michael Gould the experience of the cycling app is part of the PhD network GEO-C – open city toolkit. A lot of application target sports or data collected but not linked to the experience on the road. The location Cyclist GEO-C app is for Android and can be competition or cooperation based, and collect GPS tracks and up to 3 tags. Tried in Castello, Munster and Valletta and Malta. There are different levels of cycling used. 20 participants – that commute regularly and using an Android phone. Different participation methods – as a group to get common views. They captured 793 trips, the response was generally positive. People seeing a potential for personal use but also to lobby and promote cycling. Can be a motivational tool for beginners. They also identify the issue of remembering to use the app when the need to use it, improve control over recording and improving the tags. Ideas about mapping interface and using wearable devices, social interaction and gamification were suggested.

Invisible Citizen Science: the case of Járókelő in Hungary – Bálint Balázs & Le Marietta thinking of the citizen science in Eastern Europe, which thinking about modes of public participation in scientific discourse and policy-making, there are multiple silences: there are many projects that offer it, and in the level of initiative – the term haven’t exist and used. The interview from an NGO suggested lack of familiarity. In eastern countries in Europe, citizen science is only recently emerging, not many initiatives, and little-published articles and only a few members of ECSA, and how it is connected. Methods are limited. Need to reconceptualise. There is invisible citizen science – the specific knowledge that is produced in the projects that they are looking at it are uncommon to scientists. An example for this is jarokelo – for addressing local issues – looking at the example for “fix my street” (or “letter to the mayor” in the Czech Republic). Civic technology to report street fixing and there are 20 volunteers who can transfer it to the authority – there are 50-100 reports per day and the reporting back from the authority can take 30 days. Most authorities report back, they also received reports on homeless people and had to agree on what to do with this types of report. The issue of participants is about trust in the state and also think of cooperative research ideas – analysing users’ statistics, thinking of involvement pathways and better communication.

Citizens as Shoppers: Lessons learned from the EnvBodySens application – Eiman Kanjo  looking into mobile sensing – the challenge for retail in the centre of cities and there is also all sort of noise and air pollution that people are concerned about. Done work around a popular shopping area in Nottingham city centre – what kind of sensors – environment, physiology, motion, timestamps, location, continuous self-reporting and the zoning (understanding which shops they are in, or the area that they are visiting). Issues of collecting data involve selecting types of sensors (e.g. the characteristics of the sensors). There was issue of demography, shopping behaviour (men/women), challenges with how many volunteers you get and how to prepare volunteers – but for shopping, we need them to be relaxed and enjoy the shopping and how you start the experiment. There is also the aspects of the journey (real-life shopping experience and temporal aspect of it) which also raise ethical concerns. They needed to consider if the phone is on all the time or should it use voice and audio information. Self-reporting and self-assessment is something that needs consideration. They ended with 50 participants, wristband devices and mobile phone and a 45 shopping journey – they looked at the impact of noise and they also consider how they can visualise all this information.

Lessons learned from the recent landlside mitigation efforts: citizen science as a new approach – Sultan Kocaman & Candan Gokceoglu volunteer contribution can provide important information – increase world population and climate change (extreme weather) is a major natural hazard. Wanted to explore how citizen science is relevant to address uncertainties because there is a lack of reliable temporal data. Risk assessment s base on knowledge of past events – then assessing susceptibility, hazard assessment and then you can understand the risk assessment and manage it. Landslide susceptibility requires a lot of information and data. The risk assessment needs all this information as otherwise there will be too much uncertainty. The majority of landslides are in mountainous areas and we can’t have sensors, but information is coming from observers evidence, and volunteers can provide the time and location in a better way. Shallow landslides disappear after a short period. Need volunteers at the right time and the right place – distributed participation. The scale of movement can also be measured with volunteers. Currently working on the project and consider what can be done – what the frequency and quality of spatial and temporal data and in any case rely heavily on local knowledge but need to be improved.

Citizens as volunteer cartoghraphers: A pedestrian map case study – Manousos Kamilakis exploring the field of cartography for pedestrian – based on ideas from VGI so people can share information. Most of the online maps are focusing on motorised transport, and less about the aesthetic pleasantness of the journey, the condition of the pavement etc. The two journeys are suggested as equivalent and only one of them is offering a better journey. Created an app for pedestrian reporting and recording the journey, then evaluate and review the journey and also editing a path. They carried out an experiment with people who never edited a map and had various motivations – the leaderboard wasn’t of interest, although half were motivated by gamification and were willing to cheat to score points. Creating motivation is difficult – need to design gamification carefully and external incentives encourage unacceptable data uploading – consider peer review. People do not volunteer to all tasks in an equal way.

Interacting with Community Maps – Mapping for Change Louise Francis and Rosa Arias cover the development of international odour observatory.  Building on Principle 10 of Rio and the right of access environmental information – different authorities produced maps, such a noise map.When talking with communities, people are pointing that they have a different experience and reflect their own understanding of their local conditions using citizen science. Citizen collect information and Mapping for Change visualise it on behalf of the community. Community evolved over the years. it is a flexible system that allows people to decide on the grouping of information – the themes are being groups in different ways. There is also a need to make conversation – interact with contributions that other people added. The data is to drive change – for example leading to a change in buses through campaign and publicity to change things around them. Lessons learned: communities, where adding data – demonstrating that community members wanted to share a lot of data and they wanted information on their balcony and putting a point on top of a point, wasn’t possible in the past and require changed. The map is allowing clustering that shows 115 points in a small area. Some communities wanted to have their own classification – so they took the data and created their own visualisation. We learned that and want to be part of the D-Noses: odour pollution. The top-down approaches to address issues of odour and there is fairly little addressing of issues. OdourCollect focuses on bottom-up approach – using the nose to notice odour problems. The OdoucrCollect allow data capture.

A Case Study on the Impact of Design Choices on Data Quality in Geographic Citizen Science – Jeffrey Parsons, NL Nature design choices – ecologist and looking at data management and data quality. Looking at a specific design choice. Looking at two archetypes of systems – on one end well defined and stable use of data (close) precise focus on data collection and data collection standards – citizen scientists with requisite domain knowledge and motivated to do the work well. The other end ill-defined, open use, which provides opportunities for data collection in an opportunistic way, ambiguous data collection standard and unclear domain knowledge. eBird is an example of a project that is towards the closed version. The research setting in traditional science lead to design principles for closed citizen science and these don’t work in open and that can lead to a problem in the application. Information quality is a major challenge in User Generated Content (UGC) – there is all sort of comments about it. Fitness for use is a major one – in close: training, data collection protocol, clean data – but this is a problem in an open environment and it can inhibit contributors from communicating unique knowledge. They suggest crowd IQ – from the contributors’ perspective (Lukyanenjo et al 2014). The question is how do we design in such a way that matches the contributors’ mental models of the information and align with contributors’ capabilities. Design principles focus on conceptual modelling – describing in a way that you use a class-based approach of setting the categories and the model drive the design. Design choice of conceptual model of the producer and not necessarily of the contributors. The alternative is to do instance-based modelling which is based on an ontological view of a world made of things and cognitive approach. The information quality impacts – if you think about data completeness as a way to describe the engagement of volunteers to add information. They checked a website that was focused on species only and another one that focuses on the attributes. The hypotheses are that they’ll get more observation and novel species. NLNature.com is about observations of wildlife. They allow people to type species name or the Latin name, the other option is typing whatever you want. They collected data over 6 months, they have 4 times more observations in the instance based condition, and also observe that class-based condition frustrated the contributors and left compared to the class-based case. They got many more species in the instance based when it is open to people to define insects, fish. They even discover a new type of wasp. The bottom line, modelling choices affect dataset completeness – class based lead to fewer observations and especially of species that are not in the schema.

 

From paper prototyping to citizen participation: Co-designing geolocated cultural heritage applications that trigger personal reflection – Kate Jones – looking at cultural heritage. The aim is to create a serendipitous outdoor exhibition to reflect on historical topics and encourage thoughtful play on historical issues. The topic that they focused on was that of migration – 45% of the population is made of migrants in Luxembourg and that influence way to thinking of a location for historical and contemporary memories and experiences. Two places – Luxembourg city and Valletta and they are both touched by migration and are UNESCO sites. They have Mobile app, moderator app, and point of interest management system and they check the information and want to use CrowdFlower to moderate. The application is to allow people to tag history places and be able to record journeys and stories about spaces and memory. Complexity is being hidden behind the levels. The app informs the user that they are being tracked. It was designed in an iterative process – user scenario, requirements, wood game to try how people use the application action – then develop and evaluate. A board game prototyping allowed the development of scenarios. Postcards symbolic of the user interface. The content needs to be valid, and interesting – want to reflect when people are out and about it the city. They included game designer and the developer and they can see the perspective of the player. People used stickers on the board card to indicate what they liked and disliked – people wanted a stronger connection between migration and experience. They used a digital humanities methods and figured out that it can be too complex so the levels can help in unlocking it. Questions had to be changed to address the emotional response of participants, and the multi-city connection was complex and need to develop carefully. A board game for the design was fun and collaborative but also helped in the development of the game. Going t the field, the launched the application in September 2017. out of 500 students, 40 app download, and only two trajectories. They created a new iteration. People don’t like reading the lengthy text – so they put it text to voice and that brought different issues with the interface. They see different types of people in the user population. Exploration have led to a change in perspective in the final application and grounded in participant experience. How do we give people the motivation to give it a go?

Geographical expertise and citizen science: planning and -design implications – Colin Robertson & Robert Feick considering different levels of geographical expertise – what does it mean to be a geographical expert – what are the expert/non-expert into a spectrum. We can look at some ideas of expertise: Collins 2013 pointed to the 3 dimensions of expertise – contributory, interactional and esotericity – exposure to tacit knowledge in a domain, recognised accomplishments or is it expertise that is common or uncommon we can look at it in a continuum – locale familiarity: place-based expertise related – might be fuzzy. Other geographical knowledge is about place-types – say urban environments or glacial environment. We can think about expertise in the cube – for a soil scientist it is in position A, long-term residents of the area might be a huge locale expertise B and so on. We can think of different projects – from Stresscapes – tweets as a place-based emotional expression but realise that this need validation with participants to check if the tweet related to the surroundings. The engagement was trying to be generic and ignored place and context. Everything was done through surveys on Twitter. RinkWatch looked at outdoor rink skateability – over 2000 rink people are passionate about it. The – a level of skateability level. the level of expertise is high in local knowledge and in thematic specificity. The Wildlife Health Tracker – where dead animals are – knowledge from hunters to capture information about what they have seen. Information that was reported is the type of animal – moderate thematic and local knowledge and low domain knowledge. The participants weren’t involved and much interested. The GrassLander is looking at private land – birds and habitats. Looking at farming community reporting. The cases here are where they’ve seen two types of birds (bobolink or eastern meadowlark) and – high thematic specificity, and moderate to high local knowledge and moderate domain knowledge (two species identification). Farmers were involved and there was a need to restrict access between participants. No project required high domain knowledge, the successful cases include place type or locale familiarity knowledge – though it’s a small sample. Many questions: metrics, credibility and trust models are all interesting.gfg

Following the day, group discussions explored the issues with people, technology, and future directions. Here are the future directions that were supposed in the group that I chaired with the help of Dan Artus (a future report from the workshop will be available)

 

 

Lessons learned from Volunteers Interactions with Geographic Citizen Science – Morning session

On the 27th April, UCL hosted a workshop on the “Lessons learned from Volunteers Interactions with Geographic Citizen Science“. The workshop description was as follows:

“A decade ago, in 2007, Michael Goodchild defined volunteered geographic information (VGI) as ‘the widespread engagement of large numbers of private citizens, often with little in the way of formal qualifications, in the creation of geo­graphic information, a function that for centuries has been reserved to official agencies.’ (p.2). The collection and use of this type of crowdsourced geographic data have grown rapidly with amateurs mapping the earth’s surface for all kind of purposes (e.g. collecting and disseminating information about accessibility in urban centres, for crisis and emergency response purposes, mapping illegal logging in remote areas and so on). A subset of these activities has been described as ‘geographic citizen science’ and includes scientific activities in which amateur scientists (volunteers) participate in geographic data collection, analysis and dissemination within the context of a scientific project (Haklay, 2013) or simply by using scientific methods and equipment. Although, there is an extensive discussion in the VGI and geographic citizen science literature about opportunities as well as implications (e.g. data coverage, data quality and trust issues, motivation and retainment of volunteers and so on), examples from the actual interaction are not so widely discussed, neither has evidence been collected from a broad spectrum of case studies to demonstrate how volunteers interact with those technologies and applications, what they are looking for and what it is that they need/try to accomplish (at a scientific, project and personal level) and what are the common design mistakes that influence interaction.” The following is a summary of the talk and presentations:

Welcome & Instructions – Artemis Skarlatidou the workshop is linked to our ERC funded project Intelligent Maps (ECSAnVis) and  EU funded Doing It Together science (DITOs) and the COST action – our work deal with geographical applications of citizen science and data collection. There is the COST Action CA15212 which got 243 members in 39 countries – all exploring aspects of citizen science – Work Group 1 (WG1) for scientific quality, WG2 education, WG3 society-science policy, WG4 the role of volunteers in citizen science, WG5 data and interoperability, and the synergies in WG6. In WG4, which Artemis lead. we’re looking at stakeholder mapping, motivation, needs and interaction issues, and mapping citizen science across Europe. Another relevant group is the ICA Commission on use user and usability issues, the International Society for Photogrammetry & remote sensing that have a WG V/3 that look at citizen science and crowdsourced information. Sultan Kocaman explained the ISPRS link – WG V/3 focus on the promotion of regional collaboration in citizen science and geospatial technologies within the focus of ISPRS area of education and outreach.

Louis Liebenberg presents Smartphone Icon User Interface design for Oralate Trackers – Louis Liebenberg who for 3 decades have been developing software to allow hunter gatherer to protect their knowledge of tracking. One of the challenges that Louis address is the understanding how our scientific thinking evolved. Louis suggests that tracking is an example for hypothesis testing and rational thinking that evolved in in tracking by hunter gatherers. He worked with !Nate from the San people since 1985 – the context of technology use by San for a long time. Already 100 years ago, hunters discovered that arrow points can be made from fence wire and started using them. This is an example of how hunter-gatherers adopt to technologies around them. Hunter-gatherers are not isolated: they always interacted and traded. Developing a software for a smartphone (you can get an Android phone for $10 in South Africa today), is similar to adopting the fence wire for the arrows 100 years ago. He learned from master trackers – the level of sophistication of trackers is astonished him since the mid 1980s. In the Kalahari, dogs were introduced in the 60s, and therefore the knowledge of tracking and the practices of hunting change. He used tracking and certification in it in order to secure employment. Master trackers are expected in an egalitarian society to show humility, so it is possible to miss them if you go and ask “who’s the best tracker here?” – the certification is a way to provide recognition and work. The tracking provided employment in the 1990s in surveying the movement of animals in the Kalahari. The persistent hunt – when you do it without any equipment, running animals down until they die from exhaustion which is an adaptation that humans have to be able to do that. Karoha was one of the persistence hunters but also able to use CyberTracker and use the system. Parallel to the software, Louis develop the tracker certification, to know if the data is reliable. As Master Trackers die, the knowledge is lost, so the certification provides an opportunity to encourage the younger generation to develop the knowledge and benefit from it. The level of details in animal tracks is very high. There is a high level of ambiguity in tracking and requirement to learn about claw marks and knowing what are the possibilities then it is possible with high certainty to understand which animal it was. Trackers also develop hypotheses on why the shape of hoofs is the way it is, and interpret activities of animals from the track – for example, identifying new ways of interpreting the behaviour of an animal that was not observer before. For example, the ability to guess that caracals are jumping upright in an attempt to catch a bird. CyberTracker started with the early Apple Newton with a GPS module, and then evolved into the Palm Pilot and continue to evolve. The interface was very limited in drawing icons – icons are either phonetic symbols (e.g. using a wheelbarrow to describe an item that sounds similar to the word in Africans). The details can be very extensive – species, age, number, male/female and so home. The data can provide information on abundance and potential of work are the communities. In a project in the Congo, they follow the trackers of different animals and they could show they Ebola impact Chimpanzees, Gorilla, but also other animals and then this was important to understand that you can identify Ebola in wildlife before it spreads into the human population. There is also a wide use of CyberTracker in citizen science on monitoring endangered species, and different projects by indigenous communities  Australia. They can also show that there are different results from what ecologists identify. A paper from 1999 about Rhino was co-authored by a tracker, demonstrating different models of publishing with citizen scientists. The first high impact that was co-authored by trackers was published recently in biological conservation. Questions: how to communicate from hypothesis by hunter-gatherers to the scientific sphere? The need is collaboration: data collected and organised by the trackers, and then the scientists write the report, but providing a report is challenging. The reality is co-authoring as there is always need for mentoring, reciprocal approach between scientists. Louis also circulates papers with experienced scientists to improve the paper. We all need peer review support. In terms of consent and engagement: there is a need to develop the relationship of trust and understanding – the first people who were involved in CyberTracker worked with Louis for 5 years, and Louis engaged as a tracker before they were willing to work with him. Some of the early papers in the Kalahari used trackers without mentioning their name even though the trackers carried out the research. Scientific institutions are one of the last authoritarians institutions – citizen science. Scientific elitism is intransigent and this makes citizen science exciting.

Lessons from supporting non-literate forest communities in the Congo-Basin to record their Traditional Ecological Knowledge – Michalis Vitos & Julia Altenbuchner the context of the Congo-basin is the second largest rainforest. This is a forest with 29 million people, with at least 500,000 nomadic communities that rely on resources. The forest is divided into concessions and then they are sued for resource extraction – how to make local groups heard? Local communities are excluded from protected areas. In the last few years, some legislation is changing – e.g. the FLEGT of the EU to control timber import and request for social payback and responsibility. ExCiteS collaborated with communities to support such process with technology. The challenges are dealing with non-literate groups who are also non-technologically literate. We use pictures as a way to communicate: the application working in a simple fashion – showing categories of things that people want to map, each category is leading to more specific options – the information can be captured and deciding if we want to save information and we can collect video and audio that are geotagged. In 3 simple steps, information can be captured. The process starts with a dialogue of what important for the communities, and then with this agreement on what will be collected. We do explore the usability of the application. About 70% can use the application, but 30% have a problem with categories – you follow a path of mapping banana, avocado and cacao – this requires categories, e.g. one of the set. Some participants found that confusing. Adding more icon to the category is becoming more complex. One approach was to test audio feedback in a local language – explaining the icons and what they mean. The experiments with the audio feedback help a bit, but not a lot. The next step was to go directly to the final icons and go directly to the final card – adding an NFC chip and adding the control to it. Participant finds the specific icon and then touch the card with the phone. With Tap&Map the success rate gets close to 100%.

Julia – the next issue is making sure that communities can manage their data- the vision is of intelligent maps  – having data collection, then local data repository and management, and then visualisation. But there is a challenge of the mapping and this was done by using UAVs and creating within a short time a high-resolution imagery. However, people don’t need maps as they know their area, but the maps are for communication. The maps are being used to check how the map is used – people felt under a lot of pressure when using the map. and the next experiment was not to put under pressure, and instead of doing a treasure hunt: going and looking for data by trying to find German Christmas decorations. The tracks of the people who participated in the study we can see how they looked for information. What we know is that people can use maps and understand them – the reference map. Now we want the thematic information – so when people take ownership and correct issues: this was done using the icons that were used as a resource and then to correct information. People were doing well in correcting information using a Tap&Map approach. We get feature corrections over 90%. This an ad-hoc approach: even without much exposure – we need to allow people to be sensors and the brains behind it.

Forest hunter-gatherers and Extreme Citizen Science: Reporting wildlife crime in collaboration with local and indigenous communities in Cameroon through community-led co-design – Simon Hoyte work in Cameroon for the last year and a half with Baka hunter-gatherers. Working in Cameroon in the south-east corner.Working with Dja reserve, working ZSL and 5 communities. In Cameroon, there are many issues with conservation – gorillas, chimpanzees, parrots, pangolins and elephants. Indigenous communities are lots of time are forgotten – those groups are familiar with the forest, with knowledge of 50,000 years and colonial approaches exclude. The technologies that are being used are Sapelli data collection tool, then there is the data management tool GeoKey and the CommunityMaps from Mapping for Change. The process starts with the community free prior informed consent – first starting with the concerns of the community and also building trust by staying overnight in the village and connect on a personal level. That is an important recommendation. Icons are being drawn from the sand, to a paper and then into the app. Functional actions changed from tick to thumbs app, or recording changed. XML layout of the project allow changes in the field. The second recommendation is the co-design that increases motivation. Audio and video are allowing information to be shared, including tracks – it allows a verification. Audio provides more information. Describing what people found. Indicators on the device are important – when recording is active a red icon allows you to see that something is working. The phone is checking for connection every 4 minutes. Using ID screen to recognise reported – can be used elsewhere. The community protocol also addresses who manage who will manage the phone and look after it. The report is upload and shared with the authorities – we need the diverse outcome. So in summary: trust building, co-design, media, feedback, simple tools, anonymous ID, community-led, and diverse outcomes. The map providing further more information.

Community based monitoring of tropical forests using information and communication technology (ICT) – Søren Brofeldt an example for a study that rely on Sapelli and expand the software to create the Prey Lang App: working in Cambodia, in the Prey Lang – 200,00 people who rely on the forest, and huge pressure of deforestation and a lot of the logging is illegal and it is supposed to be protected. The Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) created around 2005-2007 and it is now a group of 600 people who are doing work over that last 10 years, and patrolling the area, confiscating chainsaw and catch wood and logs. Trying to address logging in the area. 2013 they try to communicate the problem to international society – to do what they wanted to set a forest monitoring programme and create a system to document illegal logging and provide evidence-based advocacy. The issue is to compile information and document breaches. The data is captured by Sapelli, and the information is validated by PLCN and scientists, which then helped in compiling report locally and globally, which then led to the positive platform. The platform was tweaked a bit and include information through a decision tree, they have different aspects. The things that they developed: unique functions – choosing icons or doing activities – they had basic activities in the first version: they have seen it as too simple. They started with 9 basic functions with 614 end-points of activities. By the third version, they had 9 functions, and 1663 options: types of trees, types of information, species and so on. They now have 10 functions (e.g. dropdown, word complete). Complexity does not lead to incorrect use (if training is adequate and added functionality is done in co-designed way). When people are experienced – people who use the app for 2 years can get into more complex functionality over time. Some of the issues with data – poor documents, double counting. over time, human errors are decreasing, and also technical issues. Poor connectivity and technical issue are a major issue – more than local ability to use. High quality is possible with active data management is needed.

Designing Human-Computer Interaction for Citizen Science Initiatives in Rural Developing Regions – Veljko Pejovic & Artemis Skarlatidou we need to understand how we move initiative from developed to developing regions in citizen science application. ICT4D point to environmental constraints: roads, electricity, There are also that this area lack skills in the workforce and cultural constraints. Clashes with assumptions. in the Extreme Citizen Science context: we need to identify solution adaptation in participatory design, there is a need for holistic implementation, and we need to make sure that we think about the whole process – from data collection to policy and this challenging. Finally, we also to consider the champions and engaging then (the book “Geek Heresy” by Toyama talks about it). The aim is to identify guidelines – this was done through participatory studies that are similar in the rural developing world and carried out 9 interviews with researchers with extensive experience in the field. An hour-long interviews x 2. The questions explored different aspects including interactions. The finding – need to mobilise the community by taking into account societal organisation (e.g. egalitarian aspects). Need to find local champions. We need to identify the ecosystem of the technology: chargers, cables. Also need to consider how the technology that was built to a different context work: rough fingertips, reflection in the screens and so on. There is also the issue of using hierarchical icon organisation which is pretty intuitive for educated people but it is challenging for participants (users) and also navigation buttons. This matches evidence from Medhi et al. Chi 2013. Juxtaposing this with illiterate users in urban Brazil, they managed to deal with hierarchical organisation and navigation – might be that the exposure to smartphones helped in developing these hierarchies. Icon design is different, but we can see that realistic icons with context are more suitable to use, not just an object. There are issues of actions and how to represent them. Getting honest feedback on the spot is a challenge – users don’t criticise before (Dell et al CHI 2012 – “yours is better”). Long trust relationship help in getting honest feedback. The participants lack the vocabulary to discuss HCI issues. To maintain motivation, there is a need to make data collection visible and ensure the real-world impact of data collection. Recommendation: develop context-specific apps – not genetic, and consider application interface that matches user’s skills and geographical information is a key.

Introducing user issues of the Global Forest Watch application – Jamie Gibson – developing with Vizzuality better maps and visualisation. Trying to think of citizen-focused GIS, interacting with the citizen in the design. Global Forests Watch (GFW) was developed in the last 3 years, and it is allowing to see the world’s forest and how they change. They wanted to tell a simple story: where forest is gained and lost. With few clicks, you can see the impact of conservation. GFW allow seeing how deforestation is implemented and how it is stopped. There is a need for global engagement – opening it to a whole crowd of people. Forest don’t have a connection to the web, and try to take data online to the field, walk to the area, investigate recent forest loss and report new areas – 4000-5000 users. They aim to integrate citizens into the design process. Forest Watcher is being used in important areas of the world and not where the most connected people area. They analyse where people use the app – when there are forest fires in Spain, people are updating GFW and explore. Use the analytics to find the places where we want more people to look and explore. This is integrated with interviews and usability testing. Working with experts who been working for a long time – including Jane Goodall Institute, Amazon Conservation Team, CAGDF, and BirdLife. As people use the application they build ownership and they provide a better feedback and richer information. In terms of what they learn, including the use of persona to think about monitors: need to have lots of other things that try to sync after the 14 days offline – the internet is slow and changed the app and the back end to make it faster. Use it to understand frustrations and find ways to wow moment. Face, name and story improve the quality of the thinking and understand their frustrations.

Lessons learned from Missing Maps – Jorieke Vyncke Her personal background is in interest in work that links to humanitarian purposes, and since 2017 is the missing maps coordinator. She is looking at the humanitarian organisation focus -more than 34,000 staffers in MSF and about 470 locations around the world. In many parts of the world there are empty maps and not geographical data. They discover OpenStreetMap and working with the American and British Red Cross, HOT and over 40 partners. They have principles from the Ostrom on working with groups. They compare rural and urban parts. In Idjiwi in DRC, the east of Congo – working with a multitude of problems: violence, refugees and more. Due to a measles outbreak, they needed population and mapping data. Included 250 remote volunteers who mapped 28,000 building in about a week. This helped in creating population estimation – critical for the logistical planning. They managed to identify 94% of the population. An example from Bangladesh in Hazaribagh informal settlement. The area was mapped with both local and remote mapping – including factories and tanneries – locating the workers that they wanted to reach – combining students from the university with workers that were reached through the union. The experience of mapping is done by the technical local students to make things happen. Using smartphones and field papers process. Paper is still effective, and then also the edit data in pairs on how to do the mapping – the end result provided an occupational health survey. The process motivated the community and they continue to use it. In different areas, they use remote mapping but the most important thing is to create a local mapping community and that makes a decision between empowerment and remote mapping with the importance of saving life.

Keynote: Approximated Reality: the use of digital tools by traditional communities in the Amazon – Vasco van Roosmalen working in Ecam – Equipe Conservacao Amazonia in Brazil since 1999. The big challenge is how to reconcile different visions of what the world is. In the Xingu area in Brazil, there was a need to create an ethno-map of the region. The community discusses what they want to map and how they want to represent them, but it also needed to be cartographically accurate as this is how you communicate with external bodies. The whole map is created for the community: to use resources, to remember the dead and to defend their land (using patterns of body paint). We can see that protected areas in the Xingu. Another area that he was involved in mapping is near Surinam – in an area the size of Holland with 2000 people, the community recorded information about their region. This helped in justifying the resources and the protection of the area. An area that is very rough to access, and the local survey by the community managed to map the area done that in 6 maps. The community collected much more data than what the map can show – over the coming years, they mapped with different groups millions of hectares and they developed a process of creating the maps. The collaboration with Google Earth Outreach led to the interaction with Chief Amir of the Surui. The link with commitment with Rebecca Moore helped in filling up areas that are missing and attaching video and audio to the map. They then wanted to record illegal logging using mapping tools and this was done with OpenDataKit – the data collection challenges are accuracy, ease of use, speed, etc. In 2008 started to understand REDD and developed the Surui Carbon Project – need a tremendous amount of data from the air and from the ground. The use of information such as the circumference of trees was done with ODK. They use Garmin devices: they weren’t scratch resistance. Now they use a Samsung smartphones that are cheap and can be replaced easily. For the GPS in the rainforest, it is challenging and they use barcode on the trees. They used the ODK build but discovered that it is not an easy interface: using a programmer in the staff and that is a limitation in terms of allowing to build forms easily. The project managed to demonstrate that indigenous people can collect data but the REDD credits were more challenging and they got them in 2013. Cultural maps where created in other indigenous lands in Brazil. The importance not just to demarcate the land but to collect data and help them to manage the area. Today there are many challenges – 13% of the Brazilian territory. In the Brazilian Amazon, there are many communities – 25 mil people of which only 350,00 indigenous for example, Quilombola groups and many other groups. There was no information on other groups and some of them are disadvantaged – e.g. Quilombola required mapping 7000 communities, they are descendent of West African slaves – they were persecuted, faced a lot of violence, and when slavery was abolished they were forgotten, but from the 1980s they are recognised in the constitution, but not enough recognised officially. His team was involved in creating a new map of the 7000 communities for which only on a team of 40 is looking after in the government level in Brasilia. They used approaches that are similar to the Indigenous mapping in order to record information and manage the land. They had people who became experts in mapping and then demonstrating how to map the land using google earth and demonstrating data collection. The communities also collect socio-economic data – using ODK and understanding their community and developing a life plan for the area (plan for the next 10-30 years). The question is who is listening to the information but by whom. A social network analysis of Facebook (which is 83% of users in Brazil use) Looking at interactions show that local association are not linked to environment, human right and there is missing links to health, to a specific campaign on the Belo Monte Power Plant but it is not linked to the community. They care about health, education, income, and only fifth is the environment – need to talk about what matters to communities. How to make conversations about them in the centre of the discussion and move beyond putting them in the corner of the environment. We need to engage with people with their communities in a way that makes sense to them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Citizen Science & Scientific Crowdsourcing – week 2 – Google Local Guides

The first week of the “Introduction to Citizen Science and Scientific Crowdsourcing” course was dedicated to an introduction to the field of citizen science using the history, examples and typologies to demonstrate the breadth of the field. The second week was dedicated to the second half of the course name – crowdsourcing in general, and its utilisation in scientific contexts. In the lecture, after a brief introduction to the concepts, I wanted to use a concrete example that shows a maturity in the implementation of commercial crowdsourcing. I also wanted something that is relevant to citizen science and that many parallels can be drawn from, so to learn lessons. This gave me the opportunity to use Google Local Guides as a demonstration.

My interest in Google Local Guides (GLG) come from two core aspects of it. As I pointed in OpenStreetMap studies, I’m increasingly annoyed by claims that OpenStreetMap is the largest Volunteered Geographical Information (VGI) project in the world. It’s not. I guessed that GLG was, and by digging into it, I’m fairly confident that with 50,000,000 contributors (of which most are, as usual, one-timers), Google created the largest VGI project around. The contributions are within my “distributed intelligence” and are voluntary. The second aspect that makes the project is fascinating for me is linked to a talk from 2007 in one of the early OSM conferences about the usability barriers that OSM (or more general VGI) need to cross to reach a wide group of contributors – basically about user-centred design. The design of GLG is outstanding and shows how much was learned by the Google Maps and more generally by Google about crowdsourcing. I had very little information from Google about the project (Ed Parsons gave me several helpful comments on the final slide set), but by experiencing it as a participant who can notice the design decisions and implementation, it is hugely impressive to see how VGI is being implemented professionally.

As a demonstration project, it provides examples for recruitment, nudging participants to contribute, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, participation inequality, micro-tasks and longer tasks, incentives, basic principles of crowdsourcing such as “open call” that support flexibility, location and context aware alerts, and much more. Below is the segment from the lecture that focuses on Google Local Guides, and I hope to provide a more detailed analysis in a future post.

The rest of the lecture is available on UCLeXtend.

Defining principles for mobile apps and platforms development in citizen science

Core concepts of apps, platforms and portals for citizen science

In December 2016, ECSA and the Natural History Museum in Berlin organised a  workshop on analysing apps, platforms, and portals for citizen science projects. Now, the report from the workshop with an addition from a second workshop that was held in April 2017 has evolved into an open peer review paper on RIO Journal.

The workshops and the paper came to life thanks to the effort of Soledad Luna and Ulrike Sturm from the Berlin Museum.

RIO is worth noticing: is “The Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO) journal” and what it is trying to offer is a way to publish outputs of the whole research cycle – from project proposals to data, methods, workflows, software, project reports and the rest. In our case, the workshop report is now open for comments and suggestions. I’ll be interested to see if there will be any…

The abstract reads:

Mobile apps and web-based platforms are increasingly used in citizen science projects. While extensive research has been done in multiple areas of studies, from Human-Computer Interaction to public engagement in science, we are not aware of a collection of recommendations specific for citizen science that provides support and advice for planning, design and data management of mobile apps and platforms that will assist learning from best practice and successful implementations. In two workshops, citizen science practitioners with experience in mobile application and web-platform development and implementation came together to analyse, discuss and define recommendations for the initiators of technology based citizen science projects. Many of the recommendations produced during the two workshops are applicable to non-mobile citizen science project. Therefore, we propose to closely connect the results presented here with ECSA’s Ten Principles of Citizen Science.

and the paper can be accessed here. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Straddling fences

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits

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

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

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

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

Downsides

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

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

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

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