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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environmental information: between scarcity/abundance and emotions/rationality

The Eye on Earth Summit, which was held in Abu Dhabi last week, allowed me to immerse myself in the topics that I’ve been researching for a long time: geographic information, public access to environmental information, participation, citizen science, and the role of all these in policy making. My notes (day 1 morning, day 1 afternoon, day 2 morning, day 2 afternoon, day 3 morning & day 3 afternoon) provide the background for this post, as well as the blog posts from Elisabeth Tyson (day 1, day 2) and the IISD reports and bulletins from the summit. The first Eye on Earth Summit provided me with plenty to think about, so I thought that it is worth reflecting on my ‘Take home’ messages.

What follows are my personal reflections from the summit and the themes that I feel are emerging in the area of environmental information today. 

wpid-wp-1444166132788.jpgWhen considering the recent ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs by the UN Assembly, it is not surprising that they loomed large over the summit – as drivers for environmental information demand for the next 15 years, as focal points for the effort of coordination of information collection and dissemination, but also as an opportunity to make new links between environment and health, or promoting environmental democracy (access to information, participation in decision making, and access to justice). It seems that the SDGs are very much in the front of the mind of the international organisations who are part of the Eye on Earth alliance, although other organisations, companies and researchers who are coming with more technical focus (e.g. Big Data or Remote Sensing) are less aware of them – at least in terms of referring to them in their presentations during the summit.

Beyond the SDGs, two overarching tensions emerged throughout the presentations and discussions – and both are challenging. They are the tensions between abundance and scarcity, and between emotions and rationality. Let’s look at them in turn.

Abundance and scarcity came up again and agin. On the data side, the themes of ‘data revolution’, more satellite information, crowdsourcing from many thousands of weather observers and the creation of more sources of information (e.g. Environmental Democracy Index) are all examples for abundance in the amount of available data and information. At the same time, this was contrasted with the scarcity in the real world (e.g species extinction, health of mangroves), scarcity of actionable knowledge, and scarcity with ecologists with computing skills. Some speakers oscillated between these two ends within few slides or even in the same one. There wasn’t an easy resolution for this tension, and both ends were presented as challenges.

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With emotions and scientific rationality, the story was different. Here the conference was packed with examples that we’re (finally!) moving away from a simplistic ‘information deficit model‘ that emphasise scientific rationality as the main way to lead a change in policy or public understanding of environmental change. Throughout the summit presenters emphasised the role of mass media communication, art (including live painting development through the summit by GRID-Arendal team), music, visualisation, and story telling as vital ingredients that make information and knowledge relevant and actionable. Instead of a ‘Two Cultures’ position, Eye on Earth offered a much more harmonious and collaborative linkage between these two ways of thinking and feeling.

Next, and linked to the issue of abundance and scarcity are costs and funding. Many talks demonstrated the value of open data and the need to provide open, free and accessible information if we want to see environmental information used effectively. Moreover, providing the information with the ability of analyse or visualise it over the web was offered as a way to make it more powerful. However, the systems are costly, and although the assessment of the IUCN demonstrated that the investment in environmental datasets is modest compared to other sources (and the same is true for citizen science), there are no sustainable, consistent and appropriate funding mechanisms, yet. Funding infrastructure or networking activities is also challenging, as funders accept the value, but are not willing to fund them in a sustainable way. More generally, there is an issue about the need to fund ecological and environmental studies – it seem that while ‘established science’ is busy with ‘Big Science’ – satellites, Big Data, complex computer modelling – the work of studying ecosystems in an holistic way is left to small group of dedicated researchers and to volunteers. The urgency ad speed of environmental change demand better funding for these areas and activities.

This lead us to the issue of Citizen Science, for which the good news are that it was mentioned throughout the summit, gaining more prominence than 4 years ago in the first summit (were it also received attention). In all plenary sessions, citizen science or corwdsourced geographic information were mentioned at least once, and frequently by several speakers. Example include Hermes project for recording ocean temperatures, Airscapes Singapore for urban air quality monitoring, the Weather Underground of sharing weather information, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team work in Malawi, Kathmandu Living Lab response to the earthquake in Nepal, Arab Youth Climate Movement in Bahrain use of iNaturalist to record ecological observations, Jacky Judas work with volunteers to monitor dragonflies in Wadi Wurayah National Park  – and many more. Also the summit outcomes document is clear:  “The Summit highlighted the role of citizen science groups in supporting governments to fill data gaps, particularly across the environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development. Citizen Science was a major focus area within the Summit agenda and there was general consensus that reporting against SDGs must include citizen science data. To this end, a global coalition of citizen science groups will be established by the relevant actors and the Eye on Earth Alliance will continue to engage citizen science groups so that new data can be generated in areas where gaps are evident. The importance of citizen engagement in decision-making processes was also highlighted. ”

However, there was ambivalence about it – should it be seen as an instrument, a tool to produce environmental information or as a mean to get wider awareness and engagement by informed citizens? How best to achieve the multiple goals of citizen science: raising awareness, educating, providing skills well beyond the specific topic of the project, and democratising decision making and participation? It seem to still be the case that the integration of citizen science into day to day operations is challenging for many of the international organisations that are involved in the Eye on Earth alliance.

Another area of challenging interactions emerged from the need for wide partnerships between governments, international organisations, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), companies, start-ups, and even ad-hoc crowds that respond to a specific event or an issue which are afforded by digital and social network. There are very different speeds in implementation and delivery between these bodies, and in some cases there are chasms that need to be explored – for example, an undercurrent from some technology startups is that governments are irrelevant and in some forms of thinking that ‘to move fast and break things’ – including existing social contracts and practices – is OK. It was somewhat surprising to hear speakers praising Uber or AirBnB, especially when they came from people who familiar with the need for careful negotiations that take into account wider goals and objectives. I can see the wish to move things faster – but to what risks to we bring by breaking things?

With the discussions about Rio Principle 10 and the new developments in Latin America, the Environmental Democracy Index, and the rest, I became more convinced, as I’ve noted in 2011, that we need to start thinking about adding another right to the three that are included in it (access to environmental information, participation in decision-making, and access to justice), and develop a right to produce environmental information that will be taken seriously by the authorities – in other words, a right for citizen science. I was somewhat surprised by the responses when I raised this point during the discussion on Principle 10.

Final panel (source: IISD)

Finally, Eye on Earth was inclusive and collaborative, and it was a pleasure to see how open people were to discuss issues and explore new connections, points of view or new ways of thinking about issues. A special point that raised several positive responses was the gender representation in such high level international conference with a fairly technical focus (see the image of the closing panel). The composition of the speakers in the summit, and the fact that it was possible to have such level of women representation was fantastic to experience (making one of the male-only panels on the last day odd!). It is also an important lesson for many academic conferences – if Eye on Earth can, I cannot see a reason why it is not possible elsewhere.

Being philosophical about crowdsourced geographic information

This is a post by Renee Sieber and myself, providing a bit of a background on why we wrote the paper “The epistemology(s) of volunteered geographic information: a critique” – this is in addition to what I’ve written about it in this blog post

Geo: Geography and Environment

By Renée Sieber (McGill University, Canada) and Muki Haklay (University College London, UK)

Our recent paper, The epistemology(s) of volunteered geographic information: a critique, started from a discussion we had about changes within the geographic information science (GIScience) research communities over the past two decades. We’ve both been working in the area of participatory geographic information systems (GIS) and critical studies of geographic information science (GIScience) since the late 1990s, where we engaged with people from all walks of life with the information that is available in GIS. Many times we’d work together with people to create new geographic information and maps. Our goal was to help reflect their point of view of the world and their knowledge about local conditions, not always aim for universal rules and principles. For example, the image below is from a discussion with the community in Hackney Wick, London, where individuals collaborated to…

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Eye on Earth (Day 2 – Morning) – moving to data supply

Eye on Earth (Day 2 – Morning) – moving to data supply The second day of Eye on Earth moved from data demand to supply . You can find my posts from day one, with the morning and the afternoon sessions. I have only partial notes on the plenary Data Revolution-data supply side, although I’ve posted separately the slides from my talk. The description of the session stated: The purpose of the the session is to set the tone and direction for the “data supply” theme of the 2nd day of the Summit. The speakers focused on the revolution in data – the logarithmic explosion both in terms of data volume and of data sources. Most importantly, the keynote addresses will highlight the undiscovered potential of these new resources and providers to contribute to informed decision-making about environmental, social and economic challenges faced by politicians, businesses, governments, scientists and ordinary citizens.

The session was moderated by Barbara J. Ryan (GEO) the volume of data that was download in Landsat demonstrate the information revolution. From 53 scene/day to 5700 scene/day once it became open data – demonstrate the power of open. Now there are well over 25 million downloads a year. There is a similar experience in Canada, and there are also new and innovative ways to make the data accessible and useful.

The first talk was from Philemon Mjwara (GEO), the amount of data is growing and there is an increasing demand for Earth Observations, but even in the distilled form of academic publications there is an explosion and it’s impossible to read everything about your field. Therefore we need to use different tools – search engines, article recommendation systems. This is also true for EO data – users need the ability to search, then process and only then they can use the information. This is where GEO come in. It’s about comprehensive, effective and useful information. GEO works with 87 participating organisations. They promote Open Data policies across their membership, as this facilitate creation of a global system of systems (GEOSS). GEOSS is about supply, and through the GEO infrastructure it can be share with many users. We need to remember that the range of sources is varied: from satellite, to aerial imagery, to under-sea rovers. GEO works across the value chain – the producers, value added organisation and the users. An example of this working is in analysis that helps to link information about crops to information about potential vulnerability in food price.

Mary Glackin (the Weather Corporation), reviewed how weather data is making people safer and business smarter. The Weather Company is about the expression of climate in the patterns of weather. Extreme events make people notice. Weather is about what happen in the 100 km above the Earth surface, but also the 3.6 km average depth of the oceans, which we don’t properly observe yet and have an impact on weather. There are 3 Challenges: keep people safe, helping businesses by forecasting, and engage with decision makers. Measuring the atmosphere and the oceans is done by many bodies which go beyond official bodies – now it includes universities, companies, but also citizens observations which is done across the world (through Weather Underground). The participants, in return, receive a localised forecast for their area and details of nearby observations. It’s a very large citizen science project, and engagement with citizen scientists is part of their work. Forecasting require complex computer modelling – and they produce 11 Billion forecasts a day. Engaging decision makers can be individual fisherman who need to decide if to go out to sea or not. There is a need for authoritative voice that create trust when there are critical issues such as response to extreme events. Another example is the use of information about turbulence from airplanes which are then used to improve modelling and provide up to date information to airlines to decide on routes and operations. Technology is changing – for example, smartphones now produce air pressure data and other sensing abilities that can be used for better modelling. There are policies that are required to enable data sharing. While partnerships between government and private sector companies. A good example is NOAA agreeing to share all their data with cloud providers (Microsoft, Amazon, Google) on the condition that the raw data will be available to anyone to download free of charge, but the providers are free to create value added services on top of the data.

Next was my talk, for which a summary and slide are available in a separate post.

Chris Tucker (MapStory) suggested that it is possible to empower policy makers with open data. MapStory is an atlas of changes that anyone can edit, as can be seen in the development of a city, or the way enumeration district evolved over time. The system is about maps, although the motivation to overlay information and collect it can be genealogy – for example to be able to identify historical district names. History is a good driver to understand the world, for example maps that show the colonisation of Africa. The information can be administrative boundaries, imagery or environmental information. He sees MapStory as a community. Why should policy makers care? they should because ‘change is the only constant’, and history help us in understanding how we got here, and think about directions for the future. Policy need to rely on data that is coming from multiple sources – governmental sources, NGOs, or citizens’ data. There is a need for a place to hold such information and weave stories from it. Stories are a good way to work out the decisions that we need to make, and also allow ordinary citizens to give their interpretation on information. In a way, we are empowering people to tell story.

The final talk was from Mae Jemison (MD and former astronaut). She grow up during a period of radical innovations, both socially and scientifically – civil rights, new forms or dance, visions of a promising future in Start Trek, and the Apollo missions. These have led her to get to space in a Shuttle mission in 1992, during which she was most of the time busy with experiments, but from time to time looked out of the window, to see the tiny sliver of atmosphere around the Earth, within which whole life exist. Importantly, the planet doesn’t need protection – the question is: will humans be in the future of the planet? Every generation got a mission, and ours is to see us linked to the totality of Earth – life, plants and even minerals. Even if we create a way to travel through space, the vast majority of us will not get off this planet. So the question is: how do we get to the extraordinary? This lead us to look at data, and we need to be aware that while there is a lot of it, it doesn’t necessarily mean information, and information doesn’t mean wisdom. She note that in medical studies data (from test with patients) have characteristics of specificity (relevant to the issue at hand) and sensitivity (can it measure what we want to measure?). We tend to value and act upon what we can measure, but we need to consider if we are doing it right. Compelling data cause us to pay attention, and can lead to action. Data connect us across time and understanding a universe grater that ourselves, as the pictures from Hubble telescope that show the formation of stars do. These issues are coming together in her current initiative “100 years starship” – if we aim to have an interstellar ship built within the next 100 years, we will have to think about sustainability, life support and ecosystems in a way that will help us solve problems here on Earth. It is about how to have an inclusive journey to make transformation on Earth. She completed her talk by linking art, music and visualisation with the work of Bella Gaia

After the plenary, the session Data for Sustainable Development was building on the themes from the plenary. Some of the talks in the session were:

Louis Liebenberg presented cybertracker – showing how it evolved from early staged in the mid 1990s to a use across the world. The business model of cybertracker is such that people can download it for free, but it mostly used off-line in many places, with majority of the users that use it as local tool. This raise issues of data sharing – data doesn’t go beyond that the people who manage the project. Cybertracker address the need to to extend citizen science activities to a whole range of participants beyond the affluent population that usually participate in nature observations.

Gary Lawrence – discussed how with Big Data we can engage the public in deciding which problem need to be resolved – not only the technical or the scientific community. Ideas will emerge within Big Data that might be coincident or causality. Many cases are coincidental. The framing should be: who are we today? what are we trying to become? What has to be different two, five, ten years from now if we’re going to achieve it? most organisations don’t even know where they are today. There is also an issue – Big Data: is it driven by a future that people want. There are good examples of using big data in cities context that take into account the need of all groups – government, business and citizens in Helsinki and other places.

B – the Big Data in ESPA experience www.espa.ac.uk – data don’t have value until they are used. International interdisciplinary science for ecosystems services for poverty alleviation programme. Look at opportunities, then the challenges. Opportunities: SDGs are articulation of a demand to deliver benefits to societal need for new data led solution for sustainable development, with new technologies: remote sensing / UAVs, existing data sets, citizen science and mobile telephony, combined with open access to data and web-based applications. Citizen Science is also about empowering communities with access to data. We need to take commitments to take data and use it to transforming life.

Discussion: lots of people are sitting on a lots of valuable data that are considered as private and are not shared. Commitment to open data should be to help in how to solve problems in making data accessible and ensure that it is shared. We need to make projects aware that the data will be archived and have procedures in place, and also need staff and repositories. Issue is how to engage private sector actors in data sharing. In work with indigenous communities, Louis noted that the most valuable thing is that the data can be used to transfer information to future generations and explain how things are done.

Eye on Earth (Day 1 – afternoon) – policy making demand for data and knowledge for healthy living

The afternoon of the first day of Eye on Earth (see previous post for an opening ceremony and the morning sessions) had multiple tracks. I selected to attend Addressing policy making demand for data; dialogue between decision makers and providers

wpid-wp-1444139631192.jpgThe speakers were asked to address four points that address issues of data quality control and assurance, identify the major challenges facing data quality for decision-making in the context of crowd-sourcing and citizen science. Felix Dodds  who chaired the session noted that – the process of deciding on indicators for SDGs is managed through the UN Inter-agency group, and these indicators and standards of measurements need to last for 15 years.  There is now also ‘World Forum on Sustainable Development Data’ and review of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) is also coming. The speakers are asked to think about  coordination mechanisms and QA to ensure good quality data? How accessible is the data? Finally, what is the role of citizen science within this government information? We need to address the requirements of the data – at international, regional, and national levels.

Nawal Alhosany (MASDAR institute): Data is very important ingredient in making policy when you try to make policy on facts and hard evidence. Masdar is active throughout the sustainability chain, with a focus on energy. The question how to ensure that data is of good quality, and Masdar recognised gap in availability of data 10 years ago. For example, some prediction tools for solar power were not taking into account local conditions, as well as quality assurance that is suitable to local needed. Therefore, they developed local measurement and modelling tools (ReCREMA). In terms of capacity building, they see issues in human capacity across the region, and try to address it (e.g. lack of open source culture). In Masdar, they see a role for citizen science – and they make steps towards it through STEM initiatives such as Young Future Energy Leaders and other activities.

David Rhind (Nuffiled Foundation): many of the data sets that we want cover national boundaries – e.g. radioactive plum from Chernobyl. When we want to mix population and environment, we need to deal with mixing boundaries and complex problems with data integrity. There are also serious problem with validity – there are 21 sub-Saharan countries that haven’t done household survey sine 2006, so how can we know about levels of poverty today? There is a fundamental question of what is quality, and how can we define it in any meaningful sense. Mixing data from different sources is creating a problem of what quality mean. Some cases can rely on international agreements – e.g. N principles, or the UK regulatory authority to check statistics. Maybe we should think of international standards like in accountancy. In terms of gaps in capacity, there is a quick change due to need for analysis and data scientists are becoming available in the UK, but there is issue with policy makers who do not have the skills to understand the information. Accessible data is becoming common with the open data approach, but many countries make official data less open for security. However, data need some characteristics – need to be re-use , easy to distribute, public and with open licensing. The issue about the citizen science – there are reasons to see it as an opportunity – e.g. OpenStreetMap, but there are many factors that make its integration challenging. There is a need for proper communication – e.g. the miscommunication in L’Aquila

Kathrine Brekke (ICLEI) – perspective from local government. Local government need data for decision-making. Data also make it the city suitable for investment, insurance, and improve transparency and accountability. There are issues of capacity in terms of collecting the data, sharing it, and it is even down to language skills (if it is not available in English, international comparison is difficult). There are initiatives such as open.dataforcities.org to allow sharing of city data. There are 100 sustainability indicators that are common across cities and can be shared. In terms of data quality we can also include crowdsourcing – but then need to ensure that it the data will be systematic and comparable. The standards and consistency are key – e.g. greenhouse registry is important and therefore there is global protocol for collecting the data.

Ingrid Dillo (DANS, Netherlands) there is data deluge with a lot of potential, but there are challenges about the quality of the data and trust. Quality is about fitness for use. DANS aim is to ensure archiving of data from research projects in the Netherlands. Data quality in science – made of scientific data quality but also technical. Scientific integrity is about the values of science – standards of conduct within science. There are issues with fraud in science that require better conduct. Data management in small projects lack checks and balances, with peer pressure as major driver to ensure quality – so open science is one way to deal with that. There are also technical issues such as metadata and data management so it can be used and stored in certified trustworthy digital repository.

Robert Gurney (University of Reading) -in environmental science there is the Belmont Forum e-Infrastructures & data management. The Belmont forum is association of environmental science funders from across the world. The initiative is to deal with the huge increase in data. Scientists are early adopters of technology and some of the lessons can be used from what scientists are doing by other people in the environmental sector. The aim is to deliver knowledge that is needed for action. The infrastructure is needed to meet global environmental challenges. This require working with many supercomputers – the problems are volume, variety, veracity, velocity (Big Data) – we getting many petabytes – can reach 100 Petabytes by 2020. The problem is that data is in deep silos – even between Earth Observation archives. The need to make data open and sharable. There will be 10% of funding going towards e-infrastructure. They created data principles and want to have the principle of open by default.

Marcos Silva (CITES)  Cites is about the trade in engendered species . CITES (since mid 1970s)  regulate trade in multi-billion dollar business with 850,000 permits a year. Each permits say that it’s OK to export a specimen without harming the population. It is data driven. CITES data can help understanding outliers and noticing trends. There are issues of ontologies, schema, quality etc. between the signatories – similar to environmental information. They would like to track what happen to the species across the world. They are thinking about a standard about all the transactions with specimen which will create huge amount of data. Even dealing with illegal poaching and protection of animals, there is a need for interoperable data.

Discussion: Data Shift for citizen generated data for SDG goals. Is there data that is already used? How we are going to integrate data against other types of data? We risk filtering citizen science data out because it follow different framework. Rhind – statisticians are concerned about citizen science data, and will take traditional view, and not use the data. There is a need to have quality assurance not just at the end. The management of indicators and their standards will require inclusion of suitable data. Marcos ask what is considered citizen science data? e.g. reporting of data by citizens is used in CITES and there are things to learn – how the quality of the data can be integrated with traditional process that enforcement agencies use. Science is not just data collection and analysis, such as climateprediction.net  and multiple people can analyse information. Katherine talked about crowdsourcing – e.g. reporting of trees in certain cities  so there is also dialogue of deciding which trees to plant. Ingrid – disagree that data collection on its own is not science. Nawal – doing projects with schools about energy, which open participation in science. Rhind – raised the issue of the need for huge data repository and the question if governments are ready to invest. Gurney – need to coordinate multiple groups and organisations that are dealing with data organisations. There is a huge shortage of people in environmental science with advanced computing skills.

wpid-wp-1444166132788.jpgThe second session that I attended explored Building knowledge for healthy lives opened by Jacqueline McGlade – the context of data need to focus on the SDGs, and health is underpinning more goals then environmental issues. UNEP Live is aimed to allow access UN data – from country data, to citizen science data – so it can be found. The panel will explore many relations to health: climate change, and its impact on people’s life and health. heatwaves and issues of vulnerability to extreme events. Over 40 countries want to use the new air quality monitoring that UNEP developed, including the community in Kibera.

wpid-wp-1444166114783.jpgHayat Sindi is the CEO of i2Institute, exploring social innovations. Our ignorance about the world is profound. We are teaching children about foundation theories without questioning science heroes and theories, as if things are static. We are elevating ideas from the past and don’t question them. We ignore the evidence. The fuel for science is observation. We need to continue and create technology to improve life. Social innovation is important – and she learn it from diagnostic for all (DFA) from MIT. The DFA is low cost, portable, easy to use and safely disposable. The full potential of social innovation is not fulfilled. True scientists need to talk with people, understand their need, and work with them

Maria Neira (WHO) – all the SDGs are linked to health. A core question is what are the environmental determinants of health. Climate change, air quality – all these are part of addressing health and wellbeing. Need to provide evidence based guidelines, and the WHO also promote health impact assessment for major development projects. There are different sectors – housing, access to water, electricity – some healthcare facility lack access to reliable source of energy. Air pollution is a major issue that the WHO recognise as a challenge – killing 7m people a year. With air quality we don’t have a choice with a warning like we do with tobacco. The WHO offering indicators who offer that the access to energy require to measure exposure to air pollution. There is a call for strong collaboration with other organisation. There is a global platform on air quality and health that is being developed. Aim to enhance estimation of the impacts from air quality.

Joni Seager (GGEO coordinating lead author) talking about gender and global environmental outlook. She looks at how gender is not included in health and environmental data. First example – collect gender data and then hide it. Gender analysis can provide better information can help in decision making and policy formation.  Second method – dealing with households – they don’t have agency in education, access to car or food security, but in reality there is no evidence that food security is household level attribute – men and women have different experience of coping strategies – significant different between men or women. Household data is the view of the men and not the real information. Household data make women especially invisible. There are also cases where data is not collected. In some areas – e.g. sanitation, information is not collected. If we building knowledge for healthy life, we should ask who’s knowledge and who’s life?

Parrys Raines (Climate Girl) grown in Australia and want to protect the environment – heard about climate change as 6 years old and then seek to research and learn about the data – information is not accessible to young girls. She built close relationships with UNEP. There are different impacts on young people. She is also sharing information about air quality and pollution to allow people to include youth in the discussion and solutions. Youth need to be seen as a resource across different levels – sharing generation, global thinking. There is need for intergenerational communication – critical. knowledge of data is critical for the 21st century. Need organisations to go out and support youth – from mentoring to monetary support.

wpid-wp-1444166106561.jpgIman Nuwayhid talking about the health and ecological sustainability in the Arab world. There are many Millennium Development Goals MDGs that have been achieved, but most of the countries fell short of achieving them. In ecological sustainability, the picture is gloomy in the Arab world – many countries don’t have access to water. Demand for food is beyond the capacity of the region to produce. Population is expected to double in next 30 years. Poorer countries have high fertility – lots of displacement: war, economic and environmental. Development – there are striking inequities in the region – some of the wealthiest countries and the poorest countries in the world. Distribution of water need to consider which sector should use it. In comparison of health vs military expenditure, the Arab world spend much more on military than on health. There is interaction between environment, population and development. The region ecological footprint is highest and increasing. There are also issues of political instability that can be caused by environmental stresses. Displacement of people between countries create new stresses and question the value of state based analysis. Uncertainty is a major context for the region and science in general.

Discussion: the air quality issue – monitoring is not enough without understanding the toxicity, dispersion. Air pollution are impacted also by activities such as stone quarries. Need to balance monitoring efforts with accuracy and the costs of acting. Need to develop models and methods to think about it’s use. Some urban area of light and noise have also impacts not just on death but on quality of life and mental problems.

Two side events of interest run in parallel:

wpid-wp-1444166098477.jpgThe European Environmental Bureau presented a side event on collaborative research and activist knowledge on environmental justice. Pressure on resources mean extractive industries operate in the south with the outcomes used in the North. There is an increased level of conflicts in the south. The EJOLT project is a network of 23 partners in 23 countries. It’s collaborative research of scientists, grass roots organisations, NGOs and legal organisations. They had a whole set results. A visible result is the Atlas of environmental justice. There is plenty to say about citizen science and how important is that information come from people who are closed to the ground. They work with team in ecological economics, that created a moderated process for collecting and sharing information. The atlas allow to look at information according to different categories, and this is link to stories about the conflict and it’s history – as well as further details about it. The atlas is a tool to map conflicts but also to try and resolve them. The EEB see the atlas as an ongoing work and they want to continue and develop sources of information and reporting. Updating and maintaining the tool is a challenge that the organisation face.

At the same time, the best practice guidelines Putting Principle 10 into action was launched, building on the experience from Aarhus guide, there are plenty of case studies and information and it will be available at on the UNEP website

wpid-wp-1444166160281.jpgThe gala dinner included an award to the sensable city lab project in Singapore, demonstrating the development of personalise travel plans that can help avoiding pollution and based on 30-40 participants who collected data using cheap sensors.

New paper: The epistemology(s) of volunteered geographic information: a critique

Considering how long Reneé Sieber  (McGill University) and I know each other, and working in similar areas (participatory GIS, participatory geoweb, open data, socio-technical aspects of GIS, environmental information), I’m very pleased that a collaborative paper that we developed together is finally published.

The paper ‘The epistemology(s) of volunteered geographic information: a critique‘ took some time to evolve. We started jotting ideas in late 2011, and slowly developed the paper until it was ready, after several rounds of peer review, for publication in early 2014, but various delays led to its publication only now. What is pleasing is that the long development time did not reduced the paper relevancy – we hope! (we kept updating it as we went along). Because the paper is looking at philosophical aspects of GIScience, we needed periods of reflection and re-reading to make sure that the whole paper come together, and I’m pleased with the way ideas are presented and discussed in it. Now that it’s out, we will need to wait and see how it will be received.

The abstract of the paper is:

Numerous exegeses have been written about the epistemologies of volunteered geographic information (VGI). We contend that VGI is itself a socially constructed epistemology crafted in the discipline of geography, which when re-examined, does not sit comfortably with either GIScience or critical GIS scholarship. Using insights from Albert Borgmann’s philosophy of technology we offer a critique that, rather than appreciating the contours of this new form of data, truth appears to derive from traditional analytic views of information found within GIScience. This is assisted by structures that enable VGI to be treated as independent of the process that led to its creation. Allusions to individual emancipation further hamper VGI and problematise participatory practices in mapping/geospatial technologies (e.g. public participation geographic information systems). The paper concludes with implications of this epistemological turn and prescriptions for designing systems and advancing the field to ensure nuanced views of participation within the core conceptualisation of VGI.

The paper is open access (so anyone can download it) and it is available in the Geo website . 

Building Centre – from Mapping to Making

The London based Building Centre organised an evening event – from Mapping to Making –  which looked at the “radical evolution in the making and meaning of maps is influencing creative output. New approaches to data capture and integration – from drones to crowd-sourcing – suggest maps are changing their impact on our working life, particularly in design.”  The event included 5 speakers (including me, on behalf of Mapping for Change) and a short discussion.

Lewis Blackwell of the Building Centre opened the evening by noting that in a dedicated exhibition on visualisation and the city, the Building Centre is looking at new visualisation techniques. He realised that a lot of the visualisations are connected to mapping – it’s circular: mapping can ask and answer questions about the design process of the build environment, and changes in the built environment create new data. The set of talks in the evening is exploring the role of mapping.

Rollo Home, Geospatial Product Development Manager, Ordnance Survey (OS), started by thinking about the OS as the ‘oldest data company in the world‘. The OS thinking of itself as data company – the traditional mapping products that are very familiar represent only 5% of turnover. The history of OS go back to 1746 and William Roy’s work on accurately mapping Britain. The first maps produced in Kent, for the purpose of positioning ordinances. The maps of today, when visualised, look somewhat the same as maps from 1800, but the current maps are in machine readable formats that mean that the underlying information is very different. Demands for mapping changed over the years: Originally for ordinances, then for land information and taxation, and later helping the development of the railways. During WW I & II the OS led many technological innovations – from national grid in 1930s to photogrammetry. In 1973 the first digital maps were produced, and the process was completed in the 1980s. This was, in terms of data structures, still structured as a map. Only in 2000, MasterMap appear with more machine readable format that is updated 10,000 times a day, based on Oracle database (the biggest spatial data in the world) – but it’s not a map. Real world information is modelled to allow for structure and meaning. Ability to answer questions from the database is critical to decision-making. The information in the data can become explicit to many parts of the information – from the area of rear gardens to height of a building. They see developments in the areas of oblique image capture, 3D data, details under the roof, facades and they do a lot of research to develop their future directions – e.g. challenges of capturing data in cloud points. They see data that come from different sources including social media, satellite, UAVs, and official sources. Most of Smart Cities/Transport etc. areas need geospatial information and the OS is moving from mapping to data, and enabling better decisions.

Rita Lambert, Development Planning Unit, UCL. Covered the ReMap Lima project – running since 2012, and looking at marginalised neighbourhoods in the city. The project focused on the questions of what we are mapping and what we are making through representations. Maps contain potential of what might become – we making maps and models that are about ideas, and possibilities for more just cities. The project is collaboration between DPU and CASA at UCL, with 3 NGOs in Lima, and 40 participants from the city. They wanted to explore the political agency of mapping, open up spaces to negotiate outcomes and expand the possibilities of spatial analysis in marginalised areas in a participatory action-learning approach. The use of technology is in the context of very specific theoretical aims. Use of UAV is deliberate to explore their progressive potential. They mapped the historic centre which is overmapped and it is marginalised through over-representation (e.g. using maps to show that it need regeneration) while the periphery is undermapped – large part of the city (50% of the area), and they are marginalised through omission. Maps can act through undermapping or overmapping. Issues are very different – from evictions, lack of services, loss of cultural heritage (people and building) at the centre, while at the informal settlement there are risks, land trafficking, destruction of ecological infrastructure, and lack of coordination between spatial planning between places. The process that they followed include mapping from the sky (with a drone) and mapping from the ground (through participatory mapping using aerial images). The drones provided the imagery in an area that changes rapidly – and the outputs were used in participatory mapping, with the people on the ground deciding what to map and where to map. The results allow to identify eviction through changes to the building that can be observed from above. The mapping process itself was also a mean to strengthen community organisations. The use of 3D visualisation at the centre and at the periphery helped in understanding the risks that are emerging or the changes to their area. Data collection is using both maps and data collection through tools such as EpiCollect+ and community mapping, and also printing 3D models so they can used by discussions and conversations. The work carries on as the local residents continue the work. The conclusion: careful consideration for the use of technology in the context, and mapping from the sky and the ground go hand in hand. Creating these new representation are significant and what is that we are producing. more information at Remaplima.blogspot.co.uk  and learninglima.net

Simon Mabey, Digital Services Lead for City Modelling, Arup. Simon discussed city modelling in Arup – with the moved from visualisation to more sophisticated models. He leads on modelling cities in 3D, since the 1988, when visualisation of future designs was done stitching pieces of paper and photos. The rebuilding of Manchester in the mid 1990s, led to the development of 3D urban modelling, with animations and created an interactive CDROM. This continued to develop the data about Manchester and then shared it with others. The models were used in different ways – from gaming software to online, and trying to find ways to allow people to use it in real world context. Many models are used in interactive displays – e.g. for attracting inward investment. They went on to model many cities across the UK, with different levels of details and area that is covered. They also starting to identify features underground – utilities and the such. Models are kept up to date through collaboration, with clients providing back information about things that they are designing and integrating BIM data. In Sheffield, they also enhance the model through planning of new projects and activities. Models are used to communicate information to other stakeholders – e.g. traffic model outputs, and also do that with pedestrians movement. Using different information to colour code the model (e.g. enregy) or acoustic modelling or flooding. More recently, they move to city analytics, understanding the structure within models – for example understanding solar energy potential with the use and consumption of the building. They find themselves needing information about what utility data exist and that need to be mapped and integrated into their analysis. They also getting mobile phone data to predict trip journeys that people make.

I was the next speaker, on behalf Mapping for Change. I provided the background of Mapping for Change, and the approach that we are using for the mapping. In the context of other talks, which focused on technology, I emphasised that just as we are trying to reach out to people in the places that they use daily and fit the participatory process into their life rhythms, we need to do it in the online environment. That mean that conversations need to go where they are – so linking to facebook, twitter or whatsapp. We should also know that people are using different ways to access information – some will use just their phone, other laptops, and for others we need to think of laptop/desktop environment. In a way, this complicates participatory mapping much more than earlier participatory web mapping systems, when participants were more used to the idea of using multiple websites for different purposes. I also mentioned the need for listening to the people that we work with, and deciding if information should be shown online or not – taking into account what they would like to do with the data. I mentioned the work that involve citizen science (e.g. air quality monitoring) but more generally the ability to collect facts and evidence to deal with a specific issue. Finally, I also used some examples of our new community mapping system, which is based on GeoKey.

The final talk was from Neil Clark, Founder, EYELEVEL. He is from an architectural visualisation company that work in the North East and operate in the built environment area. They are using architectural modelling and us Ordnance Survey data and then position the designs, so they can be rendered accurately. Many of the processes are very expensive and complex. They have developed a tool called EYEVIEW for accurate augmented reality – working on iPad to allow viewing models in real-time. This can cut the costs of producing these models. They use a tripod to make it easier to control. The tool is the outcome of 4 years of development, allow the navigation of the architectural model to move it to overlay with the image. They are aiming at Accurate Visual Representation and they follow the detailed framework that is used in London for this purpose www.eyeviewportal.com

The discussion that follow explored the political nature of information and who is represented and how. A question to OS was how open it will be with the detailed data and while Rollo explained that access to the data is complicated one and it need to be funded. I found myself defending the justification of charging high detailed models by suggesting to imagine a situation where the universal provision of high quality data at national level wasn’t there, and you had to deal with each city data model.

The last discussion point was about the truth in the mapping and the positions that were raised – It about the way that people understand their truth or is there an absolute truth that is captured in models and maps – or represented in 3D visualisations? Interestingly, 3 of the talk assume that there is a way to capture specific aspects of reality (structures, roads, pollution) and model it by numbers, while Rita and I took a more interpretive and culturally led representations.