New PhD Opportunity:¬†Human Computer Interaction and Spatial Data Quality for Online Civic Engagement

We have a new scholarship opening at the Extreme Citizen Science group for a PhD student who will research in Human Computer Interaction and Spatial Data Quality for Online Civic Engagement. The studentship is linked and contextualised by the European Union H2020 funded project, WeGovNow! . This project will focus on the use of digital technologies for effectively supporting civic society, whereby citizens are partners as opposed to customers in the delivery of public services. By integrating a set of innovative technologies from different European partners in Germany, Italy, and Greece to create citizen engagement platform, the project explores the use of digital tools for citizen reporting, e-participation, and communication between the citizen and local government. Building on previous research and technology development, the project will include programme of innovation in technology and services delivery. More information on the UCL ExCiteS blog

Source: New PhD Opportunity

New Citizen Science for air quality campaign

Mapping for Change, the social enterprise that I co-founded, has been assisting community groups to run air quality studies for the past 5 years. During this period we have worked in 30 communities across London, carrying out studies with different tools Рfrom collecting leaves, to examining lichens, to using diffusion tubes. We have also followed the development of low-costs sensors Рfor example, through participation in the AirProbe challenge EveryAware project or hosting a discussion about the early stages of the Air Quality Egg.

We found out that of the simple tools that are available to anyone, and that require little training, NO2 diffusion tubes are very effective. We’ve seen them used as a good sign of the level of pollution, especially from traffic. They sense pollution from diesel vehicles.

We also found that reliable equipment that can measure particulate matter known as PM2.5 (very small dust considered harmful) and other pollutants is expensive Рas high as £5000 and more. Unfortunately, low-cost equipment cannot give accurate information that can be used in making a case for action.

Now, after developing the methodology for working with different groups and supporting local efforts, we are launching a crowdfunding campaign to support a large scale data collection campaign using diffusion tubes, with an aim to go beyond and create an equipment library that can be used by communities – free of charge apart from disposable parts (filters) and delivery – that can be shared across London and beyond.

With a community investment of £250 we will deliver 10 diffusion tubes and support the creation of a local NO2 map. There are other levels of support to the campaign Рincluding sponsoring a specific piece of equipment.

Use this opportunity and organise a local air quality map for your area! 

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 Рas 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 Рat 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.


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 Рshould 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.

NightScience 2015 – CRI Paris

NighStcience 2015 in CRI-Paris, 10-11 July Р Night Science is a mode of exploratory, innovative science, and as in previous years, it is an event that mixes talks with active hands-on experience. The event this year was marked by linking open innovation, social responsibility and entrepreneurship to science. The event was opened by as Francois Taddei highlighting the important of open ecology for sharing knowledge and solutions for problems that we face today. He also set the theme of the day by pointing to the need to link open science and social entrepreneurial ideas together.

The first session explored frugal research and responsible innovations

Melanie Marcel – SoScience – linking responsible research and innovation for social entrepreneurs. She provided an example of two social entrepreneurs from Burkina Faso who want to deal with malaria by developing a soap that include mosquito repellent to allow use without changing behaviour, but they had problems in making the ingredient in the soap stable, so through SoScience, they are linked to a laboratory who research how to make it happen. SoScience seeing themselves as part of responsible research and innovation, and have links with universities, and with companies (such as GE Healthcare). There is a chance to change the system in terms of relationship between society and science – who is it done for, and what problems are addressed. She also emphasised the examples of frugal innovations and science as part of the way to solve the challenges that she is dealing with it.

Marc Chooljian – Tekla Labs¬†– volunteer organisation, run by PhD students in UCB UCSF. They are creating a network of building or using scientific equipment to allow more people to be involved in science. The access to the devices themselves is a major obstacles, and some scientific instruments can be made much cheaper than they are now. He noted that everybody should be a maker – building something help to understand the process, and how things work. But there are obstacles that they need to know – technical, safety, so there is a need for detailed information from other people who are familiar with the equipment. Tekla Labs trying to provide information that can be used within scientific processes. Unlike general DIY, there is a need to set standards of posting information to make scientific tools valid and suitable for producing results that will be accepted in publications. The process is to assess needs for some tools, then gather ideas (e.g. “build my lab” contest on Instructable), then test and edit, and provide designs to users. Design includes a lot of engineering experience, but once someone tried to build an equipment, they can share information back to those who are designing so they can change and update the design. A survey that was carried out in Argentina/Peru – there are many scientists who are willing to create their own equipment if the information is given. An example of contest included different pieces of equipment in instructable. Testing the devices and seeing how they are being used as to close the loop is currently a challenge. Need to happen by users who are not the developers.

David Ott – Red Labs: humanitarian Fab Labs by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). One of the oldest humanitarian organisations, focusing on victims of armed conflicts. The ICRC was inspired by the Fab Labs from MIT, taking the ability of maker/DIY culture in humanitarian action, seeing it as support operations and empower beneficiaries, allowing the ICRC work with the crowd to solve problems that they encounter. There are challenges in how to transport such a lab or use existing equipment in the place, securing the lab (ICRC suffered from looting of their stores in the past). Potential use is for prosthetics although making it work can be challenging in terms of specifications. There are stringent requirements on medical devices in terms of quality and certifications. Another issue is scaling up in terms of speed and quantity – what happen if you need thousands of objects? ¬†He suggested an ‘ideal humanitarian thing’ with the following qualities: Do no harm, functional, parametric (you can change it easily in size and other properties easily to change design), editable, scalable, tool independent, material independent. They are looking for more use cases, and start with a ‘mini Red Lab Kit’ and then consider collaborations with national RCs.

The second session focused on the pursuit of Open Science

Micha√ęl Bon covered the ‘Self Journal of Science‘. Scientists are forced to publish in ‘impact factor’ journals – there is a need to free ourselves from this tyranny. Science is defined as unambiguous, transparent, falsifiable, need to be based of well-defined statements that are then tested in experiment, but all this need to lead to a publication that is therefore central to the process. The idea of the Self-Journal of Science is to try and create a repository of scientific information that allow people to collaborate. People put their papers, and each user can vote on the paper and its significant. There is also potential to make comments on specific parts of the articles and have a debate and discussion about the different parts of the paper. The interface will change the nature of the article, the people who comment have the same authority/importance as the article itself. The aim is to create a new logic of scientific process of sharing information and knowledge.

Samir Brahmachari (CSIR-OSDD) described his experience in¬†Open Source Drug Discovery – for 50 years TB drug discovery was neglected, and there is a very small effort through bodies like the Gates foundation to create new drugs. When you don’t have resources you are focusing on frugal innovations and that was what he focused on. OSDD is crowdsourcing with a difference – started in 2007, collaboratively aggregate the available information (biological and genetic) on TB with the aim to create¬†a computer model that will allow drug discovery. An attempt to follow the model of aircraft design in which the model allows a lot of experimentations in the computer and then to go to production only with the most promising drugs. To make a community, they created training, open web 2.0 platform, and communication. The platform doesn’t allow people to know the position in society (teacher/students) so all ideas are taken seriously. They put effort into making functional self-organising groups (manual created by students). Thousands of papers were read by students and used to annotate genes. When the most active students received computers as a prize, the advertisement on the back of the laptop brought more volunteers when they went to college. Infosys supported a full open source stack. People that contributed more than 1% became authors (45). OSDD education value was that some continue to a PhD. Within the participants on 5% had PhD, and many people came from less endowed institutions.

Denisa Kera talks about “Subalterns” laboratories – she looks at DIYbio in Singapore – her interest is from philosophy and designer, from an STS perspective. Science can be done differently in places like Indonesia, potentially creating new forms of laboratories that are looking somewhere between kitchen, lab, party, gallery and workshops and were all sort of stuff happening. People hacking coconuts, ¬†with participants that from Indonesia, Taiwan, ex-Yugoslavia, Nepal, Singapore, Switzerland, Japan and other places. Such labs are happening at the edge of the system – Georgia, Indonesia, Thailand etc. There is ‘epistemic violence’ in¬†R&D – it is transferred & applied in the South, adopted by the public by forcing it to society. It heavily dependent of material donation or through Corporate Social Responsibility to make it happen. There are also issues with researchers from the North interpreting ‘Local Needs’ and finding solutions. Instead we can think of open science, open access and open hardware. Open can also mean ‘post-colonial’ science. She also look at how open hardware travel between North and South, how it is used after the first build, as objects have longer life.

Jason Bland covered the Citizen Cyberlab activity SynBio4All. It aims to open the world of synthetic biology to the public and allow people to learn, support and study. They aim to create a SynBio community, started by design a community platform that will support learning and engagement. SynBio takes an engineering approach to DNA manipulations. SynBio has many applications – drug production, food, material and fuel, and potential synthetic organisms. He used an example of the project ‘The Smell of Us‘ which was part of iGEM competition. This year there is also development of a MOOC, for high school students, about SynBio.

Joel Chevier Рa lab in your pocket. He thinks of the smartphone as a lab tool, to play with children. Smartphone is a great pocket lab. If you look at the smartphone and what is does in daily life make it very accessible Рyou want real-time, interactive, fit everybody perception, networked and sharing information. Will play science with it, and the game is to see the world around you, and see what is happening around you and also other people. Game such as draw a large circle on the floor, and see the blue point on the screen Рthe person outside look at what people do and see how the point is moving in space. He created a website for these activities.  Possible to also consider more sensors Рe.g. thermodynamics through pressure & temperature.

The third session looked at the combination Рfrugal and digital education 

Guy Etienne discuss the activities in Haiti, how it is used for community development and learners empowerment. He noted that the world is fast-moving, and is very complicated. We need to adapt our strategy to different places. Society too often penalize young brains in terms of disadvantaged groups in society by depriving them of opportunities. Everything that student learn need to think how they use it to change their community for the better. The goals: critical thinking, rational judgement, strength of character, empathy (very important between religious groups and other divisions in society), operational leadership and change-maker skills. There are big political and economic risks Рso need to have support of parents, community, government and students. The government resist change, but because the school is funded through tuition fees from the students, it allow the school to become a social enterprise, and to aim to generate funds to modernised the space, and use non-traditional sources (soap / acid from batteries for chemistry) to deliver education. The school is using sensing as part of direct engagement with science Рusing weather stations, seismographic stations to educate the students about the measurements that are direct to them. Instead of final exam in science, they are running a science fair that is aimed at teaching science for change-makers citizens, which mean demonstrating how science is relevant for their community. The school now have a robotics laboratory Рso every student in the school will have to learn what they are and how to create them. In science fairs, they have 4000-5000 visitors. They aim to change the teachers of the future Рchange the mentality of students, attitude and abilities.

Ange Ansour – see teachers as constant tinkerers. The programme of the CRI that emphasise learning through research.

Celine Nartineau and Vanessa Mignan explored e-Fabrik, focusing on digital problem-solving initiative for youngsters and disabled people (I’ve seen that in ECSITE 2015). Linking young people from disadvantaged communities with disabled people in a fab lab, to consider solutions together. The lessons: working outside the comfort zone is rewarding.

Barbara Schack Рaccess to education and culture with mobile media centre. Setting a media centre in Haiti after the earthquake helps in strengthening communities. Refugees spend on average 17 years in refugee camps and there are 50 million people in such status, so we need a new staple for these people Рas part of humanitarian support we need to think of reading. Learning and access to information, playing. They work with UNHCR Рthey create with Philippe Stark an idea box that unfold to everything that you need to learn, play and create (video below, and the website is  They would like to work more places, and a priority is to support refugees from Syria and Iraq in Jordan and Lebanon.

Yogesh Kulkarni, (Vigyan Ashram – a center of Indian Institute Of Education (IIE) Pune).¬†– talks about energetic schoolchildren in India. Need to teach students to identify development need of the community. Example is lack of social space in a village, and through participatory design and building the garden was built. It was design with Google Sketchup plan and use a lot of recycled materials. The students learn through ‘Socrates method of questioning’ after every task and linking that to the curriculum area. Questions on food, energy, engineering. Fab Lab provide the space to mix traditional tools and skills (e.g. carpentry) with recent tools (3D printer, Google Sketchup)

The fourth session was Innovation, Agoras and Citizen Empowerment

Cindy Regalado (ExCiteS, Citizens Without Borders) – describing the development of Barney, a kite that was developed in the Public Lab Barn Raising. DIY for her is about ‘for whom, by whom and for what?’ DIY is about critical making – the possibility to intervene substantively in systems of authority and power, and reflecting on infrastructure, institutions, and communities. She emphasised the importance of communicative spaces – they are allowing people to create a social process and the meaning of something can be only understood when it is used. creating communicative spaces is challenging. We need to consider to what lead people to frugality and need – not to assume that it’s all positive. Also need to consider privilege, acknowledge the technology hype and consider the true potential. She used examples from Public Lab to demonstrate her concepts. The DIY itself will not solve problems, but only expose the systemic and structural issues with society?

James Carlson talks about the ‘Bucket-works’ in Milwaukee (the School Factory) – they now have 100s of members, 90 start-ups, and 2 weddings from their original organisation! He see 8 varieties of collaborative spaces – hackerspace, makerspace, co-working incubator, arts collab, project collab, open democracy areas, citizen science and open health space, and community kitchen and open food. These types have things in common – models of resources and business. They become active through community interaction. All these¬†are having bias towards lots white men, they are not linked to communities nearby them, individual transformation focus, trends to wards engineering science skill-sets not social, emphatic skills. The door is the most important technology, and need to convince people to join in and to go through the door. Need to help people to go through transition, learning how to participate in the context of collaboration, practice experimentation and failure and learning how to self-direct learning – and even the social interaction. How do we map the learning process for participants? How to we help to bring it to small places. There is too much economic focus in terms of driving, and need to have a more emphatic approach that highlights society. James’ presentation is available here.

Amber Griffiths (Foam) – Connecting Society with Science. Everyone funds science through their taxes, and science is better when more people contribute, there is an overwhelming lack of scientific literacy (from minorities -> to the educated pale/male/stale politicians), and science matters to people’ life. Within this context, scientists have love-hate relationships with citizen science. Examples from exploring frog disease, or mapping magpies which follows just the patterns of population. Can we move beyond the unidirectional model of citizen science and encourage people to develop their own ideas? There are ways to help – physical space to do the work, nudge to start and support, and access to existing knowledge. The London Biohackspace is an example for a community space and there are also Foam lab in Cornwell where people can create open spaces. One problem with physical spaces is that they are intimidating – male, already established social relationship, but they can be more collaborative. Access to existing knowledge is increasing with open access, that you still need to know that it exists, where to find it, and how to judge it.

Eleanor Rusack describes UNITAR GeoTag-X. GeoTag-X allow to harvest media (photos/video/audio) about disaster and then analyse media collaboratively and then share it. The process is all with volunteers, and identifying experts volunteers. Photos that are collected are set into categories and are then classified. They also provide outputs that can be used by the Humanitarian Data Exchange.

Nicoals Huchet talked about ‘bionicoHand – a prosthetic arm created in a Fab Lab. ¬†Started in 2002 when he lost his hand and started using prosthetic hand. The personal interest and exposure to fab labs he started developing a new type of prosthetic hand based on Arduino. He feel much more confidence with disability, and not about creating a business or making it cheep. In 2014 started sharing the information on websites and it started to be replicated. MHK – My Human Kit is based on technology and open source, social and educational involvement, social entrepreneurship, ¬†linking disability and art and also contribute to humanitarian goals. He is working with INSA, fab labs and companies – working with geeks, disabled people and medical professionals.

Jaykumar Menon (McGill) closed with discussion on open innovation, humanitarian issues and human rights. He started with the Pasteur Quadrant set the basic research and applied research – according to human needs and interest. He had experience in the area of human rights and moved to the innovation world – and working to develop a network called Zakti, which is an innovation think-tank. He is interested to look at planetary scale issues and think of how to address them. The methods are suitable for open innovations: prizes, crowdsourcing, open innovation and complex collaboration. Used example of iron which is the biggest deficiency and impact 3 billion people – thinking about mixing it in salt as a way to double fortified salt (in addition to iodine). There are also issues with pharma, with a broken system in terms of R&D, development and production that OSDD demonstrate new ways of solving, so there are new ways of solving problems.

Final thoughts: As in the previous events, NightScience is a great event to hear about fascinating achievements and ideas from across the world that bring together science, society, innovations, education and technologies in a very helpful way. You leave such event with the spirit lifted.

Yet, a thought that was running in my head is that many of the issues are partially coming from desperation with the current systems in the world – inequalities, market fundamentalism, cutting public spending and expectations that individuals and groups in society will fend for themselves or else they are left without help. The solutions are mostly tinkering with the existing system and are very gentle in exposing its failures or trying to cause proper disruption that can change the state of things. My work included in this same critique.

Mapping for Change community-led air quality studies

As part of the citizens observatories conference, I represented Mapping for Change, providing an overview of community-led air quality studies that we have run over the past 4 years. Interestingly, as we started the work in collaboration with London Sustainability Exchange, and with help from the Open Air Laboratories programme the work can be contextualised within the wider context of NGOs work on citizen science, which was a topic that was covered in the conference.

The talk covered the different techniques that were used: eco-badges for Ozone testing, Wipe sampling, Diffusion tubes and particulate matter monitoring devices. In the first study, we also were assisted by Barbara Maher team who explore tree leaves for biomonitoring. The diffusion tubes are of particular importance, as the change in deployment and visualisation created a new way for communities to understand air quality issues in their area.

The use of a dense network of diffusion tubes became common in other communities over the past 4 years. I also cover the engagement of local authorities, with a year-long study in the Barbican with support from the City of London. There is a lesson about the diffusion of methodologies and approaches among community groups Рwith the example of the No to Silvertown Tunnel group carrying out a diffusion tubes study without linkage to Mapping for Change or London Sustainability Exchange. Overall, this diffusion mean that over 20 localised studies are emerging across London.

Eye on Earth user conference – the need to motivate green computing

The Eye on Earth first user conference, which was in Dublin at the beginning of March, was as interesting as the first summit¬†in Abu Dhabi, in December 2011. Significantly, in the conference the role of citizen science in environmental monitoring and the creation of useful environmental information was highlighted from the opening address by Prof Jacquie McGlade, the head of the European Environment Agency to the final statement of the meeting¬†which stated that the Eye on Earth Network see “citizen science as an important source of knowledge within the diversity of knowledge communities“.

I’ve been following the Eye on Earth network with a lot of interest: with the combination of environmental information for public access, use of GIS and the integration of citizen science, it is dealing with many of my research interests over the past 15 years. I was not surprised to find the conference and the discussions during it very stimulating.

As the conference progressed and more and more examples were given on how¬†effortlessly information can be accessed through “the cloud”¬†I became aware that there was a hidden partner to the whole process and that it’s role is generally being ignored: computing doesn’t happen in the Ether, and does have environmental consequences – as the New York Times investigation explored. It was valuable to hear about Microsoft environmental activities at the end of the conference, but that was done in not a completely connected way. So the issue with environmental information is that there is a need to use the systems that are being used to collect, manage and share environmental information into¬†exemplars¬†of ¬†‘deep green computing’. A lot of the data is paid for by public sector bodies, and contracts can include demands on increasing environmental performances as an integral part of dealing with this information. Otherwise, the information itself can be part of the problem instead of part of the solution!

It is possible, even at a small scale. In Mapping for Change, we needed to change hosting provider and it was clear to us that we need to do things right, so we set out to look for a provider that is reliable but also respecting the values of the business itself (both social and environmental). This has reduced the number of possible providers, but we are now switching over to ecohosting who demonstrate that it is possible to provide web hosting with suitable environmental standards.

Knowledge Transfer Champion for Social Enterprise

At the end of 2010, UCL’s Office of the Vice-Provost (Enterprise) ran an internal competition to identify several Knowledge Transfer (KT) Champions across the institute.

‘KT Champions will distinguish themselves as leaders of knowledge transfer and research impact within their field, and contribute to UCL‚Äôs enterprise strategy as a whole… The activities of a KT Champion will include: (i) leading others through their own knowledge transfer work; (ii) building an understanding of opportunities and relations within their area and facilitating the growth of projects and partnerships; and (iii) supporting colleagues in developing their own knowledge transfer portfolios. KT Champions will be proactive and visionary in working with their counterparts and UCL Enterprise to develop the UCL enterprise strategy.’

Based on my work in setting up Mapping for Change and securing the UnLtd HE Development Award, I felt it was important that the area of Social Enterprise will be represented within the range of activities that KT Champions cover.

After a successful application, I am starting 2011 as the KT Champion in the area of Social Enterprise. During the coming year, I aim to develop this area within the wider UCL community. The activities that will be carried out over the year include: an implementation plan based on the findings from the Perception Mapping project in which the community that surrounds UCL told us what connection they would like to have with UCL; identifying existing third sector work at UCL – publicising it,¬† understanding barriers to growth and devising solutions; running a Social Enterprise ‘clinic’, with widely published opening times, to assist any member of the UCL community to start a social enterprise; and extending the activities of Mapping for Change.

During the launch of the programme, I was approached with questions about the concept of Social Enterprise, and my experience of establishing one, so I guess that it is going to be a busy year.

For more information about the UCL Knowledge Transfer Champions programme, see here.