AAG sessions – Critical GIScience, GeoWeb and Citizen Science

The Association of American Geographers conference is just around the corner – between 21 and 24 April, held in Chicago. I’ve already marked some sessions that I think worth noting (and was involved in the organisation of several sessions, too). Here is a list of interesting sessions, following suggestion to do so by David O’Sullivan and Jim Thatcher:

Tuesday 21st April

8:00 1187 #CritGIS: Pedagogies of Critical GIS – session exploring ‘the pedagogy surrounding critical engagement with societal implications of contemporary digital geospatial technologies’, with Matthew W. Wilson, Ellen Kersten, LaDona G. Knigge, Alexander Tarr,  Francis Harvey, and Clinton Davis.

At the same time, there is a mini-symposium of three sessions, starting with 1156 Digital Connectivity, Inclusion, and Inequality at the World’s Economic Peripheries  (papers session) asking ‘what difference people expect better connectivity to make at the world’s economic peripheries’.

10:00 1256 Digital Connectivity, Inclusion, and Inequality at the World’s Economic Peripheries 2 (papers session)

12:40 1456 Digital Connectivity, Inclusion, and Inequality at the World’s Economic Peripheries 3 (papers session)

Also at 12:40 1487 Where’s the Value? Emerging Digital Economies of Geolocation (panel session) with Jeremy Crampton, Rob Kitchin, Elvin K. Wyly, Agnieszka Leszczynski, David Murakami Wood, Julie Cupples and
Sam Kinsley

2:40 1587 #CritGIS: Social Justice and GIS: Past, Present, and Future –  aimed to ‘reflect, reconsider, and prognosticate on the social, political and ethical issues that GIS brings to bear’ (papers session)

Wednesday 22nd April

For most of the day, there are four sessions dedicated to reflection on Public Participatory GIS or Participatory GIS.

8:00 2153 Looking Backwards and Forwards in Participatory GIS (Papers session)

10:00 2253 Looking Backwards and Forwards in Participatory GIS: Session II (Papers session)

1:20 2453 Looking Backwards and Forwards in Participatory GIS: Session III (Papers session)

2:40 2553 Looking Backwards and Forwards in Participatory GIS: Session IV (Panel session), including Bandana Kar (Chair), and Renee Sieber, Nancy J. Obermeyer, Melinda J. Laituri and myself as panellists.

In Parallel, there are a set of session on critical studies of data and crowdsourcing, including

8:00 2125 Critical Data, Critical Technology: In Praxis (papers session) a session exploring ‘how practitioners are mobilizing data, technologies, and analytics in ways that resonate with ‘critical data and technology studies’.’

10:00 2225 Critical Data, Critical Technology: In Theory 1 (papers session)

1:20 2425 Critical Data, Critical Technology: In Theory 2 (papers session)

After these symposia, there is a citizen science / VGI papers session

3:20 2543 Utilizing Citizen Science for Supporting Geospatial Applications

Finally, there is a papers session about Critical GIS and teaching

5:20 2627 Teaching and Doing Critical GIS in the Undergraduate Classroom ‘This session focuses on the challenges and possibilities of teaching and doing critical GIS in the undergraduate classroom.’

Thursday 23rd April

8:00 3153 Big Data – Perils and Promises (papers session) ‘This session focuses on research on big data, geoprivacy and their applications, and seeks to contribute to current debates about the usability of big data in near real-time applications (e.g., crisis mapping, network analysis).’

But also two sessions on Spatial Big Data and Everyday Life, with ‘papers along methodological, empirical, and theoretical interventions that trace, reconceptualize, or address the everyday spatial materialities of Big Data.’

8:00 3150 Spatial Big Data and Everyday Life I

10:00 3250 Spatial Big Data and Everyday Life II

10:00 3253 Citizen Science and Geoweb (papers session) ‘Given the growth of both Geoweb and Citizen Science, this session focuses on research contributing to current debates about the role of citizen science in Geoweb in generating useful data and information for scientific research’

1:20 3444 New Directions in Mapping 1: Research, jobs, and teaching outside the academy  Panel with Britta Ricker (chair) John Bailey, Andrew Hill, Charlie Loyd, Alan McConchie, and Alyssa Wright.

3:20 3544 New Directions in Mapping 2: Open Source, Crowd-sourcing and “Big Data”

But at the same time there is another critical GIS session

3:20 3545 #CritGIS: On the Political Economy of Geospatial Technologies, a panel with Eric S. Sheppard (chair), and Craig M. Dalton, Laura Beltz Imaoka, Francis Harvey and James Thatcher. ‘The panel considers the degree to which political economies have shifted in the development of GIS since its proliferation in the mid- to late-1990s’

Friday 24th April

8:00 4173 Beyond motivation? Understanding enthusiasm in citizen science and volunteered geographic information (papers session) a session that Hilary Geoghegan and I organised. ‘This session seeks to explore and debate current research and practice moving beyond motivation, to consider the associated enthusiasm, materials and meanings of participating in citizen science and VGI.’

There are two session on OpenStreetMap that Alan McConchie and I organised, Taking the 10th birthday of OSM as a starting point, this session will survey the state of geographical research on OpenStreetMap and recognising that OSM studies are different from VGI. The session is supported by the European COST Energic (COST Action IC1203) network: European Network Exploring Research into Geospatial Information Crowdsourcing.

1:20 4444 OpenStreetMap Studies 1 (papers session)

3:20 4544 OpenStreetMap Studies 2 (papers session) 

UCGIS webinar [Geographic information | Citizen] Science: reciprocal opportunities

At the request of Diana Sinton, the Executive Director of the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS), I gave the seminar talk about the linkage between Geographic Information Science and Citizen Science. A detailed description of the talk and the slides are available here.

The webinar announcement is at http://ucgis.org/ucgis-webinars/geographic-information-citizen-science-reciprocal-opportunities. The webinar was recorded, so for UCGIS members it should be available later on.

UCL Fossil Fuel Divestment debate

UCL organised a debate about fossil fuel divestment, with 7 knowledgeable speakers (all professors), raising argument for and against the suggestion that UCL should divest from fossil fuels and sell its £21million invested in the industry. In the room and on the panel there were more people who supported the motion than those who opposed it. Interestingly, at the end of the discussion more people switched to support divestment. I took notes of the positions and what people mentioned as a way to map the different views that were expressed. So here are my notes, the tl;dr point of each argument and something about my view at the end of this longish post.

Anthony Costello opened the debate and discuss that research from UCL provided evidence to justify the Guardian ‘keep it in the ground‘ campaign. The aim of the debate is to explore different views and see what the general views of the people who attended it.

Richard Horton, the editor of the Lancet opened with some comments officially Chaired the debate – there is a movement around divestment from fossil fuel that is very rapidly growing across society and different places. Universities are special in their role in society – they are creator of knowledge about public policy issues, but they are also a moral space within society, where position can be taken. Some of UK universities decided to divest – Glasgow, SOAS. Other university didn’t decide – e.g. Oxford. It is appropriate to ask what UCL should do, it is leading on considering the impacts of climate change on society at large – e.g. risk to health?

Chris Rapley, opened with nothing that we are the first humans to breath at 400ppm of CO in the atmosphere as a basic composition  – it is above the levels for the last 800,000 years. 40% rise is the same increment between ice age and interglacial age. The change is taking place 100 times faster than anything natural. The conclusion is that it is unwise to increase above 2C from pre-industrial levels, and we have very little left to burn. 80% of coal and 50% of oil are unburnable – we don’t have a solution for carbon capture and storage yet. The first reason to divest is that it’s prudent – it’s the energy of the past, and renewable are the future. The valuations are a bubble so it is best to put the money elsewhere. second point, we need to be put on a trajectory away from fossil fuel by this December – and lot of issues play out in Paris will not be ratified until 2020. We need to connect the trajectory that we are currently on and the future one, so we do it properly. The CEOs of BP and Shell suggested business as usual, and the recent budget gave 1.2 billion to North Sea oil, so the government is not following its own statement. UCL as radical thinker need to do a gesture in the right direction. We are all part of a web of carbon intensive world, and we need to manage the transition.

My TL;DR Rapley: Science is showing the need combined with need to change trajectory 

Jane Holder argued for divestment from the point of view of a teacher of environmental law. The meaning for teaching and learning – the movement that has gone on for the past 20 and more years to increase environmental education at university level. Helping students to deal with contested knowledge, uncertainty and environmental issues. UCL has done a lot of work over the years – changes to the estate and the curriculum, from this perspective, the UCL campaign make a connection between the estate, curriculum and its finance. There is linkages between environmental education and the learning and teaching of UCL. Significance of informal curriculum – the intangible way in which institution instil values in students – there is publicness of university building and the way it treat staff. Secondly, there are broader changes in university – in terms of education, students explained that since tuition fees, the student is viewed as a consumer, and not citizens of the university community. The divestment campaign allow students to act as citizens and not consumer. University is a site for environmental activity and the roles should be combined.

My TL;DR Holder: teaching and learning imperatives and finance is part of it. 

Anthony Finkelstein argued, this is not question of expertise, starting point that accepting the need to change – but expect to see change in energy sources happening with technological advances. The speed and extent of change is complex feedback systems. Generally, he adopts a precautionary view. However, fossil fuel will be part of our future because of their properties – we need to deal with consumption and not production. Consumption is within a political context and the condemnation of fossil fuel is about political failure. UCL should invest according to regulatory aspects. Ownership of asset can be used to exert influence, the concern is about research and UCL strategy – it’s hypocritical to use money from fossil fuel companies for research, but not to invest in them – it sends the wrong message. A lot of research in engineering is supported by fossil fuel companies – also raise the issue of academic freedom. It is not right to ask or to question ethics of people you disagree with. (see the full argument on Anthony’s blog)

My TL;DR Finkelstein: deal with consumption and not production, we are using a lot of funding from fossil fuel companies and there is a risk to academic freedom. 

Hugh Montgomery – fossil fuel helped humanity, but it need to stop. Energy gain to the planet is equivalent to 5 Hiroshima bombs a second. 7% will stay 100,000 years. Health impacts will be in all sort of directions – and these concern also among military bodies, or the WHO. Not only from ‘extreme left wing’ organisations. Even to reach 2C we have 27 years or even more like 19 years – if we are to act, we have to keep 2/3 of fossil fuel in the ground. There is over-exposure to stranded assets. Why divestment? it’s not ‘rabid anti-capitalist agenda’ – we should change market forces. The aim of the divestment is to force fossil fuel companies to go through transformative change. UCL should do what is right, not only the amount of money, but as a statement. The stigmatisation will be significant to fossil fuel companies.

My TL;DR Montgomery: it’s not only left wing politics, even if you are fairly conservative in outlook, this make sense. 

Jane Rendell – stated that she concerned about the environment and stood down from the Bartlett research vice-dean position because of BHP Billiton funding. Leading on ethics and the built environment in the Bartlett. From her view, investment in fossil fuel is not compatible with UCL research strategy of dealing with judicious application of knowledge to improve humanity. The investment is incompatible with its own ethical guidelines and its environmental strategy. It’s also incompatible with UCL research itself about the need to leave fossil fuel in the ground. The most profound change will come from breaking down practices of finance – it’s not acceptable for fund manager to hide behind claims to ignore their responsibility to everyone else. The only argument is for shareholder engagement, and there is no evidence for it – as well as Porritt declared recently about the uselessness of engagement.

My TL;DR Rendell: incompatibility with UCL policies, and there is no point in engagement. 

Alan Penn – Universities should concentrate in their place in society – relatively new institutions and important in generation of knowledge and passing it to future generation. The ability to critically question the world. We are all invested in this companies – we benefiting from tax from North Sea oil, pension funds. Arguing that money is just transactional property and therefore doesn’t hold value. Arguing that people should invest and force companies to change through engagement.

My TL;DR Penn: don’t mix money with values, and if you want change, buy controlling stake in shares.

After the discussion (with Anthony Finkelstein having to defend his position more than anyone else), there was more support for divestment, although most of the room started from that point of view.

Finally, my view – I’ve started my university studies in October 1991, and as I was getting interested in environment and society issues in my second year of combined Computer Science and Geography degree, the Earth Summit in Rio (June 1992) was all the rage. The people who taught me have been in the summit – that also explains how I got interested in Principle 10 of the Rio declaration which is central to my work. This biographical note is to point that Earth Summit was also the starting point for the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which opens with

The Parties to this Convention,
Acknowledging that change in the Earth’s climate and its adverse effects are a common concern of humankind,
Concerned that human activities have been substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, that these increases enhance the natural greenhouse effect, and that this will result on average in an additional warming of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere and may adversely affect natural ecosystems and humankind …

So for the past 23 years, I’ve been watching from the sidelines how the decision makers are just not getting to the heart of the matter, nor acting although they are told about the urgency. The science was clear then. If the actions of government and industries started in 1992 we could have all been well on the route for sustainability (at least in energy consumption). It was absolutely clear that the necessary technologies are already around. I therefore find the argument of shareholders engagement as unrealistic at this stage, nor do I see the link between investment, where you don’t have control over the actions of the company, and careful decision on which research project to carry out in collaboration and under which conditions. This why I have supported the call to UCL to divest.

 

I still need to find the time to write the academic paper to follow my blog post about the role of my research area in fossil fuel exploration

OpenStreetMap in GIScience – Experiences, Research, and Applications

OSM in GIScience

A new book has just been published about OpenStreetMap and Geographic Information Science. The book, which was edited by Jamal Jokar Arsanjani, Alexander Zipf, Peter Mooney, Marco Helbich  is “OpenStreetMap in GISciene : Experiences, Research, and applications” contains 16 chapters on different aspects of OpenStreetMap in GIScience including 1) Data Management and Quality, 2) Social Context, 3) Network Modeling and Routing, and 4) Land Management and Urban Form.

I’ve contributed a preface to the book, titled “OpenStreetMap Studies and Volunteered Geographical Information” which, unlike the rest of the book, is accessible freely.

Volunteer computing, engagement and enthusiasm

This post is about perceptions, engagement and the important of ‘participant-observation‘ approach in citizen science research.IBM World Community Grid

It start with a perception about volunteer computing. The act of participating in scientific project by downloading and installing software that will utilise unused processing cycles of your computer is, for me, part of citizen science. However, in different talks and conversations I have noticed many people dismiss it as ‘not real citizen science’. I suspect that this is because of the assumption that the engagement of the participant is very low – just downloading a piece of software and not much beyond.

Until few weeks ago, I was arguing that there are many participants who are much more engaged – joining teams, helping others, attending webinars – and quietly accepting that it might be difficult to justify that people who ‘just download software’ are active citizen scientists.

Until this:

A bit of background – the day after the first Citizen Cyberscience Summit in 2010, I’ve joined IBM World Community Grid, as a way to experience volunteer computing on my work desktop, laptops, and later on my smartphone, while contributing the unused processing cycles to scientific projects. Out of over 378,000 participants in the project, I’m in the long tail – ranking 20,585. My top contributions are for FightAIDS@Home and Computing for Clean Water.

I notice the screen saver on my computers, and pleased with seeing the IBM World Community Grid on my smartphone in the morning, knowing that it used the time since it was fully charged for some processing. I also noticed it when I reinstall a computer, or get a new one, and remember that I need to set it going. I don’t check my ranking, and I don’t log-in more than twice a year to adjust the projects that I’m contributing to. So all in all, I self-diagnosed myself to be a passive contributor in volunteer computing.

But then came the downtime of the project on the 28th February. There was an advanced message, but I’ve missed it. So looking at my computer during the afternoon of the day, I’ve noticed a message ‘No Work Available to Process’. After a while, it bothered me enough to go on and check the state of processing on the smartphone, which also didn’t process anything. Short while after that, I was searching the internet to find out what is going on with the system, and after discovering that the main site was down, I continued to look around until I found the twitter message above. Even after discovering that it is all planned, I couldn’t stop looking at the screen saver from time to time, and was relieved when processing resumed.

What surprised me about this episode was how much I cared about it. The lack of processing annoyed me  enough to spend over half an hour on discovering the reason. From the work of Hilary Geoghagen, I know about technology enthusiasm, but I didn’t expected that I would care about downtime the way I did.

This changed my view on volunteer computing – there must be more people that are engaged in a project and care about it than what usually is perceived. This is expressed in the survey the IBM run in 2013 when 15,627 people cared enough about the World Community Grid project to complete a survey. I guess that I’m not alone…

The final note is about the importance of ‘participant-observation‘. As a researcher, participatory action research is a core methodology that I’ve been using for a long while, and I advocated it to others, for example as a necessary research method for those who are researching OpenStreetMap. Participant-observation require you to get a deeper understanding about the topic that you are researching by actively participating in it, not just analysing interviews or statistics about participation. The episode above provide for me a demonstration for the importance of this methodology. For over 4 years, my participation in volunteer computing was peripheral, but eventually, it provided me with an insight that is important to my understanding of the topic and the emotional attachment of those who are participating in it.

Geoweb, crowdsourcing, liability and moral responsibility

Yesterday, Tenille Brown led a Twitter discussion as part of the Geothink consortium. Tenille opened with a question about liability and wrongful acts that can harm others

If you follow the discussion (search in Twitter for #geothink) you can see how it evolved and which issues were covered.

At one point, I have asked the question:

It is always intriguing and frustrating, at the same time, when a discussion on Twitter is taking its own life and many times move away from the context in which a topic was brought up originally. At the same time, this is the nature of the medium. Here are the answers that came up to this question:

You can see that the only legal expert around said that it’s a tough question, but of course, everyone else shared their (lay) view on the basis of moral judgement and their own worldview and not on legality, and that’s also valuable. The reason I brought the question was that during the discussion, we started exploring the duality in the digital technology area to ownership and responsibility – or rights and obligations. It seem that technology companies are very quick to emphasise ownership (expressed in strong intellectual property right arguments) without responsibility over the consequences of technology use (as expressed in EULAs and the general attitude towards the users). So the nub of the issue for me was about agency. Software does have agency on its own but that doesn’t mean that it absolved the human agents from responsibility over what it is doing (be it software developers or the companies).

In ethics discussions with engineering students, the cases of Ford Pinto or the Thiokol O-rings in the Discovery Shuttle disaster come up as useful examples to explore the responsibility of engineers towards their end users. Ethics exist for GIS – e.g. the code of ethics of URISA, or the material online about ethics for GIS professional and in Esri publication. Somehow, the growth of the geoweb took us backward. The degree to which awareness of ethics is internalised within a discourse of ‘move fast and break things‘, software / hardware development culture of perpetual beta, lack of duty of care, and a search for fast ‘exit’ (and therefore IBG-YBG) make me wonder about which mechanisms we need to put in place to ensure the reintroduction of strong ethical notions into the geoweb. As some of the responses to my question demonstrate, people will accept the changes in societal behaviour and view them as normal…

Update: Tenille posted a detailed answer to this post at http://geothink.ca/torts-of-the-geoweb-or-the-liability-question-part-i/

Citizen Science 2015 – reflections

Citizen Science Association board meeting By Jennifer ShirkThe week that passed was full of citizen science – on Tuesday and Friday the citizen Science Association held its first Board meeting, and with the Citizen Science 2015 conference on Wednesday and Thursday, and to finish it all, on Friday afternoon a short meeting of a new project, Enhancing Informal Learning Through Citizen Science explored the directions that it will take.

After such an intensive week, it takes some time to digest and think through the lessons from the many conversations, presentations and insights that I’ve been exposed to. Here are my main ‘take away’ lessons. The conference itself ended by members of the Board of the Citizen Science Association (CSA) describing their ‘take away’ in short, tweeter messages. which was then followed by other people joining in such as:

In more details, my main observations are about the citizen science CSA board - by Michalis Vitosresearch and practice community, and the commitment to inclusive and ethical practice that came up in different sessions and conversations.

It might be my own enthusiasm to the subject, but as in previous meetings and conferences about citizen science, you can feel the buzz during the event, with participants sharing their knowledge with others and building new connections. While there are already familiar faces and the joy of meeting colleagues in the field of citizen science that you already know, there are also many new people who are either exploring the field of citizen science or are active in it, but new to the community of practice around citizen science. As far as I can tell, the conference was welcoming to new participants and the poster session on the first day and the breakfast on the second day provided opportunities to create new connections. It might be because people in this field are used to talk with strangers (e.g. participants in citizen science activities), but that is an aspect that the CSA need to keep in mind to ensure that it stays an open community and not closed one.

CSA breakfast Secondly, citizen science is a young, emerging field. Many of the practitioners and researchers are in early stages of their careers, and within research institutions, the funding for the researchers is through research grants (known in academia as ‘soft money‘) as opposed to budgeted and centrally funded positions. Many practitioners are working within tight and limited government budgets. This have an implications on ensuring the funding limitations don’t stop people from publishing in the new journal ‘Citizen Science: Theory and Practice‘ or if they can’t attend the conference they can find information about it in blogs, see a repository of posters that were displayed in the conference or read curated social media outputs about it. More actively, as the CSA done for this meeting, funding should be provided to allow early career researchers to attend.

Third, there is clearly a global community of researchers and practitioners committed to citizen science. Yet, the support and network that they need must be local. The point above about budget limitations reinforce the need for local networks and need for meeting opportunities that are not to expensive to attend and participate in. For me, the value of face to face meetings and discussions is unquestionable (and I would hope that future conferences will be over 3 days to provide more time), and balancing travel, accommodation and budget constraints with the creation of a community of practice is something to grapple with over the coming years. Having a global community and a local one at the same time is one of the challenges of the Citizen Science Association.

Katherine M - Ethics PanelFinally, the conference hosted plenty of conversations and discussions about the ethical and inclusive aspects of citizen science (hence my take away above). From discussions about what sort of citizenship is embedded in citizen science, to the need to think carefully on who is impacted through citizen science activities. A tension that came throughout these discussions is the value of expertise – especially scientific – within an activity where citizen scientists are treated respectfully and their knowledge and contributions appreciated. The tension is emphasised by the hierarchical nature of the academic world, with the ‘flatter’ or ‘self organising’ hierarchies that emerge in citizen science projects. I would guess that it is part of what Heidi Ballard calls ‘Questions that Won’t Go Away’ and will need to be negotiated in different projects. What is clear is that even in contributory projects, where the scientists setting the project question, the protocol, and asking participants to help in data collection of analysis, simple hierarchical thinking of the scientist as expert and the participants as ‘laity’ is going to be challenged.

If you want to see other reflections on Citizen Science 2015 conference, see the conference previews from  and Caren Cooper, and post conference reports from Monica Peters, which provides a newcomer view from a New Zealnad, while Kelsey McCutcheon provide an American oneSarah West for an experienced citizen science researcher view. Tessa Scassa provides a view on Intellectual Property and citizen science,  and the center for advancement of informal science education (CAISE) posted a summary of conference and Q&A with CSA.  Finally, from the Schoodic Institute, who are the sponsors and hosts of the CSA.