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

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

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

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

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


Algorithmic governance in environmental information (or how technophilia shape environmental democracy)

These are the slides from my talk at the Algorithmic Governance workshop (for which there are lengthy notes in the previous post). The workshop explored the many ethical, legal and conceptual issues with the transition to Big Data and algorithm based decision-making.

My contribution to the discussion is based on previous thoughts on environmental information and public use of it. Inherently, I see the relationships between environmental decision-making, information, and information systems as something that need to be examined through the prism of the long history that linked them. This way we can make sense of the current trends. This three area are deeply linked throughout the history of the modern environmental movement since the 1960s (hence the Apollo 8 earth image at the beginning),  and the Christmas message from the team with the reference to Genesis (see below) helped in making the message stronger .

To demonstrate the way this triplet evolved, I’m using texts from official documents – Stockholm 1972 declaration, Rio 1992 Agenda 21, etc. They are fairly consistent in their belief in the power of information systems in solving environmental challenges. The core aspects of environmental technophilia are summarised in slide 10.

This leads to environmental democracy principles (slide 11) and the assumptions behind them (slide 12). While information is open, it doesn’t mean that it’s useful or accessible to members of the public. This was true when raw air monitoring observations were released as open data in 1997 (before anyone knew the term), and although we have better tools (e.g. Google Earth) there are consistent challenges in making information meaningful – what do you do with Environment Agency DSM if you don’t know what it is or how to use a GIS? How do you interpret Global Forest Watch analysis about change in tree cover in your area if you are not used to interpreting remote sensing data (a big data analysis and algorithmic governance example)? I therefore return to the hierarchy of technical knowledge and ability to use information (in slide 20) that I covered in the ‘Neogeography and the delusion of democratisation‘ and look at how the opportunities and barriers changed over the years in slide 21.

The last slides show that despite of all the technical advancement, we can have situations such as the water contamination in Flint, Michigan which demonstrate that some of the problems from the 1960s that were supposed to be solved, well monitored, with clear regulations and processes came back because of negligence and lack of appropriate governance. This is not going to be solved with information systems, although citizen science have a role to play to deal with the governmental failure. This whole sorry mess and the re-emergence of air quality as a Western world environmental problem is a topic for another discussion…

Eye on Earth (Day 3 – Afternoon) Remote sensing, conservation monitoring and closing remarks

The afternoon of the last day of Eye on Earth included two plenary sessions, and a discussion (for the morning, see this post). The first plenary focused on Remote sensing and location enabling applications:

wpid-wp-1444340329759.jpgTaner Kodanaz (digitalglobe) technology that looking out to the sky now allow us to look at the Earth from 400 miles. Digital Global started 14 years with high-resolution satellite imagery – with billions of users a day that rely on online map. In natural disasters, they provide information that helped responding to it. Some examples of accelerating efforts include forest fire, intentional fires – in Global Forest Watch, Digital Globe data is used to monitor fire and deforestation and address it. The work WRI led Indonesia to deal with forest fire. Also showing the Missing Maps and respond to Kathmandu earthquake and other cases.

Anil Kumar (Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi) Abu Dhabi have done conservation effort for a long time. They have special interesting Houbara, Falcons, Scimitar Horn Oryx and several other species. Abu Dhabi was doing wildlife tracking 20 years ago, use satellite tracking to give insights into migratory routes and stopovers to reach agreement about avoiding their hunting during migration, and they’ve done different patterns of use. They also done Habitat mapping using satellite information with field verification checking that the classification works. Local ability to create classification of different habitats made it possible to share it, digitally and on paper. Allow protecting areas, follow national and international obligations, improve governance and even for emergency response and accurate blue carbon information. They also map local forestation. They have an environmental portal and share the information.

wpid-wp-1444340353887.jpgLian Pin Koh (Conservation Drones) the idea to have be able to monitor nests of Orang-utan which are difficult to monitor from the ground. Because commercial drones are expensive, he was involved in creating a DIY drone in 2012, based on toy plane and programme the route, with simple camera. This enable them to create attention from conservation groups and community scientists. Conservation Drones started as a project and done many places. They have manage to use it for a wide range of projects and shared their experience. The drone is cheap – $700 and allow repeat monitoring, and also identifying illegal logging. Reaching 1-2 cm resolution. Also used in disaster relief in a case of flood from a busted dam that happened during forest monitoring. Attitude to changed rapidly, from ridicule to excitement, and now they are involved in exploring mapping how to quantify biomas – fuel load and control burns. The issues about drones is to create actionable information.

wpid-wp-1444340364530.jpgJustin Saunders (eMapsite) – Malawi experience an incredible rainfall, with 200,000 displaced. Rapid response don’t happen until it reach the news – but it didn’t received much attention. They received radar imagery. They used the UN Charter to gain access to the radar imagery that helped to respond to the places that were flooded. They could see the inundation, and also use a flood model to see how realistic was it. Climate change exceeded all the assumptions – including one in 500 years. In Malawi, there isn’t information about the building and community assets. They have worked with OpenStreetMap, carrying out community mapping following the practices of Open Cities and this allow the support of many relief organisations – supporting. Also used the system that is the Malawi Spatial Data Portal (based on open source) and that allow sharing information. Only one platform help to ensure sharing. Use crowdsourcing before, during and after the event – they are aware that with climate change it will exceed historical records. Use of open source software encourage people to train, and improved the flood modelling. Institutions take new technology, data and methodology rapidly – especially when it was free and not require investment. Visualisation helped action.

Steven Ramage (What3Words) – there are 135 countries that don’t have addressing information, and the Universal Postal Union, this is very valuable. There are four billion people without location reference. Allow creating a digital location reference in 3 words in places that are informal and don’t have addressing system. There are 860,000 people in informal settlements – how do we communicate the location. Instead of lat/long but when you need to communicate between people, creating 3 words key to the place. The system is small – 10MB and can work without connectivity, and there is research that demonstrate that words are easier to remember then numbers. Long words are to less populated area and there is new dictionary for each language, enabling to integrate into indigenous languages. Started to be used by esri, nestoria, UN, Safe Software, Mapillary, GoCarShare. Used in the Nepal earthquake, in delivery of medicine in informal settlement, UNOCHA suggest using what3words.

The final set of talks was titled Feet in the field chaired by Stuart Parerson (Conservation Leadership Programme) exploring volunteering programmes. He noted that the questions for the session were: How do we build capacity to collect primary data? How do we make people future conservation leaders? How do we communicate with policy makers? The Feet in the Field is aimed to support future conservation leaders. They have 6 key stages process of identifying and promoting young leaders. There i a need of investment and attention to maintain diversity.

David Kuria (KENVO) Kijabe Environment volunteers – explore conservation and livelihood – founded in 1994 in Kikuyu Escarpment Forest. They do education but also community empowerment. They observed forest degradation – illegal logging, over grazing and also breakdown of social systems. Knowledge and skills that gained locally and through NGOs, and then use that to mobilise the community, lobbying, but also patrolling and monitoring. They have done different studies – poaching, bird surveys, forest monitoring, as well as climate change and carbon trading. The data is used to action – e.g. encouraging ecotourism, or capacity building of many farmers. Data is important for decision makers and a strong tool for conservation awareness – and fosters support. But more important is the human side – good leadership, motivation and engagement, respecting existing systems, owned by stakeholders, working with marginalised groups. Many challenges: technical capacity, resources, high turn over of government staff, limited ability in volunteering, vast area and more.

Alberto Campos (Aquasis in Brazil) – 21 years preventing extinction in Brazil – based in Fortaleza, and they look after highly endangered marine mammals and birds. The have emergency plan and action plan – to do that they need long term plan. The problem is that they need long team funding, conservation & fieldwork training – and they been receiving support from the CLP). Systems that they developed been adopted by the government. Communicating these results is shifting focus for conservation of species to the resources they help to conserve. Biodiversity conservation is opening other resource – Manakin is becoming indicator to clean and accessible water – and that help to recognise them

Ayesha Yousef Al Blooshi (Marine Biodiversity at EAAD) – primary producers of environmental data, EAD produce data, then pass it to environmental management sector, that is use by government and then share it with the world. They been monitoring corals undersea and take photo transects that are analysed – it’s a very manual process that take a lot of time. They think about using CoralNet that use machine learning to recognised species. The sea grass is supporting the population of Dugongs, and monitor them from the air. They also track them and use drone technology to monitor dolphins. They have a collector app that allow them to record different sightings which speed up and simplify data collection. They also gather traditional knowledge from fishermen – also looking at the past and capture wealth of data.

Nicolas Heard – funds from the Mohamed bin Zayed conservation fund. They like people who are passionate about species. They can show how the small grant can be used to further the  cause of their species. The passion need to be matched with science – also important to pass on enthusiasm to local communities, but that is not enough. Need data, information, knowledge, skills and collaboration. They provide small grants for survey and monitoring and encourage contribution of data to other purposes. Help support outreach, prioritising conservation action, help in efficiency

Jacky Judas (Wadi Wuraya National Park) in the eastern coast of the UAE. The park was created in 2009 and made into RAMSAR site in 2010, aiming to develop management plan. The water research programme are education, awareness and scientific data. The participants learn about fresh water ecosystems and the challenges, and also learn how to monitor the ecosystem. 10-15 volunteers through EarthWatch, research activities include Toad monitoring – field data collection, lab experiment, data input. Also monitoring dragonflies (hot spot for them in the area)  and discovered a species that was never spotted in the UAE. Working with volunteers allow monitoring over the season, the use iNaturalist and help to GBIF

Jean-Christophe Vié (IUCN) have tradition of looking at primary data collection. Behind each assessment in the 70,000 species in the Red List, there is at least on person working on the ground. The created the habitat conservation programme allow them to support primary data collection. Species are good way to tell stories. Projects such as Save our Species help in understanding distribution of species and then identify key areas to provide support for conservation. They ask to have some monitoring information to understand what is the impact of investment.

Summary of the session: We need capacity of research; data must lead to action; show how species help to protect other resources; combine traditional and scientific knowledge; and realise that small funding can go long way with volunteers.

Once that part was completed, we moved to the summary of the summit. 

wpid-wp-1444327778438.jpgH.E. Razan Khalifa Al MubarakJacqueline McGlade, Barbara Ryan, Janet Ranganathan and Thomas Brooks .
Nima Abu-Wardeh, who moderated the whole summit, set questions to the panel: How do you all fit together? Razan: we find ways to fit together – regions are represented, there are many positive things happen in the Arab region and share them. Barbara: no one organisation can deal with environmental problem alone, the power is coming together from public, private and civil society – all need to work together, and there are challenges of changing our internal systems, bridge the transition from data to wisdom, we need to do that. Thomas: IUCN fit in to EoE through the power of the network of public bodies, 1000 civil society members, and more than 10000 experts, Janet: WRI – trying to scale things through counting and present it in an engaging way. Jacquie – what is important is to representing the UN family making poor and vulnerable heard. To address environmental problems, we need the Eye on Earth alliance, this is the way to reach out across the world. What are the tools and mechanisms that people need – how ‘how am I going to do it?’ is going to happen. Jacquie: provides a web intelligence information from UNEP Live, we can see how clusters of knowledge are being built up. Things are linked to other places across the world and letting citizens influence the agenda. Razan: need to synchronise elevator – one with policy makers that need the data and another one with scientists who are producing the data. We need to synchronicity that change in each region according to need.
wpid-wp-1444327783438.jpgPeople can completely bypass the system in many ways, but what happen if policy makers take too much time, and the needs are urgent – what will happen after the event? Jacquie: we are suggested activities that are dealing with foundational – global network or networks, environmental education, access for all and then link to thematic areas – biodiversity, disaster management, community sustainability and resilience, oceans and blue carbon, and water security. Barbara: the organisations that we are involved in – we need to think how our activities that already exist with identifying the themes. Thomas: IUCN can contribute the knowledge products to the range of Eye on Earth products, and advocate for mechanisms to develop capacity to generate data. Janet: contributing data platforms – resource watch, forest watch and on access for all. the Environment Democracy Index came out of EoE.
How do we do things better? there is much ground to cover and stimulating change. Barbara: for partnerships to work, it got to align with our own vision. The partnership let us do that. Advocacy for broad open data policies – we need to get on with it. Jacquie: we need to bring Principle 10 to the UN. We need to open up governmental debate, we grab participation by the neck and make it central to what we do. We have big environmental assembly. We need data that inform. Barbara: the capabilities of citizen science and citizen sensing was front and centre and that is central.

We need to talk with the media and behaviour change, broadening our horizons.

Razan – we converge and collaborate. We came from all regions of the world and walks of life. Some are affiliated with government, research, start up, companies, ecologists and environmentalists. Many here were here in 2011. Thanking for signaling the value in the eye on earth network. Developing a strong sense of community, aiming to solve major problems of the planet. We see sense of purpose in assisting the monitoring and progress towards the SDGs. We have 5 organisations that commit to be founding members of the organisations: AGEDI, IUCN, WRI, UNEP and GEO. They commit to develop assist and guide global community to achieve the SDGs. Eye on Earth can provide collective voice – it is informal alliance, and agreeing to convene Eye on Earth again.

Eye on Earth (Day 3 – Morning) – Enabling Conditions and access to information, participation & justice

Building on the themes of Data Demand (on the first day of the summit) and Data Supply (on the second day), the last day of the Eye on Earth Summit explored the enabling conditions that link producers and users of data.
wpid-wp-1444288732480.jpgBefore the first plenary, the World Resource Institute (WRI) launched The Environmental Democracy Index (EDI). Lalanth de Silva noted that the index rank countries according to Principle 10 pillars: access to environmental information, participation in decision making, and access to justice. The index was sent to governments since its Beta version release in May. The responses led to adjustment scores. 70 countries are included, and 30 responded, including comments from civil society. The index was supported by 140 lawyers from across the world.
Jesse Worker (WRI) provided the background  The Access Initiative started in 1999 – network of over 200 civil society organisation in over 50 countries that are there to support Principle 10 pillars. The focus of environmental democracy are information, participation and justice. There have been progress since 1992 nad there are other regulations, such as Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). At the same time, laws are weak or absent in many countries. Practice also lags behind and there is no consistent measurement of progress of laws. The EDI is based on 75 legal indicators, following the Bali guidelines, with 24 supplemental practice (implementation) indicators. They started with 70 countries with 140 lawyers advising. Each country had two – one assessing, and one reviewing. On the website, each country got a short, accessible introduction and the country response is also included on the page. It provided civil society information about government intention. There is also the ability to rank countries. The indicators are based on established framework (Bali guidelines) with limited subjectivity on how they are evaluated, making it easily accessible – and engage governments and stakeholders. Also help civil society to learn about what other achieved. The top countries are Lithuania, Latvia, US, South Africa. It is noted that the signatories to the Aarhus convention, which is binding convention, are doing better. Countries with good laws tend to have better practices, access to information was ahead of public participation. 19 countries responded and they have done score changes. They aim to update it every 2 years, and reach global coverage by 2019. They also aim for Aarhus Convention specific indicators and expend the assessment of implementation.
For Jordan, (Seif Hijazi) commented that the EDI results were below expectation – they expected that the score will be higher, based on their perception of the legal system in their country. The score of Jordan scored 63 out of 70. Some examples: recently enacted law to access and request information from the government, as there are limitation – e.g. the applicant need to demonstrate direct interest which is difficult in law. In public participation, the EIA regulations require public participation – but no legal requirement to consider the comments from the public. Government officials agreed with the scores – and they want to take corrective measures to improve the situation. Jordan is one of the fewer countries in the region to have access to information law.
For Jamaica (Danielle Andrade), the score was especially law on participation, especially environmental impact assessment, policy and law making. The EDI provider a new impetus for working on legislations for public participation – and the government dusted off drafts from 2011 and work on implementations. The assessment of the EDI are used for legal reforms. There is a process of extending Principle 10 in South America and Carribean and the EDI form the position of the country in such negotiations. The score on access to justice the score midway, with lacking support for groups and individuals to fund their representation in court.
Generally, Participation is the pillar that lags behind. Even in democracy there aren’t enough public spaces to engage with government. Comments from Italy, Jordan, Italy and Lebanon about the importance of participation and the need for active civil society to promote it. Jesse – they worked with the TAI network members, because of limited resources, and most European countries are members in Aarhus to develop indicators specific to this system. Participation laws and practice – people need timely information to be informed citizens. People have constraint on their time, and they need timely information in the public domain and know that their comments will be taken into account – you need to know that your comments will be taken seriously. There are gaps between proactive information disclosure and what is done in practice. Requirement to provide information on facilities that have big impact on the environment. Assessing public participation is very difficult. There are also laws that limit the scope of civil society, so it is an ongoing issue that require monitoring.

wpid-wp-1444292368277.jpgThe first plenary of the day developed the theme of the day Creating the enabling environment – getting attention, remembering and acting is important. Opening with Jim Toomey – as a cartoonist, committed to the ocean and worked with UNEP on communication of ocean related issues. There is also revolution in the media industry in terms of sharing it and accessing it, and it is under similar transitions to the data . With his comics, he mixes entertainment with message (e.g. cartoon that is about sustainable sea food). Media is very powerful – e.g. celebrities on the web compared to information on climate change (see pie chart in the slide!). The ability to create content and because it is without much commercial interest, it allows new forms of producing and sharing information. Issues of climate change, or ocean acidification are critical, but the media is not covering it – so do become your own media campaign. He looked at issues with UNEP, including Blue Carbon, Climate Change, Sea Level Rise and more.

The plenary, which included a keynote and short statements, included Inger Andersen (IUCN) chair, with Enrico Giovannini (economist and statistician University of Rome); Carmelle Terborgh (Esri); Patricia Zurita (Bird Life international)

wpid-wp-1444293721980.jpgInger – we stand at a crossroad, and we need to make them with a sense of understanding of the choices that we make. We are on unsustainable path, increased inequalities, stresses on the environment, biodiversity loss etc. We see extinction of species 1000 times the natural rate – we need dramatic change in policy direction and action. We are making choices – the SDGs are not just a list of goals – they are about choosing a different path. Next Paris COP21 will need to demonstrate that we can get on the path for 2 degrees and action towards it. We need good data to make good decisions – we have drops of information from seas of data. The enabling conditions are not there to link data into environmental information that is relevant. The conditions that are needed: financing – IUCN Red Lists and other knowledge products that are needed for many decision-making – the datasets are very cost-effective, with amazing body of volunteers with 300 volunteering years. We don’t see the investment that come with it. The data that go to other system – the global observatory on climate is funded in billions. People are happy to get environmental information for free, but this is not matched with investment. Open data is interesting, but also raise issue for professional scientists of credit, plagiarism etc. There are also the technologies and the use of the data from remote sensing (e.g. WRI Global Forest Watch). In some way, conservation is lagging behind the attention to climate change. How we can we also improve ocean monitoring – we need them to be able to make decisions. Better tools matter also to enable implementation, environmental impact assessment. Lets make tools actionable. Capacity building is key, with different funds – need ‘feet on the ground’ to make conservation possible. We also need the resources to make knowledge available and they get direct benefits from these activities. The conservation movement is a greying movement – how are we going to fire up the new generation, with love of nature? How to inspire children to be part of this army for good.

Enrico – We want to generate information and science to anticipate what people will experience. Enabling conditions are about the overall environment to reach the SDGs goal. A thought experiment is: What a brand new country want to reach the goals? They will have to put SDG in the constitution, and should have assessment of any piece of legislation to check that it fit the SDG. Enabling conditions go beyond financial, technical or statistical conditions. A UN report on the data revolution for sustainable development influenced the statistical monitoring of SDG. We are not moving at an appropriate speed – in the way UN system react, we won’t have baseline until 2019. We need these baseline faster. There is waste of money in international organisations – e.g. in visualisation system or data repositories and lack of sharing data. We need a new social contract with the private sector and companies to get information that is needed for sustainable development data. Speed is required, and we need to avoid waste and share resources.

Carmelle – need to have integrative framework, GIS is a way of bringing issues together. Making it possible to integrate issues that lead to action. GIS is essential to man y decision making, and need to think about networked GIS as a way to allow geographic understanding across organisation. Need to have capacity for people to be able to access information, but also make it possible to access and use open data. Should use maps to tell stories – illustrate key issues. Empowering people through apps and devices is a way to make information useful in context. GIS and geospatial technologies are needed as part of an enabling condition.

Patricia – Bird Life International – 150 organisation about nature, with birds as ambassadors. The issue is how they make impact on the ground. They created IBAs – with huge volunteer effort and multi-million dollars investment. The try to turn information into stories, such as the Marine IBA e-atlas to help protect and conserve areas across the globe. Taking action is about empowering local people, through technology – not just information gatherers, but being able to interpret data and use it for local decision-making. There is need for adequate resources – not only to collect it but also to monitor and continue to invest in it over time, how to ensure that we got the funding to upgrade technology as much as the private sector? How can it be done that without capitalising on intellectual property ? We can have hybrid access models to ensure income. We need to have local to global approach. We need to maintain to continue and maintain the science team so there is the robust understanding of what was collected. We need to turn sources like the Global Environmental Outlook into digestible pills.

Following the panel, the session Principle 10 of Rio Declaration– for better environmental governance and access for all in different regions explored “Efficiency and accountability of policy development can be further enhanced through a more open access to environmental information and data as well as better conditions for public participation in environmental decision-making thus aiming for environmental  governance improvement.
Major progress was achieved in this regards on the regional level since Rio Conference and especially after Rio+20 Conference on Principle 10 (access to information and  public participation on environmental matters) promotion and implementation. Most recent development marks the Latin American and Caribbean regions Principle 10 process where 20 countries launched few months ago the negotiation of Principle 10 regional instrument.”

Alexander Juras (leading on access for all special initiative) chaired. He takes journey of principle 10 in different places. Start with a short video on principle 10 that is used to promote the Latin America process


Principle 10 hold government to account, and some government don’t like it – in many regions of the world, it’s an ongoing struggle to make it

Carlos De Meguel
(UN ECLAC) – process in the region of Latin America and Caribbean – the government should do their job to enable people to participate. It’s connect human rights, environment and access rights. In Rio+20 20 countries in the region decided to develop an initiative around Principle 10, with a link to different goals in the SDG. Principle 16 ad 17 are explicitly connected to Principle 10. There is progress, but challenges: lack of regulations, and many people without access to information due to economic, social, and political reasons. Sometime the information itself is lacking – need alternative ways of resolving conflicts. The need for regional agreement is to maintain compliance, to allow collaboration and increase commitments.The new agreement can potentially impact 500 million people. The process evolved from 2012 to 2014, with final negotiation starting now. There are many resolutions, also in intergovernmental forums – a lot of political backing. Structure of the document include the 3 pillars and other aspects – with reference to Bali guidelines and other developments since Principle 10. There is also wide public consultation on the document. Aim to reach it by 2016.

wpid-wp-1444327816347.jpgDanielle Andrade (lawyer for Jamaica/ TAI)  and Andrea Sanhueza (founder of TAI)- Danielle opened, discussing the impact of access that influenced people’s life. The Caribbean are not only a holiday spot, for example she told the story of state-owned sewage plant that was malfunctioning since the 1970s, but continue to receive effluent  and created local problems. Only with an NGOs they manage to bring court action about neglecting the site, and use freedom of information to demonstrate that people were charged to pay for fixing the plants. That led to fixing the sewage plant. Andrea talked about examples from Ecuador – in 2004, in Tumbaco, some people had headaches and skin condition. They done tests and suffer from arsenic poisoning. They water system was managed by the municipality and they set out public group for water without arsenic, and they used attention in the media and investigation of the case by the government. The analysis included a range of tests, showing the impact of blood contamination that came from an external lab in Canada. The municipal company argued that they can’t deal with the pipes, but changed the source of water and that helped in solving the situation.

Tsvetelina Filipova (REC for Central and Eastern Europe) – Building Bridges between regions – Aarhus change behaviour of government and people who understood that they have a right – that’s because it was legally binding. The process was not ideal, and lots of countries had difficulties – many countries were ready, but even the countries that thought that they are good in Principle 10 legislations, failed many time. The project is about inter-regional cooperation  and helped in sharing the experience from Aarhus to Latin America. Some benefits: supporting the negotiation process and have experience on how to deal with issues that come up. There is also experience and interregional experience on how to implement, and also empowering stakeholders. In all these initiatives it is people who are pushing the process forward. The process require funding so it is inclusive enough. The implementation of the bridges was through training and live on-line exchange seminars – sharing good practice, draw recommendations on running the process efficiently. The benefits: designing, drafting, negotiating, implementation and interpreting. Some of the people are involved in working on these issues since 1996.

Alexander Juras – The Aarhus also helped in instilling democratic values in many countries that use to be part of the Soviet union.

wpid-wp-1444302028231.jpgJeremy Wates (European Environmental Bureau, past secretary of Aarhus) – development of Principle 10 in the Middle East and north Africa region. It is not enough to have environmental information system, if you don’t provide the legal rights – don’t treat it as a marginal aspect to Eye on Earth framework, it need to be central processes. The second point is that Aarhus convention is not being talked about enough, and taken for granted, not that it all gone right and there are real challenges to fit within it – even today the EU is struggling to comply. Aarhus apply to many countries with long and shorter experiences of democracy. The building bridges is about a forum for dialogue – lots of mistake that can be learnt from. The next region to open this dialogue in is the MENA region, but the political situation in the region lead to select few countries to start. Starting with Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and UAE, with the aim to implement Bali guidelines better. Some of them been aware of the Aarhus process. The hope is to get enhanced environmental performances, and participatory government. They see 4 main actions in the process: raising awareness, carry out gap analysis to see what is already in place and what information already available. Then encourage government and civil society in Aarhus convention process and strengthen civil society organisations and network. That is aimed over 2 years projects. The issue is to get partnerships going

Stephen Stec (Central European University, author of the Bali guidelines and Aarhus implementation guide). covered Bali Guidelines – an effective tool for implementing Rio Principle 10 at the national level. The standards for the rest of the world are the Bali guidelines from 2010. It’s global instrument for Principle 10, and base on national experience and the international experience from Aarhus. He covered the Bali guidelines – they are voluntary and request driven, to help filling gaps in national legislations. There are 26 guidelines – most in access to justice, and the early one are about access to information. In the Access of All special initiative of EoE included several outcomes – the environmental democracy index, then UNITAR national profiles that is part of the Environmental Governance Programme – national assessment and tailored capacity building. UNEP also run Regional Workshops to promote multi-stakeholder dialogue on Rio Principle 10 and the guidelines and the implementation guide on Bali guidelines that was launch on the first day.

Discussion: moving beyond Principle 10 and starting to think about how we support public production of environmental information? This is a growing area, and the information completely changed. Seeing citizen science that it will take care of itself – say the chemical release inventory, worth putting the effort in the current extension of principle 10 into more areas. For less developed IT countries for further promotion of right, improving active citizenship can be done through citizen science. Public Production of information – if you want to provide data in non-traditional data is the issue of recognition and allowing it to be used in decision making processes. Daniella give an example of community data collection in a mining case to complete the data gap. In the current Principle 10 , require certain standards – and it might find its way into agreement

A question from Cameroon about the legal framework for access to justice in terms of cost, expertise and when the bridge will reach Africa? the experience is that you need government that is committed to the idea of regional convention, which also have leadership in transparency, stability, open etc. That work in the LAC area. The limitation on building bridge are the costs of extending projects.

From Mauritius – for small island states – Rest of the World region. Working with UNEP is very complicated and as new network how they can work together when they have limited ability.

Wilson Center talk – Environmental Information: The Roles of Experts and the Public

On 29th April, I gave a talk in the Wilson Center in Washington DC on ‘Environmental Information – the Roles of Experts and the Public. The event was organised by Lea Shanley, who is heading the ‘Commons Lab‘ initiative of the center, and Dr Jay Benforado, from the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) provided a response to the talk.

The talk is based on a forthcoming chapter in a book that will be the final output of the EveryAware project, and I can share a copy of it if you email me.

I described the content of the talk as:  ‘Access to environmental information and use of it for environmental decision-making are central pillars of environmental democracy. Yet, not much attention is paid to the question of who is producing it, and for whom? By examining the history of environmental information, since NEPA in 1969, three eras can be identified: information produced by experts, for experts (1969-1992); information produced by experts, to be shared by experts and the public (1992-2012); and finally, information produced by experts and the public to be shared by experts and the public.

Underlying these are changes in access to information, rise in levels of education and rapid change due to digital technologies. The three eras and their implication to environmental decision-making will be explored, with special attention to the role of geographical information systems and to citizen science.’

The talk (and the chapter) are building on the themes that I discussed in a presentation during the Eye on Earth user conference in Dublin in 2013, and earlier talks in Oxford Transport Studies UnitUCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis and at University College Dublin School of Geography, Planning & Environmental Policy in 2010 (see also my reflection from the Eye on Earth summit in Abu Dhabi in 2011). In the talk I covered some of the legal frameworks about production and use of environmental information, including laws and international agreements, as well as using specific demonstrations of the information systems themselves, as to demonstrate the practice. I also tried to suggest the trends that are behind the changes in the eras, and levels of education is quite central.

On reflection, the 4 years that passed since I started thinking about the ‘eras of environmental information‘ allowed me to think how to communicate them, and I hope for the better. It also made the writing up of the chapter easier, as the responses and comments that I received in previous talks provided the needed feedback and peer review to structure the text.

Although I was setting specific dates as markers for the eras, the reality is that the boundaries are more flexible and the transition was over time – it is especially difficult for the latest transition of public participation in environmental information production.

The talk was followed by a discussion that lasted almost 45 minutes, and during the discussion, the common issue of data quality of citizen science data or the interesting point about the issue of dissemination as Rob Baker noted: ‘Is the role of experts as facilitators extend to dissemination of information or just collection? Who closes the loop? ‘  ( or Susan Wolfinbarger question about citizen science: ‘How do you know when the quality of a #citsci project is bad?’  (

The presentation and discussion were captured on YouTube, below

and the slides are available on SlideShare

Kate Chapman posted an interesting reflection to the talk over at H.O.T website.

Reflections on Eye on Earth summit (2): the 3 eras of public access to environmental information

As noted  in the previous post, which focused on the linkage between GIS and Environmental Information Systems,  the Eye on Earth Summit took place in Abu Dhabi on the 12 to 15 December 2011, and focused on ‘the crucial importance of environmental and societal information and networking to decision-making’.  Throughout the summit, two aspects of public access to environmental information were discussed extensively. On the one hand, Principle 10 of the Rio declaration from 1992 which call for public access to information, participation in decision making and access to justice was frequently mentioned including the need to continue and extend its implementation across the world. On the other, the growing importance of citizen science and crowdsourced  environmental information was highlighted as a way to engage the wider public in environmental issues and contribute to the monitoring and understanding of the environment. They were not presented or discussed as mutually exclusive approaches to public involvement in environmental decision making, and yet, they do not fit together without a snag – so it is worth minding the gap.

As I have noted in several talks over the past 3 years (e.g. at the Oxford Transport Research Unit from which the slides above were taken), it is now possible to define 3 eras of public access to environmental information. During the first era, between the first UN environmental conference, held in Stockholm in 1972, were the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) was established, and the Earth conference in Rio in 1992, environmental information was collected by experts, to be analysed by experts, and to be accessed by experts. The public was expected to accept the authoritative conclusions of the experts. The second period, between 1990s and until the mid 2000s and the emergence of Web 2.0, the focus turned to the provision of access to the information that was collected and processed by experts. This is top-down delivery of information that is at the centre of Principle 10:

‘Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided’

Notice the two emphasised sections which focus on passive provision of information to the public – there is no expectation that the public will be involved in creating it.

With the growth of the interactive web (or Web 2.0), and the increase awareness to citizen or community science , new modes of data collection started to emerge, in which the information is being produced by the public. Air pollution monitoring, noise samples or traffic surveys – all been carried out independently by communities using available cheap sensors or in collaboration with scientists and experts. This is a third era of access to environmental information: produced by experts and the public, to be used by both.

Thus, we can identify 3 eras of access to environmental information: authoritative (1970s-1990s), top-down (1990s-2005) and collaborative (2005 onward).

The collaborative era presents new challenges. As in previous periods, the information needs to be at the required standards, reliable and valid. This can be challenging for citizen science information. It also need to be analysed, and many communities don’t have access to the required expertise (see my presentation from the Open Knowledge Foundation Conference in 2008 that deals with this issue). Merging information from citizen science studies with official information is challenging. These and other issues must be explored, and – as shown above – the language of Principle 10 might need revision to account for this new era of environmental information.

Open Knowledge Conference (OKCon) 2008 presentation

Below you can find the presentation that I gave at the Open Knowledge Conference on 15th March. The presentation focuses on the issue of environmental information and Open Knowledge and covers several areas of open information and access to environmental information, starting with a short overview of the background, followed by some examples of environmental information over the internet from the past 14 years. It continues with a few examples of recent development and a discussion of the work that we’ve been carrying out at UCL recently. Finally, there are observations on access to information in the environmental field. The presentation contains notes that explain each of the slides – for a version with the notes, click here.

One interesting observation from the discussions during the conference was that the discourse of Open Knowledge, which is a political discussion, is lacking in the area of political philosophy, and bringing this issue up will reveal, I suspect, inherent differences which are very significant for the substance of the licenses’ structures, software design and many other aspects in this area.

What I mean by political philosophy is that if you approach Open Knowledge from an egalitarian or altruistic approach then you would have a specific set of perceptions about what it can be used for, by whom and under which conditions, which will be very different to an approach taken by a strong techno-libertarian believer. The egalitarian approach might emphasise the fact that the use of your knowledge must be beneficial for society, and, if the data or software is used for personal benefit, then there should be some social payback. It is likely that no demands will be made restricting further use. The techno-libertarian approach will pick and choose which rights you want to protect (yours) and which you don’t (for example, those of media companies). You are likely to dictate certain conditions on the use of your data, to further your belief.

The core issue is what is the social change that you are trying to lead and what levers are you using to achieve it?

The argument against an explicit discussion of political philosophy is that it can destroy Open Knowledge projects (such as OpenStreetMap, where a whole range of underlying political philosophies can be found), but the problem is that the licensing and legal structures around them are unsatisfactory exactly because the politics remain unarticulated.

Even if in many projects the politics are hidden, I think that conferences and meetings (such as OKCon) should be the right forum to discuss these aspects.


For a more detailed analysis of public access to environmental  information, see Haklay, M., 2003, Public Access to Environmental Information: Past, Present and Future, Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, 27, 163-180
and other publications.