Participatory soundscape sensing – joint paper with Dr Chunming Li

One of the lovely aspects of scientific research is its international dimension – the opportunity to collaborate with people from different places, cultures, and necessarily practices and points of view.

PSSonline-CMLiDuring 2017, Dr Chnming Li, of the Institute of Urban Environment of the Chinese Academy of Science, was a visiting researcher in ExCiteS. Dr Li research is on participatory sensing and the development of sensors and applications for the urban environment. We collaborated on a paper that described the Participatory Soundscape Sensing project that he is developing, with an app on Android mobile phones, called SPL Meter, that is used to carry out the participatory sensing.

One demonstration that culture matter is in the app request for classification of sound as “harmonious” – a qualification of the sound in the right place, such as traffic noise on the road, or birds in the park. This is a quality that I haven’t encountered in studies in Europe or USA.

The paper is: “Li, C., Liu, Y., and Haklay, M., 2018, Participatory soundscape sensing, Landscape and Urban Planning 173: 64-69

Here is the abstract of the paper, and a link to the paper itself:

“Soundscape research offers new ways to explore the acoustic environment and potentially address challenges. A comprehensive understanding of soundscape characteristics and quality requires efficient data collection and analysis methods. This paper describes Participatory Soundscape Sensing (PSS), a worldwide soundscape investigation and evaluation project. We describe the calibration method for sound pressure levels (SPL) measured by mobile phone, analyze the PSS’s data temporal-spatial distribution characteristics, and discuss the impact of the participants’ age and gender on the data quality. Furthermore, we analyze the sound comfort level relationships
with each class of land use, sound sources, subjective evaluation, sound level, sound harmoniousness, gender, and age using over a year of shared data. The results suggest that PSS has distinct advantages in enhancing the amount and coverage of soundscape data. The PSS data distribution is closely related to the temporal pattern of the human work-rest schedule, population density, and the level of cyber-infrastructure. Adults (19–40 years old) are higher-quality data providers, and women exhibit better performance with respect to data integrity than men. Increasing the proportion of natural source sounds and reducing the proportion of humanmade sources of sound is expected to enhance the sound comfort level. A higher proportion of sound harmoniousness
leads to higher sound comfort, and the higher proportion of subjective evaluation sound level does not lead to decreased sound comfort. We suggest that the crowdsourcing data with participatory sensing will provide a new perspective in soundscape investigation, evaluation, and planning.”

The paper is available on ScienceDirect or also here


The Participatory City & Participatory Sensing – new paper

The Participatory City is a new book, edited by Yasminah Beebeejaun The Participatory City cover, which came out in March and will be launched on the 1st June. The book gather 19 chapters that explore the concept of participation in cities of all shapes and sizes. As Yasminah notes, concern about participation has started in the 1960s and never gone from urban studies – be it in anthropology, geography, urban planning, history or sociology.

The book is structured around short chapters of about eight pages, with colour images that illustrate the topic of the chapter. This make the book very accessible – and suitable for reading while commuting in a city. The chapters take you for a tour around many places in the world: from London, Berlin, Bangalore, to Johannesburg, Mexico City and to small towns in Pennsylvania and Lancashire (and few other places). It also explores multiple scales – from participation in global negotiations about urban policy in the UN, to the way immigrants negotiate a small area in central Dublin, as well as discussion of master-planning in several places, including London and Mexico City.

The book demonstrate the multi-faceted aspects of participation: from political power, to gender, environmental justice, indigenous rights, skills, expertise and the use of scientific information for decision making. Each of the chapters provides a concrete example for the participatory issue that it covers, and by so doing, make the concept that is being addressed easy to understand.

Not surprisingly, many of the success stories in the book’s chapters are minor, temporary and contingent on a set of conditions that allow them to happen. Together, the chapters demonstrate that participation, and the demand for representation and rights to the city are not futile effort but that it is possible to change things.

With a price tag that is reasonable, though not cheap (€28, about £21), this is highly recommended book that charts the aspects of urban participation in the early part of the 21st century, and especially demonstrating the challenges for meaningful participation in the face of technological developments, social and economic inequalities, and governance approaches that emphasise markets over other values.

My contribution to the book is titled ‘Making Participatory Sensing Meaningful and I’m examining how the concept of participatory sensing mutated over the years to mean any form of crowdsourced sensing. I then look at our experience in participatory sensing in Heathrow to suggest what are the conditions that enable participatory sensing that is matching the expectations from participatory processes, as well as the limitations and challenges. You can  find the paper here  and the proper citation for it is:

Haklay, M., 2016, Making Participatory Sensing Meaningful, in Beebeejaun, Y. (Ed.) The Participatory City, Jovis, pp. 154-161.


COST Energic Summer School on VGI and Citizen Science in Malta

Vyron Antoniou covering VGI foundations
Vyron Antoniou covering VGI foundations

COST Energic organised a second summer school that is dedicated to Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) and citizen science. This time, the school was run by the Institute for Climate Change & Sustainable Development of the University of Malta. with almost 40 participants from across Europe and beyond (Brazil, New Zealand), and, of course, participants from Malta. Most of the students are in early stage of their academic career (Masters and Ph.D. students and several postdoctoral fellows) but the school was also attended by practitioners – for example in urban planning or in cultural heritage. Their backgrounds included engineering, geography, environmental studies, sociology, architecture, biology and ecology, computer science. The areas from which the participants came from demonstrate the range of disciplines and practices that are now involved in crowdsourced data collection and use. Also interesting is the opening of governmental and non-governmental bodies to the potential of crowdsourcing as evident from the practitioners group.

The teachers on the programme, Maria Attard, Claire Ellul, Rob Lemmens, Vyron Antoniou, Nuno Charneca, Cristina Capineri (and myself) are all part of the COST Energic network. Each provide a different insight and interest in VGI in their work – from transport, to spatial data infrastructure or participatory mapping. The aim of the training school was to provide a ‘hands-on’ experience with VGI and citizen science data sources, assuming that some of the students might be new to the topics, the technologies or both. Understanding how to get the data and how to use it is an important issue that can be confusing to someone who is new to this field – where the data is, how do you consume it, which software you use for it etc.

Collecting information in the University of Malta
Collecting information in the University of Malta

After covering some of the principles of VGI, and examples from different areas of data collection, the students started to learn how to use various OpenStreetMap data collection tools. This set the scene to the second day, which was dedicated to going around the university campus and collecting data that is missing from OpenStreetMap, and carrying out both the data collection and then uploading the GPS Tracks and sharing the information. Of particular importance was the reflection part, as the students were asked to consider how other people, who are also new to OpenStreetMap will find the process.

Using meteorological sensors in Gozo
Using meteorological sensors in Gozo

The next level of data collection involved using sensors, with an introduction to the potential of DIY electronics such as Arduino or Raspberry Pi as a basis for sensing devices. A field trip to Gozo in the next day provided the opportunity to explore these tools and gain more experience in participatory sensing. Following a lecture on participatory GIS application in Gozo, groups of students explored a local park in the centre of Rabat (the capital of Gozo) and gained experience in participatory sensing and citizen science.

Learning together The training school also included a public lecture by Cristina Capineri on ‘the fortune of VGI’.

The students will continue to develop their understanding of VGI and citizen science, culminating with group presentations on the last day. The most important aspects of any training school, as always, is in the development of new connections and links between the people on the programme, and in the conversations you could notice how these areas of research are still full of questions and research challenges.