Justice and the Digital symposium notes

The Digital Geographies Research Group of the RGS-IBG held the annual symposium at the University of Sheffield, under the theme “Justice and the Digital”. These are partial notes from the day

The symposium opening session focus on the important question “What’s Justice got to do with it?”

DSC_0956Jeremy Crampton covered three issues – practices of surveillance in the context of smart cities. Surveillance is seen as an Orwellian term, and a problematic term – for one thing, it does not affect everyone in the same way – for example, argument that ongoing camera used by police reducing complaints about police actions (though we can figure out the complexities); secondly, the increased use of AI and facial recognition, and finally, surveillance rely on recialised/biased approach to societal ordering. This can be understood and explored through database ethnographies.

The second point is the way in which digital services are being delivered (e.g. Amazon) and they are similar to Red Lining practices from the mid 20th century.

The final demonstration of the complexities is the competition from the government in the UK between universities to use technology to increase transparency and inclusion. If you don’t address structural problems, the technology is not the solution.

The challenge is to induce transformations and not just accept views.

 

 

 

Emily Tomkys Valteri (OXFAM) – looking at digital inequalities – the past 50 years we have seen major digitisation and fusing of digital and physical with transformation to the fourth industrial revolution and the narrative of acceleration by showing how long it takes to reach 50 million users for a technology  – from 50 years to few days. Existing technologies are used in new ways. We see self-mobilisation – e.g. #MeToo or #IWillGoOut for women in India. Social media raise awareness to campaign and add additional pressure. Digital cash provides support to people to access markets – in Kirkuk electronic vouchers are safer than cash for women to use. There is also aspects of historical knowledge: education, where people who are displaced use to live, what they have done, and that is being used to support new opportunities. There are new opportunities and technologies have a potential to disrupt existing spaces.

But – there are issues of gender divide and women are less likely to own a mobile phone and even to use it. The phone is not in a neutral space. Design of technology – women hold 17% in tech jobs and therefore it is designed by men. MIT checked AI in facial recognition and demonstrated huge differences between the ability to identify light colour men and dark skin women. Technology and social media can be hijacked by the government to spread specific narrative – e.g. in India where the ID programme is blocking people from access to services and are being hurt, or Myanmar distributing false stories on the Rohingya minority.

People look at the promise of technology and rights and ethics later – blockchain is a good example. they might be useful in digital work, but we need to put the vulnerable people first. We need rights and standards first (from the @HHI_Signal diagram below)

 

Oxfam knows that they can’t confront the latest technology. We need a rights-based approach; second co-create and co-design and work with users and not for the users; we need to bridge the private and public sector.

James Richardson (The Good Things Foundation) – digital inclusion charity. Working in the UK, Kenya and Australia. The perspective is in terms of individuals using the system. Digital exclusion implies different things: Internet and the access to such systems (but it is possible to reach out through other means). There are personal circumstances that change the internet from usable to a lifeline. 4.5m people in the UK who are offline and many of them see themselves as absolutely fine without it. Patterns of usage are important – 6 hours a day or a month: it is important what they do and how. There is a linkage between usage online and offline. Higher social economic use digital to enhance their cultural capital. Lower levels more likely just to follow. Digital can increase inequality instead of reducing it.  Need a level playing field for content, Information literacy about the interval – depends on your source of information – also issues of specific bubbles. Digital self-efficacy is the ability to change things is locked by the end of schools, a third of learners who haven’t finished school find the learning and joining the digital difficult. Find the internet “not for people like me” – a serious injustice. Barriers that exist in social forces that influence life before school.

Dorothea Kleine – concluded with some reflections. First, conceptualise justice – which is a topic of over many millennia of discussion from Plato to Sen. Different concepts and types of justice: distributive, retributive, procedural, interactional, organisational, environmental and more… Need to notice the issue of representation (visual, voice), access (digital divide), usage opportunities, the way it change economic relations, the physical and material artefacts, the data, control, and co-production with the digital and how we extend them with digital tools, and how the digital plays in spaces of protest.

There’s a need to move from discussion of the global north to other areas and view of the digital from another area. In particular, the capabilities approach to development (Sen approach) – expanding the freedoms that people enjoy. What life people want to live and enjoy. Is the digital supporting the future that we want or hindering it? There are vast differences between countries and genders. There are also dimensions of just access and usage – availability, norms of use of time and space. There are many barriers for mobile phone use -family have a major influence on mobile phone use in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Algeria – social norms influence digital spaces. We should also design for equity, in which we give marginalised people an advantage.

Discussion about academic collaboration: data on digital exclusion is a topic for research – OXFAM experienced the difficulties of preparing data for analysis, or Good Things experienced involvement in RCTs. There is a major churn in the field – when people don’t share information and leave the organisation, then starting to standardised surveys – come with best practice survey and in paper and data collection tools, so they should use it. There are issues about the design of technology and the way that it is applied – also outcomes structures. From universities perspective, the push to impact can allow for new collaboration and sometimes asking the tougher questions.

For the main part of the symposium, I’ve joined Strand 3: Justice and Global Digital Inequalities. 

I gave a talk about the concepts of passive and assertive inclusion, with citizen science as a demonstration of the complexities of inclusion.

[There were digital shorts – a short presentation on digital currencies and psych-social wellbeing of participants in ICT4D projects, LGBT+ use of tech in the development context – didn’t noted that part]

Further discussion was provided by Emily and James who discussed more their morning presentations:

Emily – following on – two things about inequalities: context matter and access is not enough. We need to consider the context. Adding something (technology) still happens within wider inequalities in society. Oxfam project check feedback mechanism, this is part of core humanitarian standards and request from funders – lots of time it’s a hotline and suggestion box with zero responses. The reason for the lack of use of the suggestion box is that the gang that control camp was monitoring it and there is also high illiteracy. So power dynamics in the group are huge and impacting. Gender is particularly complex and access will not be enough – confidence, a perception that people will be afraid to use it, potential harm. e.g. a potential link of increase domestic violence with women empowerment project. Quite often in ICT project – they are based on practical needs, e.g. living conditions such as radio broadcasts and SMS, but need to address underlying problems. In the digital identity in different cases, the potential for empowering women, in multiple cases male relatives got involved in the process – e.g. not a place for women to go to the registration centre. Issues of taking pictures, or a male agent touching a thumb of a woman in the process. Some exciting things happening – e.g. social media and messaging on violence against women, e.g. creating a safe space for discussion online and offline.

James – covering the funding model – digital is powerful but need context. How digital by default influence equality. The shared commitment of the organisation is the use of ICT to improve life – addressing loneliness, age, ethnic disadvantages. People who come to the centres have multiple problems – e.g. people with debt problem partially because of digital literacy issues. The people in the centres are acting like carers and addressing the problem regardless of what it is so not putting boundaries. The funding model of the organisation – they work from digital inclusion to general inclusion. Instead of projects, they get funding for a holistic inclusion help. Because of the austerity, there is a need to consider the mix of funding to keep the light on and similar issues – expectation that volunteers will take the slack and work for free. For example, the support in immigration issues that is done with ad-hoc translation by the local community member who speaks the language and English. The third sector and government should be involved in developing policy.

The Digital Shorts include:

Andrea Jimenez – how innovation and entrepreneurs help development – the language that is being used to argue that this is the routes for getting out of poverty. Looking at innovation hubs. Issues of justice – how entrepreneurship became a way to get out of poverty, and especially for women. You can’t entrepreneur a way out of a system. Also, Bird point about can’t fit women into a system that it is inherently male. Need alternative narratives that are using from the global south and how to look at innovation and entrepreneurship with a local view.

Hannah McCarrick – analysing the way that soil, ICT and smallholders in Tanzania interact. There is an e-agriculture to increase agricultural productivity. Examining the local knowledge of farmers and how it matches the knowledge in the ICT system. Tanzania is providing a good place to explore the relationships between.

Closing Panel: Justice and the Digital: What can geographers’ contribute?

Ayona Datta (King’s College London) – Smart Cities in Postcolonial Context. Justice and the digital in the context of urban transformation in India, and translation to gender experiences. A key aspect is not only spatial justice but also the notion of time justice, a history of pushing for empowerment and against the triple burden. Time poverty is important for women and the bigger smart cities – efficiency, more for less. Digital space is imposed top down. Societal norms are limiting the use and potential of digital products. There is a potential for using WhatsApp diary as a way to record it and mapping it on GIS. There is some visual crafting of narratives – some digital spaces are used in a manipulative way.

Muki Haklay (UCL) –  I explored the aspects of geographers, digital technologies, and environmental justice. The link in the area of environmental information started in the 1990s (with Aarhus and Principle 10) and there is an assumption of use of information and science in order to join decision-making process, which led to early use of ICT such as in Renee Sieber paper on Conforming (to) the oposition from around 2000, it is somewhat horrifying to see how scientification and use of technology now consume large areas of development and humanitarian support to communities in the UK and elsewhere. This actually gives us an opportunity to think about the way the digital impacting justice and environmental justice provides a space to see that over a longer period, with problems in the lack of provision of easy to use information that is understandable and usable. Geographers contribution is through abilities to move between domains and knowledge – the aspect of being an undisciplined discipline. There is an effort by geographers to build new systems to demonstrate that alternatives are possible, but there is also a certain futility and utility of digital interventions. Rethinking concepts of participation, and putting it in the context of scientification of society, and the way digital tools are influencing this process.

Sam Hind (University of Siegen) – the practice of process and demonstrations. Generally, don’t use the term justice, and more thinking about care and ethics. Look at justice through care in the study of geography from the past. Developing new care through a digital platform. 2007 AAG address, Silk “Caring at a distance” – use the example of large charity events such as Live Aid created relationships. Important media in relationships, but we can take some idea to think of mobile mediated sense. Carrying at a distance through mobile media. We can check “interface objects” that effect the type of decisions that are made by people who access these systems. Could we generate new interface objects and how they influence carrying relationships?

Desiree Fields (The University of Sheffield) – financialisation of the private rental sector. Two ideas – through a narrative through tech are claims of transparency, which is the politics and invisibility – face recognition, redlining etc. Tech assumes transparency as a good for itself – the question who is making things visible, why and for whom? transparency is not necessarily empowering – marginalised people and places are being made transparent in order to be controlled. Politics of visibility have lots of justice is important. In NYC the JustFix it is a platform for helping to collect information to address injustice from landlords. The second aspect is the question of the pace of change, how the rapid pace of change – e.g. following technology which disappears. We focus on rapture (disruptions) – we should also look at continuities. Social, power, and political powers are not changing that fast. For example, the interaction between real-estate activities and technologies.

 

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Citizen Science and Ethics session (British Ecological Society – Citizen Science SIG)

As part of the activities of the Citizen Science Special Interest Group of the British Ecological Society (BES), Michael Pocock organised “A training event for citizen science: What you need to know, but no one told you!”. I was asked to lead a 30 minutes discussion on ethics and citizen science. This is a wide area, and some discussion about it is already happening.  In addition, there is an emerging working group within the Citizen Science Association (CSA) that will be dedicated to this issue, and I have summarised the session about ethics in the CSA conference in another post.

For the training event, and especially considering that the participants are more likely to be with a background in ecology, I have decided to focus on 4 documents with ‘codes of ethics’ that are the most relevant to ecology & citizen science, with 2 extra for comparison. Three of these are official – the codes of ethics of the Ecological Society of America – (ESA, available here), the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management – (CIEE, available here), the International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE, available here). Finally, the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) principles of citizen science (the latest draft available here). In the comparative group, I used the Royal Geographical Society and the Institute of Civil Engineers codes.

What is noticeable in professional codes of ethics (ESA, CIEEM) is that the profession, its reputation and the relationships between members are the top priority. This is common to almost all professional codes of ethics – and it demonstrate that ethics is about self-preservation. Later on, come the responsibility to the other stakeholders, the wider public and to non-humans that the activities can impact. Commonly, wider issues are covered in the principles, or in a preamble, but not within the code itself – although the Royal Geographical Society actually codified  “due regard to the need to protect the environment, human rights, and to ensure efficient use of natural resources” and the Institute of Civil Engineers also codified “due regard for the environment and for the sustainable management of natural resources.”. It is somewhat ironic that ecologists have not codified this aspect.

The two other documents are especially interesting from the point of view of citizen science. First, the ISE code of ethics is not mostly about the researchers and their professional standing, but “to facilitate ethical conduct and equitable relationships, and foster a commitment to meaningful collaboration and reciprocal responsibility by all parties.” it continues with “The fundamental value underlying the Code of Ethics is the concept of mindfulness – a continual willingness to evaluate one’s own understandings, actions, and responsibilities to others. The Code of Ethics acknowledges that biological and cultural harms have resulted from research undertaken without the consent of Indigenous peoples.” and it has a much stronger stance on the duty of care of the researcher as the powerful actor in the situation.

The code is especially relevant in bottom-up citizen science activities, but a lot of it seem to match the concepts behind ECSA principles of citizen science. The principles are calling for a meaningful activities with mutual respect and recognition of the scientists and the volunteers that working with them.

Will the ethics of citizen science evolve along this more inclusive lines, with an understanding that following this will also help to grow and preserve the field as a whole?

 

Geographies of Co-Production: highlights of the RGS/IBG ’14 conference

The 3 days of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) or RGS/IBG  annual conference are always valuable, as they provide an opportunity to catch up with the current themes in (mostly human) Geography. While I spend most of my time in an engineering department, I also like to keep my ‘geographer identity’ up to date as this is the discipline that I feel most affiliated with.

Since last year’s announcement that the conference will focus on ‘Geographies of Co-Production‘ I was looking forward to it, as this topic relate many themes of my research work. Indeed, the conference was excellent – from the opening session to the last one that I attended (a discussion about the co-production of co-production).

Just before the conference, the participatory geographies research group run a training day, in which I run a workshop on participatory mapping. It was good to see the range of people that came to the workshop, many of them in early stages of their research career who want to use participatory methods in their research.

In the opening session on Tuesday’s night, Uma Kothari raised a very important point about the risk of institutions blaming the participants if a solution that was developed with them failed. There is a need to ensure that bodies like the World Bank or other funders don’t escape their responsibilities and support as a result of participatory approaches. Another excellent discussion came from Keri Facer who analysed the difficulties of interdisciplinary research based on her experience from the ‘connected communities‘ project. Noticing and negotiating the multiple dimensions of differences between research teams is critical for the co-production of knowledge.

By the end of this session, and as was demonstrated throughout the conference, it became clear that there are many different notions of ‘co-production of knowledge’ – sometime it is about two researchers working together, for others it is about working with policy makers or civil servants, and yet for another group it means to have an inclusive knowledge production with all people that can be impacted by a policy or research recommendation. Moreover, there was even a tension between the type of inclusiveness – should it be based on simple openness (‘if you want to participate, join’), or representation of people within the group, or should it be a active effort for inclusiveness? The fuzziness of the concept proved to be very useful as it led to many discussions about ‘what co-production means?’, as well as ‘what co-production does?’.

Two GIS education sessions were very good (see Patrick’s summery on the ExCiteS blog) and I found Nick Tate and Claire Jarvis discussion about the potential of virtual community of practice (CoP) for GIScience professionals especially interesting. An open question that was left at the end of the session was about the value of generic expertise (GIScience) or the way they are used in a specific area. In other words, do we need a CoP to share the way we use the tools and methods or is it about situated knowledge within a specific domain? 

ECR panel (source: Keri Facer)
ECR panel (source: Keri Facer)

The Chair Early Career panel was, for me, the best session in the conferenceMaria Escobar-TelloNaomi Millner, Hilary Geoghegan and Saffron O’Neil discussed their experience in working with policy makers, participants, communities and universities. Maria explored the enjoyment of working at the speed of policy making in DEFRA, which also bring with it major challenges in formulating and doing research. Naomi discussed productive margins project which involved redesigning community engagement, and also noted what looks like very interesting reading: the e-book Problems of Participation: Reflections on Authority, Democracy, and the Struggle for Common Life. Hilary demonstrated how she has integrated her enthusiasm for enthusiasm into her work, while showing how knowledge is co-produced at the boundaries between amateurs and professionals, citizens and scientists. Hilary recommended another important resource – the review Towards co-production in research with communities (especially the diagram/table on page 9). Saffron completed the session with her work on climate change adaptation, and the co-production of knowledge with scientists and communities. Her research on community based climate change visualisation is noteworthy, and suggest ways of engaging people through photos that they take around their homes.

In another session which focused on mapping, the Connected Communities project appeared again, in the work of Chris Speed, Michelle Bastian & Alex Hale on participatory local food mapping in Liverpool and the lovely website that resulted from their project, Memories of Mr Seel’s Garden. It is interesting to see how methods travel across disciplines and to reflect what insights should be integrated in future work (while also resisting a feeling of ‘this is naive, you should have done this or that’!).

On the last day of the conference, the sessions on ‘the co-production of data based living‘ included lots to contemplate on. Rob Kitchin discussion and critique of smart-cities dashboards, highlighting that data is not-neutral, and that it is sometime used to decontextualised the city from its history and exclude non-quantified and sensed forms of knowledge (his new book ‘the data revolution’ is just out). Agnieszka Leszczynski continued to develop her exploration of the mediation qualities of techno-social-spatial interfaces leading to the experience of being at a place intermingled with the experience of the data that you consume and produce in it. Matt Wilson drawn parallel between the quantified self and the quantified city, suggesting the concept of ‘self-city-nation’ and the tensions between statements of collaboration and sharing within proprietary commercial systems that aim at extracting profit from these actions. Also interesting was Ewa Luger discussion of the meaning of ‘consent’ within the Internet of Things project ‘Hub of All Things‘ and the degree in which it is ignored by technology designers.

The highlight of the last day for me was the presentation by Rebecca Lave on Critical Physical Geography‘. This is the idea that it is necessary to combine scientific understanding of hydrology and ecology with social theory. It is also useful in alerting geographers who are dealing with human geography to understand the physical conditions that influence life in specific places. This approach encourage people who are involved in research to ask questions about knowledge production, for example social justice aspects in access to models when corporations can have access to weather or flood models that are superior to what is available to the rest of society.

Overall, Wendy Larner decision to focus the conference on co-production of knowledge was timely and created a fantastic conference. Best to complete this post with her statement on the RGS website:

The co-production of knowledge isn’t entirely new and Wendy is quick to point out that themes like citizen science and participatory methods are well established within geography. “What we are now seeing is a sustained move towards the co-production of knowledge across our entire discipline.”

 

London Citizen Cyberscience Summit – new collaborations and ideas

The London Citizen Cyberscience Summit ran in the middle of February, from 16th (Thursday) to 18th (Saturday). It marked the launch of the UCL Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) group, while providing an opportunity for people who are interested in different aspects of citizen science to come together, discuss, share ideas, consider joint projects and learn from other people. The original idea for the summit, when the first organisational meeting took place in October last year, was to set a programme that would include academics who research citizen science or develop citizen science projects; practitioners and enthusiasts who are developing technologies for citizen science activities; and people who are actively engaged in citizen science.Therefore, we included a mix of talks, workshops and hack days and started approaching speakers who would cover the range of interests, backgrounds and knowledge.

The announcement about the summit came out only in late December, so it was somewhat surprising to see the level of interest in the topic of citizen science. Considering that the previous summit, in 2010, attracted about 60 or 70 participants, it was pleasing to see that the second summit attracted more than 170 people.

To read about what happened in the summit there is plenty of material online. Nature news reported it as ‘Citizen science goes extreme‘. The New Scientist blog post discussed the ‘Intelligent Maps’ project of ExCiteS in ‘Interactive maps help pygmy tribes fight back‘, which was also covered by the BBC World Service Newshour programme (around 50 minutes in) and the Canadian CBC Science Shift programme. Le Monde also reported on ‘Un laboratoire de l’extrême‘.

Another report in New Scientist focused on the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) development of a thermal flashlight in ‘Thermal flashlight “paints” cold rooms with colour‘. The China DialogueScientists and Citizens‘ provided a broader review of the summit.

In terms of blogs, there are summaries on the GridCast blog (including some video interviews), and a summary by one of the speakers, Andrea Wiggins, of day 1, day 2 and day 3. Nicola Triscott from the Arts Catalyst provides another account of the summit and her Arctic Perspective Initiative linkage.   Another participant, Célya Gruson-Daniel, discussed the summit in French at MyScienceWork, which also provided a collection of social media from the first day at http://storify.com/mysciencework/london-citizen-cyberscience-summit-16-18th-februar.

The talks are available to view again on the LiveStream account of ExCiteS at http://www.livestream.com/excites and there are also summaries on the ExCiteS blog http://uclexcites.wordpress.com/ and on the conference site http://cybersciencesummit.org/blog/ . Flickr photos from MyScienceWork and UCL Engineering (where the image on the right is from) are also available.

For me, several highlights of the conference included the impromptu integration of different projects during the summit. Ellie D’Hondt and Matthias Stevens from  BrusSense and NoiseTube used the opportunity of the PLOTS balloon mapping demonstration to extend it to noise mapping; Darlene Cavalier from SciStarter discussed with the Open Knowledge Foundation people how to use data about citizen science projects; and the people behind Xtribe at the University of Rome considered how their application can be used for Intelligent Maps – all these are synergies, new connections and new experimentation that the summit enabled. The enthusiasm of people who came to the summit contributed significantly to its success (as well as the hard work of the ExCiteS team).

Especially interesting, because of the wide-ranging overview of examples and case studies, is how the activity is conceptualised in different ways across the spectrum of DIY citizen science to structured observations that are managed by professional scientists. This is also apparent in the reports about the summit. I have commented in earlier blog posts about the need to understand citizen science as a different way of producing scientific knowledge. What might be helpful is a clear ‘code of ethics’ or ‘code of conduct’ for scientists who are involved in such projects. As Francois Taddei highlighted in his talk at the summit, there is a need to value the shared learning among all the participants, and not to keep the rigid hierarchies of university academics/public in place. There is also a need to allow for the creativity, exploration and development of ideas that we have seen during the summit to blossom – but only happen when all the sides that are involved in the process are open to such a process.