The main Esri User conference starts with a plenary day, where all the participants (16,000 of them) join together for a set of presentation from 8:30 to 3:30 (with some breaks, of course). Below you’ll find some notes that I took during the day:
The theme of the keynote was GIS – Enabling a Smarter World. After an inspirational video (emphasising environmental applications of GIS, including dealing with sustainability and biodiversity), Jack Dangermond, opened the conference by covering a range of applications that fall under smart GIS. Examples include environmental monitoring, energy management for renewable energy and grids. Using the management of land information and urban design (green infrastructure plans, corridors for wildlife etc.), transport – smart routing reduce environmental impacts, and increase efficiency. Engineering and public work, utilities and telecommunication, business analytics (an area that finally is taking off), public safety and also humanitarian support. We have an increasing understanding of citizen engagement through open data, and the UN is using GIS to share open data in data management for the Sustainable Development Goals. Story telling, and story maps are becoming central to the way information is shared.
We’re living in a world that is undergoing a massive digital transformation – how do we go forward in this wired planet? GIS is a language for understanding the world. We need to address the crisis of sustainability – we need to address the problems together. GIS allow integration, visualisation – a framework to design for the future through geodesign. Turn information to action – from measuring to affecting the world. GIS itself is getting smarter – through technologies and tools, sensors, types of data. Smart GIS is a variety of things: ability to connect to real time information – IoT, remote sensing, connecting everyone – assisting communities to understand what they are doing and acting. It mean integrating spatial data and records with system of engagement. This is possible through Web GIS pattern. Earthquake alerting from USGS tell people to get ready, and also flood analytics. There is an emerging ‘Community GIS’
A leading example of this change is the City of Los Angeles GeoHub– Lilian Coral – chief data officer described how she try to ensure that the city is using data for helping the management of the city. To assist with that, they have developed geohub.lacity.org to enable community organisations to do things with city data. It is using open data and open applications to allow new applications to solve problems. From running a clean Street Index to compare the information between different areas. GeoHub helps to unlock data in the city and can provide support a range of application. People are used for community data collection on Exide Battery Contamination that happened in LA. LA is aiming to reduce death from accidents on the road, and trying to improve performance over time. They even try to explore walking in LA and reduce car dependency. They learn that the GeoHub is foundation for smart cities and develop a range of hubs for generating and using geographic information for residents.
After the GeoHub presentation, Jack Dangermond noted that we have an ability to share geographical knowledge like never before. The concept of ArcGIS evolved to see it as a hub between a system of records, system or analysis, and system of engagement. Growing important of web services and apps. ArcGIS tools are evolving – collector and Survey123 apps are linking to field workers and data collection. In terms of GIS technology, there is more effort on exploratory spatial data analysis tools (Insights for ArcGIS) and making it possible to analyse Big Data – for example billion transactions – using distributed computations using computer clusters. Application such as Drone2Map can speed up the process of turning drone imagery. There are more development tools for apps, with over 500,000 appearing. The open source apps allow people to developing further. Esri has run 4 MOOCs and may learning resources that are free for use by users of Esri. Esri support 11,000 university and higher education institutions around the world. The people who are working in GIS, engaged and committed, are the people who are creating a smarter and more sustainable world.
Later in the day, some of the technologies that were discussed include the living atlas which is a whole catalogue of updated base maps, and the use of vector data allow restyling of information in many ways. A growing range of apps for the field, office and for the community support a range of activities. Information for communities include story maps, open data, photo survey, crowdsourced reporter, manager, and polling.
An example for the utilisation of the apps was provided by the talk “Civic Responsibility – Changing Our Approach” from the City of New Orleans (Lamar Gardere, Greg Hymel & James Raasch). In New Orleans they used collector to work with volunteers to coordinate and record a progression of a campaign to raise awareness to mosquito that can be vectors of disease. They also created a very fast survey methods based on images of building, using a crowdsourced image analysis that includes 6 attributes. The photos where collected throughout the city using geolocated wide angle camera. They then prepare the images and created a way of capturing information. They ask people to help in crowdsourcing. An example for geographical crowdsourcing in government, with micro tasks: https://propertysurvey.nola.gov/photosurvey/ . They have also created an application to link people relating to basins and reports from 311 calls. When someone agreed to adopt a ‘catch basin’ (a drain in the street) then they are sharing responsibility to check that it is not blocked before storms arrive and volunteer to clean the drain. They also have a story map, to let people share their pictures and images that are integrated into a story map.
Afternoon session opened with the main keynote “The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World” by Andrea Wulf. She told the story of Alexander von Humbolt, who spend his fortune on a journey of 5 years in south America, the most famous person in his time after Napoleon. He inspired Darwin to go on the Beagle journey. Many people relate to him and his insights. Died in 1859, and after his death people celebrated him – but he is almost forgotten today. Humboldt invented the concept of Nature, noticing the connection between different aspects of the living world, and geography. He also defined global climate and vegetation zones. Pioneering mapping and visualisation – using scientific data as a basis for fantastic maps. He can also be associated with concepts of environmentalism. Her book explores him and his insights. The journey from Quito to Chimborazo was similar to a journey from the tropic to the arctic, and realised that it’s like movement between different regions of the world. He was capable of linking many things together. Humboldt also created new forms of cartography, and have an appreciation to indigenous knowledge. Humboldt ‘Cosmos’ made a physical description of the universe, linking many aspects of nature together and this was his most popular contribution. The network of GIS and the creation of a living atlases in GIS is knowledge that bring power to people and communities – we can see a link to practices in GIS to von Humboldt.
Another major announcement was the effort of “Designing and Creating a Green Infrastructure” with Arancha Muñoz Criado (City and Strategic Planner) and
Kaitlin Yarnall (National Geographic Society). A common initiative of conservation organisations to create a common set of information about green spaces and wild spaces. Esri and National Geographic are joining forces to create information system for this. The notion is to protect green infrastructure across America – a GIS for the whole country, to define the area that need protection. They will provide extensive information and will provide geodesign tools to allow many people to use the information.
Another important presentation was about “The AmzonGISnet” with Richard Resl and Domingo Ankuash in Ecuador, who use GIS in new ways. 20 years ago, Domingo started to use GIS to help the indigenous tribes that he leads to protect their lands. Many local indigenous members of the community who have GIS skills and who create a self made life plan – their own atlas representing their land and views. He noted that his community “We do not live in the forest, we are part of it”. The are not thinking themselves are poor, but need the support of other people to protect their land – having maps that are strategic and mindful. Using GIS not to navigate the forest but to protect it.
The final talk in the event was about Connecting GIS with Education, noting that there is more work on GIS in schools across the US and the world. San Andreas High School started only 18 months ago with GIS, with only one teacher getting into GIS, but alrady achieving results through collaboration with GIS Mentors. An area with 98% students who receive free lunches. The GIS is a force for good. They created a story map about teens and drinking & Alcohol abuse, showing analysis and considerations within the process. Students also created data collection for surveying the state of sidewalks using Survey123.
The Data and the City workshop will run on the 31st August and 1st September 2015, in Maynooth University, Ireland. It is part of the Programmable City project, led by Prof Rob Kitchin. My contribution to the workshop is titled Beyond quantification: a role for citizen science and community science in a smart city and is extending a short article from 2013 that was published by UCL’s Urban Lab, as well as integrating concepts from philosophy of technology that I have used in a talk at the University of Leicester. The abstract of the paper is:
“When approaching the issue of data in Smart Cities, there is a need to question the underlying assumptions at the basis of Smart Cities discourse and, especially, to challenge the prevailing thought that efficiency, costs and productivity are the most important values. We need to ensure that human and environmental values are taken into account in the design and implementation of systems that will influence the way cities operate and are governed. While we can accept science as the least worst method of accumulating human knowledge about the natural world, and appreciate its power to explain and act in the world, we need to consider how it is applied within the city in a way that does leave space for cultural, environmental and religious values. This paper argues that a specific form of collaborative science – citizen science and community science – is especially suitable for making Smart Cities meaningful and democratic. The paper use concepts from Albert Borgmann’s philosophy of technology – especially those of the Device Paradigm and Focal Practices, to identify the areas were sensing the city can gain meaning for the participants.”
Other papers from the same workshop that are already available include:
Rob Kitchin: Data-Driven, Networked Urbanism
Gavin McArdle & Rob Kitchin: Improving the Veracity of Open and Real-Time Urban Data
Michael Batty: Data About Cities: Redefining Big, Recasting Small
More details on the workshop will appear on the project website
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?
The Chair Early Career panel was, for me, the best session in the conference. Maria Escobar-Tello, Naomi 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.
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.”
The UCL Urban Laboratory is a cross-disciplinary initiative that links various research interest in urban issues, from infrastructure to the way they are expressed in art, films and photography. The Urban Laboratory has just published its first Urban Pamphleteer which aim to ‘confront key contemporary urban questions from diverse perspectives. Written in a direct and accessible tone, the intention of these pamphlets is to draw on the history of radical pamphleteering to stimulate debate and instigate change.’
My contribution to the first pamphleteer, which focused on ‘Future & Smart Cities’ is dealing with the balance between technology companies, engineers and scientists and the values, needs and wishes of the wider society. In particular, I suggest the potential of citizen science in opening up some of the black boxes of smart cities to wider societal control. Here are the opening and the closing paragraphs of my text, titled Beyond quantification: we need a meaningful smart city:
‘When approaching the issue of Smart Cities, there is a need to discuss the underlying assumptions at the basis of Smart Cities and challenge the prevailing thought that only efficiency and productivity are the most important values. We need to ensure that human and environmental values are taken into account in the design and implementation of systems that will influence the way cities operate…
…Although these Citizen Science approaches can potentially develop new avenues for discussing alternatives to the efficiency and productivity logic of Smart Cities, we cannot absolve those with most resources and knowledge from responsibility. There is an urgent need to ensure that the development and use of the Smart Cities technologies that are created is open to democratic and societal control, and that they are not being developed only because the technologists and scientists think that they are possible.’
The pamphleteer is not too long – 32 pages – and include many thought-provoking pieces from researchers in Geography, Environmental Engineering, Architecture, Computer Science and Art. It can be downloaded here.