UCL Sustainability week – a global university that is also Sommers Town local university

UCL is marking its sustainability week between 29th October and 4th November. As part of the activities to mark the Green UCL initiative. I was interviewed to this video, together with other researchers and professional staff who are committed to integrating sustainability into their work. The video was shot around UCL and the nearby area.

The video is aimed “to provide a sustainability induction for students and staff and to inspire students and staff with the range of sustainability solutions being developed at UCL; through our research but also through student and staff-led projects”.

I consider it quite an honour to be in this video which the interviewees’ list include Richard JacksonMark Miodownik, Helen Czerski, Andrea Sella, Kate Jones, and Sarah Bell and many more. My contribution to this is to point to our local commitment…


Non-traditional data approaches and the Sustainable Development Goals workshop

The workshop took place in IIASA, which is located in Laxenburg in Austria. The workshop was hosted by the earth observation and citizen science group at IASSA. The workshop focus on the interface between citizen science, earth observation, and traditional data collection methods in the context of monitoring and contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A contextual/perspective academic paper is an expected output of the workshop, so this post is only a summary of the opening presentations. There is also an overlap with the aim of the WeObserve project and the communities of practice in it.

The Earth Observation community geared up already to how it can contribute to the SDGs. EuroGEOSS workshop identified several SDGs where there can be a contribution of citizen science: No. 3 in wealth and wellbeing (e.g. greenspace in cities), No. 4 on quality of education, No. 5 in gender equality, No. 6 on water quality and flood management, No. 11 on sustainable cities – air quality, noise, empty houses, No. 14 – plastics, and No. 15 in species monitoring, disease, and finally on Global Partnership (No. 17).

DSCN3119Australian Citizen Science Association view – some awareness to SDGs and few projects that are linked to SDGs explicitly, though there is an issue of details. From the US CSA, the view is that there are projects that can be linked – water monitoring, CoCoRHaS, phenology, and eBird. Examples also include grassroots environmental monitoring, or the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. CitizenScience.Asia is a new network – in the context of China, people collect data to understand the environment, to collect evidence and protect rights, and for pure curiosity. The Blue-map used to report water pollution, it then goes to the government, and after being vetted it is shown, and some of it does not show. There are contributory DNA commercial project, but also “China Nature Watch” or Bauhinia Genome project that asks people to share information in Hong Kong. There are bottom-up projects, which include selling test kits for water which is used by people who share it on an online map – after 400-500 data points, the website was shut down by the government. There is also links to Public Lab – creating an automatic water monitor for flow. DSCN3122 Citizen Science Africa Association (CitSAF) – in Kenya the SDGs is getting attention (following the MDGs). NGOs activities are not synced with the government. Government pay attention to health, water, and education. CitSAF emerged from links to UNEP and focused on Kenya – air quality, some research on Malaria, and they can see interest in Nigeria, South Africa and other countries. CitSAF wants to increase the involvement and responsibility of citizens in African countries towards their natural and socio-cultural environment, especially in monitoring the SDGs. The SDG/CS Maximisation group which works across the citizen science associations (which Libby Hepburn coordinates) pointed out that the challenge is the bottom-up – from practitioners, and top-down from the UN and different countries. There is work on the credibility aspects of citizen science. There are is a need for facilitation between the CS community and the SDG community to progress things. The Citizen Science Global Partnership – launched in December 2017, as a network of networks to support citizen science activities. The global partnership has ideas and interest in working with the SDG but they are aspirational at the moment. They include – a platform for coordinating citizen science under the banner of SDG.

The Stockholm Environment Institute analysis of citizen science and SDGs: SEI has worked on environment/development over 30 years with many participatory activities, and worked explicitly on citizen science for the past 10 years. In the analysis they identified that citizen science can be used to refine and define goals; then monitoring; and even for achieving – e.g. in education, gender. The Citizen Science Centre in Zurich focuses on a platform – to allow projects, knowledge in the area, community of citizens and scientists, and projects. The open seventeen challenge is a good example for challenge-based workshops that help people to develop projects. There is an aim for developing an SDG citizen science toolkit. The Joint Research Centre of the European Commission has created an inventory of citizen science activities and mapping them against the SDGs with results being published soon. In addition, there is an effort of a standard for citizen science data and metadata with links to COST Action effort. There is a potential for recording aspects of participants if that is appropriate in the metadata. There is a specific effort of developing guidelines for environmental reporting in a process that will allow it to be cross EU.

SDSN – Sustainable Development Solution Network set up by the UN for the implementation of the sustainable development, with 800 members of universities, and other groups. Within that, the TRENDS group focuses on data governance? How people can integrate data from new sources. 20 expert members and focus on strengthening the data ecosystem, improve learning and data sharing, developing policies, and inform investment. The work is framed around data governance and use. The POPGRID project is attempting to reconcile different sources of data to get good population estimates. Another UN effort is the UN-GGIM have done work on identifying geospatial sources that can be used in SDG with an analysis to understand the indicators at different tiers – the http://ggim.un.org/UNGGIM-wg6. There is an opportunity to understand which indicators information is considered relevant, and where are data gaps. The thinking about crowdsourced and citizen science data is how to find it how to have metadata, understanding comparability and good usability for an SDG indicator. The is an issue about the global spatial data infrastructure for citizen science and crowdsourced data. There is a need to budget for data management, metadata recording and sharing of information from crowdsourced projects. There is a call for good practises and lessons learnt about the SDG indicators in the sustainable development knowledge platform.

UN Environment pointed that the SDGs includes 244 indicators, and they were developed through the inter-agency and expert group on SDG indicators (IAEG-SDG). The custodian agency is developing a methodology, improving capacity, and getting and using the data. The three types of data include country submission of data, data that is complimented with international estimates, and some global data products. There is an effort to consider a mapping exercise and then think where it can be used. A way forward is to identify one indicator, and try to get it accepted – need to be Tier 3. So the opportunity for citizen science is in an indicator that needs to be tier 3, but without an internationally established methodology or standard.


Co-designing the Citizen Science Global Partnership

DSC_0691.JPGThe workshop on the Citizen Science Global Partnership (CSGP) – the workshop included people from US, Brazil, Equador, Australia, UK, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, as well as UNESCO. A range of interests in terms of citizen science activities – from health to ecological observations. Martin Brocklehurst summarised where we are – in the UNEA3: there was a range of representative and at the end of a session a statement made a statement about the need for citizen science and coordination at the global level. The role of this partnership is to provide a coordination point for global organisations that are linked to a different association in different parts of the world, following the UN structure.dsc_0692.jpg Creating consortia for a global programme with similar research; support the collection of exchange of open, interoperable, and FAIR data, and understand and track how citizen science contributes to the SDGs. Wilson Center in DC offers an institutional home. Currently, the scope of projects that were put forward in a survey includes about 7 global scope projects and many single projects in specific countries or regions that can be part of the initiative. The common themes across projects are sustainable development goals – organisations that specifically looking at them, e.g. Citizen Science Centre Zurich. There there are an offering of technological assistant. there are conversation internally and externally in the citizen science community to address the SDGs and as we go lower than big institutions globally, there is less awareness, we need to consider a 13 years process and increase strength at a global scale and propose for creating a working group on the topic. Some of the challenges for the partnership is establishing a governance structure to think how to address requests and approaches, and that might be organised with individual volunteering to put an effort in the partnership but having some agreed ToR with their association. There are opportunities with the Geneva effort on Open17 which already have linked with UN, WHO and others. There is a website citizenscienceglobal.org – there will be a discussion forum that will require moderation and probably need to allow for closed conversations about it.

DSC_0693.JPGAnother challenge is the aims of coordination of communication – to UN, businesses etc. Need to help to establish new networks in new places. The participants in the meeting concluded that the top priority is network and lead consortia for global projects. Future meetings might coincide with international conferences that are linked to UN and the global data forum.

CHI 2013: sustainability, development and activism

As I’ve noted in the previous post, I have just attended CHI (Computer-Human Interaction) conference for the first time. It’s a fairly big conference, with over 3000 participants, multiple tracks that evolved over the 30 years that CHI have been going,  including the familiar paper presentations, panels, posters and courses, but also the less familiar ‘interactivity areas’, various student competitions, alt.CHI or Special Interest Groups meetings. It’s all fairly daunting even with all my existing experience in academic conferences. During the GeoHCI workshop I have discovered the MyCHI application, which helps in identifying interesting papers and sessions (including social recommendations) and setting up a conference schedule from these papers. It is a useful and effective app that I used throughout the conference (and wish that something similar can be made available in other large conferences, such as the AAG annual meeting).

With MyCHI in hand, while the fog started to lift and I could see a way through the programme, the trepidation about the relevance of CHI to my interests remained and even somewhat increased, after a quick search of the words ‘geog’,’marginal’,’disadvantage’ returned nothing. The conference video preview (below) also made me somewhat uncomfortable. I have a general cautious approach to the understanding and development of digital technologies, and a strong dislike to the breathless excitement from new innovations that are not necessarily making the world a better place.

Luckily, after few more attempts I have found papers about ‘environment’, ‘development’ and ‘sustainability’. Moreover, I discovered the special interest groups (SIG) that are dedicated to HCI for Development (HCI4D) and HCI for Sustainability and the programme started to build up. The sessions of these two SIGs were an excellent occasion to meet other people who are active in similar topics, and even to learn about the fascinating  concept of ‘Collapse Informatics‘ which is clearly inspired by Jared Diamond book and explores “the study, design, and development of  sociotechnical systems in the abundant present for use in a future of scarcity“.

Beyond the discussions, meeting people with shared interests and seeing that there is a scope within CHI to technology analysis and development that matches my approach, several papers and sessions were especially memorable. The studies by Elaine Massung an colleagues about community activism in encouraging shops to close the doors (and therefore waste less heating energy) and Kate Starbird on the use of social media in passing information between first responders during the Haiti earthquakeexplored how volunteered, ‘crowd’ information can be used in crisis and environmental activism.
Exploring a map next to Paire Lachaise
Other valuable papers in the area of HCI for development and sustainability include the excellent longitudinal study by Susan Wyche and Laura Murphy on the way mobile charging technology is used in Kenya , a study by Adrian Clear and colleagues about energy use and cooking practices of university students in Lancastera longitudinal study of responses to indoor air pollution monitoring by Sunyoung Kim and colleagues, and an interesting study of 8-bit, $10 computers that are common in many countries across the world by Derek Lomas and colleagues.

TheCHI at the Barricades – an activist agenda?‘ was one of the high points of the conference, with a showcase of the ways in which researchers in HCI can take a more active role in their research and lead to social or environmental change, and considering how the role of interactions in enabling or promoting such changes can be used to achieve positive outcomes. The discussions that followed the short interventions from the panel covered issues from accessibility to ethics to ways of acting and leading changes. Interestingly, while some presenters were comfortable with their activist role, the term ‘action-research’ was not mentioned. It was also illuminating to hear Ben Shneiderman emphasising his view that HCI is about representing and empowering the people who use the technologies that are being developed. His call for ‘activist HCI’ provides a way to interpret ‘universal usability‘ as an ethical and moral imperative.

It was good to see the work of the Citizen Sort team getting into the finalists of the students game competition, and to hear about their development of citizen science games.

So despite the early concerned, CHI was a conference worth attending and the specific jargon of CHI now seem more understandable. I wish that there was on the conference website a big sign ‘new to CHI? Start here…’