Categories
computing crisis

Social computing responses to disasters

Leysia Palen

In our physical social networks, neighbourhoods and neighbours matter – and our digital neighbours matter too.

Leysia Palen is Professor of Computer Science, and Professor and Founding Chair of the newly established Department of Information Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. We talk of crisis informatics and the transformational role that social computing can play in the way society responds to mass emergencies and disasters.

Talking points

Obligation to think of computing as vision of future that is not simply entertaining but one through which we can engage with natural environment and lead more responsible lives

Everyday connected technologies

Default settings on calendars…culture of environment in which technology is created in gets baked into technology itself…colonising values to different places.

Technology is hugely value laden and they may or may not be your values

In a crisis, everyone goes into an intensified information seeking mode

The information gap is an opportunity for the crowd to help

Disaster – there’s a hazard that exceeds what the emergency personnel can respond to…even the emergency responders don’t have all the information – a disruption to social order across the board

We adapt to the events that are happening – what are the salient problems for which research will have something useful to say?

We have an ethical responsibility, an obligation to do something that matters

We have to be agile to think about what is useful research as these different events happen around the world

We wouldn’t presume to think we can be useful for something we can’t understand…so we try to partner with people on the ground

We’ve been tracking how social media crisis behaviour has changed

We try to debunk from the start – the movie panic – the media and twitter focusses on the sensational and silly, but there’s a great deal of stuff underneath the surface

Finding it can be difficult, but those who need it, they find it and do something with it – they’re persistent because they need it.

People are looking for the signal in the noise , and we need to separate the global audience versus the geovulnerable

Who people communicate with during a disaster is different than before

They’re looking for individuals who can provide information

Individuals in neighbourhoods who are able to localise the messages from emergency management

But when people are in hugely stressful situations they’re not able to manage the information, then we get people on the outside who want to help, and curate information – increasing the signal of the good information.

Multiple forms of self organising communication mechanisms

A research focus is how do we amplify the signal?

Emergency management social media protocols…those that work best are those that.. might have a list of ten but review and say these five worked, and these other things…responding to a changing environment

Local emergency management groups, they need to perceive themselves as being experimental in this as well

The practices around outgoing messaging are becoming very good, but listening strategy…they’re not listening.

They’re very good at listening well, but how do you listen well when you through social media don’t know if the people who need help most are able to express themselves

A terrible situation…but people remain analytical, if anything because of the desperate situation they’re working within they have to become concise and precise about their actions

The idea that people can’t work through things, that they’re helpless – this is dangerous – people have always been their own advocates in a disaster, so we need to be careful not to project these helpless myths onto social media then we’re not really able to see the potential

Social media is a stage upon which people are acting, it’s a place of convergence. So even though we can see the jokes, the dark humour and the sensational stuff, but underneath that is really important work being done.

So our job as researchers developing better technologies for our future is amplifying that important work

We need to pay attention to practice – how people actually do things.

Things happen in situations, and our technology has to be able to adapt to that.

Working in disaster response…lends itself to policy design, and that, like technology creation it prefers rational ideas… disasters are disorderly and we want them to be orderly…but the way we can look at how new characteristics (such as social media) is by looking at how we actually practice them in a disaster

The emergence of best practice technology solutions…we’re in a state of massive change, it would be comforting to have all the answers, but we can’t presume we can freeze it all tomorrow and that’s the answer – but we’re in a stage of invention

We need to prepare, but we must be willing to be inventive, be adaptable and be not quite right and iterate

We see stronger responses – higher resilience – from areas that are prepared with good social networks already – it is a good thing to extend that to our technological practice

In our physical social networks, neighbourhoods and neighbours matter – and our digital neighbours matter too.

Haiti…wasn’t so much social media from on the ground…but the international response…open street maps, digital humanitarianism…the attention brought to events through observant and curious audience might start out as concern and oogling but can and does transform into real help

People want to do more than digital prayers and clicking for donations – but they want to do more.

There’s new attention to idea that disasters and management of resilience is both a highly localised activity – communities need to solve these things for themselves – but there’s also this outward facing, attachments to other communities

There’s something about this pleasant tension between this highly local and this global set of relationships

People want to help themselves they do want to help others – they want to feel connected to many others and to our local communities

(what can we learn from crisis to the longer, slow burn crisis?) Hurricanes, wildfire and so on are going to become more violent, more frequent…how do we communicate risk? how do we understand risk to our planet, to our children and grandchildren.

How do we understand risk so that we can change our behaviour?

It’s about communicating risk but it is also about communicating solutions to different populations.

(Activist?) I am an activist, I’m an activist of knowledge, of reality, of sober and sombre understandings of our relationship with our technological world, and each other, and I am sympathetic to the problems that we face.

As a researcher I try not to bring any presumptions into the questions that I bring there but to bring a critical eye to bore through the rhetoric of things like disaster which are politically charged.

I pursue the truth – sounds pretty trite I know – and I try to communicate that. I feel very strongly about finding the right words and communicating that for different audiences, so in that way I am an activist.

(Motivation?) I want to know, I want others to know, I want us to be concious and conscientious.

(Challenges?) We’ve been working in Crisis Informatics for 10 years, we’ve made a lot of inroads with students being able to take on more complex problems – I want to get beyond dismantling the myths and work even deeper on the problems.

As new chair of department I want to create a curriculum for our undergraduate students and have them be able to address a range of societal problems as well as commercial challenges, but in this way that deals with data in ethical, mathematically responsible, ethnographically responsible ways.

(Miracle?) That my children and all of our children wouldn’t have to worry about disasters and the effects of climate change. And that if they do worry, which they will, that we’ve left them the tools – intellectual and built – to mitigate whatever it is that we’ve given them.

(Advice?) Be attentive. Don’t presume. Be watchful for how technology is driving us in particular directions, but also don’t be over-cautious about that either.

Categories
computing

Computing at the heart of culture change

Barath Raghavan in his rooftop garden at ICSI Berkeley

For better or for worse, technology is seen as the future; computing can shift culture in ways that are aligned with sustainability.

Dr Barath Raghavan is a researcher with the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, California. We discuss how he brings together his research in networking and passion for sustainability – particularly gardening.

Talking points

I struggle that computing as a field is about virtual worlds…creating everything in an abstract space, computer programs have no physical boundaries – at least this is how computer scientists like to think of it. Yet at the same time…I’ve had concerns about energy and environmental issues. Those were always two distinct interests – I have my computing interests and I had my environmental interests, and they never crossed.

A formative experience at elementary school was an Earth Day…50 simple things kids can do to save the earth…awareness things.

(Little things like recycling) It’s the easiest thing, it’s immediately apparent, and you think you’ve done something…the danger is if that’s all you do.

Small things awareness building

(4 environmentalisms) if it’s all light green we’re not going to make any progress.

Computer networks enable long range communication in a way that was never possible before…

Networks in a broader sense – understanding how things interlock in systems. That connects to ecology in ways that I hadn’t anticipated.

Donella Meadows’ leverage points – how to effectively change large scale systems – she was a systems ecologist, but her principles apply equally well to how would we change the internet.

Thinking about one system helps you think about others. My hope is that I can bring more computing systems thinking people into the fold of thinking about ecological problems.

Modularity based on abstraction is the way that things are done…(Liskov)…we have computer systems built on a scale that would have been unfathomable only a couple of decades ago – the internet may be the single biggest system humans have ever built – and this system wouldn’t work with modularity, the ability to divide up the problem, and abstract it to simplify the way two different systems plug into each other…but now computing is so embedded in society it is important that we understand not only the upsides of modularity and abstraction, but also the downsides. What happens when you get too much complexity in a system?

(Are our systems too fragile?) Optimist: the reason the internet is so stable is that there are enough feedback loops, people who’s job it is to fix it. Pessimist: there are too many weak points, in interests of efficiency, we’ve engineered out all of the redundancy. We’ve seen examples of both of these perspectives being right.

Razor-thin margins require resources to run just-in-time. Will we be able to maintain that as we become more resource constrained?

The energy footprint of the internet…I got a question from someone…is it better for me to travel or use a Skype video conference?… The conclusion I came to was that if you have to travel more than 10-15 miles by car, then video conference is a lighter energy footprint. An hour video conference is about the same as driving 10 miles – that’s a bigger footprint than people imagine. The material footprint is considerably more than people think – all the devices had to be manufactured, have a fixed lifespan, depend on the power-grid…

With embodied energy and electricity consumption, the internet accounts for something like 2% of global energy consumption.

The easiest thing we could do is keep devices longer, next we should really use computing to help save energy in other aspects of society.

The fundamental issue is that the economic system is structured for obsolescence and growth – so if people were to keep devices for as long as possible, it would have ripple effects throughout the entire economic system.

Effective environmental thinking requires a restructuring of societal priorities.

(Tomlinson) Sustainability is a cultural issue, not a technological issue. So computing can only really help solve problems we as society decide are important enough to solve.

If we decide as a society that sustainability isn’t really important, then we can throw all the computing we want at it, it won’t make a difference

(so are we wasting our time?) It is natural for computing to want to be involve. Shower timers, reminders to recycle aren’t going to make a difference, but……effect of drought reminders in California….small shifts in thinking will eventually add up, and this is where social change comes from.

So there is some small value in doing the small things, the problem is when we only do the small things.

We need to go beyond the small concrete goal to broader systemic change.

For better or for worse, technology is seen as the future; computing can shift culture in ways that are aligned with sustainability.

Computing in the the Long Emergency…there are ecological limits that we’re facing, they’re likely to take a number of different forms rather than a single event, and they won’t happen all at once, they’ll play out of the course of a century…we’re seeing that right now…so how does computing have to contribute? how are we going to be affected?

Computing research is driven on the promise of more, the promise of progress, new prosperity through new invention. This long emergency future might make it impossible to have that better tomorrow future – it might be making do with less…At best the science and technology research will help us more gracefully go downhill, rather than falling off a cliff.

(How might computing learn from the positive demonstration of a better life, seen in the Transition Town movement?) The ability to communicate with people all over the world…we don’t know what we’re doing, its a giant planetary experiment, the best we can do is share what seems to be working…communication technology is pretty important for that.

The structure of the computing industry, like any industry, is about making profits, and that is not aligned well with the sorts of responses and solutions that sustainability minded people have identified.

Solving the sustainability of computing itself is a very small piece of the puzzle, it’s about using computing to make society more sustainable.

(Technology utopia or slow/fast decline?) I still think that a gradual decline is on the cards. I don’t believe that we can wriggle out of what ecology tells us – that we’re in overshoot, humans are exceeding the carrying capacity of the planet, so something is going to have to come down: our resource consumption, our industrial base, probably many things will come down…but I don’t think that many of the things we take for granted as part of everyday life are necessary for happiness. This is what the Transition Town movement identifies – you can still have a rich life, a happy life, without a materially wealthy life. The difficulty I have, is that so far I haven’t seen evidence from a broader society that we collectively make good political decisions, the rules that we apply to ourselves, we haven’t figured out that we have to make decisions that have short term painful consequences for long term benefits. We have to slow down the rate of resource consumption now so that we can have reduced climate change in the future. That’s where my worry lies – I think we will still have a slow decline, but the nature of that slow decline..will it be a harsh slow decline or will we come up with an alternative system that mitigate that decline?

I believe in community oriented responses.

In 50 years in the future, will we still have resources to run the internet? I’ve thought about this quite a bit, we wrote a paper Macroscopically Sustainable Networking: An Internet Quine (a Quine is a program that can reproduce itself)…do we have the knowledge, resources and machinery to rebuild the internet using local resources? Or do we really need the global industrial system to keep the internet going. A simple answer is that we have enough waste – chips sitting in landfill – to keep the internet going for a very long time. A more complex answer is that a lower bandwidth internet is certainly easy to do. The other question is will it be useful for society that people will care?

(Concerns about food production leads to local resilience activities such as farmers markets, community gardens and guerilla gardening…is guerilla networking possible or desirable?) Yes, I’m involved in several such projects.

(Success?): Tree planting. Working with a lot of businesses to plant fruit trees.

(Activist?): I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it. It would be fair to say that I am, but I do keep my activism separate from my research – that’s the traditional way, although these days I feel I am allowing the two to converge.

(Motivation?): Growing things. Looking for opportunities to plant something almost every day.

(Challenges?): Figuring out how what I think is worthwhile is Research, with a capital R. What is defined as research…a professor here likes to quote “researchers get paid to be clever, not to be right”, I’d like to be a little bit clever and a little bit right. I’d like us to do work that is important, but also come up with new ideas that are useful to society.

Thinking about how to convince a research community that is designed around novelty, rather than societal impact – that’s a challenge.

(Miracle?): I would implement some version of Herman Daly’s steady state economy.

(Advice?): Read something that if far afield from your field, something from some other discipline.

Although recorded in Barath’s rooftop garden in Berkeley, this Sustainable Lens is from a series of conversations at University California Irvine. Sam’s visit was supported by the Newkirk Center for Science and Society, and coincided with Limits 2015.

Categories
computing

Sustainable software engineering

Birgit Penzenstadler

If I put sustainability into the software system requirements, that means during testing I now have to test whether the system meets those sustainability requirements. What I’m doing now is finding those metrics.

Dr Birgit Penzenstadler is Professor for Software Engineering at California State University Long Beach. In her research Birgit explores the relationships between sustainability and software engineering.

We talk about Birgit’s background and motivations, her teaching and research, and the Karlskrona Manifesto,

Talking points

What are the things that we as software developers should pay attention to?

The first part (of the Karlskrona Manifesto) is about misconceptions that we have about sustainability….for example that there is a magic technical solution just around the corner that’s going to solve the sustainability problem, we’ve just got to find that one silver bullet.

…and for each of those misconceptions we explain what the reality is, and as sustainability is a very complex problem, a wicked problem – we can’t solve it with a magic bullet, it will take many things that solve different aspects of the problem and it’s unclear how we can do that.

The second part of the manifesto proposes a set of principles, for example we need to be looking at longer timescales when we develop systems, and we need to involve multiple disciplines, it can’t just be a bunch of software engineers trying develop a system, we need to get expertise from other people, for example from psychologists, ecologists…

At the end of the manifesto we give a couple of suggestions as to what people might do as the next step.

Start by discussing it, what it might mean and raising awareness.

The major push back I get is “I get my requirements from my customers, it’s not my place to say you should also look at the sustainability aspect”. So this should be part of our ethics standard, that I don’t just look at what is the maximum return on investment and is this safe for humans to use without getting hurt, but we should also look at other categories of damage.

We should always be free to point out social and environmental consequences, but the line at which we should walk away and say we’re not going to do a development…it’s hard to say where that line is.

At the moment we might be developing a lot of systems that we don’t really need.

Instead of inventing yet another system, and developing yet another software product, maybe we should be looking at simpler solutions.

Instead of products to buy, we should perhaps be better looking at sharing systems

The main intention of the Karlskrona Manifesto is to raise the discussion around sustainability, to make software engineers aware of the topic – look, it’s your responsibility to at least think about this and think what you are going to do about it.

I discuss four definitions of sustainability with my students: 1. To persist over an extended period of time.
2. To preserve a function over an extended period of time.
3. The next one (you taught me), ethics extended over space and time – this adds the notion of value.
4. (from Ehrenfeld) Life to flourish indefinitely – painting the vision of an even brighter future.

Then I tell students the other part, from Laurence Hilty – to scope your analysis well, what do you want to sustain, for whom you you want to sustain it, and what is the time horizon you want to be looking at.

For some reason, we humans tend to think that sustainability means preserving the human race on this planet, the truth is the planet would fare pretty well without us, but we still want to be around, so we strongly scope what we perceive as sustainable in that way.

I’m taking the liberty of using one of my 25 lectures on software engineering to discuss software engineering for sustainability because I think that it is important

use case

If I put sustainability into the software system requirements, that means during testing I now have to test whether the system meets those sustainability requirements. What I’m doing now is finding those metrics.

This is taking the requirements problem to the extreme.

If in requirements engineering I define what sustainability means in terms of this specific software, then I have as a starting point for the metrics that will help me determine whether that software system is sustainable…but that means I have to do work at the beginning, it means I have to do a life cycle analysis, which is not yet a standard method for software engineering.

(is it possible to write requirements to solve wicked problems?) It’s tough. I’m an optimist by nature. This sustainability research has sometimes brought me to the limits of my optimism, but I refuse to give up.

There’s a lot of challenge in doing this, but I’m going to try to find the best method that I can.

I can teach my software engineering students to start paying attention to sustainability.

I do think that every one of us, no matter what discipline we are working in, can find at least a small point of leverage.

If I have the freedom to develop a software system, what do I want the system to be about, then I can decide to make a software system that is a completely new solution that helps people to form a community and do something together instead of making small efficiency steps if the solution was not the best one in the first place.

Car efficiency versus car sharing…a case where optimising one solution further would yield far less benefit than going for a completely different solution.

(software engineering is by definition a systems view) yes, and at the same time, I think we software engineers often don’t step back enough. We’re thinking how can I break down this problem into manageable parts and solve those, when we should be taking a step back and trying to apply a systems thinking approach.

(if pushed for metrics) Environmental impact, social consequences.

The environmental impact is not just the hardware, it is what is the system going to be put to use for.

(success) Finishing up my Habilitation.

(Activist) I would say so, yes. It is not my job to teach my students about sustainability, but nevertheless I do it, and I really care about convincing them that it is worth having a discussion about.

(Not your job, but it’s not job to teach in non-racist manner, or non sexist manner either, can we get sustainability to same level? I’m teaching my students to behave professionally non-racist, sustainably…). I would make sure not be a racist in class, but I guess I wouldn’t talk about not being a racist in class during my class, I guess that’s the difference.

I implicitly adhere to good ways of behaving, because that’s what I’ve been taught culturally, and maybe we can get to that same point about sustainability.

(Motivation) When I go out into the mountains at the weekend, and I love the mountains, and I see all that beauty around me – that’s what I really want to preserve.

(Challenges) Californian in training.

(Miracle) Tough choice…I want our planet to have way left population than it currently has. Not because of a disaster, but it’s a magic wand – the population never grew to that many people. And we found better ways of using technology and not taking it to the extreme as we have over the past couple of decades. Maybe we just had a magic moment of insight a few centuries back.

(Is technology going to save us?) I don’t think technology is going to ruin or save us – it’s our choice as responsible human beings to put technology to good use such that it can help us to save ourselves and this planet.

(Advice) Listeners already care about sustainability and probably think about how they can put it into action in their personal lives – I would like to encourage all of you to continue doing that.

This Sustainable Lens is from a series of conversations at University California Irvine in June 2015. Sam’s visit was supported by the Newkirk Center for Science and Society, and coincided with Limits 2015.

Categories
computing development

Technology amplifies underlying human forces

Kentaro Toyama

Technology amplifies underlying human forces.

Kentaro Toyama is W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan School of Information, a fellow of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT, and author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology.

Talking points

I realised that with physics you are trying to understand the universe that is not going to change – it exists and the point is discovery – there’s lots of creativity associated with how you discover those things, but it’s convergent, you are ultimately trying to find one solution to a problem. Whereas with computing and engineering, the interesting thing is that it’s diversifying. You are trying to innovate and create things that have never existed, that people have never imagined and may not come into being unless its creators create it.

I became a bit tired of working on problems that were only going to help people who are already quite wealthy and can afford a lot of gadgets. So in 2004 I moved to India to help start a new research lab there, and changed research direction to look at how technologies can be used to address global poverty.

Initially I thought that we could do projects where some kind of new digital technology would make a substantial contribution to alleviating poverty, to increasing healthcare, to improving education, especially in India’s poorest communities – rural villages and urban slums. But as I did more and more of that work I began to see that it usually wasn’t the technology that made a difference, but who we worked with – our partners…that made a difference whether our outcomes were positive or not.

Curiosity driven research with desire to have social impact

Technology amplifies underlying human forces. Ironically what that means is that often in the very places we want the technology to have a positive impact it fails to gain a foothold because there is either a missing human intention or a missing capacity.

The “cult of technology” is the idea that increasingly we are living in a world where we believe that there are technological solutions to just about everything…classically “there’s an app for that”…meaning that there’s a mobile application for just about any problem that you might have in your life. Technology is certainly powerful, and amplification means that for people who have solid education, who have good social ties, who know how to use technology – they can make incredible use of it. But technology’s positive power isn’t embedded in the technology itself, it actually comes from the use that people make of it – which means that ultimately it’s the people who decide whether a technology is going to have a positive impact, a negative impact or no impact at all.

In the context of international development, what this means is that exactly in those places where human institutions are not functioning, technology is not likely to help either.

Efforts (eg in democracy) are not doomed, work to the extent that they amplifying existing forces towards democracy.

Democracy is inherently a political thing, it requires human beings to push for it, argue for it, …those things can be mediated through technology, but it’s never the technology that causes them.

Very difficult to find good ways to use technology in areas of abject poverty, not because it can’t be done, but because people are missing other things that they need in order to fully utilise the technology…good solid basic education, politically marginalised without strong social ties to people in power…those constraints make it difficult to use the technology to dramatically change their situation.

(On the promise of wikipedia etc)..content is the bare minimum…role of education is motivation

I’m not saying we should give up on technology…better technology better engine, still need a driver.

It is extremely tempting to look for technology solutions for sustainability, certainly there will be technologies that we will have to use to attain a more sustainable civilisation. But ultimately the decisions are very human in nature, and at large scale are political. We have to win those human political fights before the technology will actually have impact.

At some level we all know what we have to do to achieve sustainability – we have to consume less, we need to be more respectful of the environment, we need to make sure that the resources we use are being replenished – and while better technologies can help us do those things better, we’re not even taking the most elementary steps as a society to do the sustainability things we could be doing. Which suggests that even if we had great technology, we still might not use them towards a sustainable ends.

Again, technology amplifies underlying human forces – as soon as we as a global civilisation decide that sustainability is sufficiently important, I have no doubt that we will use the technology that we have, and invent new technologies that will help us achieve it, but until we make up our minds to chase that, it won’t make a difference if we have the best technologies in the world, we’ll still not use them for the right purposes.

I think of social change being primarily driven by a process of human maturation – in the sense of people becoming wiser and better and kinder human beings, we can debate exactly what that means, but most of us have a sense…that there’s a continuum…criminal drug lords…saintly, and there’s a sense of a spectrum of humanity, I think that as people our greatest challenge is trying to move up that escalator, being better versions of ourselves. I think the social change we want to seek is a world where all of us are better versions of ourselves. If we can achieve that, even by increments, then the technology will follow, we will use the technology in better and wiser ways.

(Success) Small internal incremental changes – spending more time on work that has social impact, being less concerned with achievements that have public recognition.

(Challenges) Trying to make the world a more equitable place. The two biggest challenges of our civilisation are inequality and sustainability. They’re both incredibly challenging problems that I’ll be happy if I can make even a small contribution.

Research – find forces that technology could amplify that we have overlooked…for example channelling powerful religious motivations

(Activist) Generally not, but because my impact is through other people, my students or partner organisations.

(Motivation) I think that all of life is basically a succession of moments of consciousness…and each one of those moments has the capacity to be either painful or happy, or somewhere in between. I think that our purpose from moment to moment is to try to make as many of the future moments of consciousness as happy as possible. Those might be my own, but also other people or other forms of life, or other animals to some extent. So to the extent that I can, I would like to ensure more happy moments of consciousness.

The questions of sustainability are whether future generations will have the same potential moments of happiness. Are we right now taking massive withdrawals from the potential for human civilisation to continue having happy moments of consciousness at the level those wealthy of us now are enjoying?

Technology will help as soon as we commit to sustainability as an issue that is important to us. Until then, it’s not a technological question.

(Challenges) I’m very conscious that most of my challenges are internal…I’m aware of a need for comfort, while not doing everything that I can for the goals that I have. I can expect anyone else to change if I can’t change myself in those ways.

(Miracle) Everyone to have increase in some percent wisdom.

Each one of us to pursue whatever we aspire to in a single minded way

(Advice) Follow your heart.

This Sustainable Lens is from a series of conversations at University California Irvine in June 2015. Sam’s visit was supported by the Newkirk Center for Science and Society, and coincided with Limits 2015.

Categories
computing design energy

Participating co-developers

Maria Angela Ferarrio

The task becomes to bring values into technology you develop.

Dr Maria Angela Ferrario is a Senior Research Associate at Lancaster Management School working on Catalyst, an EPRSC funded community-led research project aimed at developing next generation digital technologies for social innovation. Her research interests lie in innovation studies, interdisciplinary research methods and the impact of digital innovation on society. We talk about the On Supply initiative on the Isle of Tiree and using participatory development to overcome tensions between innovation and sustainability.

Talking points

There is a thread – understanding of human relationships and human dynamics, how we interact and how this is communicated.

Digital innovation for social innovation, and what sustainability means in that.
The sustainability of life on the planet as a frame has been a the forefront of my mind since I was a teenager.

I had a problem, innovation, especially digital innovation seems to be contrasting with sustainability. So I questioned that a lot.

(Italian philosopher) Innovation is going to happen, you decide whether it happens with or without values you believe in.

The task becomes to bring values into technology you develop.

Being open to change, and values of democracy and participation at the core of technology.

Respect for people we work with – the people we work with are equal partners in research.

How technology could first investigate and then facilitate the synchronisation of energy consumption to the time varying availability of renewable energy supply.

We used to have energy on demand, now that is not the case, what does that mean to our daily behaviour?

Energy as a community resource

Core characteristic is the time varying ability of energy supply

(Children exploring with energy treasure hunt) thinking about energy as positive force you can harness, but also something you need to respect.

A Real butterfly affect…you do not know the reach or the ripples of your actions…that a child found a previously thought extinct butterfly on a school trip exploring energy makes me hopeful there are many different entry points to complex societal problems – they can be tackled in many different ways.

The most important thing is a mind set that is open to change and also open to let things go, and also open to transcendence.

Our participants were most definitely co-developers.

Establishing an empathetic relationship with the element (wind) makes the value of the number deeper and more connected to action and change.

(from participant) “…we are in a privileged position to learn to synchronise our lives to natural rhythm.

If I can adapt my life to the production of natural renewable energy that won’t be to the detriment of the planet, I don’t see why I’m not going to use my time to do that.

The key motivation for people was to learn how to synchronise their consumption behaviour to the availability of clean energy for a time when renewable clean energy has a bigger share in the basket

We are aware that at the moment we have energy whenever we want, but we are also aware that we are having a detrimental impact on the environment

So it’s a good thing for me to prepare to change my patterns of consumption for a time when renewable energy is going to be more available and at the same time learn practices that are less aggressive on the prospect of sustainability of life for the planet of the future.

Even I, totally committed to the sustainability agenda, found myself going to the shop to buy a coffee (after experimenting with a self imposed rule of not brewing a coffee when the campus wind turbine wasn’t spinning).

This mentality of “I need it, I need it now”, is so ingrained in us. We need to accept that, or weakness, but it’s good to be aware of that. It’s good to play with technologies that unearth that.

We learned we live in an industrial age still. The 9-5 pattern, going to work regardless of the light…we started thinking, what if our life practices were more in tune with seasonal patterns.

I’m very conscious that energy is a metaphor for climate change, sustainability.

The way we approach sustainability should be grounded

(Motivation?) The life on the planet. I’m not religous but I quite treasure the fact that I had the opportunity to be alive on the planet, and like me, the billions of different people and creatures.

For me, sustainability is giving the opportunity to this life to be self sustaining.

(Activist?) Active but not activist

(Challenge?) Sustaining myself because when you start getting your head around the complexity of the word sustainability, you can see how you may try to work on a path of values that are quite contrasting from the mainstream, so it’s a bit of a compromise between the two.

(Miracle?) For me the miracle is that everybody at the same time will wake up with a magic wand – the most interesting experience of seeing how people decide to have the world look like.

(Advice?) Use less the word “wrong” and ask more the question “why?” whenever we hear words and sentences from people we do not agree with.

Categories
computing democracy development

Democracy = sustainability?

Somya Joshi

There is a sense of double standards, sustainability should be a global concept, it shouldn’t be hypocritical in the sense that you have one set of standards that apply to the developed world and another to the developing.

Dr. Somya Joshi is with the eGovernance Lab within the Department of Computer Science at the University of Stockholm. She specialises in technological innovation, particularly in how it translates into transparency in governance, education, & environmental conservation within the developing world. She has worked extensively in the field where policy making and citizen participation intersect. She is currently working on analyzing the impact of new social media tools that enable citizens to participate in democratic processes, both in Africa in Europe.

Some terms you might not be familiar with: HCI Human Computer Interaction, ICT4D Information and Communication Technology for Developement, ICT4S ICT for Sustainability.

We ask if does openness = democracy? and does democracy = sustainable? and what is the role of information technology in this?

Talking points

Quite early on I was fascinated by how our own relationships with our world are changing, and changing because of technology mediation.

Is sustainability part of the philosophy of people (in India)? I would argue that it used to be, up to a time when everything got scaled up. Now with enormous populations, Sustainability always takes a back seat. The rhetoric of development is all about economic progress, and environmental sustainability is just such a low priority

A fear of being left behind. Having a lifestyle your parents or grandparents couldn’t. Why should we make a sacrifice when people in the West haven’t? It feels patronising getting told about sustainability from a European or North American who haven’t followed what they are preaching now.

It’s a short term perspective versus a long term, in the short term sustainability doesn’t feature anywhere because its all about how quickly you can enjoy a lifestyle which others are. But in the long term perspective, countries like India are actually hurting themselves…they are depleting their own resources at rate that is unprecedented.

But on an individual, family level, why shouldn’t we have car when that is not even questioned in the US?

The economy is based on certain resources that are taken for granted now, but your children will not have time to enjoy them.

When I think of Sustainability and education in a place like India, it’s not just about environmental sustainability, it’s also social sustainability, where certain very basic things need to be taught about equality.

We often see technology as a one stop solution. We get technology physically to children but there is often no real though about what happens next – about behavioural change.

The lack of political will to change the power dynamic – you’ll find in Europe as much as in Africa. The difference is Europe has a longer tradition politicians needing to make decisions transparent – up to a point of course.

Greater transparency does not always equal greater accountability.

To be on equal footing with politicians and hold them accountable, citizens need the capability to participate in the dialogue. To come into the space as an equal…

Participation can become quite tokenistic, ticking a box ‘we consulted people’. You have to have a plan…bring everybody to as much the same capability as you can…

The first stage is building capability, so that people can participate in a meaningful way

Technology should be able to give meaningful choices to people, not restrict choices

In the developing world there is a feeling that sustainability is an elitist concept, that people who can afford to talk about sustainability are the ones with their bellies full.

There is a sense of double standards, sustainability should be a global concept, it shouldn’t be hypocritical in the sense that you have one set of standards that apply to the developed world and another to the developing.

A focus on human behavioural change will have the most impact in bring about any long term meaningful change

We’ve seen innovative ways of using technical solutions – they are great and a must – but we shouldn’t limit ourselves to thoats say “right, our consumption is going to carry on the way it is” and we won’t ever put ourselves out of comfort zone, we’ll just find a technical solution to fix it.

Sustainability should be about getting out of your comfort zone, chnaging your own patterns and behaviour to put less pressure on the planet. (which is hard if you’re not in the comfort zone). Exactly, and the first world has been in that comfort zone a long time, and they’re in no mood to let go of that.

The best initiatives leapfrog barriers.

Collaborative technologies…the arduino revolution

The focus is always how to design a technology then how to find a problem to fit around it. There’s a lot less critical discussion on how behavioural practices can be changed. Technical parameters are easy to define, human ones not so much.

Sustainability has to have meaning for that audience, it is not something imposed from above. If it is participative, if it has meaning for that community, then it has greater impact and outcome.

Voluntourism is OK if there to engage, and not paternalistic.

Motivation: nature not exotic thing, it is part of our everyday lives, we are totally dependent on it.

Activist: Yes, extreme (my colleagues think I’m), willing to get off plane of theoretical understanding and applying it in your everyday life, and being consistent with that. We have so many inconsistencies, we can be strongly motivated by sustainability, but our everyday life choices decisions and life practices don’t support that. It becomes about practicing that and supporting that at every level of your life. It is inconvenient, it is about getting out our your comfort zone, but we’re at a stage where we can’t not do that.

Challenges: making more political, why people have differential access.

A lot of the disrespect that exists today for nature and ecological factors is that people are so removed from it. There is a lot of taking for granted, overuse and abuse of the environment because people are so removed and disconnected from it.

Resources:
We talk about the work of Dr Andy Williamson (previous interview), and John Mann’s work in Cambodia (previous interview, EducatingCambodia.com).

SustainableLens apologises for the concrete mixer that appeared outside the window near the start of this interview. It goes away after a few minutes although returns right at the end.

Categories
communication community computing education maori

Virtual marae

Dee O'Carroll

It’s cold pressing your nose against the screen


Dr Acushla Dee O’Carroll  (Ngaruahine Rangi, Ngāti Ruanui, Te Āti Awa) is a Senior Research Officer at AUT University.  She recently completed her PhD Kanohi ki te kanohi – a thing of the past? An examination of Māori use of social networking sites and the implications for Māori culture and society.  Dr O’Carroll’s research explores the tensions that Māori face as they negotiate virtual spaces and navigate new territories of social networks, highlighting the pressures on kanohi ki te kanohi practice (face to face). We ask if there can really be a virtual marae?  and what are the implications of this on tuakiritanga (cultural identity) and tikanga (customary practices).  What impacts are facebook and twitter having on indigenous ways of communicating? and should marae develop social media policies?

Dee was at Otago Polytechnic as part of the Ako Aoteroa funded National Project in Learners and mobile devices (#NPF14LMD): A framework for enhanced learning and institutional change.

 

 

Categories
computing design economics

Change through informal exchange

John Harvey

Informal exchange is binding, it creates ties, it creates social obligation.

John Harvey is a researcher at the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute at the University of Nottingham. An economic anthropologist, John is researching systems to encourage non-monetary forms of exchange such as freecycle, couch surfing and his own Neehoy. He talks with us here about prosociality and empathy as core design strategies.

Talking points

As much time, effort and inter-personal meaning goes into the informal economy

There are two fundamentally different ways people come at understanding the economy. There’s the formalist approach – the idea that we’re all rational people, and that we rationalise, economise in the presence of scarce resources, and the opposite side to that – the substantivist approach would argue that neither of those presuppositions are true the idea of rationality is not universal and the idea of scarcity is not universal – they are constructs. The formalists might say the economy is the aggregate of all individual actions, whereas the substantives may say the economy is simply the way that people provision and furnish for themselves – they not might be trying to maximise utility.

There’s always been this sense of alienation when it comes to exchange. You might consider some people you talk to the same as yourself – you might give or share with them readily, or some people you might consider as other – you might want some balanced exchange.

Alienation refers to the objects in our lives – the idea that some objects are transferable, and some objects are not transferable – we keep them within our kin, our friends, our family. Some items assume a collective ownership – the food in the fridge. That comes from a shared mutual understanding of who we are. Introducing otherness introduces the notion of debt.

New technology is changing the way we look at things – we can belong to multiple communities online that we wouldn’t necessarily interact with otherwise…this is changes the dynamics of how we procure things for our own lives.

(Couch-surfing, wikipedia, creative commons) These new forms of collective ownership are fascinating.

We should be designing economic policy that helps people to feel well-being rather than increased GDP.

I think GDP is a terrible measure of prosperity

The free market…has helped to liberate people, but potentially it imprisons them in an iron cage of consumption.

Efficiency is a good thing…the less damage we can do to the planet, the less resources we can extract the better. Efficiency as it relates to production starts to become controversial – as you put efficient tools into the hands of a few, you reduce the workforce.

Centralising production…full of conundrums…

We’re (Neehoy) expanding the ideas of free-cycle to large scale asset management.

Most of the focus in asset management has been on high value assets, but this overlooks the millions of pounds tied up in furniture. In health, much of this is dormant, sat idle, if we can reduce this by a fraction then not only is the organisation saving money, it’s also a great thing for the environment.

Prosociality means to me a voluntary intentional behaviour that results in benefits for another.

In rational economics this is explained by the utilitarian self – if you act in a way that is kind to other people, you have a warm glow – you feel good about yourself – you’ll feel good and that’s why you do it it’s selfish. Similarly they’ll say when you see somebody in distress you’ll feel negative, you’ll feel guilt. Acting kindly is helping to relieve that sense of guilt. Alternatively to that utilitarian concept of altruism, that egoistic interpretation, are ideas about empathic concern – the ability to imagine the other. What other people endure and perceive in their own lives.

We see these rational behavioural economic assumptions in design. Recently we’ve seen a lot of work that attempts to nudge behaviour, it takes an individual to be at best to be rational and at worst to be irrational but within confines – bounded rationality. …HCI is well positioned to present information, cues to try to manipulate behaviour, but it is fraught.

Activist: HCI an interventionary field, we don’t just describe the world, we try to change it – it is inescapably an activist discipline. There is a moral obligation of HCI researchers to consider impacts.

I’m naturally anarchistic – I like decentralisation, I like giving tools to people so that they can do something meaningful with their life. Unless those tools are created in participation with local cultures you run the risk of cultural imperialism.

I like the idea that technology can help people to become kinder, freer.

I celebrating differences rather than looking for universal principles.

Streetbank: a small charity, encouraging people to act more kinder to other people that doesn’t rely on reciprocity – I think that is a beautiful thought.

Pay-it-forward still has notion of money that involves debt, the moral stance of obligation, I like play, play-it-forward. Could you create an economic based on these Utopian principles? Not likely to happen but a nice thought.

We need both sides of the economy, there needs to a redress of the balance between those two sides.

Advice: Be willing to fail. Don’t take failure as end of the road – there’s so much to learn from failure it is almost virtuous.

Categories
computing design

Redesigning design

Ron Wakkary

Design is about improving the world, that’s kind of why you do it. It’s an optimistic craft – you really do believe that you can make the world better. The position you have determines your view on what better is – not who happens to be paying you.

Dr Ron Wakkary is Professor in the School of Interactive Arts & Technology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, he is Editor-in-Chief of ACM Interactions and Director, Interaction Design Research Centre.

Talking points

I was a painter…I was interested in collaboration, I became interested in computing for colloborations with other artists, and conceptual art – performances.

Then I began a small digital design firm

The practices became blurred because digital media blurred the lines – you didn’t have to say if it was a painting, photo or performance. But digital collaboration was key.

I did my PhD so research could be a platform for my art.

I just marvelled that you could ask questions, critical questions, really interesting engaging questions, and find people who could be also interested in these questions…and find the funding to explore them.

Research and teaching all blends together for me, it’s all really a platform for enquiry.

Making and how we make things is really fundamental to how we construct our lives. Sustainability is an example of that….I’m really interested in how people address sustainability through making things.

This goes to the core of what I’m interested in – understanding design and interaction design, how people make things of all practices to affect the lives they lead and that affects sustainability.

Making things is a code for practices. Everyday design – everyone is a designer.

Such as how a family uses multiple resources to create family memories (heights marked on doorframes, photos on fridge etc).

Everyday design practices as sustainable practices… in the sense that people had enduring and resourceful relationships with artifacts.

A resource could be changed and reshaped, it was a resourcefulness that is creative but also sustainable. In contrast to that is how we design technologies, it really negates that. It doesn’t allow us to have enduring relationships with our artifacts. It doesn’t allow us to manipulate them, to change them, it doesn’t allow us to combine them with other simple artifacts. Aside from the obvious (everyday design)…of extending the life of something, it allows people to have much more control over their environment.

Sustainability is such a big issue, but we can see it played out in the home, when we want something we don’t make, we just buy things. Our creative transactions are shopping. And designers are complicit in that.

A user interface is a promise of what functionality or what the potential of this can be, and we tend to want to create this multi-functionality – more and more promise – and those promises, more than not, become broken. But there’s another promise underneath that, that if we didn’t get it right this time, we’ll get it right next time. And this is the desirable thing. Design plays a role in the desire part, in that it creates the promise, breaks the promise, then has permission to got at it again. But this is a problem, in everyday design people don’t look to something for its promise, they look to it for its creative potential.

People could do that with simple things and simple systems…people look for the creative potential, how they readily reuse it, remake it, to be the active agent…this is different from going to buy something based on a promise, then the transaction is all about the purchase and using it to the promise – that’s a very different relationship.

Steampunk is a design fiction – it allows an exploration of a different set of values, a cultural critique, all based on a practice of making. What can professional design learn from that?

In Green DIY, it’s not enough just to be individually sustainable, but to promote sustainability and ways to be sustainable – learning and sharing and being social.

There are countless examples of professional designers getting it wrong an a practice, say going into a community garden and saying ‘if you put sensors and you had this large public display in your community garden, and we did this modelling…’, that doesn’t embed itself into the practice of community gardening.

For me the key is to understand practices, and to be reflexive, and that might mean changing practices.

There’s a set of assumptions we use to get through the day, through our professional lives. There’s a set of assumptions around the power and utility of technology. That’s been incredibly useful, but needs a critical reflection.

We have to find the point where automation is balanced by human agency and interaction. Easy to say…but a very hard balance to find. We don’t really know how to find that balance – so we need to continually reflect on our own practices.

We need to understand people’s existing values, manifest in the things already around them, and try to extend them.

(Would you work for a cigarette company?) No. (Do your students know that?) Yes. Important question.

As a designer you have to have a position. Doing “objective research”, natural science research, is not a particularly effective way of doing design research, you can’t take the researcher out of the research, you can’t take the designer out of the design. You’re simply not a medium to take on the request of your client, you have a position. When you have to make a decision, the only things that are going to help are your experience and your position, and hopefully those two go together.

Removing the designer from the design is really problematic. Inserting the “cool designer, they know aesthetics”, that’s just one aspect, that is also problematic. A good design has coherency and has purpose. It makes an argument and executes it.

A position is not fixed, it can be dynamic.

It has helped me to accept that there are so many ways of doing practice, so each of us should consider how does sustainability affect your practice? And treat that reflexively, and be prepared to change. You can change the means and achieve the same ends.

The desire to be a designer, it is a detailed craft. You have to have a level of commitment and desire. We haven’t created the curriculum to enable it.

We worked with the city of Vancouver in a City Studio, using the city project on their ambitious Greenest City 2020 Action Plan.

We used speculative design strategies: ludic design, critical design, design fiction, value sensitive design – those methods all require the designer to take a position.

Organisations…need to constantly rethink what kind of social grouping they are – what they believe in.

This generation of students, at least the ones I work with, have…a level of everyday activism, there is for many a kind of different calculus that they go through in terms of finding the place that they want to work, who they want to collaborate with, and the communities that they want to be in. That’s not true of everybody, but it doesn’t have to be true of everybody, you need 20% of the people to be like that, and I think there’s way more than 20% of graduates who are doing that.

It’s getting harder to guide students because the kinds of things they are looking for are all over the place…
start-ups, large companies not for profits, social enterprise, so the level of networking that we (academics) have to do do is much more complicated and more involved – it’s great if you can bring it all back into your teaching and research, that works as a really nice virtuous cycle.

There is a need to rethink.

Maybe I’ve naive, but I’m optimistic, and that partly because of what I see in my students.

Sustainability won’t go away. This cuts both ways “are you still talking about that?” and “if we don’t solve it are we really going to fall apart?”. But there’s a persistence there – you can’t get away from it.

The values… I see starting to rise to the top are these really compelling hard things to deal with, so complex, that it’s not always about coming up with a single solution.

Maybe I’m so process oriented, but my practice view…when people have figured out a method that always comes up with an answer, the relevance of the answer is less and less relevant. We have the perfect, air tight totally irrelevant solutions. There’s been a leaning of the ship to the more complex “I’m not going to get an easy answer”.

Experimental method doesn’t lend itself to wicked problems. We’re seeing much more divergence.

(on enjoying his career) There’s enough stuff to inquire about, there are enough problems to keep you motivated, there’s enough good people to around to keep you motivated, there are enough surprises to let you know you don’t have the answers and you have to keep searching, and enough dynamism and change to be optimistic.

Students keep you on your toes more than you keep them on their toes.

(Activist). I’m concerned, I want to find ways I feel like I can contribute.

(Challenges) Increasing complexity and dynamics – finding people who want to work on understanding that.

(Advice) Keep going. Keep making. Chances are, whatever you are doing is not as good as you think, but it’s nowhere near as dangerous or harmful as you think it is. The worst thing is not to do anything – we can rationalise inaction. No-one has the monopoly on what the answer is so it is going to require a lot of divergence and a lot of multiplicity of viewpoints so everyone should be active.

Ron Wakkary

Categories
computing education

Standing on the brink

Elina Eriksson

Even in a future of scarcity, we still need technology, we just have to design it very differently.

Dr Elina Eriksson is interested in issues of usablity and user-centred design to promote change; both organizational change and change in individual behaviour.

Elina has multiple affiliations at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. She is in the School of Computer Science and Communication (CSC), the Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID) and in research groups Green Leap and the Centre for Sustainable Communications (CESC).

Talking points

I realised quite early on that I don’t only want to work in computer science in programming, but I also want to get close to people and change stuff – so Human Computer Interaction became my major.

There is definitely a gender issue in how computer science portrays itself.

The Brundtland definition is talked about but it’s not really operationable.

The environmental aspects to sustainability are clearly important, with climate change, but I also feel very strongly for the social side of sustainability.

Circles within circles, we have to live within the bound of our earth.

Sometimes I think we are not good enough at reflecting on what we are doing and why. We can get so enthusiastic about new technology that we don’t really look back at what we are doing.

To create smart sustainable cities we need a bottom up view – what practices are making a difference and how can we help these practices through infrastructure?

Sustainability needs us to work on several different levels at the same time. Both at the policy legislation levels, and to change social norms – the culture.

For HCI this means a focus on norm-critical design. Technology can help people reflect more on their own practices.

HCI has such a suite of methods for helping improve work practices, now is the time to scale that up to the community – to smart cities.

Students report a cognitive dissonance, on one hand they are taught to develop new cool Apps, and on the other we come with our Sustainability course and tell them that this might not be the best way of working.

We focus on predicaments rather than problems. Problems are things we can solve, whereas predicament might be situations that are not solvable.

You have to find ways to work with a predicament, but there might not be one single solution.

We think it is important to be honest with students, that we are standing on the brink.

We try to find a balance between facts and values.

We can’t require them to have a particular value, but we can show…that as soon as we talk about the future, it is no longer a fact based science, it’s about values – what kind of future would we like to have.

ICT is interwoven with everything we do today in society, how much ICT is involved in efficiency, how much our norms and beliefs and culture is based on what we meet in the media

We play a discussion based board game – Gaming in Sustainability through Communication.

(Challenge) integrate sustainability into programme.

As long as the main goal of our education is forcing our students to work in an unsustainable manner, we will never reach a sustainable future.

How can we reach a sustainable future if we still have a consumer society?

Technology is a problem, but it can also solve things, dematerialise and make processes more efficient.

The fundamental problem of working with sustainability – it’s such a big system to change.

Related
Daniel Pargman

Categories
communication community computing

Playfully supporting system change

Stephen Blyth

 

Playful ways of engaging people in a way that gets people’s attention – a laugh or a smile is vital.  If we are browbeaten into being involved, who’s going to last?

 

Stephen Blyth works to empower people in Tangata Whenua, community and volunteer groups.  He is a Net Squared Ambassador and we talk about that role – it’s not about a long list of apps, but about getting a better understanding of where technology fits in to support social change.  Stephen found himself helping to create the first version of CommunityNet Aotearoa in 1998.  He’s barely turned his back on the community and the internet ever since. After leading this pioneering community website he has worked in a wide variety of advisory, capacity building and communications roles for government agencies, and tangata whenua, commuity and voluntary sector organisations. Currently he is instigator of Common Knowledge, a provider of services to good causes to help them effectively use the web, and works part-time for Community Research.

Talking points

I decided to spend my career involved in change.

There’s a large number of people on the planet, we’re a finite planet, the quality of life that we’re experiencing is very different in different parts of the world and even within our own country.

I believe that everyone could have a good life, with rewarding work, healthy families in an environment that is sustained for all our future generations.  But unfortunately we seem to be trapped in a pattern that is going against the inbuilt and inherent care that we as humans have for other people.

What has to change is quite a lot, but in a way it’s getting back to living out some of the human values that have been brushed over in what I consider a very materialistic, individualistic society.

It’s not about doing without. The way that we live,  highly urbanised, driving everywhere, thinking that we can buy happiness – just doesn’t gel for me.

We really have to fight to make sure that other world views are heard.

We need the time to create things, we’ve gotten sucked into the idea that we have to buy everything.

A 40 hour work week is the norm – more for many people –  is that as satisfying as it could be for an individual,  or could some richness and other benefits come from being part of an active community?

People participating on their own terms.

Often in a workplace the work is about the skills and experience you bring, but not about you – you have to leave yourself at the door – there’s not a role for the fuller complexity of your life.  In a community setting you can be more yourself.

We undervalue the important services, but its not about the individuals, it’s about the structure that we’re in, and it’s a structure of great inequality.

There’s an inbuilt inertia and an inbuilt set of set of incentives for a certain group of people to maintain things as they are.

There’s a different way of doing things, we don’t all have to become mini-businesses.

We’ve held ourselves hostage to a set of assumptions that a health society is about growth.

The danger of monetising everything, costing harm as monetary harm, that it leads “pay it  off, pay some money and eliminate the harm”  – but its a falsehood – the harm still exists.

I want to encourage more cooperation – individual achievements still respected, but people coming together in a common place.

People are no longer loyal to one community group – I like this cause now – so a lot of work has to go into staying visible.  But ethics and a good perspective are key.

Technical tools for social change.

(On campaigns such as Greenpeace’s polar bear costume) You’ve got to appeal to people, and its not just about ideas.  That’s one of the traps for people who really believe in good causes – “if only people understood the rational, logic of the ideas about parts per million, or the concentration of this…” that would win people over, but its actually also about your heart.   So you need to attend to both.

I know that there’s a lot of bad stuff, but I choose to get involved in things that will give me the energy to carry on.

My personal line on activism is where it causes harm to others, I struggle with this, and I respect others for the line they walk – sometimes a very fine line.

Local groups are about engaging people in local stories, the numbers (of people) don’t matter so much.

We can’t privilege one set of knowledge over another.

Activist?  Change maker.  Activist sensibility in critiquing and wanting to challenge.  I’ve definitely had my moments.

Challenges: Fighting apathy and cyncism.  The challenges we face are so huge.   It worries me deeply, especially as a father – what world are we creating for our children?   So I’m challenged by my own sense of whether I can make a change.    I involve myself in things that reward me and give me energy to carry on and make a change.  As long as I’m involved in the fray in the smallest way I’ll be happy.

I wish to stay positive and surround myself with people that have that sense of positivity that we can bring about the change that we so deeply need.

Advice: Be kind to yourselves, be dedicated to the sense of change but have fun.  Whatever we need to achieve won’t be achieved in our own lifespan.  We’re not going solve this just by our intellects, we have to bring our full selves, so allow yourself to have some fun.

Categories
computing energy

Energy hungry constellations

Oliver Bates

The extravagant users…if they are getting the same utility as the lowest users – having the same sorts of experiences, then why do they need all these things?

Oliver Bates is a PhD candidate at the Lancaster University School of Computing and Communications. Oliver’s research focuses on understanding energy impacts in the home for which he uses using a mixed method involving lots of sensors and lots of talking and listening. He presented a paper on this work at CHI 2014 called “Towards an holistic view of the energy and environmental impacts of domestic media and IT“.

Talking points:

(why in computing?) I enjoy learning new things and the idea that I’m helping somebody else

Ecofeedback is not particularly successful in reducing energy consumption – somewhere around 5 and 15%.

What are people doing and how can we do it differently?

People design new things and people buy the new things and people use the new things, it’s a self fulfilling energy growth.

I like the thought of undesigning technology

Poeple don’t think about the energy they just want to get on with doing what they do

Because you can watch video on demand, you do…

How devices are being used in every day life

It’s hard to relate to what seems like an arbitrary number

The differences in what people do can be subtle but have huge differences in impact

the more devices you own, the larger the impacts…larger more complex arrangements of devices had twice the embodied impact

Bigger things and more things use more power

Devices physically connected together: constellations
Constellations of devices increase the impact for a given activity

If you own a phone for a year the embodied dwarfs the amount of direct energy
If you charge a phone for two hours at 6 watts, that’s nothing compared to a laptop at 50-60W for 8 hours.

Longevity, across anything is more important, especially for high impact devices.

If a thing has high embodied impacts and it has a higher electricity demand, at what point do I go, ‘this devices uses way too much electricity and I’ve had it for a while, I should buy a more efficient thing, but therefore releasing more carbon’?

(Finding the sweetspot) calculate the embodied emissions, whichever method you want, you need to then know the times of use – say a laptop you charge 8 hours a day, using 50W across those hours…for me I want the direct energy to at least be greater than the embodied impacts. I don’t want something to be created before I’ve matched its emissions – that feels like a waste, I don’t know why. Double the impact maybe, getting your impact’s worth.

The numbers on the life cycle impact vary hugely according to the method (cost, weight etc) and how deep you go in the analysis.

If I say “I can reduce my impact by replacing all my media and IT devices with new ones that are 15% more efficient” then that is a completely misinformed decision…you’ve bought a whole new thing creating 1000s of kilograms of CO2 in the atmosphere just because you can save 15% per month in your energy bill – that is a bad decision.

I don’t think there are obvious rules of thumb. That’s part of the problem with ecofeedback, it’s not like a blanket rule you can apply.

People that owned more stuff used more stuff…a difference of 12 lightbulbs to 2 lightbulbs

People make choices…the smallest user was 164Wh, the largest 4135Wh…about 40 times more impact for pretty much the same experience.

The two largest two consumers used 40% of the total consumption, which is huge and they did have large inventories, but in the middle the variation comes down to times of use and not leaving stuff on.

(the bang for the buck comes from addressing the top users). But needs context.

Consumption was a product of how they configured their things.

Constellations amplify electricity use.

If these people can it it this low impact way and be happy, then how do we get that message to the high impact users, especially if they don’t care? I don’t want to be the guy the guy that says “you need to throw out all your stuff”. Extreme policy but may be we need to be extreme sometimes, if we are trying to get from 15% to 65% energy efficiency then maybe that’s the radical steps we need to push for.

Activist: No, I’m too comfortable
Challenges: Domestic demand on cloud services. Lifetime impacts. Motivations
Advice: Discuss how you do things at home…acknowledge that (other people) get on just fine by having a ‘lesser’ quality of experience, but it’s OK…maybe we can share. I like the idea of sharing but I also like the idea of my own space and my own stuff.

Resources
Human power station

Categories
climate change computing systems

Understanding systems

Steve Easterbrook

The 95% certainty is itself problematic, because it is a very high level summary of lots of different details…if you pick the science apart there are some areas where we are much more certain than that, and there are other areas where there is a lot uncertainty…the basics of how the greenhouse effect works and then what happens if you add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere – that’s not 95% certain, that’s 100% certain. It’s a stable piece of science that’s been around more than 100 years.

Dr Steve Easterbrook studies contributions of computing and software to the challenge of dealing with climate change at the University of Toronto. His focus is on climate informatics, in particular, how climate scientists develop computational models to improve their understanding of earth systems and climate change.

Talking points:

Large complex pieces of software that have been built over many many years by large teams of people.

Each climate model is something like a million lines of code, that has taken 10-20 years to build…and there are around 25 models being built around the world…and they take different approaches. Each is building coupled systems, they sometimes swap parts.

Contributing to the models is a long slow peer-reviewed process.

What surprised me the most, I thought the models are for predicting the future – that’s what we see in the media, we see these projections of climate change over the coming century…I thought these people were essentially futurologists, how is this going to play out in the medium and long term…but it turns out they build the models to do experiments…comparing how well the model performs with observational data of recent past or even the distant past.

How they do experiments, they might have an area in the model that they know is weak, that it doesn’t match the observational data very well..so they’ll set this up as a formal experiment, they’ll create a hypothesis that says “here’s a way of improving the model by changing the way it simulates a particular part of the process”…so the hypothesis is that changing model the will improve how it simulates a particular part of the climate….my favourite example is getting the Indian Monsoons right…they run these as experiments with the existing model as the control, then go through a peer review to get the change included in the model…so on a day to day basis, almost everything they do is set up as an experiment.

With a faster machine they increase the resolution, each simulation takes two weeks.

Simulating typical weather, not what it going to do on any given day

For some scientists the broader politicisation is very frustrating, they want to keep their heads down…they’re not trained to communicate their work to wider audiences.
The other reaction is people that want to get out and give their side of the story because they feel the media does a very poor job at representing the science and what the scientists do.

The science is unbelievably complicated.

There’s an asymmetry, saying “it’s all bunkum” or more subtly “we’re not sure enough, there’s too many uncertainties, we shouldn’t take action yet”…that’s a very easy message to say, especially when faced with a complex science, especially when the public hears “this is a complex science, how can the scientists be that sure?”.

The 95% certainty is itself problematic, because it is a very high level summary of lots of different details…if you pick the science apart there are some areas where we are much more certain than that, and there are other areas where there is a lot uncertainty…the basics of how the greenhouse effect works and then what happens if you add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere – that’s not 95% certain, that’s 100% certain. It’s a stable piece of science that’s been around more than 100 years.

Scientists like to become famous by overturning existing bodies of knowledge, and when a piece of science endures for 100 years or more, we’re not 95% sure, this is uncontentious science in anyway whatsoever.

The broad story that if we keep on adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere the planet will keep on warming, there’s no doubt in the scientific community about that, the uncertainty is around exactly how much warming and exactly when will it occur.

The big picture there is no doubt about, the uncertainty is about the details.

The email leak has brought many of the climate scientists to the realisation that they have to do a better job of the communication, they can’t leave it to others to do because there aren’t any others..there aren’t other communities that understand the science enough to explain it.

I’d like to see more telling the story of what what scientists do on a day-to-day basis in terms that other people can understand.

The more you change the climate, the less you can be sure that the models are capturing it correctly.

Tipping points are really hard to predict, we can see that they might be there, but making predictions about exactly when they would occur is really hard.

It might be counter-productive…to put a date on climate change such as a 5 window to take action…because as the end of that window approaches you undermine your entire message, because people take from that “5 years and then disaster occurs, we’ve got to 5 years and where’s the disaster?”…the right message is climate change is already with us, and it’s causing all sorts of chaos around the world, it’s just not evenly distributed.

Specific windows are a bad idea…specific goals as well, 2 degrees of warming, we’re approaching that now, or at least we’re approaching the point where we are locked into two degrees of warming…as we get closer and closer to the point of no return, what’s the message about that? well we were wrong about 2 degrees, maybe we can go to 2 and a half, maybe 3…and you are completely undermining the message about consequences when you set these thresholds -it’s an incremental change, it will occur and it is occurring at different rates and different severities around the world.

Climate change is an incremental problem with a huge degree of inertia, we have to act now to affect what the world is going to be like in fifty years time, that’s really hard for people to comprehend, on the other hand, if we talk to people about making our cities cleaner, making the air cleaner, that’s a very easy message and where there are immediate impacts, so one of the things we can do around climate change is work on solutions that have those immediate benefits, but that also contribute towards the longer term problem.

Climate change is the elephant in the room, no matter what we achieve in terms of sustainability, if we don’t tackle climate change then it’s going to be serious, it’s going to undermine our other efforts, but on the other hand you could turn that around, and say why don’t we build a network of sustainability initiatives that together add up to more than the sum of the parts, that add up to a solution to climate change, even though if you pick them apart and attempt to measure them…they don’t appear to add up. And that’s important because we can’t get them to add up…if you look at what the IPCC says we need to stay below 2 degrees of warming, it looks like it’s impossible. Because if you don’t start somewhere and if you don’t start building efforts that get people engaged then you won’t achieve anything so it becomes self defeating.

The more I’ve worked with climate change and thinking about solutions, the more I’m tending to thinking about sustainability in it’s broader sense as opposed to direct action on climate change.

Even if people don’t really understand (the science) then give them things they can do as individuals and communities

Get people thinking about change first, and doing things that are new, getting used to the idea that change is necessary.

A farmers market gets people talking… in terms of carbon accounting it might look like nothing, but in terms of getting people changing what they do and thinking about what other changes are needed, I think it’s massive.

Resources
Climate Science Rapid Response Team

Joel Pett’s “What if it’s all a hoax and we create a better world for nothing” cartoon.

More SustainableLens on the work of climatologists and climate models: Naomi Oreskes, Andrew Tait.

Categories
computing energy

Energy literacy

Robert Brewer

An intuition of  what is a kilowatt hour..it’s a fundamental thing about our society that you need to know now.  And people’s intuition tends to be stunningly bad.

Dr Robert Brewer  is a postdoctoral researcher on the EcoSense and Virtual Power Plant for Smart Grid Ready Buildings and Customers(VPP4) projects in theComputer Science department of Aarhus University in Denmark, with a focus on residential energy-use behaviors guided by sensor data.    For  several years Robert was an entrepreneur in Hawaii then for his PhD he developed the Kukui Cup, a gamified energy challenge for university dorms.

Talking points:  

An Inconvenient Truth was a turning point for me, I’d always considered myself green – tried to recycle and so forth – but An Inconvenient Truth made me feel ‘this is what I should focus my life on’, my research, why should I do my research on something else when I can do my research on something I feel passionately about.

It is common that people have the attitudes and knowledge about the importance of sustainability but that societal structures are such that it is very hard sometimes to put these into effect.

Sometimes people want to express energy as – say number of hamburgers or miles driven and , but … understanding what a kilowatt hour is, or having an  intuition of  what is a kilowatt hour…. is the same as you should really have an intuition of what kilometer is, or a kilogram.  It’s a fundamental thing about our society that you need to know now.  And people’s intuition tends to be stunningly bad.

People focus on things like their phones as ‘energy hogs’ and are concerned about charging their cellular phone, but the refrigerator uses vastly more energy than their phone does, even including the infrastructure, because the refrigerator is on 24/7 for the rest of your life.

I looked at energy literacy and energy use.

When people ask us how much electricity we (the challenge saved), we say that’s the wrong question, we hoped that there would be significant energy savings, we didn’t see that but the fact that there was so much variation shows us that trying to compress the entire behaviour of these floors into a number – into kilowatt hours – is just a bad idea. That’s driven my change in perspective to this practice orientation, you need to understand whats going on in the dorms in a way that we didn’t have the opportunity to find out.

Some game action was clearly not sustainable – camping out rather than using the measured dorms.   Other game techniques had social benefits such as more time visiting other floors.

A better measure of success is engagement and energy literacy.

A key is not just to reduce energy use but to shift its time of use – to reduce large peaks.

We need shifts in sustainable computing that are scaleable, sticky and multidisciplinary.

Scalability: Since the scale of sustainability is a multi-generational issue, that’s going to take really big changes…to get the scale we need to have tools and services that scale.

Sticky:  We need to have ways that keep people engaged. There are lots things that look and sound really cool when you first see them…but people use it a lot when they first got it, but then the device makes mistakes and the people think its working and the novelty has worn off.

If it’s primarily novelty that’s keeping you involved, you’ll find out that the novelty wears off. You need a reason to come back.

We’re mixing the practice orientation with a rich set of sensors into what we hope is a virtuous cycle.

Take a look at the resources you are using…it goes back to building the intuition of what you are using.

Categories
computing design

Usability:Sustainability

Don Norman

To respect the others’ point of view and try to understand it. This applies whether it’s warring nations, difficult negotiations in business or designing something for other people to use.

You know when a door has a label that says push (or pull) when it should just be obvious? That bad design is referred to as a “Norman door”. Don Norman is usabilty. And it turns out he is sustainability too.

Dr Donald Norman has for many years advocated user centred design. His 1988 book The Design of Everyday Things has been top of the reading list for both design and computing students for nearly three decades. Several other books include Living with Complexity, Emotional Design and The Invisible Computer. The question for this conversation, is how can we apply the learnings from Norman’s work to the design of systems for sustainability?

Talking points

A physical affordance is not what matters, what matters what it says to who is looking at it.

Great design is communication, which has its own form and its own function

Because its invisible we don’t have to think about it

How could we make people more aware of the source of their electricity? It’s not an easy problem, but its one we should be much more concerned about.
And how do we do that without getting in the way? It would be good to get a little bit in the way because we would like people to use these things less, some habits need changing.

It’s hard, really hard to change behaviour.

We are wasting most of the stuff, wasting things that is not doing nobody any good.

One thing that bothers me about the sustainability movement is that people look for easy answers. In the design world, its a standard thing that people ask your design class to come up with things that will save energy, so they come up with simple answers – we’ll use wood instead of some manufactured stuff, and we’ll have a meter that shows you how much hot water you’re using when you take a shower – and it’s all rather silly in my opinion. I want to work where I have the biggest impact, but the amount of water we waste in the household is trivial…in the US most of the water is used in industry and agriculture and evaporates before it reaches its target.

I want to do things that have the maximum impact, it makes people feel good to make sure you turn the lights off when you leave the room – and that’s good and I don’t want to say we shouldn’t – but when you look at the total amount of energy in the country, that’s just a small percentage.

Wicked problems, by definition – they’re wicked. Its often hard to define the problem, it’s hard to know when you’re getting an answer. But most of these (sustainability) problems are like that.

You’re not going to find a single thing to solve a wicked problem – it has to be a concerted effort.

We have to change the whole nature of business so they realise that they have an obligation. Business has an obligation to society, to where it lives. We once chose to believe that, but modern business schools have taught the importance of profit, and quarterly profit and benefit to the stockholders – but I’m more concerned about benefit to the world, to humanity. We have to figure out how they can do that in a responsible way.

(on systems and complex problems) We have to start thinking big. Question, step back and ask the biggest problem.

The scale has meant technology has had implications we couldn’t predict.

I decided I didn’t want the military money, and I stopped taking it. So yes, there are many things I would not do. I will not worth with cigarettes, I will not work with weapons.

These things we consider evil and the things we consider non-evil, the problem is there’s very seldom a sharp line between the two…as the example of lethal weapons highlights…students ought to grapple with that and think about it.

We owe it to students to cause them to think these issues through. That doesn’t mean we should tell them what they should think. But we should teach them how to think, how to examine the different sides, and how to determine what their response is.

One thing that annoys me is what we call human error. 95% or so of accidents are blamed on human error, on people. Nonsense. If it were 5% I would believe it, but when it’s 95% it means you’re not designing things that are appropriate for people.

We need to think of accidents as a rope of many strands, it’s the last strand that breaks that gets the blame, and usually that’s the person with their hands on the rope.

(can we think about extinctions and climate change as human error) That’s why the systems approach is so necessary for accidents and especially for sustainability. We look at the last thread that breaks – and say ‘I can reduce the amount of water you take while taking a shower’, or wood instead of metal or whatever – and that’s the easy answer and it might not be at all relevant, you have to ask, what does the system look like?

The technologist’s solution is technology – we’ll make cars that can drive themselves. But is technology the solution to all our ailments? No, and sometimes technology is the cause of those ailments, so it will take a mix.

I’m an activist, just not a jumping up and down activist. I certainly believe in the principles of sustainability, and I’m trying slowly to cause these changes to come about.

Challenges. When I look around the world it’s frightening. Global warming – look at how difficult it has been to convince people that it’s a real phenomenon and maybe do something about it if we start now. Peace for that matter – look at all the warring factions in different parts of the world.

(what can we take from his writings, Design of Everyday Things and so on, to apply to these bigger sustainability problems?) Empathy, to understand the other point of view. You have to design for other people, the consideration of other people, and other people are not stupid. If you have two groups fighting and disagreeing, quite often each of them are correct, but it’s from their own narrow point of view. You can’t come to some sort of agreement unless you understand the other person’s point of view…doesn’t mean you have to agree with it, but it does mean you have to understand why they are so vehement. And that’s the only way to come to a resolution. To respect the others’ point of view and try to understand it. This applies whether its warring nations, difficult negotiations in business or designing something for other people to use.

Whenever we do things, we should try to understand the other people, take into account not how people ought to behave – it’s so simple to give a lecture ‘this is what you should do’ – no, go and observe them, talk with them and understand them.

Take a systems point of view, don’t look at one simple thing, but look at all the interacting parts, life is complex and that means our solutions will be complex ones.

Categories
computing

Changing mindsets

Bran Knowles

Values are malleable, the more we are exposed to “it’s good to care”, the more likely we are to care that way. The more we pander to the selfish – “acting this way is protecting your wallet”, this is distracting to the cause.

Bran Knowles argues that green computing that focusses on saving money through efficiency gains – either of computing systems themselves or behaviour change motivated largely by saving money – is actually doing a disservice to sustainability. She says the focus on individualist rational behaviours appeals to a selfish motivation and we need to flip those frames on their head.

Since we recorded this conversation Bran has graduated with her PhD. Dr Bran Knowles is now a post-doc at Lancaster, focussing in on several projects including working with WWF-UK and Common Cause to produce a white paper that explores higher impact routes that sustainable computing may take in the future. She’ll be presenting a note at CHI this year called Rethinking Plan A for Sustainable HCI.

Talking points:

If we stopped and thought about what matters, we could get by with less.

What we need is a change in mindset

(On gamification in sustainability) It’s the goal of game that matters, if we’re not directed to improving the environment, you’re not really changing anyone’s thought patterns that might ultimately lead to long term change

If it’s about scoring as many points as you can, whether or not you do to trick people into being more environmentally responsible, that’s not going to spill over into additional behavioural change for the cause of the environment

If you think of people as selfish (a rational actor, selfishly motivated), you can only get so far. Think of people as you do your friends, I know my friends care about many things – they are multifaceted, the more you talk with them about the environment, the more they begin to understand – to care – but we are not taking that approach to the strangers we design for.

Values are malleable, the more we are exposed to “it’s good to care”, the more likely we are to care that way. The more we pander to the selfish – acting this way is protecting your wallet, this is distracting to the cause.

If you make feedback technology that visualises how much money you save by switching off the lights for example, that’s just reinforcing the selfish mentality.

If you encourage people that the only reason to change their behaviour is to get some financial reward for doing so, then this damages their potential for opting to doing that for other, more altruistic reasons.

I’m working on design patterns that adopt dramatically different frames.

Categories
computing design psychology

Designing for people

Some technologists want to create a seamless future…I ‘m not one of those, I think it’s useful that parts are nubby – some parts leave room for error or space for adjustment, some room for learning behaviour.

Han Pham is Future Cities Experience Strategist, at the Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities.

HanPham

Talking points:

If you only ask users about your product, they’ll only tell you about your product – we need to be able to step away from the screen.

Before we bring in our life-changing solution, we have to realise that people survive without it – this can be uplifting and challenging together.

We’re designing for how people behave, at an individual level but also considering what does this mean at the community level?

Sometimes you want to make it invisible, sometimes you want to see detail

Sometimes you ask people about the future, and they think about the future as inevitable and they think about it as this glossy surface thing that’s going to come their way whether they like it or not, and it’s not very porous – there’s not a lot of transparency. People are frightened by this – there’s a sense of helplessness.

We are not just designing things, we’re designing how people learn. If we can create frameworks for how they understand something – with frameworks that are sticky and that work for them – builds an expectation of how things should work. We can make use of that learning window so products and services can change how people think.

Users don’t necessarily want to carry an identity card that says ‘I’m a sustainable person’…they are them

Incremental changes can be a sea-change.

Sometimes a sea-change is finding a pattern of behaviour that not only the lead adopters are going to adopt

(are you an activist) Yes, I say to technology companies, people have a place.

Categories
computing education

Opening education

Wayne Mackintosh

 

The key challenge we are trying to address is how to provide spaces for the additional one hundred million students – that’s the equivalent of building four sizeable universities with roughly 30,000 students each, every week for the next 15 years.

 

Dr Wayne Mackintosh imagines a world where anyone in the world has access to a world-class education online for free, and getting credentials for it.    But he is not just imagining it, he is doing it.  Wayne holds the UNESCO-COL Chair in OER at Otago Polytechnic. He is the founding Director of the OER Foundation and the International Centre for Open Education based at Otago Polytechnic, New Zealand.  He talks about the launch of Open Educational Resources University (OERu) – a significant milestone in higher education globally, and marking a transition from an international collaboration prototype to a sustainable, scalable program of accessible OERu study.

We are shifting the question from how do you achieve sustainable OER projects at your institution to, how will your institution remain sustainable without OER? We are the competition on the doorsteps of tertiary education institutions around the world

The conventional model of delivery is not going to be able to respond to the challenge of the growing need internationally.

I’m a teacher by choice, and it’s been the most rewarding decision I have taken in my career

Smart thinking, use technology to reach the unreachable

Absolutely I’m an activist, an open source, open education activist.

it’s (open education) mission critical for a more sustainable planet. We need to be using scarce resources more effectively, and respect the fundamental freedom of expression – freedom of speech- that we espouse to in modern democracies

Shane’s number of the week: 4,500,000. That is there are 4.5 million people in the UK who are members or supporters of environment and conservation groups.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: Sam talked us through the increasingly important role of social enterprise in computing.