Kosovo Science for Change: launch

Kosovo Science for Change co-design event - Prishtina, 20-22nd June 2014

The Kosovo Science for Change project launched in June 2014 with a weekend co-design event at the Unicef Innovations Lab in Prishtina. Participants included young people from several parts of Kosova that are experiencing severe environmental issues, including Plementina (a community right under the polluting power stations), Prishtina (the capital city, downwind of the power stations and with heavy traffic pollution), Drenas (near the Ferronickel plant), Mitrovica (with the legacy of mining) and Hani Elezit (not far from the cement plant).

There were also participants from UN Habitat, KEPA (Kosova Environmental Protection Agency), KOSID (the collaboration of environmental NGOs) and the Municipality of Obilic, which includes Plementina and the power plants.

The core project team is made up of local partner, Unicef Innovations Lab (who also hosted the launch event), Transitions and Internet.Artizans.

what is our kind of citizen science?

The event began on Friday evening with an overview of citizen science and why citizen science has particular potential in Kosova. The Public Lab definition of 'civic science' http://www.publiclab.org/about was used to situate the Kosovo Science for Change project, and a series of examples and videos were shown to illustrate the potential, including the work of Mapping for Change and UCL's Extreme Citizen Science research group (ExCiteS) in London, grassroots balloon mapping, and the AirCasting project in New York. The work of Global Community Monitor and their bucket brigades was used to illustrate the role of citizen science in environmental justice.

It was emphasised that citizen science can be important even when there is statutory monitoring by the authorities, for example when the community knows about hotspots that would be missed by orthodox surveys. The Safecast project http://blog.safecast.org/ was given as an example of the potential scale of citizen sensing, and also to show the usefulness of having a local hackerspace.

The central role of mapping was highlighted with examples from Pennsylvania fracking map, the Louisville air map and the Arvin Bucket Brigade Map.

The latter two maps were also used to introduce the idea of using qualitative data and citizens' observations alongside numerical data. The Kosovo Science for Change project will ask participating communities to reflect on the collected data in order to establish what it means for them. This is related to ideas of post-normal science which suggests the need for local knowledge and soft (qualitatve) data as part of a process of 'extended peer review'.

The session concluded by looking at the ways open source software, open hardware, hackerspaces and sensor networks have lowered the barriers to citizen science and opened up new possibilities for bottom-up participation and DIY impact.

why is citizen science right for kosova?

The introductory evening session also looked at the specific relevance of citizen science for Kosova, especially the overlap of serious environmental threats with a motivated and mobilised youth population.

The known health costs to Kosova from environmental issues, as documented in the World Bank's 2013 report "Kosovo - Country Environmental Analysis", come from air quality, lead exposure, water-borne infections and waste disposal.

The power plants produce PM10 particulates, SO2 (sulphur dioxide) and NOx (nitrous oxides). In the north near Mitrovice, research shows that lead exposure is affecting the IQ of young children. Nonpower SO2 emissions are mainly attributed to Ferronikeli, and Sharrcem cement factory is also an important NOx generator. However, the most recent KEPA report says that current data on these issues is either not of a good quality or is incomplete, and that there is a lack of capacity for environmental protection at a local level.

This contrasts with the importance placed on the environment in Kosova's consitution and laws (and also in everyday conversations with Kosovans). For example, the Law on air protection (no. 2004/30) assigns responsibility for setting air quality and emissions standards; identifies main air quality indicators; and sets obligations for protection of air quality. In the context of Kosova's aspirations to join the EU, it was also pointed out that the Aarhus convention mandates citizens' right of access to information about the environment and to participation in envirnmental decisions. This is mirrored in Kosovo's environmental protection law which identifies the principle of public access to information and participation; for example, Environmental Impact Assessments's are supposed to have citizen participation.

In contrast, the potential for making a difference with citizen science in Kosova is increased by being able to draw on motivated young people who have experience of participatory innovation (through the Innovations Lab) and a strong interest in digital technologies, especially via the recent series of Kosovo Social Innovation Camps and self-organised initiatives like FLOSSK (Free Libre Open Source Software Kosova). This opens up the potential for a citizen science project where the air monitoring can be low-fi, partly digital and participatory, in contrast to the €2,000,000 of EU funds it took to establish the semi-functioning government air quality monitoring network.

hearing from the communities

Saturday began with a session called 'hearing from the communities'. The participants were given a set of guiding questions and worked in small randomly assigned groups to generate the issues that most concerned them. Each person in the group had 5 minutes to talk through their responses to the questions while the other group members jotted down key ideas and terms on post-it notes. After 5 minutes the post-its were added to the main sheet and the next person had their say. After everyone was done, the group as a whole reflected on the issues that had come up and tried to group them in to themes for feedback. It was clearly a powerful experience for participants and a tremendous diversity of issues emerged from the discussions. Noise came up early as a problem from several sources, as did industrial concerns dumping in rivers. There were some direct observations about problems, such as being able to smell the bad air on certain days, and finding particulates like sand in the drinking water supplies.

An analysis afterwards of the post-it notes on the showed the following concerns;

air: Dust from power plant, rooftops turned white. Lead presence in air. Private operators filters not fully functional. No catalytic converters in cars. Acid rain.

water: Poor quality, undrinkable. Sand-like presence in tap water. Water losses due to old infrastructure. Water shortages (several hours a day/night).

sewage: Old infrastructure. Sewers overflow in rainfall. Poor improvement work being done by municipality. Infrastructure improvements for cable TV, KEK, roads, house construction etc., damage existing pipes and never repair them or repairs are done poorly.

rivers: Sewage end in the river. Trash thrown in the river by people Riverbeds ruined by private operators who dig out gravel for commercial purposes
No fish in our rivers anymore

land: Landfills. Trash thrown everywhere, contaminates soil quality. Lack of proper landfills, trash cans, containers in open spaces. Burning of trash is common. Lack of green spaces. Illegal, unregulated construction. Noise pollution. Traffic noise.

health related issues: Asthma. Respiratory diseases. Cancer incidence high. Lack of information. Inaccessible information. Lack of awareness of existing studies.

environment & health panel

After coffee, there was an Environment & Health Q&A session with a panel made up of representatives from KEPA (Kosova Environmental Protection Agency), KOSID (the collaboration of environmental NGOs) and the Municipality of Obilic. The moderator's questions were intended to draw out both what the known environmental problems are and what actions have already be taken.

The panel member from KEPA reported on their monitoring of environmental issues, and on some successes, such as getting filters installed at the KEK power stations. However, she also acknowledged that there are still huge problems due to pollution as shown by the much higher incidence of respiritory diseases in the capital Pristhtina, near the power stations, compared to Prizren in the south. The KOSID representative criticised government plans to replace the Kosova A power plant with Kosova C without looking at the external costs of coal power and without looking at renewables or energy efficiency, and referred to the Berkley report on "Sustainable Energy Options for Kosovo". The environmental officer from the municipality gave an account of the difficulties of making a difference at a local level; despite some success in clearning up waste and garbage, other problems still required daily pressure to be applied to KEK with phone calls, meetings and so on.

During the discussion other issues were raised, such as companies illegally taking gravel from riverbeds near Rahovec (the main wine growing area) which had 'nearly killed' the life in the river. When the questioner asked about fines for this she was told that inspectors in the field had been threatened by companies taking the gravel.

The panel members engaged open to discussion with the audience of motivated and critically-minded young people, which is not the usual way that policy is debated in Kosova. Some explanations were offered by panel members for relatively slow progress on the environment, such as "we had a war, and the post-war focus was on social issues", and "economic development was a priority but now environment will be more of a priority". Overall there was a sense from participants that there has been lots of debate and relatively little concrete action: as one young questioner said "plans, plans it's always plans", with another saying "why are you not panicking?! why can't we do more, why are we waiting for others to solve our problems?". There was a general agreement that we should all ask ourselves questions about where the solutions could and should come from.

methods: tubes, wipes, noise, maps and more

After lunch on Saturday there was an introduction & training sesssion on the use of the proposed non-digital methods, mainly diffusion tubes (to measure levels of SO2 and NO2) and so-called ghost wipes (which can detect the presence of heavy metal contaminants).

The session began with a look at the action research cycle, and examples of various methods were discussed, including diffusion tubes, ghost wipes, noise monitoring, logs and mapping. Overall, the idea of establishing and sticking to a protocol was emphasised, both as good scientific practice and also as one of the key pieces of advice the project had received from Global Community Monitor.

For diffusion tubes, the topics covered were how they work, where to put them, the concept of a chain of custody, where to record details of location, conditions etc and the technique of getting people to 'adopt a tube'. The possibility was raised of using rapid air monitors such as those from Gradko in situations where a snapshot reading is more important than a monthly average. This may be one of the actions triggered by digital readings from the Smart Citizen Kits.

For the ghost wipes, we briefly looked at how they work and the methods of using them, with the aid of the Dust Air Quality Toolkit from Mapping for Change. There was also a joke about these being 'the most expensive wet wipes you'll ever use' (the main cost, of course, being the analysis at the lab).

Noise measurements were not one of the original aims of the pilot project, but because they were mentioned several times during 'Hearing from the Communities' several examples were show, especially the Mapping for Change noise toolkit and the NoiseTube project http://scistarter.com/project/475-NoiseTube. This also opened up a discussion about qualitative measurements, as the Mapping for Change noise monitoring in Royal Docks is a good example of recording qualitative data alongside empirical data.

Following on, the idea of keeping logs was introduced. We looked in detail at an example of a pollution log from Global Community Monitor which included questions for observers about what they saw, heard, smelled, tasted and felt (e.g. "what kind of bad smell and when?"). We looked at map from Global Community Monitor's Louisiana Bucket Brigade to see how these qualitative measurements worked alongside sensor measurements, also re-emphasising the importance of mapping as a way to collate and make sense of the results of our work. The session also looked at example of kite mapping from the Public Lab online community which showed evidence of a company dumping coal in a river, as this was relevant to reports from the 'Hearing from the Communities' session of factories dumping in rivers in Kosova.

smart citizen kit

The second session on Saturday afternoon was led by Alexandre (Alex) Dubor of the Smart Citizen project, who produce the Arduino-based Smart Citizen Kit (SCK) which the Kosovo Science for Change project is using as it's digital sensor device. To put the SCK in context, Alex began with an introduction to Fablabs, their mission and principles, and a description of the way the SCK had been created in Barcelona Fablab. This also gave us an insight in to the nature of prototyping; as Alex said, it took only four days to rapidly prototype the original version of the Smart Citizen Kit but almost two years of refining it to bring it to a stage where it could be deployed in significant numbers in somewhere like Kosova.

Alex then gave a demonstration of the kit and also of the platform where the data will be livestreamed to the internet. This will be an important part of the Science for Change Kosova project.

A discussion followed of how to deploy the kit in practice. Some of the questions were related to the local context; for example, as Kosova still experiences power cuts it was useful to find out that the battery will keep the devices going for up to 24 hours and that sensor data is stored to RAM until the kit is back online and can upload it to the internet. Alex also shared practical tips about the best way to orient the kit and how to tape the usb cable so it doesn't put strain on the usb socket when the kit is hanging on the wall. The Science for Change project won't be using the designer 3D printed enclosures that feature on the Smart Citizen site so there's was a discussion about what kind of boxes would be good for enclosures, what air flow is needed, and so on. There was also a discussion about how best to co-locate the kits with the diffusion tubes, as this is part of the project's strategy for matching digital readings with well-calibrated laboratory readings.

The Kosovo Science for Change project is fortunate to have a volunteer technical support team made up of participants from FLOSSK (Free Libre Open Source Software Kosova) and the tech community who are established Prishtina Hackerspace.

advocacy & impact

The Sunday morning session set out to develop plans for advocacy & impact. It started with a presentation about the relationship between digital spaces like social media, activism and social change, drawing on global examples like the Arab Spring as well as local examples like recent campaign about the Rectorate at the University of Prishtina, and case studies like the agile Greenpeace campaign about palm oil (URLs).

Trying to answer the question 'what difference can citizen science make?' the group looked at the Pepys noise campaign, the Putney air quality measurements that followed (which highlighted the rat runs and enabled the community to be able to sit down and have a roundtable with council & tfl). The session also looked at the achievements of Global Community Monitor's bucket brigades, which has helped communities be relocated in in Norco, Louisiana, had a school moved and has had companies like the steel facility Claymont, Delaware spend large amounts of money to clean up (some details of which can be found in the REPORT). However, he also emphasised the advice from GCM to understand Science for Change Kosovo is a pilot project, so our expectations of immediate impact should be realistic, while also recognising the larger longer term potential.

It was also pointed out that science doesn't always have the kind of certainty about environmental impacts (or lack of impacts) that is portrayed in public, and that there are a lot of disagreements inside science and a lot of arguments about what data is valid and what isn't. Participants were introduced to Phil Tattersall's Community Based Auditing, a methodical process that doesn't try to disprove the science asserted by the institutions but simply points out the gaps and mismatches (what Phil calls the disconfirmation process). The impact is not only the change but the realisation of the participants that they are agents of change.

personas for impact

The introduction to advocacy & impact was followed by a group exercise, where each local action group was asked to create detailed personas for the individuals they were trying to influence, and to create imaginary strategies for how to do that with the kind of data and qualitative information that the Science for Change project is aiming to produce.

action planning

After lunch on Sunday, the local groups were tasked with producing a one side action plan, with a top level statement about what they wanted to monitor, what they wanted to achieve by doing this, who was going to be involved and what support they needed from the Science for Change project and the Innovations Lab.

It was explained that the core project team would look at all the plans alongside each other and would prioritise which ones could be started straight away and which would be part of a second phase of the project, based on constraints such as money, local support capacity and the currently available methods (which focus on air quality).

The project's closing remarks emphasised the amazing potential revealed by the weekend; the co-existence in Kosova of critical environmental issues alongside savvy youth who are motivated to become active participants in independently tackling these problems. After a group photo and the official closing of the weekend, some people returned to lab for a further working group sessions.

Later that evening, some participants gathered for a meal on a balcony which, coincidentally, overlooked one of the government's fixed air quality monitoring stations in Prishtina. The large LED indicator board above it, which used to display the ambient temperature and the air quality, was completely dark and apparently has been for some time...

(to be continued...)