Kosovo Science for Change: background

Kosovo Science for Change

citizen science

'Science for Change' is a pilot citizen science project in Kosovo. It's now possible for people to make measurements of air quality and other forms of pollution in their own communities, and DIY digital measuring devices make it possible to map & share data in real time over the internet. In this project, the community is at the heart of the scientific inquiry; not just measuring data, but deciding what and where it is important to measure, and taking part in analysing the results. The participants will be able to use the data for advocacy to improve their situations, based on the enforcement of legal standards and environmental principles. In the process they will learn skills related to science & technology, increase their understanding of the impact of pollution on health and wellbeing, and feel in a stronger position to ask questions and take action.

smart citizen kit

smart citizen kit


While citizen science doesn't solve problems by itself, it is part of a process that is important for the whole of Kosovo, where air quality degradation is estimated by the World Bank to cost the country at least 100 million Euros each year due to deaths, illnesses and time off work{1}. It is also vital for the future to know what is in the environment, as studies have shown that children are the most affected (with lead contamination affecting IQ levels). It is not acceptable for governments and corporations to ignore the issues, either by not monitoring the pollution or by keeping the information secret. One of the first communities the project will work with are people living near the Kosovo A and B power plants.

The methods used to measure the air quality will be a mix of the Smart Citizen arduino-based digital sensor{2} and diffusion tubes which are analysed at the lab for measurements of nitrous oxides and sulphur dioxide{3}. There are also plans to test for heavy metal contamination (such as lead) and particulates - the small particles in the air (labelled PM2.5 and PM10) which are known to have serious health consequences. Data collection points will be decided by the communities, and measurements will be taken over four or five months. Data from the digital sensors will be live on the internet, and will be added to a map along with the lab measurements. The aim is to create open data and make it available online.

Pepys Estate noisemap

Pepys Estate noisemap


Different communities from around Kosovo will be invited to take part in the project launch, a weekend event where we will co-design the pilot project, learn how to use the tools and discuss the different ways to have an impact. The project partners include the Unicef Innovations Lab{4}, which has a track record of participatory work with young people in Kosovo, and the team that has delivered digital innovation by running a series of Social Innovation Camps. It has been advised and inspired by projects such as Excites at UCL{5}, Mapping for Change{6} and Global Community Monitor{7} and is following the model of 'civic science' set out by the innovative Public Lab{8}. If the pilot project is a success it can be extended to look at water quality and soil quality, as well as expanded with a range of techniques ranging from balloon mapping{9} to radiation {10}.

  1. The World Bank, 2013. Kosovo - Country Environmental Analysis (CEA), Available at: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2013/01/17485553/kosovo-country-environmental-analysis-kosovo-country-environmental-analysis-cea
  2. Smart Citizen. Available at: http://smartcitizen.me/
  3. Gradko, 2012. Nitrogen Oxide Diffusion Tubes, Nitrogen Dioxide Diffusion Tubes. Available at: http://www.gradko.com/environmental/products/nitrogen-oxides.shtml
  4. UNICEF, Innovations Lab Kosovo. Available at: http://kosovoinnovations.org/
  5. UCL, Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS). Available at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/excites/
  6. Mapping for Change. Mapping for Change. Available at: http://www.mappingforchange.org.uk/
  7. Global Community Monitor. Available at: http://www.gcmonitor.org/
  8. Public Lab: a DIY environmental science community. Available at: http://publiclab.org/
  9. Balloon & Kite Mapping. Available at: http://publiclab.org/wiki/balloon-mapping
  10. Safecast. Available at: http://blog.safecast.org/

Prototyping a new Kosovo

[Blogging the Kosovo Innovation Camp, May 2012]

Social Innovation Camp brings together ideas, people and digital tools to build web-based solutions to social problems in just 48 hours. One of the reasons we can do this is the power of prototyping. We set up Social Innovation Camp to imitate the speed of digital startups and the way they can deploy a working prototype in less time than it takes an NGO to write a funding application. A team assembles, and idea is ready, and the race is on to get something that works out in to the world. Everything useful on the web is in permanent beta; never finished, always adapting. This is the dynamism made possible by internet-connected technology. (For more on this, see ideas about the lean startup and ideas of the minimum viable product).

(Image: the NEWBORN monument in Prishtina)

At the same time we're trying to tackle hard social problems - stuff that isn't easy to solve, where people are probably short of resources. So we take an asset-based approach, encouraging projects to pull together the things the community does have rather than complaining about what's missing. This is also given a boost by internet-powered technology, as the internet has turned out to be very good at making something significant by assembling lots of small contributions (think of crowdsourced projects like wikipedia or open street map, which are unimaginable without the net). This is why Sicamp has helped start great projects like The Good Gym.

Technology know-how is central to Social Innovation Camp, but technology only makes a difference when it's used to redesign the way the world works. The Sicamp outlook is related to the emerging area of Service Design - the reorganising of a service or the creation of a new one based on the participation of users. Sicamp projects bring a web perspective to this, with ideas of mashups and peer-to-peer services. Sicamp supports people to do something directly about their 'itch' - the issue that frustrates them or that they feel passionate about. In the world of the web, they can do this directly and without asking permission from the self-appointed authorities who claim to own that issue.

Fundamentally, Sicamp encourages people to hack their reality - to realise that, via technology, they can prototype a better way to get things done. Sicamp applies the self-confidence of the Web Kids manifesto to really important social issues. We know it can produce good projects, but we also know that it can make a longer term change in the attitudes of people who take part. People get excited about making stuff, and more confident about their power to make a change. With a prototyping and hacker approach, young people in Kosovo can use the internet to re-assemble different parts of their society. When it works they can build on it, when it fails they can learn and move on.

Many people in Kosovo tell me the system is basically corrupt. The influence of money and politics touches every decision and every appointment, while the economy and infrastructure are languishing in a post-war state made worse by the current financial crisis. Of course, their are already NGO projects like Kallxo.com which encourage people to report corruption via an online map. But my hunch is that the spread of a social hacker ethic in the younger generation will do more to limit corruption and can also create a lot of positive side-effects like projects, startups and networks. That's why I think Sicamp is a good match for the current needs of Kosova - helping people use the web to assemble small resources in to something bigger, helping people to route around and bypass the blockages of the current system, and (to rephrase the IWW) helping prototype part of a new society in the shell of the old.


Young Kosovars take a break from a training session at the Innovations Lab

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