Environmental Information: The Roles of Experts and the Public


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Slides from a talk at Wilson Center, Washington DC, April 2014
Access to environmental information and use of it for environmental decision making are central pillars of environmental democracy. Yet, not much attention is paid to the question of who is producing it, and for whom? By examining the history of environmental information, since NEPA in 1969, three eras can be identified: information produced by experts, for experts (1969-1992); information produced by experts, to be shared by experts and the public (1992-2011); and finally, information produced by experts and the public to be shared by experts and the public.

Underlying these are changes in access to information, rise in levels of education and rapid change due to digital technologies. The three eras and their implication to environmental decision making will be explored, with special attention to the role of geographical information and geographical information systems and to citizen science.

Published in: Environment, Technology, Education
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Environmental Information: The Roles of Experts and the Public

  1. 1. Environmental Information: The Roles of Experts and the Public Muki Haklay, Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) research group, UCL Source: iMP
  2. 2. NASA 24/12/1968 1962 – Silent Spring 1970 – USA Earth Day 1972 – Stockholm Conference 1987 – Montreal protocol, Our Common Future 1992 - Rio Conference, Agenda 21 1997 – Kyoto Protocol 1998 – Aarhus convention 2001 – Johannesburg Rio + 10 2003 – Aarhus EU directives 2005 – UK Environmental information regulations 2011– Eye on Earth 2012 – Rio+20
  3. 3. Environmental movement - themes • From local pollution concern (Clean Air Act) to global issues (Climate Change) • Developing vs. Developed world discourse • Role of government and civic society – growing acceptance of many stakeholders in decision making processes • From specific environmental problem solving to frameworks (e.g. sustainability, adaptation) In all these, the role of environmental information is undisputed, but who creates it? Who use it? How it is being used?
  4. 4. Outline • Three eras of environmental information: – By experts, for experts (1969-1992) – By experts, for experts & the public (1992-2012) – By experts & the public, for experts & the public (2012 on) • Underlying trends that facilitated the change • Where next? • Open issues and future directions
  5. 5. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 1969 • Implementation instruments: environmental impact assessment, state of the environment report, Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). • Expectations from CEQ members: ‘…Each member shall be a person who, as a result of his training, experience, and attainments, is exceptionally well qualified to analyze and interpret environmental trends and information of all kinds…’ (U.S. Congress, 1970, sec. 201)
  6. 6. Stockholm Declaration 1972 1972 Stockholm declaration, Principles 19 & 20 – differentiating between experts and the public: “It is also essential that mass media of communications … disseminates information of an educational nature on the need to protect and improve the environment” “In this connection, the free flow of up- to-date scientific information and transfer of experience must be supported and assisted, to facilitate the solution of environmental problems”
  7. 7. • 1972 – INFOTERRA – Mainframe based directory of environmental expertise, used by national nodes • 1982 – Global Resources Information Database – GRID – a global Geographical Information System with information about the environment Information Systems
  8. 8. First era: 1969-1992 • ‘Information deficit’ model towards the public • Top-down attitude to environmental decision making • Environmental information by experts, for experts
  9. 9. Widening participation • As the environmental movement evolves in the 1970s and 1980s, the role of civil society organisations increase • With ‘Our Common Future’ (1987), the notion of sustainable development gained momentum
  10. 10. ‘Earth summit’, Rio 1992, Principle 10: ‘Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.’
  11. 11. Aarhus convention (EU + post-soviet countries): ‘…Improved access to information and public participation in decision-making enhance the quality and the implementation of decisions, contribute to public awareness of environmental issues, give the public opportunity to express its concerns and enable public authorities to take due account of such concerns...’ (P. 2) ‘…Each party shall ensure that environmental information progressively becomes available in electronic databases which are easily accessible to the public through public telecommunications networks...’ (Article 3.3)
  12. 12. 19971997
  13. 13. 19991999
  14. 14. 20042004
  15. 15. Second era: 1992 – 2012 • Public access to environmental information is seen as a prerequisite to participation, civil society organisations as intermediaries • The Web emerges as the dissemination medium • Information by experts, for the public in expert form: ‘this is not community information in community language’
  16. 16. Widening participation, further • Prof. Jacquie McGlade, head of European Environment Agency, 2008 (Aarhus + 10): ‘Often the best information comes from those who are closest to it, and it is important we harness this local knowledge if we are to tackle climate change adequately… people are encouraged to give their own opinion on the quality of the beach and water, to supplement the official information.’
  17. 17. EEA WaterWatch
  18. 18. EEA Work Programme 2014-18 • As Part of Strategic Area 3 activities: ‘to widen and deepen the European knowledge base by developing communities of practice and engaging in partnerships with stakeholders beyond Eionet, such as business and research communities, Civil Society Organisations (CSO), and initiatives concerning lay, local and traditional knowledge and citizen science’
  19. 19. Citizen science • While Citizen Science has a long history, new formed emerged, facilitated by the web - ‘citizen cyberscience’ • Types: – biodiversity/conservation observations recording; – volunteer computing; – volunteer thinking; – Do It Yourself (DIY) science; – community/civic science See Haklay, M., 2013, Citizen Science and Volunteered Geographic Information – overview and typology of participation in Crowdsourcing Geographic Knowledge
  20. 20. Biodiversity/conservation
  21. 21. 20082008
  22. 22. 20102010
  23. 23. 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 00:00 03:00 06:00 09:00 12:00 15:00 18:00 21:00 00:00 dBA Sound Readings - No Flights 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 00:00 03:00 06:00 09:00 12:00 15:00 18:00 21:00 00:00 dBA Sound Readings - Normal Flights Source: Wikimedia Eyjafjallajökull – April 2010
  24. 24. Mapping for Change
  25. 25. June 2012June 2012
  26. 26. July 2012July 2012
  27. 27. August 2012August 2012
  28. 28. 20132013
  29. 29. Air Quality Pollutant Sampling Method Nitrogen Dioxide Diffusion tubes Metal particles Wipe samples
  30. 30. Third era: from 2012 • Increased proliferation of geographic technologies, information sharing, ubiquitous computing and the emergence of citizen science • Official data is opened and integrated with community-led data collection activities • Information by the public, for the public. Experts in a support and facilitation roles.
  31. 31. Trends • Technology and societal enablers • Major societal transition: – Increased levels of education – Increased understanding of abstract concepts and science communication • Combined with: – Web availability, with broadband access to resources and information – Collaborative, socially-based knowledge creation systems (Web 2.0) – Wide availability of location-enabled mobile devices Haklay, M., Singleton, A., and Parker, C., 2008, Web mapping 2.0: the Neogeography of the Geoweb, Geography Compass
  32. 32. Web availability and interaction (CC) Ell Brown (Flickr)
  33. 33. Collaborative, socially-based knowledge creation systems
  34. 34. Years of school completed by population 25+ years 1940-2009
  35. 35. Increased level of education 95 99 107 116 124 132 138 146 154 159 165 1 10 100 1000 10000 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 World population and students in tertiary education, World Bank data Tertiary Ed World Population
  36. 36. Understanding scientific concepts © Cambridge University Press © Sanja Gjenero (sxc.hu)
  37. 37. Widening participation, still • The new technologies enable people to go beyond current group that are involved in citizen science • Appropriate design can allow low-literacy and remote communities to participate in citizen science
  38. 38. 55
  39. 39. Summary • Public access to environmental information evolves from authoritative, top-down to collaborative contribution and use • Citizen science provides communities with the ability to collect and interpret data, but the need for experts have not diminished • There are further ways to increase engagement and include more people in the process, both on data collection, but also in interpretation and action
  40. 40. Open Issues and Future Directions • Characteristics of citizen-produced environmental information – heterogeneous, temporal & spatial variability, sources • Balancing citizens and authoritative monitoring and management – who should do what? • Addressing digital, social and educational inequalities
  41. 41. Credits Support for the research kindly provided by: UCL Graduate School Research Fund ESRC ‘Conserving Biodiversity That Matters: The Value of Brownfield Sites’ project RGS/IBG Small Research Grant UrbanBuzz: Building Sustainable Communities (HEFCE) London Sustainability Exchange (LSx) London 21 Sustainability Network EPSRC Challenging Engineering Award ‘Extreme Citizen Science’ EPSRC Adaptable Suburbs project EU FP7 EveryAware project Google Research Awards Amazon Web Services Education Grants Our special thanks to the participants and the communities that work with us And to our partners: Royal Geographical Society, ESRI, Helveta and U-Blox
  42. 42. • Follow us: – http://www.ucl.ac.uk/excites – Twitter: @UCL_ExCiteS – Blog: http://uclexcites.wordpress.com