The Green Watch Programme in Dublin: Citizen-driven Sustainability Initiatives in the City

Yesterday I attended a workshop in the Science Gallery in Dublin about the Green Watch Programme, a joint initiative from the Dublin City Council, Trinity College and Intel. The main idea of the programme is to tackle waste in the city through a participatory mobile phone app with a focus on four key areas: water waste, air pollution, green initiatives and litter. As a Dublin City Council representative pointed out, the mobile phone penetration in Dublin is approximately 48%, so it makes sense to create an app that engages citizens to adopt waste prevention behaviours (he did point out that the remaining 52% can be reached through other ways).

The idea taps into the concept of smart, sustainable cities and crowdsourcing. While the project researchers have through about deploying wired and wireless sensors to capture data, they have pointed out that these need electricity, maintenance, and can be costly, while using citizen’s smartphones to sense the environment makes…sense.

During the workshop, in which we were expected to contribute ideas after being introduced to the project, questions were raised about how to engage citizens and what would they benefit from contributing information. The workshop organisers were keen on brainstorming issues of waste across the city. There were many suggestions put forward, such as: unblocking drains, identifying location of recycling black spots, identifying community garden projects (and coordinating volunteers for these), and several others. It remains to be seen how citizens might actively engage in such initiatives and what would be there reasons for doing so. Personal interest? The urge to socialise? Guilt?

One after-thought I had was that the targets of combating waste and engaging citizens can be linked in certain ways. I though specifically of time-wasting (an immaterial form of waste) on online social networks. While many forms of material waste are quite obvious, online time-wasting is a grey area (there are certainly many positive things to be said of online social networking). How can you measure online time-wasting ? Does it eventually translate into physical waste eventually (electricity needs, access to remote data from database centres)?

Instead of harvesting little farms on Facebook’s Farmville app, for example, users could spend time harvesting (real) mini-farms across the city. Perhaps the trick is to make the app as ‘fun’ and engaging as Farmville (et al.). Less time online, more exercise, the opportunity to harvest your produce (rather than spend money on virtual goods to harvest a virtual farm in exchange for virtual scores), and the opportunity to meet your elusive neighbours. Or maybe the solution is somewhere in-between , such linking the ability to score online points and build online ‘wealth’ to your physical efforts in the ‘real’ mini-farm.

If we consider the mind-boggling success of Ian Bogost’s Cow Clicker , perhaps the middle ground approach is the only way to go forward. Gamification with a purpose?

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Craig Mundie – Chief Research and Strategy Officer, Microsoft – “More Like Us: Computing Transformed”

Craig Mundie gave a lecture entitled ‘More Like Us: computer Transformed’ at the University of Melbourne on the 29th of March, 2011. He demonstrated some of the future capabilities of the Microsoft Kinect, including collaborative efforts and hacks by users. Microsoft is trying to push the Kinect into the business arena, and Craig demonstrated a kind of virtual conference where the Kinect captures your movements and inserts you as an avatar into a virtual conference scenario populated by other avatars. It looked uncanny and there were a few bugs. I was wondering during the demonstration if videoconferencing was being pushed too far… On the other hand, this is simply and extension of virtual immersive environments such as Second Life, with added movement capture.

Craig argues that computers should become assistants in the background and that htere shoulb be natural user interaction with the computer. Mind you, this is coming from the company that not so long ago gave us the ‘Clippie’ and the dog assistants in Word giving us suggestions of how to use the program and interrupting our typing. So much for transparency… He also said that Microsoft is working on smart phones that will be able to handle complex processes. For example, you could tell you phone that you want a ticket to go to Sydney tomorrow, and…voila: the phone would research the web for the best price, buy the ticket and do the check-in for you. It does raise some serious concerns about privacy and data protection, but in a world where most users on Facebook display their full birthday on their public profiles, it might succeed!

Craig Mundie and Bill Gates

photo by Dan Farber – Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC 2.0)