Get Data, Drive Change: Citizen Science at Innovations Lab Kosovo

On June 20-22, young technologists, students, and community members from around Kosovo joined environmental advocates, journalists, representatives from Kosovo’s local and central institutions and international experts in the citizen science movement to co-create and collaboratively implement an air quality monitoring project and policy advocacy campaign for three sites around Kosovo.

A new Citizen Science initiative led by Internet Artizans, the Innovations Lab Kosovo, Transitions, and supported by the Transition Promotion Program of the Czech Foreign Ministry is seeking to change this.

At the intersection of open-source technologies and policy advocacy, Citizen Science is emerging as a powerful means of empowering communities to generate and use empirical data to hold duty-bearers accountable.

The Citizen Science movement capitalizes on the growing acceptance of crowdsourcing as a data collection methodology, the ready availability of low-cost internet-connected devices ranging from mobile phones to do-it-yourself sensors, and the growing accessibility of data collection, analysis, visualization, and dissemination technologies to empower community members to drive action around issues impacting their neighbourhoods.

Around the world low cost technologies are being developed and deployed by citizens in their local communities to measure and better understand the world around them. In Japan, a project called Safecast enabled rapid sensing of radiation levels following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. A project called Mapping for Change has been used to measure and map air quality around London. And low cost sensors are being used to measure pollution levels in real time in major cities around the world. Armed with the empirical data they‘ve generated and policy advocacy know-how, communities are then in a stronger position to engage in meaningful debate with institutions.

The Kosovan “Science for Change” project works with young people to develop and launch a Citizen Science initiative to monitor air quality in their local communities. Many of the youth in attendance came from areas which have been impacted by industrial activity in Kosovo, including the village of Plementina near the Kosovo A and Kosovo B power plants and the city of Mitrovica which has been affected by mining operations.

Kosovo faces many environmental challenges but one of the greatest is air pollution. 97% of the country’s energy comes from two aging power plants, fuelled by lignite, the dirtiest form of coal. While there have been technological improvements made to the plants in recent years to reduce the environmental and health impact of air pollution, civil society has voiced growing concern about the plants which are located less than 10 kilometres from the capital of Pristina. Although air quality is monitored by the Kosovo Environmental Protection Agency access to hard data on air pollution levels is frequently lacking or incomplete.

The launch brought youth participants in direct dialogue with municipal and central institutions, kicking off the weekend with a panel discussion featuring representatives from the Kosovo Environmental Protection Agency (Letafete Latifi, Acting Director), Kosovo Civil Society Consortium for Sustainable Development (Visar Azemi, Cooridnator) and the Municipality of Obilic (Arben Berisha, Director at Directorate for Environmental Protection). Following the panel, the group turned to a discussion of local communities’ perspectives, in which participants shared their personal experiences with pollution and its impacts on their health and wellbeing.

Saturday ended with an exploration of measurement tools and technologies, guided by Dan McQuillan—the project’s chief scientist—and SmartCitizen’s Alexandre Dubor. The team arrived at a mix of high- and low-tech tools: gas diffusion tubes will be placed to measure levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide; surface wipes will allow for collection of samples to evaluate surface contamination such as the presence of heavy metals; and low cost digital monitors developed by SmartCitizen and based on the open-source hardware board Arduino will allow for real-time monitoring of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, in addition to temperature, sound levels and humidity. And finally, recognizing that the importance of the first-hand experience of community members, the team developed protocols for a survey that helps citizens themselves act as sensors, asking participants to record what they see, smell, taste, feel, and hear over the monitoring period.

With decisions made regarding data collection tools and methods, Sunday saw the team converge on one key question: how do we turn data and measurements into change? Innovation Lab Kosovo’s Ron Salaj and Josh Harvey led sessions that broke down the elements of other successful advocacy campaigns, and identifying approaches and key messages for key constituent groups—including the media, environmental institutions, municipal authorities, and young community members.

The weekend closed with participants organizing site teams and creating local action plans. In the weeks ahead, site teams will put their learning into practice, deploying tools and technologies to collect data on air quality and sharing their findings with stakeholders across Kosovo. By taking data collection and advocacy into their own hands, the Science for Change Project’s young participants hope to broaden the national discussion about environmental issues, and to take their rightful seat at the table in the debate about the visible and invisible environmental issues they and their communities face. 

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Posted almost 5 years ago