Kosovo youth set agenda (and gather data) for change
The Kosovo Environmental Protection Agency (KEPA) does what it can to test air quality with only three dedicated staff. However, this makes the data limited and at times spotty. In this absence, UNICEF’s Kosovo Innovation Lab is organising local youth to collect pollution data and advocate for a cleaner Kosovo. The project is called Science for Change.
Tasked with reimagining UNICEF for a modern world, UNICEF’s Innovation Labs are leveraging ubiquitous technology to solve problems affecting children and mothers. In Sudan this meant deploying rapid SMS to improve birth registration, in Zambia they are using cell phones to provide real time information on HIV and STIs, and in Kosovo they are tackling pollution.
Youth setting the agenda
“What we do has to be locally impactful,” says Josh Harvey, a lead at
UNICEF’s Kosovo Innovation Lab. “We want to make sure that [local
youth] own the project and steer it,” Harvey continued. In fact, while
the Innovation Lab will provide support and training, young people set
the agenda; and young people in Kosovo want to see a cleaner
The Science for Change project is simultaneously teaching local youth about environmental policy issues, how to collect pollution data, and how to use this data to advocate for change. Less than a year old, the youth participants have gone through a training that covered everything from how to use social media for advocacy to how to collect and publish open pollution data.
Open data aims to empower youth and government
The advocacy work in Kosovo is intended to build off of successful
campaigns from around the world. The training took examples from an anti-fracking campaign in Pennsylvania, the Extreme Citizen Science Research Group in London, and the Greenpeace Palm oil campaign.
The youth were also trained on open source technologies like ghost
wipes and diffusion tubes from Smart Citizen. These technologies used
democratize the data collection process by being low cost, easy to use,
and come with a visualization API that makes the data accessible.
When asked about the limitations of this technology, Harvey says
“Going into this, we knew what we could do and what we couldn’t do. The
technology is reliable, and we are looking for trends.” Harvey goes on
to clarify that they never approached this project to say something
definitive about pollution in Kosovo, but wanted to empower youth to
have a seat at the table and to inform the dialogue around environmental
The Kosovar government started to address environmental issues by
passing a number of laws, including the implementation of E.U. air
quality standards. But passing laws is not enough, as enforcement
remains poor. Salaj says this is why Science for Change needs to happen,
“[Our] vision is to support, encourage, and hold accountable Kosovo’s
institutions when it comes to air quality monitoring and transparency.”
In fact, the Kosovar government welcomes the project. Letafete
Latifi, the director of KEPA’s Hydro-meteorological Institute, which is
tasked with air monitoring, was a consultant for last year’s Science for
Change training. Ms. Latifi hopes that Science for Change continues
because it creates new, reliable data to bolster KEPA’s existing data
collection. She also thinks it is a positive force in civil society. Ms.
Latifi expounded, “Civil society is often regarded as the opposition,
but the cooperation between the institute and Innovations Lab is an
example of how the government and civil society can work together to
deliver results beneficial for the citizens of Kosovo.”
Working with the government of Kosovo was a part of the plan all
along. Salaj explains that, “There is some data being collected by
Kosovo’s Ministry of Environment and Institute for Public Health, but
this data is either closed in the Ministry’s database or selectively
disclosed in not understandable or accessible formats.” Having KEPA at
the table alongside local citizens, NGOs, and technologists allow the
group to collaboratively confront and develop variety of ideas, share
best practices, and contribute to the project’s outcome.
Innovating and iterating the Science for Change program
While Kosovo’s environmental problems are large, they are not unique.
Harvey is quick to point out that Innovation Lab field offices, like
the one in Kosovo, are looking to both improve local conditions but also
to create a robust and flexible project that can work else where. He
says that Jakarta, the densely populated capital of Indonesia, is
already interested in iterating Science for Change.
Back in Kosovo, Salaj is excited about what can be accomplished from
collaborative citizen science. “[Citizen Science is] participatory,
bottom-up, agile and capitalizes on the growing acceptance of
open-source technologies (like open data and hardware and low-cost
internet connected devices) to empower community members to drive
actions around issues impacting their neighborhoods.” Salaj concludes on
a hopeful note, “All these elements are difficult to be introduced and
inserted into conservative, hierarchical institutional science, while in
citizen science they become the core elements of it.”
By Jason Tashea
Posted over 4 years ago