söndag 3 december 2017

Quantified Self for Sustainability (paper)

The topic of my two previous blog post were papers that we submitted to the upcoming ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) conference. This blog post is about yet another paper I submitted to that same conference (the third and last). The paper "Quantified Self for Sustainability: Limitations and Possibilities" is written by Björn Hedin, Daniel Pargman and Miriam Börjesson Rivera. We are all at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology but while me and Björn work at the School of Computer Science and Communication, Miriam work at the School of Architecture and the Built Environment. Me and Miriam have on the other hand sat next to each other at the premises of the Center for Sustainable Communication (CESC) for the better part of two years while Björn sits at the Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID) - one floor above from me and Miriam.

The paper primarily builds on the first two authors' work in the project "Improved energy counseling and energy habits by Quantified Self Assisted Advisory". This paper does however not report on the results of any particular project but is rather a synthesis of us thinking about quantified self (QS) for a long time and in may sub-projects. The main contribution of the paper is the presentation of a framework "which can be used to develop and assess QS solutions". We really think we are on to something but it could be that we could sharpen the discussion and the conclusions further (it was a bit hectic in the end).

Quantified Self for Sustainability: Limitations and Possibilities

Quantified self has been described as “any individual engaged in the self-tracking of any kind of biological, physical, behavioral, or environmental information” in order to obtain information and act upon it. Some aspects of our lives such as walking is easy to track, for example by using a step counter. Other aspects such as greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e) generated by different decisions in our everyday lives are much harder to track. Such aspects must instead be derived from other data sources, such as when calculating CO2e emitted when driving a car, or from eating a meal. The transformations that are required are in most cases based on templates, simplifications and assumptions that all introduce uncertainties, making the results deceptively precise. In this paper, we present a framework that can be used to understand and express these uncertainties. The framework highlights limitations of how derived data can be used and what can and cannot be framed as “facts” with a reasonable degree of certainty. However, by explicitly acknowledging and presenting the reasons for the uncertainty, we argue that Quantified Self can - with proper knowledge of its strengths and weaknesses - be a powerful tool for reflective learning and pro-environmental behavior change.

Keywords—Sustainable HCI, Quantified Self, Behavior Change

torsdag 30 november 2017

Barriers for sustainable waste management practices in grocery stores (paper)

The topic of my previous blog post was a paper that we submitted to the upcoming ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) conference. This blog post is about another paper I submitted to that same conference. The paper "Barriers for sustainable waste management practices in grocery stores: Exploration by Research-through-Design" is written by Sofie Nyström (RISE Research Institutes of Sweden), Cecilia Katzeff (KTH Royal Institute of Technology) and Daniel Pargman (KTH Royal Institute of Technology). I am yet again the third author and it's really so much better to have a slightly withdrawn position when you work on several papers in parallell (and simultaneously have a heavy teaching load).

The paper builds on Sofie's excellent master's thesis that she wrote just this past spring (January - June 2017). She was a master's student at KTH earlier this year but now works in the Energy Design studio at RISE Interactive. While I was not her thesis advisor, me and Cecilia ran the project within which her thesis was written and I also accompanied Sofie to two of the interviews she did as part of her thesis.

While her master's thesis was well written, we still had to work extensively with repurposing and reshaping it for it to become a good research paper and the end result is quite different from the thesis she presented half a year ago. Here's the paper abstract:

Barriers for sustainable waste management practices in grocery stores: Exploration by Research-through-Design

Since natural resources are limited, we need to ensure that materials are reused and recycled to the highest degree possible. Information and feedback as well as incentives may encourage people to alter their behavior. In this paper, we explore waste practices within grocery stores and how feedback through visualizations may help stores improve their waste management. We have studied the gap between current waste data and waste data that is both meaningful and can be acted upon as well as barriers between actionable data and organizational change. Nine interviews were conducted with a central facilities manager, store managers, employees and a representative from the waste collection company. Based on the results from these interviews, two mockups of web visualizations were designed and later evaluated in two additional stores. The initial interviews highlighted knowledge about waste, economic and environmental incentives for recycling and current modes of feedback and comparisons between stores. The mockups also reveal structural tensions between economic and environmental goals that wouldn’t be affected solely by better visualization of data. We conclude by discussing obstacles that needs to be overcome to reach organizational change in terms of more sustainable waste management practices in grocery stores.

Keywords—waste management practices, data visualization, grocery stores, research through design, design mockups.

söndag 26 november 2017

Undesigning the Internet (paper)

We submitted a paper, "Undesigning the Internet: An exploratory study of reducing everyday Internet connectivity" to the Fifth International Conference on ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) more than a week in advance of the deadline. While the deadline had been postponed by two weeks, I have still never submitted a paper that much time in advance ever neverever before!

The paper is written by Kelly Widdicks (Lancaster, UK), Tina Ringenson (KTH, Sweden), Daniel Pargman (KTH Sweden), Vishnupriya Kuppusamy (University of Bremen, Germany) and Patricia Lago (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands) and it's a spin-off from the ICT4S summer school that was held in Leiden (the Netherlands) four months ago (July/August). I unfortunately did not write a blog post about the summer school back then, only a shorter notice on our MID4S team blog.

I have to give credit especially to Kelly Widdicks whom I met earlier this year for the first time (at CHI in Denver in May - another "missing" blog post). I'm pretty sure there wouldn't have been a paper without her persistence and drive and the paper is fortunately right in line with her research (so she could legitimately spend a lot of time on the study and on writing the paper). I dare to say this has been more of a "hobby project" for me and the other co-authors. Three of the five authors are currently ph.d. students while me and Patricia are "seniors".

My main contribution to the paper was in helping out in the planning of the study, in the process itself of writing the paper as well as in writing the major part of the discussion. I know I was involved in writing the introduction and the background too but can't really remember exactly who wrote what anymore since that's what Google docs does in a well-functioning process where everybody rewrites everybody else's text. I was however more or less out of the loop when it came to the heavy lifting of analyzing the data and writing up the results.

The premise of the (exploratory) paper is that we use the Internet (too) much. So instead of having Internet access by default, we asked informants (which included ourselves) to be disconnected from the Internet for two weeks by default and only reconnect when deemed "necessary" (as decided by each informant). Each informant wrote a daily diary and the paper is the result of this "Internet deprivation-light" study of ours. It doesn't build on a huge amount of empirical material but it does have a lot of interesting thoughts. When we started the process of planning the study we really had no idea if it would be possible to get a paper together but I think the end result was beyond our (or at least my) expectations.

Now we have to lean back and wait for two months until we know if the paper has been accepted or not. The ICT4S conference itself will be held in Toronto in May next year and I expect to go there! Below is our abstract:

Undesigning the Internet: An exploratory study of reducing everyday Internet connectivity

Internet connectivity is seamlessly integrated into many of our everyday habits and activities. Despite this, previous research has highlighted that our rather excessive Internet use is not sustainable or even always socially beneficial. In this paper, we carried out an exploratory study on how Internet disconnection affects our everyday lives and whether such disconnection is even possible in today’s society. Through daily surveys, we captured what Internet use means for ten participants and how this varies when they are asked to disconnect by default, and reconnect only when their Internet use is deemed as necessary. From our study, we found that our participants could disconnect from the Internet for certain activities (particularly leisure focused), yet they developed adaptations in their lives to address the necessity of their Internet use. We elicit these adaptations into five themes that encompass how the participants did, or did not, use the Internet based on their necessities. Drawing on these five themes, we conclude with ways in which our study can inspire future research surrounding: Internet infrastructure limits; the promotion of slow values; Internet non-use; and the undesign of Internet services.

Index Terms: sustainability; everyday life; reduced Internet connectivity; limits; slow values; non-use; undesign.

onsdag 22 november 2017

How Sweden can use digitalization for sustainability (symposium)


I have been affiliated with a research center, The Vinnova Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Communications (CESC) during the last five years. I have in fact sat in the "CESC corridor" during the last two years and have thus rubbed shoulders with colleagues who are sustainability specialists and who organizationally belong to the KTH School of Architecture and the Built Environment (while I belong to the School of Computer Science and Communication). The 10-year center has had its run though and it will close its doors at the end of the year.

As part of the activities of closing down the center, CESC organized a one-day symposium a little more than a week ago on "How Sweden can use digitalization for sustainability". My presence was required since I both work at the center and also belong to the CESC management group ("ledningsgruppen"). As it so happens, I also helped the center director Mattias Höjer as a sounding board in the process of planning the symposium.

The day was divided into two parts; a morning session and an afternoon session (followed by a dinner). The morning session consisted of (yet another) ConverStation exercise. I've participated in and have written about ConverStations several times before on the blog - most notably a year ago - and won't explain the mechanics of this interesting presentation format again. It's enough to state that there were 12 ConverStations and I manned one of them together with my colleague Cecilia Katzeff. We gave the same presentations three times for a limited number of persons and there was plenty of time for questions in an intimate setting. Our presentation was called "Can data from the grocery store push customers towards more environmentally friendly purchases?". My colleague Elina Eriksson sat at a nearby and presented "How do we educated ICT engineering students about sustainability?" - a ConverStation I could easily have joined her at had I not already been occupied. I think the ConverStation exercise worked very well and CESC (especially Mattias Höjer and Daniel Vare) has by now extensive experience at organizing them.

A long lunch/mingle was followed by a number of shorter session with many prominent guests, including the current minister of digitalization, Peter Eriksson. The afternoon session was opened by the Center for Sustainable Communications director Mattias Höjer and was closed by the chairwomen of the board, Catherine Karagianni (from Telia).

I notice that the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are everywhere nowadays and they appeared many times over in the afternoon presentations (and perhaps also in various ConverStations).

The program and quite a few of the (ConverStation) presentations can be found here (for the most part in Swedish though).

The fact that the center will close its doors at the end of the year means that we will all move back to our respective departments. I will miss my CESC colleagues and our great conversations over lunches and coffee breaks! I would have moved back to my department at the beginning of 2018 had it not been the case that I will go on a sabbatical for half a year so I will instead do my best to stay clear of KTH until the the end of the summer. I will naturally write more about my plans and about my doings during the spring term later, but I can already now hint about plans for writing a book...

söndag 19 november 2017

Our sustainability course seminars (course)

My course on Sustainability and ICT/Media Technology (that I teach together with my colleagues Elina Eriksson and Hanna Hasselqvist) started a few weeks ago and this is the sixth time we give the course (the first time was in 2012). Three weeks into the course we had our first (from-now-on) weekly seminars and our students submitted a question each before the seminar. There are their suggestions as to what questions they would want us to discuss at the seminar based on our question to them, namely "What is, in your opinion, the most pressing problem we are facing in terms of sustainability?"

Out of the almost 70 questions submitted, I selected and curated the students' questions so that they would fit on a single sheet of paper. To do that I had to reformulate and make some questions more succinct, reduce the number of questions that discussed a specific topic to two or three, remove questions that would fit one of the future seminars better and sometimes even merge two students' questions into one.

This resulted in the list of 29 questions below and these questions are excellent. I think it is interesting to note that these were "ordinary students" back in October but that they, only three weeks into our course, are smarter than politicians, mainstream economists as well as journalists (not to mention most lobbyists etc.). Their questions below are so much more substantial and indicate a much higher level of awareness about important issues we will have to deal with during the coming decades than the average discussion and the general discourse in media, in politics and elsewhere.

At the seminar last week the students got a few minutes to read the questions before they could each vote for their three favorite topics/questions to discuss. Out of the most popular questions, we then had time to discuss around three or four at a seminar but the quality of the discussions are usually really high. We have used this format in the course for some years now and are very happy about it. Below are the questions for the first seminar and I have marked the questions that I actually discussed with my two seminar groups in bold below.

1.     Who should bear the largest responsibility for attaining a sustainable future: individuals, companies or politicians?
2.     Rockström’s planetary boundaries doesn't put any blame on anyone in particular for these problems (crossing some boundaries). Is this intentional and if so why?
3.     How can students live sustainably on a budget?
4.     What can we do as individuals to move towards a more sustainable food consumption? How willing are you to change your dietary habits for the benefit of the environment?
5.     How can society encourage people to eat less meat? Through positive feedback or through regulations? 
6.     Why do we consume more than we actually need? Is it inherent/human nature to keep expanding/growing (also in our desire to consume and accumulate wealth)? If so, are we capable of changing? 
7.     Does ecological food, Earth Hour and environment-friendly cars make a difference or are they just an excuse for western civilization to continue ”living it large”? 
8.     Disregarding the bad example I set, does it really make a difference if I live a sustainable life or not? 
9.     How can we encourage people to protect ecosystems they don't live near and/or species they've never heard of?
10.  Could any specific event make the world "wake up" in regards to climate change?
11.  If infinite growth is impossible, is there a natural end to growth such as stabilization or complete depletion of natural resources? (How) should we intervene to stop growth?
12.  Is it possible to have a sustainable and ethical world (society) under capitalism and contemporary liberal democracy?
13.  (How) can we make sustainability economically profitable?
14.  Are there any viable/alternative economic models that do no rely on infinite growth?
15.  Is a transition away from a growth-based economy possible without economic collapse?
16.  Why are some 1st world countries (e.g. Sweden) much more sustainable than others?
17.  How far can/should we go in order to achieve ecological sustainability? Can we (for example) turn off all but the most necessary electricity at certain hours or forcefully relocate families to areas where they would have a smaller ecological impact? 
18.  How should we value economic, social, and ecological sustainability in relation to each other? Does one outweigh the other or should they be treated as equally important? 
19.  Do we need scientific research to make a change to a problem we know exists or can we make changes even without scientific support?
20.  Much in society has been designed under the assumption of plentiful oil and energy. How different would today’s debate about sustainability be if we had listened to Hubbert’s pre-dictions about a coming peak in oil production? (How) would our societies be different? 
21.  If the price of oil would reach triple digits again (tomorrow, next year or 5 years from now) and stay there, what would be the impact on society, on economy and on politics?
22.  Does trends of urbanization have a positive environmental impact? It feels like when everything is closer there is less need for transportation and so on.
23.  It is common that people who try to live sustainably are looked down upon (environmentalists, vegans, people who don’t fly). How would you convince someone who has this reaction to change their perception and live more sustainably?
24.  How can ICT help in speeding up an otherwise slow transition from today's oil infrastructure to our next (renewable) energy infrastructure?
25.  Isn’t overpopulation the elephant in the climate change-room? Is this a problem? If so, how can we tackle it?
26.  How can we reduce the population/population growth without creating new problems with too many elders compared to younger people who work?
27.  Does traditional media has a responsibility to discuss sustainabillity problems? What about influencers such as bloggers and youtubers?
28.  How can one remain optimistic after having so much proof that despite all of the actions taken towards a sustainable future, we are still unlikely to succeed ?
29.  What gives you most hope for the future?

söndag 12 november 2017

Advanced project course projects (course)

Figure 1. Example for user-suggested ingredients that IBM Chef Watson uses as input to generate suggestions for never-before-seen recipes (project proposal Eating insects would be good)

Our new master's program in Interactive Media Technologies started a year ago and the first batch of students are now studying their second/last year in the program. The second quarter just started and the student are now studying their very last courses before they will write their master's theses during the spring term. One of these courses is a new course called DM2799 Advanced Project Course. All teachers at our department were asked to submit research-related project proposals and we all together came up with no less than 35 proposals and no less than seven of these 2-page proposals were submitted by mine and Elina's sustainability team (MID4S). These were the seven MID4S project proposals:

- Critical design for the food truck sustainability disaster (Cristi)
- Designing for the dynamics of energy practices (Hanna)
- Eating Insects would be good (Daniel/Cecilia)
- Evaluation of Climate Calculators (Elina/Cecilia)
- Evaluation of Consupedia interface and feedback (Elina/Cecilia)
- Stimulating discussion and learning on brfenergi.se (Cristi)
- Visualizing our colossal energy footprint (Daniel/Mario)

The 80 or so students who are taking the course made their 1st, their 2nd and their 3rd hand choices known and were then matched with project proposals and divided into groups of 3-5 students. There were in the end groups formed around 15 of the 35 proposals, but four proposals were so popular there are now two groups of students working with each of these proposal. Yet another groups of students had already been recruited by me and Cecilia Katzeff long before the course started and these were the projects that students ended up working with (italics & bold = MID4S groups):

- Cognitive modeling of dynamic team training (Artman, Romero)
- Designing a Mobile App for Planning and Execution of Effective Workshops (Kis)
- Designing and Prototyping a Pee-dometer to Investigate Training in Machine Learning (Helms, Fernaeus)
- Designing for the dynamics of energy practices (Hasselqvist - 2 groups)
- Digital Mindfulness/ Designing for Mindful Breathing and Relaxation (Zhu)
- Eating Insects would be good (Pargman, Katzeff)
- Evaluation of Climate Calculators (Ericsson, Katzeff)
- Evaluation of Consupedia interface and feedback (Ericsson, Katzeff, Rufo Gonzales)
- How to represent dynamic 3D-objects on a 2D-screen? (Artman, Romero)
- Interacting with trees (Falkenberg, Sallnäs Pysander)
- Memory training using sound feedback (Falkenberg)
- New Interactions for Digital Women’s Health (Balaam)
- Small group formations of virtual characters using a 3D game engine (Peters, Yang)
- Visualizing our colossal energy footprint (Pargman, Romero)
- Micro-timing in recordings of Jazz ensembles (Holzapfel, Hoffman)
- Affordances and limitations of ambient visualizations (Pargman, Katzeff, Romero, pre-recruited group)

That means no less than 7 out of 19 groups that were formed work with topics that were formulated by the sustainability team and I am myself involved in supervising three of these groups. The course started two weeks ago and the students were divided into groups the first week (no time to lose!). I met my groups this past (second) week for the first time and they are now all up and running. The one exception is mine and Cecilia's already-recruited group that works in our research project and that now continues to work with that research project also within the project course. 

The time schedule for the course is very compressed; the students will present their projects and the results in the form of 4-5 pages long research paper (ACM format) as well as an oral presentation on December 19. That's not a lot of time but there are on the other hand 3-5 students in each group and they are supposed to work 20 hours/person every week = "my" 12 students are supposed to work 240 hours per week altogether in these three projects and that's quite a hefty amount of time.

This course is given for the first time so we are to some extent all flying blind here, but it's all very exciting and I think the course could become really great after two or three years when the faculty has understood how to make the best use of the course and of our students' capabilities. I personally very much like the fact that this course allows students to work hands-on with research-related questions and processes in close collaboration with researchers at the department. It really is a very good way to prepare the students for their upcoming master's theses projects

Here's the very core of our project "Eating insects would be good":

"Your task in this project is to design a system (mock-up/prototype) that suggests suitable matches between different types of food/recipies and different types of insects. The system could be based on real data, but it would also be ok to fake suitable matches between insects and recipies, since the more important part of the project is to test/evaluate the prototype and evaluate people’s reactions to the idea of using insects in their cooking. Would people consider insects in recipies or is the yuck factor just too strong? It would be suitable to test the system on a target group that cares a lot about the environmental consequences of what they eat"

And here's the very core of the project "Visualizing our colossal energy footprint":

"This project is very practical. Your task is to utilize advanced computer graphics to visualize the size/footprint of modern humans if our only source of energy was the food we ate (as is the case for all other mammals) and we used/had to ingest (eat) as much energy as we use in our daily lives."

Figure 1. Example of output from a climate calculator (Project proposal Evaluation of Climate Calculators). 

Figure 1. The size a human would have been at different times throughout the ages if all the energy she used would instead have been ingested. The sperm whale represents an American anno 1987. Our size (i.e. our energy consumption) has grown much bigger since then (Project proposal Visualizing our colossal energy footprint).

torsdag 9 november 2017

CFP: Computing within Limits 2018 (conference)


We are organizing the fourth Computing within Limits workshop in May 2018 and you too should consider attending it not the least since it's co-located with the fifth ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) conference and you get two conferences for the time of one.

Limits will be held on May 12-13 in Toronto, Canada and it will immediately be followed by ICT4S on May 14-18. Full disclosure: the ICT4S general chair (Steve Easterbrook) and the program chair (Birgit Penzenstadler) are both part of the Limits program committee. The deadline for submitting papers to the ICT4S conference is coming up but you have plenty of time (three months) until the Computing within Limits February 9 deadline for submitting full papers. Computing within Limits is a quite central venue for me personally as it is possible for me to write papers to Limits that are hard-hitting and might have a much harder time getting accepted to other venues. I have altogether presented no less than six paper (1 + 3 +2) at the previous three workshops. I have also come to think of Limits as a place where you can work on, present, try out and discuss (great) ideas that are later developed in other papers and at other venues.

I would be extremely surprised if the fourth Limits workshop would not have significantly more participants that the earlier three. It might also be the case that Limits will pull people to the fifth ICT4S conference which, after all, will be held in North America for the very first time. I also hope that me and Elina did our bit to entice and convince some ICT4S people to attend also Limits by holding a well-attended Limits-themed workshop called "Visions of computing beyond Moore’s law" at the previous (Amsterdam 2016) ICT4S conference. Here is the short call for papers for the upcoming Computing within Limits workshop (for more information go to the Computing within Limits 2018 homepage):


The ACM LIMITS workshop aims to foster discussion on the impact of present and future ecological, material, energetic, and societal limits on computing. These topics are seldom discussed in contemporary computing research. A key aim of the workshop is to promote innovative, concrete research, potentially of an interdisciplinary nature, that focuses on technologies, critiques, techniques, and contexts for computing within fundamental economic and ecological limits. A longer-term goal is to build a community around relevant topics and research. We hope to impact society through the design and development of computing systems in the abundant present for use in a future of limits. This year we are colocating for the first time with ICT4S.


Oliver Bates, Lancaster University, o.bates@lancaster.ac.uk
Eli Blevis, Indiana University, eblevis@indiana.edu
Jay Chen, NYU, jay.chen@nyu.edu (co-chair)
Steve Easterbrook, University of Toronto, sme@cs.toronto.edu
Elina Eriksson, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, elina@kth.se
Kurtis Heimerl, University of Washington, kheimerl@cs.washington.edu
Lara Houston, Goldsmiths, University of London, l.houston@gold.ac.uk
Ann Light, University of Sussex, ann.light@sussex.ac.uk
Bonnie Nardi, UC Irvine, nardi@ics.uci.edu (co-chair)
Lisa Nathan, UBC, lisa.nathan@ubc.ca
Teresa Cerratto Pargman, Stockholm University, tessy@dsv.su.se
Daniel Pargman, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, pargman@kth.se
Don Patterson, Westmont College, dpatterson@westmont.edu
Birgit Penzenstadler, bpenzens@gmail.com
Barath Raghavan, ICSI, barath@icsi.berkeley.edu
Christian Remy, University of Zurich, remy@ifi.uzh.ch
Debra Richardson, UC Irvine, djr@ics.uci.edu
Nithya Sambasivan, Google, nithyas@gmail.com
Bill Tomlinson, Victoria University of Wellington, bill.tomlinson@vuw.ac.nz


Abstract registration deadline: Feb 2, 2018, 11:59pm Pacific Time
Paper submission deadline: Feb 9, 2018, 11:59pm Pacific Time
Paper reviews available: March 7, 2018LIMITS 2018
Fourth Workshop on Computing within Limits
May 12-13, Toronto, Canada

söndag 5 november 2017

A Grand Challenge for HCI: Food + Sustainability (article)


Our CHI workshop spin-off article, "A Grand Challenge for HCI: Food + Sustainability" was just published in the November/December issue of Interactions magazine. You unfortunately have to be an ACM member or work at a university (organization) that has access to the ACM Digital Library to be able to easily read the article.

I wrote a blog post about our submission to the CHI workshop back in January but I did unfortunately not write a blog post about the workshop itself in May. The workshop was called "Designing sustainable food systems" and it has a homepage of its own. I'd say about half the participants of the workshop contributed to the article (the authors are more specifically Juliet Norton, Ankita Raturi, Bonnie Nardi, Sebastian Prost, Samantha McDonald, Daniel Pargman, Oliver Bates, Maria Normark, Bill Tomlinson, Nico Herbig and Lynn Dombrowski). The article was then written between the end of May and the end of June and it was submitted to Interactions in the beginning of July. First author and workshop organizer Juliet Norton took it upon herself to do most of the admin/coordination work for which we are all grateful.

As part of the submissions process, we formulated and submitted three "insights" to Interactions:
- The paradigms and practices of HCI research risk perpetuating the shortcomings of food systems.
- Before designing technological solutions, we must understand current food systems and how technology is already being used.
- We must enable food sovereignty, push for new policies, and re-configure the trust and power relationships in food systems.

Here's the introduction to the article:

This year at the ACM CHI Conference, we gathered as a group of HCI researchers, designers, and practitioners to reflect on our role in designing sustainable food systems [1]. Designing them is a challenge that involves all parts and actors of the food system [2], including production and agriculture, processing and manufacturing, wholesale and logistics, retail and food services, purchasing and consumption, and waste management. Fifteen participants represented and discussed ongoing investigations into designing technologies for food and sustainability [3]. We considered the role of waste, the use of food as medicine, the repercussions of antibiotic resistance, the pervasiveness of poverty, and the tensions between local and global systems. The workshop culminated in a design session focused on techniques and paradigms for future components of a sustainable food system.

Designing sustainable food systems, including the sociotechnical systems that work toward that ideal, is key to producing stable climates, societies, and economies. The ongoing and future changes in climate, food security, and socioeconomic issues are further complicated by a tenuous geopolitical context. Given this reality, it is imperative that we are deliberate in our design of food-system components and supporting technologies so we can better contribute to the sustainability of our food system.

HCI researchers have long engaged with issues surrounding “food + sustainability.” In 2009, Eli Blevis and Susan Coleman introduced the HCI community to concepts regarding sustainable food and demonstrated how information technologies for food present both problems and opportunities [4]. Recently, there has been increasing interest in “disrupting” food through technology ranging from food-delivery mobile applications and component-based cooking to creating data-driven sustainability ratings. Such technologies could improve aspects of the food system for some people, but are these technologies creating sustainable food systems for everyone?

Here, we reflect on the core opportunities for HCI design and research within a sustainable food system. This article serves two purposes. First, we situate food as a grand challenge for HCI and discuss three emerging themes that challenge the paradigm and practice of technology. Second, based on these themes, we put forth a research agenda for food + sustainability within HCI.

söndag 29 oktober 2017

Solutions for Economics, Environment and Democracy (workshop)


I attended workshop in Siegen, Germany on "Solutions for Economics, Environment and Democracy" (SEED) one week ago. The workshop was organized by professors Lance Bennet (political science) and Alan Borning (computer science) from the University of Washington together with Markus Rohde (HCI), and Volker Wulf (HCI) from Siegen University. Around 40 persons had been invited and all expenses were paid except for traveling to and from Siegen. One important reason for me to go was the people who organized it, I for example met Lance Bennett when he was a guest professor in Stockholm in 2010 and haven't met him since. Also I knew that Bonnie Nardi and Six Silberman (that I got to know during my 2014 sabbatical at UC Irvine) would attend the workshop and that was also a powerful attractor for me.

The workshop had been preceded by a much smaller workshop that was organized as part of the 8th conference on Communities & Technologies (C&T) in Troyes, France this past summer. In August 2017 Lance Bennett, Alan Borning and Deric Gruen at the University of Washington's Center for Communication & Civic Engagement wrote a very inspiring manifesto that was disseminated before the workshop, "Solutions for Environment, Economy, and Democracy (SEED): A Manifesto for Prosperity". The manifesto starts like this:

"The quality of life for growing numbers of people on the planet is threatened by a set of systemic problems: dependence on fossil fuels, pressures for unrealistic levels of economic growth, inequitable distribution of wealth and income, excesses and hidden costs of consumerism, and the undue influence of global corporations over working conditions, social wellbeing, and governing institutions. Growing economic inequality produces poor health and precarious life prospects for majorities in the global south and for increasing numbers in the north. Billions of people in the global south face food and water shortages, which in addition to political corruption and climate change, contribute to failed states, wars, and migration."

What differs this text from many other texts I've read on the challenges posed by peak oil, climate change and consumerism/capitalism/the downsides of our economic system is that this text also discusses various problems that today ails democracy as a form of governance, as well as what needs to be done to "take back the power".

"If democracies are to lead the way in finding new models for human wellbeing within environmental limits, nothing short of a renewal of politics and economics is required. Political systems once regarded as mechanisms for solving problems are now widely regarded as part of the problem. ... The basic elements of prosperity include food, shelter, health, education, security, leisure, participation, creative expression, and freedom from violence and oppression, among others. The challenge is to find new political and economic models that focus on such basic human values, and to organize politics to deliver these results. ... The challenge is to develop more holistic thinking that feeds more flexible political organizations, such as hybrid movement-parties that aim to make change locally while linking their efforts nationally and globally. Finding these pathways to sustainable societies for people in different circumstances depends on creative ideas generated by diverse knowledge communities."

The manifesto also discusses how (digital) technologies could make a difference, but, for technology to make a difference (or for it to be developed in the first place) there needs to be consensus about means and ends. Before the workshop I thought that this (discussing means and ends) might be one of the goals of the workshop. The ideas are already out there; degrowth, post-growth, transition, innovation, commons, open culture, peer economies - so someone suggested we perhaps didn't need to create brand new ideas but could instead settle for combining already-existing ideas into a powerful package. Bonnie Nardi instead suggested that since the particular group of people who gathered in Siegen knew a lot about digital technologies, perhaps the way to leverage this knowledge would be for this group to support other already-existing movements with technology?

What was perhaps most fascinating to me at the workshop was Lance Bennett's introductory lecture about the history of the super-rich and the genesis of neo-liberal thinking during the last 70 years with a focus on Friedrich Hayek and the (previously to me unknown) Mont Pelerin society. The Mont Pelerin society have been fabulously successful in disseminating their ideas and their agenda about free markets as the solution to all possible problems in the world. They have successfully linked free markets (and decreased government regulation) to issues such as freedom of expression and the political values of an open society. I believe the thinking went a bit like this: "if we manage to shrink state responsibilities, we will liberate the individual and liberate individual creativity. We will increase the chances of reaching these goals if we recruit politicians and recruit academic (and perhaps other) luminaries to work as emissaries for our ideas".

I personally wondered why the Mont Pelerin society was so successful and how come I have never heard about it before. It turns out that their greatest "contribution" was to encourage the foundation of a number of think-tanks (as well as the very idea of forming think tanks) as well as connecting these incipient think tanks with wealthy billionaires who stepped up with funding. Such think tanks then create policy documents that are handed out to civil servants and decision makers. Over time and step by step these "thought pieces" have affected policy at a fundamental level.

I found this short history lesson incredibly interesting and provocative. I wondered if and how the Mont Pelerin society's methods could be used while exchanging the core message to something that instead was more in line with the SEED manifesto. I did however also learn that the very idea of founding think tanks seemed to be an anathema to some of the workshop participants (as such organizations by their very nature would be elitist, closed and not very inclusive). It seemed (and I didn't know that) the very term "think tank" has negative connotations to some people as it is perceived as elitist and closed - but it might be that the term "open think tank" (whatever that means) could be ok. We also toyed with terms such as "anti-think tank" and "non-think tank". I don't think anyone knew exactly what those terms meant so we also played around with other forms or organization that more specifically could bring researchers and activists together (perhaps an institute or a "school" like for example Bauhaus that brought architects and artists together?). I know that there are some "alternative" think tanks (or anti- or non-think tanks?) like the New Economics Foundation (NEF), the Post Carbon Institute (PCI) and the Swedish "green think tank" Cogito. One workshop participants mentioned in the break that the problem might not be that we are elitist to suggest that we should form think tanks, but that we are not elitist enough to get a foot in the door in Brussels and Washington...

We all agreed that our (SEED) ideas are better, but their (neo-liberal) ideas are simpler ("free markets, free people") and easier to push. Could we make our ideas more emotional and easier to understand and push? Could the core idea of what SEED is about fit onto a t-shirt (...Six Silberman wondered)? Other organizations manage; any union: "stronger together", Stockholm Resilience Center: "planetary boundaries", Post-Carbon Institute: "preparing for peak oil". Two of Six' proposals for t-shirt slogans were (something like) "Every person has a right to shelter, nutrition, health care, and education" and "Indefinite economic growth is neither possible nor desirable".

The people I met at the workshop were great and the workshop itself was inspiring, but my main concern is that generating creative ideas that are thought up by "diverse knowledge communities" is a walk in the park compared to creating an attractive "package" - a unified whole - out of such diverse ideas. And the more ideas and the more diverse they are, the more difficult it will be to settle on a "core" that we can agree upon. Also, how do you make sure diverse does not turn into divisive? How do you balance breadth and inclusion with focus and action? In an ideal world you would of course want focus AND action AND breadth AND inclusion, but what do you do when these value-laden concepts pull in different directions and create tension? Spending two days together in Siegen proved to be too little time for transforming the manifesto into something more action-oriented so I wonder what the outcome of the workshop will be in terms of "next steps" for the SEED project.

In the end, it was hard to know what was the main benefit of the workshop. It might have been to give great people a chance to come together and get to know each other. Or it might have been to generate a plethora of interesting ideas that some core group (perhaps at the Center for Communication & Civic Engagement) later could refine and develop. It is hard to see that anything in particular came out of the workshop that all participants stand behind but I sure think this was a good start, e.g. "throwing spaghetti at the wall and hope some of it sticks". I also had a large number of side conversations at the workshop that I greatly enjoyed.

My personal hang-up since a couple of years back is on how to balance priorities in terms of ecological sustainability vs. social sustainability (or of "sustainability" vs "sustainable development").  Such tensions are everywhere, including at the very core of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I can easily see that depending on how you position yourself, you might never reach an agreement about "what is most important" or what the first/next logical step would be if you want to act/change the world. It might be that, in order to take the first step, you just have to decide which of those two noble goals takes precedence at those occasions when they come into conflict with each other (or slightly milder, "when they point in different directions"). But "taking a stance" could of course be said to prioritize focus and action rather than breadth and inclusion so where does that leave us?

Taking into account that we had less than two days together and that some of the workshop participants had travelled quite some ways to join the workshop, I would personally have wished for a run-through of the goals of the workshop and what the organizers wished to accomplish at the start of the workshop.  While I enjoyed the workshop, I don't envy the organizers when they will have to try to summarize the results. I also kept thinking that if we can't agree on something at this workshop and in this room, what hope is there of being able to convince others?

Since I am right now studying a short course on "leadership for associate professors" at KTH, my thoughts strayed to the course book, "Creating Effective Teams: A Guide for Members and Leaders" (5th edition) by Susan Wheelan. To Wheelan, a group that works at its optimum performance is a "team". Most groups never reach that stage. A team usually consists of three to eight persons and it is unusual for a team to form in less than six months since new groups have to pass through a number of stages before they can work smoothly together (as a team). I contrast this view of group work with what can be accomplished at a two-day workshop. I think a workshop can be great for generating and exchanging ideas, but might be less good for systematizing and organizing - if the goal is to reach consensus or to work out a plan for instrumental action. In line with the message from Wheelan's book, I think that a way to include diversity into a platform could be to form a (small) group that starts off by being diverse and that then works together for an extended period of time and where group members hammer out their differences and formulates a coherent whole - a shared visionary agenda/platform and a plan to communicate that agenda. But then again, some might think that this process in itself is not very inclusive or not inclusive enough. And I might conclude that the set of neo-liberal ideas that rule the world will continue to win on walk over (since the opposition is too busy fighting it out among themselves to even show up to confront the ruling neo-liberal package of ideas). Perhaps I'm a bit too impatient here but I want action now as I've been thinking about these issues for the better part of a decade by now...

The workshop itself was interesting and I met a number of really interesting people there (including but not limited to Sylvia LorekVasilis Vlachokyriakos  Giorgos Gkiouzepas and Debora Leal). The local organization was also very smooth. We had maps that helped us find our way in Siegen and were pampered with lunches and dinners that allowed us to continue our discussions 24/7. I also greatly enjoyed having the opportunity to meet up with Six Silberman and Bonnie Nardi again. Me and Bonnie even managed to secure one hour each day to work on an article that is soon due.

At one point I entertained myself with (unrealistically) thinking about who was missing from this workshop. Some of the first names I came up with were Naomi Klein, David Graeber, Herman Daly and Juliet Schor. Then I was irritated at myself because they are all from North America. The first Europeans I could think of was George Monbiot, Giorgios Kallis (degrowth) and Hans Rosling. Rosling died not that long ago and his agenda was different from the SEED agenda, but he is still a shining star in terms of packaging complex information for consumption by a larger (Ted Talk) public. I think it would be great if we could grow (or convert) charismatic Ted speakers to disseminate growth-critical ideas on a larger stage and to larger numbers of people. If the Mont Pelerin society managed to create think tanks and policy documents, why couldn't we instead talk directly to millions of people by utilizing the wonders of modern digital technologies?

söndag 22 oktober 2017

After work/meeting place master's thesis


This past week we organized an After Work where we invited companies and other organizations with an interest in 1) ICT/digitalization and 2) sustainability. The basic idea of organizing this event is:
- Our students do their master’s thesis during the spring (January – June 2018). They are good at what they do.
- Companies/organisations have tasks that would be suitable and we want to find sustainability-oriented tasks/thesis topics for our students.
- Companies/organisations do now necessarily know what tasks are suitable for our students, how to formulate a proposal to make it attractive for our students nor know how to get in touch with our students.
- So we (teaches/researchers) organize an after work where we tell them about these things and encourage/help them formulate suitable and attractive thesis topics.

A side effect or organizing this event is of course that we widen our general network (beyond the specific task of together defining master's thesis topics). We organized a similar After Work a year ago for the first time and back then I wrote:

"I think the idea is ingenious and there are quite a few reasons also for companies to have engineering students do their thesis work with/for them. But many companies don't know exactly what a master's thesis entails, how to put together an attractive offer, at what time of the year to do it as well as various other practical issues."

 There were however some significant differences between this year's event and last year's event:
- Last year's even was held on November 9, but that was a little too late. Many students are starting to look for thesis topics right now and there will be an initial information meeting for our masters students next week. This year's timing (AW on October 18, info meeting October 25 and 26) was thus much better.
- Last year's timing also happened to be terrible due to the surprise snowpocalypse that disposed more than half a meter a snow the night before the event - crippling local transports in Stockholm. Many couldn't get to work and at least half of those who had signed up didn't show up due to transportation-related difficulties. Last year's event also happened to be held the day after Donald Trump had been elected president of the US.
- Last year's even was officially organized by the School of Computer Science and Communication (basically my colleague Elina and me), by the research center CESC (which paid for snacks and the room) and by the School of Architecture and the Built Environment (who helped man the event). This year's event was organized by the same entities as well as by the strategic innovation program Viable Cities.

As part of the program for the After Work, we invited a student who has just written a master's thesis (during the spring) to present it and talk some about the process of writing it. Last year we had Robin Chanapai talk about his thesis (I was the advisor). This year we had Sofie Nyström talk about her just-finished thesis about visualizing waste management practices in the Swedish grocery chain COOP. While I wasn't her advisor, she did her thesis within a research project that I lead together with Cecilia Katzeff and I also accompanied her to two of the interviews. Also Sofie, Cecilia and me are currently writing a paper together that is based on her thesis.

Elina and me planned the event and I think the program was great. What could be improved is the marketing of the event. It's a pity that only a dozen or so guests turned up when we could easily have entertained twice or three times as many. I think we will have to be much better and mention that we organize this event every year in October throughout the year rather than just in the run-up to the event. Despite the half-hearted turnout I still think the event is great and I choose to regard this year's After Work as a practice round for next year's After Work!