Community engagement with participatory sensing technologies

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For the past two years I have been working on a case study around Smart Citizen, an open source environmental monitoring technology that was designed at Fab Lab Barcelona and successfully crowdfunded via Goteo and Kickstarter. I have studied community engagement with Smart Citizen in pilot deployments in Barcelona, Manchester and Amsterdam. Some preliminary findings have been published in a short paper (see reference) and our main paper has been published under an open access license. You can download it here.

Citizens are increasingly crowdfunding IoT based participatory sensing technologies that allow them to collect and share data about the environment. These initiatives are usually referred to as grassroots and are driven by a vision of widening access to tools for political action. In this paper we compare patterns of participation and user experience over 15 months in two distinct communities using ‘Smart Citizen’, a crowdfunded IoT participatory sensing tool. Our studies reveal that technology issues and a lack of reliability of the sensed data hindered user participation. However, in one of the communities, many of these challenges were overcome through orchestrated actions led by community champions. We discuss how crowdfunding doesn’t necessarily translate into active participation and provide guidelines on how to achieve sustained engagement in crowdfunded IoT community sensing projects: enable distributed orchestration provided by local champions, encourage social interactions that embed skills and learning, and facilitate meaningful participation and reward mechanisms among community members.

While investigating on Smart Citizen I studied other projects of the like, such as Air Quality Egg, AirCasting, and SafeCast. Despite the many challenges associated to participatory sensing, this is a fascinating field where citizens are harnessing the potential of novel ubiquitous computing and IoT to collectively monitor the environment and make sense of their surroundings. If you are currently engaged in an environmental monitoring project and want to discuss potential synergies, drop me a line! @marabales

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References:

Journal paper

Balestrini, M., Diez, T., Marshall, P., Gluhak, A., & Rogers, Y. (2015) IoT Community Technologies: Leaving Users to Their Own Devices or Orchestration of Engagement?. EAI Endorsed Transactions on Internet of Things, 15, 1, EAI. eai.26-10-2015.150601 (3). paper download

Conference papers

Balestrini, M., Diez, T., Kresin, F. From Participatory Sensing to Making Sense. Proceedings of the Workshop ” Environmental Infrastructures and Platforms 2015 – Infrastructures and Platforms for Environmental Crowd Sensing and Big Data co-located with the European Citizen Science Association General Assembly 2015 (ECSA GA’2015).

Balestrini, M., Marshall, P., & Diez, T. (2014, September). Beyond boundaries: the home as city infrastructure for smart citizens. In Proceedings of the 2014 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing: Adjunct Publication (pp. 987-990). ACM.

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About Mara Balestrini

Mara Balestrini is Human Computer Interaction (HCI) expert and technology strategist.

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