From Science to Society or from Society to Science?

Selamawit Fossum (UiO) attended the EnviroInfo 2017 in Luxembourg to present some of the outcomes from iResponse and exchange experiences. A key take-away message is that there is a need for standardization and integration of different environmental data sources.

Luxebourg provided a historic setting for the conference (photo: Selamawit Fossum).

The EnviroInfo 2017 conference was held in Luxembourg 13-15 September 2017, with a theme from Science to society where software engineers, academicians, researchers, students and practitioners met to discuss their scientific research in the area of applying ICTs to overcome environmental challenges. iResponse was one of them, sharing with fellow conference participants the outcome of  the crowdsourcing tool developed in the project for collecting wood consumption data (presentationproceedings). We learnt a lot from the other participants. 

The potential of ICTs

Throughout the conference different application areas were discussed, prototypes were presented, ideas were shared. There seems to be a lot of belief in the potential of ICTs to solve the wicked environmental challenges we have in our society. 

Indeed, ICTs provide a means for collecting, collating, processing and presenting data for researchers and policy makers in the right format at the right time. 

What's the social value?

Now and then, participants asked what the societal values of those prototypes were; some wondered how those innovative solutions could be linked to the community of practice. 

Those kind of comments implied the reverse side of the conference theme Science to Society; which is from Society to Science. This was especially relevant in the areas where collecting information from individuals using apps and bringing different sources of environmental data is needed.

A need for standardization and integration

It will be too long to write everything about the three days conference. Therefore, I mention one of the main lesson and future research area I drew from the conference: the need for standardization and integration.

It was also a topic which received little straight forward solution for its full realization - the need for standardization and integration of different environment data sources.

On the first day, the keynote speaker introduced the metadata and standardization initiative at EU. Later, open platforms known as Open Energy Platform and IPCheM, that integrate data sources from different energy and chemical databases, were introduced.  

While technical standardization of the metadata was possible, the semantic aspect; meaning the interpretation of each metadata by end-users of the platform remains unresolvable technically. The issue of how to make end-users contribute their data in a predefined format has been mentioned as the challenge of open platforms. 

In the second day of the conference, we enjoyed  guided tour of the city. Rich history and amazing buildings!


About the author: Selamawit Molla Fossum is postdoc in the iResponse-project working at the Department of Informatics at University of Oslo.