Reflections on Outreach

A key part of our approach to CitySounds was involving the most relevant stakeholders from the outset. This included

  • soliciting their input to the initial experiment proposal;
  • inviting a broad spectrum of people onto our management team;
  • inviting an even wider group to our initial Co-design Workshop, in order to plan how to create engagement and impact around the project.

While it is not always easy to get a community gardener, a senior data technologist, a Council biodiversity officer and a sound designer talking to each other, it worked amazingly well in this experiment. The ‘kick-off’ and ‘touch-down’ (closing) Management Meetings as well as the Co-design Workshop provoked insightful, valuable and engaging discussions where knowledge, learning and ideas were shared across research disciplines and city sectors. We formed new relationships and are continuing to build on them. One outcome was that a conversation in the Co-design Workshop led to a team of people submitting a proposal to Nesta extend the project to three more parks in Edinburgh, and we are very happy to say that project is now going ahead.

The more challenging part of the project was developing relationships with people who live in and around the Meadows and attracting them to our workshops. We had a very high response to the talk from Chris Watson and the Sonikebana event because it was publicised through a partner organisation — New Media Scotland — that had a large, established, active and interested community. Reaching out to community groups, Community Councils, and local residents requires working through multiple channels and building up relationships over time. While we worked as much as possible through the contacts and networks of the team members, it was challenging to attract community biodiversity enthusiasts and greenspace users to our workshops. Valuable insights from the final management team meeting were that (a) we should take our message out to community groups where they are already meeting, inform them about the project and build a relationship with them first, if we hope to get them to attend workshops; and (b) we will attract a lot more interest in the project once we have a larger volume of data from the devices in a form that can be easily shared.

This experiment also helped us to reflect on what we mean by ‘community’ and ‘citizen’ and how we engage with and reach people with new ideas and opportunities at the interface of technology and civic/city issues. We aimed to reach biodiversity enthusiasts with new monitoring technology, data and communication methods; technology enthusiasts with sound recording devices and biodiversity data; and sound art enthusiasts with audio and biodiversity data, but also people using or interacting with the Meadows who might have little or no experience of biodiversity monitoring, sound recording devices or biodiversity and audio data analysis and presentation. All of these people are in some way community members and citizens of Edinburgh, but the latter group was our ideal target and was, unsurprisingly, the most difficult to identify, reach out to, and draw in.

As we further develop the Edinburgh IoT network, we will be continuing our outreach activities and continuing to build relationships with people and groups interested in biodiversity monitoring. We will also continue collecting and using audio data to improve the ways that we interact with and value greenspace and the natural environment in the city. Finally, we will alo be looking at ways that we can connect with and support community initiatives that are already underway and have strong and active groups around them. One example would be the Fountainbridge Canalside Initiative ‘Living Wild’ project, which is developing a community plan for greenspace within a major city development.

In summary, CitySounds was an excellent opportunity to begin community engagement with Edinburgh’s new IoT initiative, which is being designed as a Research and Innovation Service for experimenters. We think that it is absolutely essential for citizens to be involved in experimenting with tools, services, data and urban development. It is part of the explicit mission of key partners in this project, including the Edinburgh Living Lab and Edinburgh Living Landscapes, as well as of the Scottish Government, to ensure that citizens are actively involved in shaping the way the city develops, including the ways that technologies and data are used to understand, inform and communicate about city decision-making

CitySounds Public Workshop 1

The CitySounds project held two workshops on 19 February 2018, with special guest Kate Jones from University College London. The ideas for the workshops were conceived at our co-design workshop earlier this year.

Two aims that we identified for the community workshops were a) to find out what people might want to learn about nature and biodiversity in the city through sound (as well as potentially other forms of environmental monitoring and data collection) and b) to demonstrate how and what we can learn through the initial sound recordings coming from the project’s Audio Capture Devices and perhaps teach some basic skills in audio data analysis.

Our first workshop took place in the afternoon at the University of Edinburgh Informatics Forum. We had special guest Kate Jones from University College London, who presented an excellent example of learning about nature in the city through sounds — the Nature-Smart Cities project. The project brings together environmental researchers and technologists to develop the world’s first end-to-end open source system for monitoring bats, to be deployed and tested in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, east London.

Kate gave a fantastic presentation about the project, starting with the foundation of monitoring biodiversity. How might we track biodiversity in urban areas and understand its role in helping us to live safely, productively and healthily? She encouraged us to imagine the Biodiversity version of ‘Industry 4.0’ — how could cyber-physical systems, Internet of Things, networks, data-driven and adaptive decision-making machines be employed to support biodiversity conservation and help stop the rapid loss of biodiversity across the planet?

Kate Jones describes data processing pipeline for bat monitors

Kate and her team developed the Echo Box, which is essentially a Shazam for bats. It picks up the frequencies that bats communicate with and uses an algorithm to identify the call and provide an indication of which species has been heard. It then sends the information back to a central server and displays the information online at Fifteen Echo Boxes are installed on lamp posts around Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and have been continuously monitoring bats for three months.

Olympic Park Echo Box

While the original idea for the project came from Kate’s passion for biodiversity conservation, as other people found out about the publicly-available data, they generated their own ideas from it. A group of students built an arcade machine based on the data that has become a highlight at the visitor centre, while researchers added bat data to a 3D augmented reality visualisation of park. Another group devised small 3D-printed gnomes placed around the park that people could interact with via a chatbot to find out more about bats in the park.
‘Memory Gnome’ from Olympic Park

We were all thoroughly inspired by the incredible amount of work that went into the project and the possibilities for learning about nature through sound while also engaging a wider population with biodiversity in the city.

Simon Chapple then shared the vision for the CitySounds project and encouraged us to begin imagining all the things that we could learn through audio data. Smart sensors can recognise what is taking place in the environment, and an array of multiple sensors can work out spatially where a sound comes from. In a particular area, audio data can allow us to identify species of birds present, bat activity, volume of traffic, car accidents and more – and a wide spectrum microphone can even allow us to record mice screaming at each other!

Following Simon, Jonathan Silvertown sparked our imaginations to the possibilities of all the different creatures that are roaming around our cities and that we could potentially learn about through IoT and other technologically-advanced forms of biodiversity monitoring. He showed us the National Biodiversity Network’s Atlas of Scotland, which keeps a record of all the creatures that have been recorded in a particular area. So, from where we were in the Informatics Forum in the centre of the city, this is what we might find:

Screenshot of interactive map from NBN Atlas Scotland

We hope that the CitySounds project will provide not only a replicable method for learning about nature through sound but also a specific insight into the Edinburgh soundscape, from nature (weather, animals, birds, insects, bats), activities (walking, cycling, playing sport, festivities), transport (traffic, car horns, trains, planes), machines, electrical and electronic devices, breaking glass, noise pollution) through to the one o’clock gun, the many incidents of fireworks and the festivals large and small that take place around the city throughout the year.

CitySounds Workshops on 19 February — sign up now!

By Benjamin Brock (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In a previous blogpost, we talked about how we were planning to organise a number of workshops as part of the CitySounds project. We’re now ready to launch the first one!

So please join us for our public workshops on how the Internet of Things and other new advances in technology can help us understand biodiversity and how the health of the urban greenspace contributes to the wellbeing of us all.

There will be two workshops, both of which will take place in the University of Edinburgh Informatics Forum on 19 February 2018. The workshops will present two projects — Nature-SmartCities in London and Edinburgh CitySounds — which are using the Internet of Things and bioacoustic monitoring to learn about biodiversity and nature in the urban landscape.

The first workshop is directed toward an academic and professional audience who are interested in research and application around the Internet of Things and data science in relation to biodiversity, health & wellbeing, and nature & greenspace in the city. It will take place 2:00pm–4:00pm.

Sign up here:

The second workshop is a non-technical event, intended for anyone with a general interest in the connections between technology, data and biodiversity in the city. A key part of this workshop will be an interactive session in which we will generate and collect ideas and feedback about specific issues that are of interest to participants. We will also look at how we might use the Internet of Things to learn and communicate better about biodiversity in the city. The workshop will take place 5:30pm–7:45pm.

Sign up here:

We would especially encourage people who want to give input/feedback to come to the evening event, but anyone is welcome at either workshop. Complete information is available on the Eventbrite pages.

Hope to see you there!

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