söndag 22 maj 2022

Counterfactual thinking as a strategy for engaging with desirable futures (paper)


I recently wrote the first-ever blog post about our research project "Beyond the event horizon: tools to explore local energy transformations", but the blog post was for the most part about the prehistory and the run-up of the research project. This blog post instead treats the first output from that project in the form of an scientific article. We recently handed in a draft version of a full article to an upcoming conference that will be held in Gothenburg a few weeks from now.

The Nordic Environmental Social Science Conference (NESS) at the University of Gothenburg is primarily a "container" for upwards to 20 parallell 3-day "workshops" between June 7-9. Participants attend one single workshop for the duration of the conference. 

The Nordic Environmental Social Science Conference (NESS) workshops follow a standing session format, which allows for substantive discussions on research in progress. The conference invites scholars from multiple disciplinary backgrounds in environmental social science. The overall objective of the workshop is to facilitate and encourage collaboration between younger and more established scholars.

I got an invitation to submit a contribution to the workshop "Imagining transformation: Urgency, emergency and hope in a time of multiple crises" from one of the workshop organizers (Alexandra Nikoleris, Lund University) already at the end of October last year. The Call for Papers (full pdf here) was very interesting:

Living in an era of multiple ongoing crises – climate change, mass species extinction, pandemics, economic instability to name a few – requires that the imagining of alternative futures is encouraged, to enable a perception of how actions in the present can shape the world to come. There are a range of ways in which such transformations can be imagined, for example as scenarios, creative design, fiction, participatory performances, or experimentation. While diverse in their aims, they all invite us into a world that is different to the one we experience today, and help us rethink the crises that unfold in the present. But how can such imaginations of transformation catalyse the forms of political, economic and cultural responses required to move beyond, and out of, these crises? Which are the techniques of imagination that become most effective for certain audiences, in certain contexts? How do different narratives, and the techniques by which they are employed become engaging? What are the dangers and advantages with a multiplicity of stories and hegemonic visions? Papers that reflect on these and similar questions are invited to this workshop. Both theoretical/conceptual contributions and reflections on empirical cases of specific interventions are welcome.

The workshop invited papers about (among other things) "exploration of different techniques of imagination" and "participatory future-making", so the fit with our research project was excellent. We therefore submitted a 300-word abstract in December and found out it had been accepted to the workshop a few months ago. We then had until May 20 to write a (draft of a) full-length article (5000 - 10000 words), and we just submitted our 7000-word article, "Counterfactual thinking as a strategy for engaging with desirable futures" this past week! 

The authors are Minna Laurell Thorslund, Daniel Pargman, Elina Eriksson and Mia Hesselgren (the exact order of the authors has not yet been determined). Our article will be discussed at the conference and we will then have the opportunity to improve it. The workshop organizers in fact hope to be able to publish workshop submissions in a special issue of the journal Futures. I have not seen any of the other papers. but some of the (preliminary) titles are very intriguing:

  • Artists on climate change: imaginations of futures 
  • Effects and Effectiveness of Climate Imaginaries
  • Beyond the Fossil Era: Post-fossil pedagogies and speculative futures in Swedish education
  • From imagining utopia to enacting it: a role for Utopian Demands?
  • The 8th continent

Although I would have liked to go to Gothenburg, my son graduates from high school during the very same days, so only Minna will attend the conference and represent our research project.

This is the first time we write about the counterfactual/allohistorical workshop methodology we have developed in the research project and that we by now have used in a number of workshops. In that way it was an easy paper to write (we have so much to say about the topic), but it was also hard to write because we are all pressed for time at this time of the year... 

Here's the abstract to our just-submitted draft paper, "Counterfactual thinking as a strategy for engaging with desirable futures":

Given that the world’s multiple crises take place elsewhere and elsewhen (e.g. not right here and not right now), it is hard to engage with them and go from knowledge to action. We become paralyzed – think of a rabbit caught in the headlights – when it comes to formulating radical alternatives. It is painful for all of us - albeit to varying degrees - to step away from our own comfort and formulate, willingly accept and mentally inhabit low carbon practices and lifestyles. How can we break away from practicalities such as norms, politics, professional roles and built infrastructure, which limit our thinking and prevent us from discovering futures that are not merely extensions and timid variations of business as usual?

In this paper we describe how we have developed a workshop methodology, using counterfactual scenarios of low carbon societies. This methodology is promising for concretizing and bringing urgently needed societal transitions closer to people and their communities. By collaboratively imagining an alternative, more desirable present – a sustainable society that could have been – workshop participants are freed from practical aspects of modern life and the modern world. Furthermore, the participants also explore what needed to happen in the recent past in order to reach that more desirable present. When brought back from the counterfactual world, the participants are introduced to the notion that what they have formulated is a blueprint for what must actually be done in the decade(s) to come. We have run the workshop in two local settings, and our experience so far is that addressing hard issues as if they have already been fixed in an alternative, more desirable present, and then imagining what we “did” to fix them in the recent past, is liberating and generative of ideas for action.

This is a key paragraph from the Background (about Counterfactual Scenarios) and a compact description of what we have been up to for quite some time:

A central tenet in allohistorical narratives is the establishment of a divergence, a point in time where the world took a different turn (Duncan 2003). After a divergence has been established, the second and larger task is to explore the “timespace cone” (Gilbert & Lambert 2010)) of ripple effects that follow from that divergence. The process of establishing a divergence in the past and then “unconditionally” exploring the ripple effects forward in time is equivalent to “a forecasting exercise that is set in the past”, or, what Bendor et al. (2021) refer to as “recasting”. We are however interested in exploring normative scenarios, much like what is done in backcasting exercises (Wangel 2011) where a future desirable goal is posited and the (research) question becomes one of exploring how we can steer or veer away from business as usual in order to reach that more-desirable future. The equivalent counterfactual/allohistorical version of a backcasting exercises is to posit a more-desirable alternative present (of for example a more sustainable Sweden of 2022) and work our way backwards to a point of divergence in the past from which we chose a better path - a path that led to a more-desirable present. This is what Bendor et al. (2021) refer to as “pastcasting”, e.g. a backcasting exercise that is set in the past and that ends up in the present (albeit an alternative more-desirable present).

Here is a key paragraph from the Method section of the paper:

The process of developing the workshop format can be divided into three phases, or “loops”. In the first loop, we gathered initial knowledge and used this knowledge to create a prototype workshop format. The second loop involved testing and developing the prototype workshop format. In the third loop, we have held the workshop multiple times in its intended context (e.g. with local participants in different parts of Sweden). We describe the three loops below as well as outcomes of the third loop and of running a number of workshops in different parts of Sweden. The work process has been extensively documented mainly through a collaborative research diary that we revisited and drew from when we wrote this paper.


torsdag 19 maj 2022

SICT Summer School (Aug 29 - Sept 2)


The Third Doctoral School on Sustainable ICT (SICT) will be organized in Grenoble (France) between August 29 and September 2. I will go to Grenoble by train and I will be there for the duration of the summer school (do get in touch if you would like to coordinate your train trip to Grenoble and to meet up on the way there!). 

I will give a keynote talk on Monday and on Thursday and Friday I will run a six-hour workshop where we will work with Fictional Abstracts (200-300 words long statements about fictional research that has not yet been conducted). I have plenty of help planning the workshop primarily from my colleague Elina Eriksson, but also from my phd students Minna Laurell Thorslund and Petra Jääskeläinen, my ex-colleague Tina Ringenson and from SICT 2022 organizer Jan Tobias Muehlberg. Elina and Minna will not come to the summer school, but Petra will come to help organize the workshop and Tina and Jan Tobias will be there all week.

This is the third year in a row that the SICT summer school is held, but I didn't know about it two years ago, and I primarily learned about SICT it a year ago 1) because my colleague Elina and other people I know were invited as speakers and 2) because it sort of competed (nearly collided!) with the Second International Summer School on ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) that I helped organize. We even sent a mail to them to inquire how our two summer schools should relate to each other and got an interesting answer, which among other things said this (which contextualizes SICT and its history):

At first, we saw the SICT doctoral summer school as an opportunity to support different ways of thinking within our University [Université catholique de Louvain]. We saw it as a local response to support the need to consider sustainability challenges at the very core of our research. We have several professors and researchers motivated by socio-environmental challenges and the role of technological solutions we are working on every day.  

SICT2020 emerged from this context and COVID-19 pandemic forced us to move the date later as well as targeting only Belgian participants. SICT2020 focused mainly on extraction of materials, production and recycling impacts, almost not at all on the use phase impacts. We focused on the sustainability within ICT rather than using ICT for sustainability (similarly to the nuance between Green IT and IT for Green).

For the second edition (SICT2021), we aim at discussing more the use phase impacts but we keep a similar mindset.


even though SICT is fully run in English, we have close interactions with the French community (especially France, Belgium and Switzerland at the moment, Canada to come). For instance, we are in contact with Grenoble (university and CEA-leti) and other French universities/initiatives showing an interest on these topics. Several initiatives are also popping in there and we think that it would be valuable to increase connections for the benefits of the community. Regarding local collaborations, we are happy that KULeuven joined us for organizing SICT2021.

Elina apparently made an impression because she said something about Fictional Abstracts that made organizer Jan Tobias Muehlberg get in touch with her earlier this spring, but since she can't go we plan it together but go there in her stead. And I invite all phd students (and post-docs) to come to the summer school! I think it will be really nice and very interesting! I also personally look forward to meet other speakers although some of the confirmed speakers from North America (Jay Chen, Bill Tomlinson, Alan Borning) will surely participate remotely.

The theme is definitely provocative enough, "Rethinking the Roles of Information and Communication Technologies in the Anthropocene: Towards a Post-Growth World?", and the summer school is not limited to only engineers and computer scientists:

"Far from limited to researchers with an engineering background, the event wishes to promote trans-disciplinary interactions on ICT topics by bringing together individuals with a broad range of expertise."

Each day has a different theme and the five themes are:

  • Systemic view of ICT impacts and perspectives
  • Interdisciplinarity meets sustainable ICT for rethinking mobility
  • Between post-growth and degrowing science: how to research for the future?
  • Building bridges for practicing transdisciplinarity
  • Visions for the road ahead of ICT

I was blown away by the organizers' travel policy in the invitation as I have never seen anything like it before. What if all scientific conferences wrote this in the invitation:

*Logistics:* We plan for SICT 2022 to be an in-person event for the attending PhD students. Additionally, we invite all speakers that are willing and able to reach Grenoble, France, by train or public transportation to join us on-site. [...] If arriving by train or public transportation is not an option for you, we invite you to participate remotely via a digital conferencing solution for presentation and discussion that we will agree on with you ahead of time. Please note that we strongly discourage air travel for the sake of this event.

The program is now in place, but it is also evolving as new information is put into place. The cost of registering is 250 Euros until July 15 (travel and accommodation not included). Here's the official info to disseminate (slightly shortened by me):

Dear colleagues, dear researchers,

- Do you often wonder if our increasing numbers of electronic devices, gigantic data centers, and ubiquitous global networks support or endanger a future that is a sustainable and just world for everyone to live in?

- Are you interested in rethinking how we research, design, deploy, use Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for a world within planetary boundaries?

- Are you curious to look beyond the established ways to do things and excited about a place to learn, discuss, and reimagine ICT research with fellow curious minds from different academic fields?

If these questions made you curious, we are inviting you to register for the 3rd Doctoral Summer School on Sustainable ICT (SICT) that is discussing the question: Rethinking the Roles of Information and Communication Technologies in the Anthropocene: Towards a Post-Growth World?

SICT 2022 will take place in-person from August 29 to September 02, 2022, at the Université Grenoble Alpes in Grenoble, France. All details are available on our website.

During SICT 2022, we aim to rethink the roles we grant Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to play for a future within planetary boundaries. Among all our technologies across the individual, collective, and industrial level, ICT are particularly striking in their duality of societal enablers (e.g., connectivity, access to data, and automation) and planetary damages from their lifecycles as well as political inaction due to green growth and decoupling illusions. We are far away from bringing the impacts of ICT (and technologies in general) into balance with our planetary boundaries, yet time is running out on us. Against this backdrop and with a post-growth mindset, we are setting out to question the road ahead for ICT and their roles in humanity’s necessary transition to sustainable societies in the 2022 edition of our doctoral summer school on sustainable ICT.

We engage you as PhD students from diverse fields in an inter- and transdisciplinary setting with talks, debates, and collective works to take on this challenge and rethink how we will research and use ICT in the future. For further information on the theme of SICT 2022, please take a look at our abstract.

Registrations are now open!

The registration fee covers SICT 2022 organizational costs, lunches, a social event, caffeinated breaks, and snacks in the morning. Please mind that transportation and accommodation are not covered by this registration fee, and you will need to make your own arrangements for this. We list accommodation options on our website. SICT 2022 will be an in-person event at Université Grenoble Alpes in Grenoble, France.

If you have any other question, feel free to contact us by email at info@sictdoctoralschool.com.

We hope to see many of you there!

Kind regards, SICT 2022 Organizing Team



söndag 15 maj 2022

The Climate Change Megagame (the after part)


I wrote a blog post before I played the The Climate Change Megagame (CCM) in the beginning of the week. I was very excited, the concept and the instructions were hilarious and I went overboard and ran with it. After I played the Megagame (all day Monday) I am not quite as enthusiastic, so this blog post will be an exercise in trying to understand what happened (including figuring out why I was frustrated).

The rules had already in advance stated that you shouldn't try to understand the whole game (it's too complex), but rather concentrate on understanding your own role and then "talk to people". I respect that but I found several different types of complexity that can't possibly have been part of the planned game experience:

- Technical platform complexity. Most people participated on location in Linköping but it was a hybrid game and I participated from Stockholm through my computer. I had not used Discord before - at least not for a task that was as complex as this, and there were unfortunately various technical issues with the platform during the first half of the day, including basic stuff like hearing what was said during the walk-throughs in the room where it all happened in Linköping. We also used a Miro board that I was comfortable with but that was very complex (see images below).  

- Hybrid meeting complexity. I can totally understand that people who are on location try to round remote (online) players, because it's a hassle to deal with us. I played a politician, but it was unclear why people would want to talk to me except to beg me for money to solve sudden emergencies that flared up in the game or to get money so their company could solve specific-problem-X. The instructions I had received indicated that it was important to me to have good relations with and try to influence the university and its' researchers, so I posted a message on the researchers' online message board two minutes after the game started. I tried again 45 minutes later but still didn't get any answer. One hour later I instead decided to start to profusely thank the researchers for having done what I had requested two hours earlier in the game (a decade or so had then passed in the game at that time). 

MÖGA is very happy that Linköping University decided to start up a slew of transition-compliant educational programs! The students from Linköping are doing miracles and we welcome even more transition engineers, transition economists, transition psychologists, transition teachers and so on! You are needed and you are welcome to continue the Good Fight for a better future for our children!

It is unfortunate but expected that there is some resistance to large (lifestyle) changes but as long as most people understand the need for these changes and work together to reach our climate targets, we are proud of the support from the generous, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth citizens of Östergötland!

To conclude, the researchers basically ignored me (or didn't notice me) because they didn't need me. But if they didn't need to talk to me and perhaps I didn't need to talk to them, who in the game did I actually then need to talk to and who actually needed to talk to me? This was not clear to me also after the game had finished. I even tried to use the media to "wake the researchers' up" in the game, for example by making this statement:

@Ferm Media  - Johanna G#4018 We have tried to reach the research community. Are they asleep? They don't read their message board and don't attend to us politicians - despite us picking up the bill for their ivory-tower navel gazing. That's at least what it seems like to us politicians because they are very non-responsive to the needs of the region and are apparently off doing their own things at the taxpayers' expense!?

- Linguistic and temporal complexity. It doesn't make sense to have a game with dozens of Swedish participants and a single player who participates remotely from nine time zones away who doesn't speak Swedish. I cooperated a lot with fellow in-game politician Bryan, but really, he shouldn't have been in the game. And perhaps I shouldn't have been in the game as a remote participant either. I was sometimes drafted to translate to my fellow politician Bryan (representing the political party "Forest Muppets"). He represented a different political party so me translating to him was perhaps not optimal, but we had a great cooperation during the first half of the game - mainly because the one representative from the third political party, Market Prophets, didn't show up at all due to illness. Forest Muppet Bryan predictably zoned out and dropped off halfway through the game very late at night or very early in the morning in California. Me summarizing what happened in the room in Linköping to Forest Muppet Bryan:

- This is a huge change but MÖGA can make it happen 

- The Forest Muppets are more than welcome to help us attain those goals, Bryan!

- Rule complexity. If you are going to play a complex game for a whole day, it's good to start off by going through the rules (or at least the parts I needed to understand). While there was a practice round of sorts, as an online participant I did not get enough help and was instead to a large extent left to my own wits to try to figure out how to play the game, what it was (really) about, what a politician in the game was supposed to do etc.

The three main tasks that I set myself during the game was to:

  • Understand how the game worked
  • Understand what I could do in the game that would make a difference
  • Role-play and enjoy myself
I only fully succeeded with role-playing. 

@Ferm Media  - Johanna G Policy statement for the media: Make Östergötland Great Again (MÖGA) and the Forest Muppets feel ready to take responsibility for trying to solve the climate crisis mess we are in. Market Prophets might not in fact be traitors, but their megalomanic growth-promoting policies are misguided and constitute a treason of generations to come!

I did come to understand that the Regional Council board was very important for me as a politician:

The regional council board is where me and fellow politicians negotiate about how to spend our money. 

Us politicians could only chose to invest in four different areas (food, goods, transport and housing) but these four areas turned into 8 "tracks" (yellow = research technological solutions or blue = research on lifestyle changes). These in turn became 24 pre-determined inventions that could be unlocked in the game. It's unclear to me exactly what effect "unlocking" an invention had in the game. These 24 pre-determined inventions can be compared to the more complex and nuanced political platform I had developed for my political party, Make Östergötland Great Again (MÖGA), before the game started (see my previous blog post):

1) Linköping University needs to urgently educate an "army" of "transition engineers" to help with the transition to a net zero society. And transition economists, transition teachers, transition psychologists, transition lawyers etc.
2) Shift from efficiency to sufficiency by immediately performing a carbon audit for the region (baseline data) and then decrease the region's carbon budget by (at least) 7% CO2 reductions year-on-year.
3) Create a local regional currency (possibly algorithmic, for example a GPS-aware currency that loses value the further you go from the geographic region). 
4) Universal Basic Income that is handed out to each citizen in the region but that can only be used to pay for locally produced products and services (see 2).
5) Policies that incentivizes the development of not-for-profit forms of business that instead works towards maximizing (regional) social benefit.
6) Compulsory one year long societal service for 18 year olds. It's possible to choose to do military service, to do unarmed military service (in, say, a school) OR to aim for "planetary stewardship service".

I think this made me into a difficult-to-please participant/politician - since these suggestions for the most part didn't match with how the game worked. Most of it would anyway probably have turned out to be utterly irrelevant to the game and how it was supposed to be played/played out. My reason for wanting to immediately get in touch with the research community in the game was because I wanted to order them to immediately do #1 in the list above. But even had I been more successful in getting hold of them, we could perhaps have enjoyed a bit of role-play and we might even have decided on a crash course in transition eduction - but it's doubtful even an army of transition engineers (etc.) could have made a difference in the game itself since the game was complicated but as far as I understand, couldn't really handle these types of initiatives well. An army of transition engineers could for example not have added new technological solutions to the regional council board above nor (easily) have made it less costly to develop certain (but not other) new technologies/lifestyle changes. 

My player briefing stated in the first paragraph that "Playing different actors in the region, we travel through the next three decades to lay the foundation for a sustainable region characterized by high quality of life. Hence the key challenges in the game is to reach net zero, and then negative, climate impact and adapt to climate change while maintaining or improving the quality of life for the population". 

When a city council member approached me (regional politician) about this or that emergency (flooding, climate refugees etc.), I tried to understand how big our budget was and it if was reasonable to meet the city council member's demands fully or partially. I sometimes role-played and said that "we can give you this much now and more next year" when I should probably have been more generous and just handed over the money, but I wanted to use money on my political platform (above), but was pretty sure my fiscal discipline did not at all benefit me in the game. In fact, I wasn't very interested in having these kinds of conversations at all - they were below my pay grade as a regional politician whose most important goal was to reach net zero emissions thirty years down the road. There was thus a tension between the short term (solve immediate problems) and the long term (reach our climate targets). I wanted to spend as little of my time as possible solving "practical" problems here-and-now and instead wanted to create policy and make decisions that would solve the stated "key challenge" of the game (net zero emissions by 2050). I let my coalition partner, Forest Muppet Bryan, handle many of these issues, but this was probably a mistake since I think he came out as more "kind" and got more votes that I did later in the game because he had "helped" people and I hadn't (as much). Later in the game, after Bryan had left, I made quick decisions, allocated money and specifically told city council members and others to "work out the details with the civil servants who worked for me" (just like a real politician would have done). 

After the game was finished, I realized that it would have been much better for all involved parties if I had instead just been a puppet - a politician who only reacted to local emergencies as they happened, gave away all the money that was asked for (budget allowing) and settled for letting the game decide where and at what pace we were going on a strategic level. As far as I understand, the game just pretended to give agency to the players and instead was scripted to disregard any input from individual players that didn't fit the pre-made script. At one point I asked where all these climate refugees came from and if I really had to dish out money to pay for them every time I was asked to. I couldn't get a straight answer so I decided (in line with my Make Östergötland Great Again political party platform) to refuse to give any more money to help climate refugees:

@Ferm Media  - Johanna G. Make Östergötland Great Again (MÖGA) believe that the interests and priorities of Östergötland should go first. We understand the climate refugees' plight, but we have welcomed enough of them and are not prepared to accept any more. It's now time for our neighbors in Västergötland to step up and take responsibility! We will pay for ads communicating this message! From now on it's Östergötland first, Östergötland first, Östergötland first!

That was fun and I partly did it to see if this act of mine would upset the game's script, but it didn't have any consequences whatsoever in the game so my guess is that most of what I did had no effect at all on what happened in the game. Which made me fell powerless and frustrated. What was my role in the game? Was I just a pretty face? Why am I here and what difference can I make in the game, if most of what I say and do is ignored and/or irrelevant in relation to the game's outcome? 

I instead gradually came to a realization during the game - but especially after the game was finished - that forests and forestry apparently had been the key to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 - not food, goods, transport, housing or anything else. But there was no hint about the importance of forests in the instructions I received (except for the fact that a competing political party was called "Forest Muppets"), so I definitely felt cheated or even kidnapped into a storyline that I didn't know existed and failed to notice until the game was over. I don't personally see forests as the overarching key issue to solve the multiple sustainability challenges of the 21st century - but the game and the underlying model apparently do. I don't know how many of the other players had an inkling about this unexpected twist before or during the game?

So this and many other things made the game feel scripted to me. I felt like I didn't have agency and that my decisions didn't matter because a strong model about what sustainability is, and how we are to go about to achieve it had been built into the very fabric of the game. This model was not verbalized so I didn't notice it and couldn't prepare in any way (as a regional politician), but the model still pretty much determined the outcome of the game. That might mean that me and the other players could not affect very much at all in the game. Perhaps it wasn't really an interactive "game" at all, but some kind of lesson/class that just masqueraded as a game? This left me confused and I really have no idea why the instructions asked me and the other players to role-play - including adapting a specific "personality" and a "hidden agenda". Why role-play when everything that is important in the game was far removed from our role-play? My personal secret agenda was that I was an animal-rights activist. I don't know what difference that could have made in the game because I didn't find any opportunities at all to be animal-activistic. So I have no idea what difference this could have made in the game and the question then is why was I was given a secret agenda in the first place? There is so much I don't understand about this game experience...

My conclusion is that the game was exceedingly complicated, but not in the intriguing way I had hoped and had been led to believe beforehand (when I read the instructions). I understand that different stakeholders got different information and different objectives and that all players need to talk, negotiate, find overlapping interests and compromise - and that is  fun. But I don't see how any of that could have made a dent in the underlaying assumptions that drove the game in one (and in only one) pre-determined direction. That the game board was exceedingly complicated (see the images below) and the fact that I never really understood even the small part that was supposedly important to me as a politician (the Regional Council board, see above) is not a good thing. A game should be as complex as necessary but as simple as possible, and it is my conclusion that this game did not succeed on that account. It was, as far as I can tell, overly complicated for no particualar reason at all. It had boards and charts and rules galore (see images below, but there were more...), and while we were supposed to role-play and be imaginative, the game very much seemed to be overly static and scripted. This didn't make sense to me and there was a mismatch between what I thought the game was about (based on the instructions I had received) and the actual game (session). The instructions were humorous, open-ended and invited role-playing while the game itself seemed to be opaque, complicated, scripted and role-playing didn't much matter as individual initiatives didn't fit/were hard to incorporate into the gaming session.

The game was in the end very exhausting - a whole day online with background noise and a need to concentrate deeply floored me. We have previously discussed starting a course at KTH and have our students work together and/or in parallel with the students in Linköping, but I honestly don't know how that is supposed to work out based on my own experiences of playing remotely. I don't understand how two remote sites are supposed to cooperate. I do however understand that despite the fact that the gaming session wasn't great, the course might have been. To have students (re)design parts of the game means they have to learn a lot about climate change, agriculture, forestry, urban planning, economy and so on, even though I currently have few insights about the university course itself.

I do feel that Megagames could be interesting, but I can also imagine that it would be better for KTH to work with a game designer (just as Linköping does) but instead design a much smaller and simpler game that emphasizes player interaction and acting/role play, rather than aim for gratuitous complexity for (seemingly) its own sake. 

Regional map with 8 municipalities (only two were part of the game I played since there weren't enough players). I can not imagine what I would have done as regional politician had there been more municipalities in play. Perhaps each political party would then have been represented by several players?

Detailed map of farmland, forests and water in the region. Sometimes someone came to me to suggested that "tile F11 and G11" should be a nature reserve. I said "sure, I guess" - at least if it cost nothing or not so much. I didn't understand what difference a nature reserve made for the climate nor if it was money well spent from the budget I had to husband as a politician.

More information that was probably important for me to read about how the Regional Council worked. The card about how new laws are made was apparently deemed to not be relevant and I didn't really have time to read all the text. 

This, a scientific explanation of the Regional Board, was probably also important or at least useful for me to read, but I again didn't have the time (or the inclination) and it's not really reasonable to expect a player to read this during the game when so much else is happening.

I have no idea what this was but it seems that it could have been important for me as a regional politician.

This is an example of one of the 8 municipalities' board. Linköping was part of the game I played and it's the largest city in Östergötland together with Norrköping. The same 24 pre-determined inventions are on this and several other boards too.

Me as a populist politician. Vote for me!


onsdag 11 maj 2022

Event Horizon Counterfactual Workshop


I have been interested in counterfactual scenarios for quite some time but I notice I haven't written a single blog post about our current research project "Beyond the event horizon: tools to explore local energy transformations", despite the fact that it's been going for over two years. And despite the fact that my and Elina's interests in counterfactuals currently are focused on that project. So I 1) searched for all my previous blog posts with the tag "counterfactual", 2) looked up other linked posts that are relevant and 3) list a few events that should have garnered blog posts but for some reason didn't - so here is a blog-centric and quite complete history/summary of my (our) interests in the area during the last six years:
  • Consider Half - greatest project idea ever? (June 2016). The basic idea of a rich counterfactual scenario (that I originally though of two years earlier) is spelled out in this blog post.
  • On the effects of the early 1970’s global peak in oil production (July 2016). This is our "Coalworld" proposal/abstract (based on "Consider Half") for writing an article to a special issue on "Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research" in the journal Energy Research and Social Science (ER&SS). The title was later changed.
  • Coalworld: Envisioning a world with half the oil (paper) (Nov 2016). A conference submission. Can't remember what happened, it could have been rejected or accepted-but-withdrawn, but I anyway didn't go to the conference.
  • Shifting away from oil (article) (Jan 2017). The proposal for a second Coalworld article was submitted to an ER&SS special issue on "Energy and the Future" (while we were still working on writing the first article). This proposal was rejected, the article has since been revised, but despite the fact that little work remains, the article lies in the drawer for now (other things have come between, see below).
  • What if there had only been half the oil? (article) (Sept 2017). Our article was published in ER&SS. YES! Our first article about counterfactual scenarios describes the peak oil Coalworld scenario.
  • My intellectual breakthrough (Dec 2017). I had a great idea and tried to convey the excitement but still be secretive about the content. This idea later turned into the article "Looking backward to the future" (below). 
  • Studying the future with counterfactuals (application) (Feb 2018). This blog post describes our bid to do a one-week workshop at the Lorentz Center. It was approved and we held a one-week workshop in The Netherlands one year later.
  • Petrocultures (paper) (Feb 2018). Hastily written submission to the Petrocultures conference. The submission was accepted, but I had to withdraw as the conference clashed in time with another conference (on Degrowth).
  • Turning black swans white (application) (Feb 2018). A research grant application that was submitted to the Swedish Energy Agency's call "Humans, energy systems and society" but that was rejected.
  • Looking Backwards to the Future: Studying the Future with Counterfactuals (Feb 2019). Our week-long workshop on counterfactual scenarios with invited academics from various disciplines (as well as the Science Fiction writer S.M. Stirling)
  • Narrative science (workshop) (June 2019). Based on our article "What if there had only been half the oil?" I was invited to the workshop "Does time always pass? Temporalities in scientific narratives".
  • Using counterfactual history to imagine computing futures (paper) (March 2018). Elina and me submitted this "What if there had only been half the oil?" spin-off paper to the Fourth Workshop on Computing within Limits. It was later accepted and presented and is available online here.
  • Beyond the event horizon (application) (March 2019). Based on last year's failed application, a new research grant was submitted to the Swedish Energy Agency's call "Humans, energy systems and society".
  • Looking backward to the future (article) (August 2020). "My Intellectual Breakthrough" (Dec 2017, above) had been turned into an article that was submitted to the journal Futures.
  • Beyond the event horizon (approved) (September 2019). Our project was approved! The project will run between 2020-2022.
  • Imagining Alternative Futures (application) (Jan 2020). I was part of an application that was led by principal investigator (PI) Michael Boyden (associate professor of American literature at the Department of English at Uppsala University). Distinguished Professor Emerita Katherine Hayles (University of California/Uppsala) was also part of the application.
  • Minna Laurell Thorslund is our new phd student! (April 2020). We hired Minna to work in the project "Beyond the event horizon". She was a bit unlucky and started as a phd student at KTH just after Covid restrictions hit Sweden.
  • Looking backward to the future (article) (December 2020). The article we submitted to Futures was finally published (16 months after it was submitted). It is available online here.
I have unfortunately not blogged about many of the most important events in the list above. But we have by now worked for more than two years with the project "Beyond the event horizon: tools to explore local energy transformations". The persons working in the project besides me are: Elina Eriksson, Minna Laurell Thorslund and Mia Hesselgren (KTH), Mikael Höök (Uppsala University) and Pella Thiel, Martin Hedberg and Amanda Martling (The Transition Network - our civil society project partner). Much has happened since the project started, but it's not until now that we have started to write articles for real and we are currently writing two articles in parallell about the project. 

The most important thing we have done in the project however is to develop a workshop format; a three-hour workshop that takes the participants on a co-created journey to an alternative and more sustainable Sweden of 2022 where we only use half the oil, and where we figure out how life has been transformed. We present the scenario and it's up to the workshop participants to figure out how it came to be. Here's a short description of what we do in the workshop:

The fundamental benefit of counterfactual scenarios in this study is to make the future more present in the present. If there are goals and targets we should reach 20 years from now, it is possible to develop ambitious plans and roadmaps and settle for having these goals, targets, plans and roadmaps. It’s as if the difficult part was developing the roadmap - rather than the long, hard, thankless job of making it all happen! If decision makers perceive that they have already done the heavy lifting by formulating ambitious goals or plans, they might easily feel less inclined to follow through. This is on top of already feeling less inclined to act as concrete action can be expected to meet resistance in the present, and the benefits will happen in a far-away future where the decisions makers have left their positions of power (or might indeed not even be alive). 

We have solved this thorny problem by stating that the goals and targets in question were in fact formulated 20 years ago (in a counterfactual scenario) and today, 2022, we have in fact reached those goals! We thus start an exercise (workshop) by authoritatively stating that we have indeed reached our targets. This sets the frame for the workshop and it also means we will not and indeed can not fail to reach our goals (it is thus impossible to participate in our workshop and fail to reach the targets that have been set). After presenting the scenario as a (non-negotiable) “fact”, we then spend the remainder of the workshop ferreting out 1) what it actually means to have reached the target (in what ways are society and everyday life different from our world?) and 2) what the “journey” between then (20 years ago) and now (an alternative 2022) looked like. 

We held a workshop in Örebro (200 km west of Stockholm) during the weekend (see image above). We were forced to change our plans and develop a digital workshop format during Covid but have now, post-Covid, developed a workshop format that works for physical workshops. The workshop in Örebro was the second physical project workshop and the first physical workshop I myself have attended. The workshop was run by Elina Eriksson and Amanda Martling and I was more of an observer and note-taker. It was great to attend the workshop and much more could be said about it but this will have to do for now. This blog post doesn't describe a lot about the just-held workshop or our workshop format, but it's a much-needed update about our activities around counterfactual scenarios during the last six years.


söndag 8 maj 2022

The Climate Change Megagame (the before part)


The Climate Change Megagame Regional Council Board (prototype, may change) is where us politicians will battle things out (show political leadership, allocate money) when we play this game tomorrow!

I was invited to participate in a Megagame (a game with many participants) a month ago. The Megagame was at first a sidetrack, since the main event was planning a visit to KTH by Ola Leifler. Ola gave a great talk at our SF Lab team meeting on May 3: "Reorientating an academic career to become an agent for meaningful change to societal transformation". This is how Ola described himself in the invitation to the talk:

Ola Leifler got a PhD in AI and decision support in 2011. Upon returning to academia 2013, he quickly wanted to realign his teaching (which occupied most of the time) with his personal commitment to sustainability, and create space for research aligned with his values to that end. When he’s not doing academic stuff, he’s a compulsive sourdough baker, a manic organic gardener, medieval hobbyist, and serial boardgamer. There’s probably an acronym for that.

This blog post is however not about his visit, but about his Linköping University course "Megagame-design for societal transformation in the light of climate change". The course has two different course codes and the "second course" (same course but a different course code) is aimed at all engineering students and Linköping University. The course itself is centered on "designing large-scale games for understanding the complexities, power relations and social dynamics related to societal transformations". 

The students who take the course have spent the whole spring term designing the game and it will be played all day tomorrow (8.30 - 17.00). It's possible to play on-site (in Linköping) or online and have signed up to play it online. Blocking a whole day in my calendar a month in advance was tough, but boy am I glad I did it! I only yesterday (Saturday) started to read through all info and rules I have been sent and was blown away by the inventiveness, by the pure fun and by the underlying seriousness in trying to understand how to solve complex societal problems. 

I have more specifically read the 5-page briefing document aimed at "Politicians", because I will be a politician tomorrow (vote for me!). The key sentences that blew me away were:

There is a Regional Council [in the game], home to those playing the three political parties in the region; Forest Muppets, Market Prophets and Make Östergötland Great Again (MÖGA). These politicians need to form coalitions if they are to support an overall strategy for the region. Influence over the regional governance can be important to promote one’s own agenda.

I hadn't at this point read the mails I had gotten and assumeed (hoped) I would be a Forest Muppet. I'm not. I instead represent Make Östergötland Great Again (MÖGA) and their position is very interesting because they (we!) would like the region to be self-reliant and therefore promote policies that do not rely on global market solutions for sustainability

The interesting thing is that I have both received enough info to start to imagine, to think and to plan, but not enough to really understand very much about how the game works. Some key pieces of information that has helped me to make sense of things are:

  • We will play in the region Östergötland in the East middle Sweden. The region has about 500 000 inhabitants and is one of the countries agricultural areas. The region and especially the two main cities are also centers for advanced industrial production (e.g. airplanes) and education.
  • Playing different actors in the region, we travel through the next three decades to lay the foundation for a sustainable region characterized by high quality of life.
  • The key challenges in the game is to reach net zero, and then negative, climate impact and adapt to climate change while maintaining or improving the quality of life for the population.
  • Do not try to understand the whole game. Instead, the best overall strategy is to focus on your role and what is relevant for that. Therefore, we will only present to you what is needed to play your part, others will have different priorities and instructions. Talk to them during the game and you will find out. The challenge in the game is to cooperate with the others to achieve your goals.
  • Your specific goal in the game is to promote your preferred policies at the politicians’ board and among the participants to get their support in the election before the final round. You will need to negotiate with other politicians to form coalitions for or against certain policies.
  • Knowing your voters, their desires and challenges is of central importance along your way. Remember the slogan “Don’t ask what the region can do for you but ask what you can do for the region.” The ability to use media to reach out to your supporters might also be crucial.
  • The game is played over 3.5 turns: 2015-2020 (tutorial), 2020-2030, 2030-2040, 2040-2050. Each full turn is about 60 minutes long and divided into an Interaction Phase (≈ 50 min), and then a Team Phase (≈ 10 minutes).
  • As politicians, you will belong to one of three parties: the Market Prophets, the Green Muppets or Make Östergötland Great Again. There are several members of each party, each one with an individual vote. Each party has a set of preferences for which policy they would like to promote, but of course you will also need to be responsive to the needs of the population, researchers and the business community.

There are also many other roles in the game (besides politicians). I can't make out all roles, but there are certainly representatives of the eight municipalities in the region (surely with different agendas and priorities), a business community, a research community, two media corporations as well as role for Nature (Nature represents the natural world that has powers that allows it to react against the human society of the region. It is strengthened by resilient ecosystems, and may punish players as the climate becomes harsher).

This is also very intriguing: Just as real politicians, you get to rewrite the rules of the game [and while we provide you with some examples] you are free to come up with your own ideas. No money is required if you propose new laws.

It is impossible to read the very intriguing briefing/rules without having your thoughts wander in many different directions. My political party will have to work together with one other party to get whatever we want to happen to happen. That made me realize that a very important task is to understand what issues the other two parties don't agree on and make the most of it (splinter and sabotage their attempts to work together). If the other two parties (Forest Muppets and Market Prophets) will not and can not work together, then that's a golden opportunity for my party to work with one of them (probably the Forest Muppets if we can neutralize the Forest Muppet ecomodernist fraction). I have lots of thoughts about this but very hazy ideas of how I can work with others in the game. I understand that "The ability to use media to reach out to your supporters might be crucial", but I currently have no idea of how the two media corporations work and what they want in the game. How do I manufacture "news" that they will be interested in?

I did however do something I thought was very smart and that is to reach out to my colleagues, friends and acquaintances online. I put together a job ad for a position as my policy advisor, i.e. someone who could "help me develop a socio-environmental economic policy platform that will benefit citizens and nature alike" (see below). My idea here is that I am willing to set of time tonight to bounce ideas with someone (or more than one person) about what I as a MÖGA politician want besides and beyond the sparse instructions I have received. This is what I came up with (NOTE: it is now Sunday morning and the position remains open! Interviews will be conducted tonight - read the job ad below for more info):


WANTED: RADICAL HETERODOX ECONOMIST TO DEVELOP SUSTAINABILITY-PROMOTING REGIONAL ECONOMIC POLICIES (that support my political platform and my political career in a Climate Change Megagame). 

I am looking for an unconventional economist/policy wonk who can help me develop policies to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 while simultaneously maintaining (or improving) quality of life for the good citizens of Östergötland. The Östergötland region in east middle Sweden has ≈ 500 000 inhabitants and is one of Sweden’s main agricultural areas. The region and in particular the two main cities, Linköping and Norrköping, are also centers for advanced industrial production (e.g. airplanes) and higher education. 

In order to create a better and more sustainable society for the generous, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth citizens (voters) of Östergötland, it is crucial that we develop a political coalition (under my leadership) that can support our vision of making Östergötland more self-reliant and less dependent on global market solutions. Your goal is to help me develop a socio-environmental economic policy platform that will benefit citizens and nature alike (and that will also maximize my political influence in the region by 2050 - the end of the game). 

While I am not an economist, I have read widely and been inspired by and could imagine developing a socio-environmental economic policy platform that builds on these four radical proposals:

1) Shift from efficiency to sufficiency by immediately performing a carbon audit for the region (baseline data) and then decrease the region's carbon budget by (at least) 7% CO2 reductions year-on-year.
2) Create a local regional currency (possibly algorithmic, for example a GPS-aware currency that loses value the further you go from the geographic region). 
3) Universal Basic Income that is handed out to each citizen in the region but that can only be used to pay for locally produced products and services (see 2).
4) Policies that incentivizes the development of not-for-profit forms of business that instead works towards maximizing (regional) social benefit.
Addad later (but before playing the Megagame):
5) Linköping University needs to urgently educate an "army" of "transition engineers" to help with the transition to a net zero society.
6) Compulsory one year long societal service for 18 year olds. It's possible to choose to do military service, to do unarmed military service (in, say, a school) OR to aim for "planetary stewardship service".

These principles have in particular been inspired by David Jonstad (#1), Alf Hornborg (#2 and #3), Neil Gershenfeld (#2), Jennifer Hinton (#4) and Christian Felber’s Economy for the Common Good (#4) as well as by the writings of many others (Sahlins, Schumacher, Gorz, Graeber, Raworth, Kallis etc.).

If we leave the nerdy stuff aside and concentrate on what is important, I am happy to state that I proudly represent Make Östergötland Great Again (MÖGA). My political opponents are the Forest Muppets and the Market Prophets. A crucial part of your job consists of helping me identify thorny issues that these two parties ought to disagree on, and then help me find arguments that will help me splinter and sabotage any possible relationship between these parties (so we instead can tie one of these parties to our coalition and to our political platform). Other actors/stakeholders of interest are: the 8 municipalities, the business community, the research community, the two media corporations as well as Nature itself.

You would work in close cooperation with me (regional up-and-coming politician) and with a think-tank of economists and policy wonks (other job applicants). I believe you are imaginative, hardworking and dedicated to your job. You for example don’t shy away from working on a Sunday night (Central European Time) when it proves to be necessary. It is a plus if you live in Östergötland and have local knowledge about the region, but this is not a requirement and it could be that you live in another country or even on another continent!

If you would like to contribute to a better future for your children and grandchildren, please apply to the position by filling out this Doodle: https://doodle.com/meeting/participate/id/en5WxK7d

Please fill out ALL time slots that works for you (the meeting might be more than 1 hour long). Please also send me an email so I can provide you with additional background information (ca 4 pages of text that should be read before tomorrow’s meeting).

PS. Only serious candidates should get in touch! Pie-in-the-sky activists or ivory tower academics need not apply. I am looking for someone who puts the wholesome interests of the hard-working people of Östergötland first, and who is willing and ready to roll up the sleeves and already tomorrow help create a better future together - to Make Östergötland Great Again!

Four concluding notes: 

  1. I just now saw that I have received a link with optional reading materials, Building a Climate Change Megagame (three-part blog series). 
  2. I am asked to dress in a way that will make it easier for other participants to understand who I am. Do you have any suggestions? Since I am a remote participant (through Zoom), I am specifically asked to chose a Zoom background image that makes it easier for others to understand who I am and what I want. Do you have any suggestions? 
  3. I will be not be available for large parts of the day today Sunday (except through text messages to my phone for those who have my phone number), but I will show up tonight if someone is interested in helping me hash out ideas for a socio-environmental economic policy platform! Sign up by answering this Doodle and by sending me a mail! NOTE: You don't even have to live in Sweden to be my policy advisor!
  4. We so much have to make sure KTH students will be able to take this course next year. We're working on it, but it won't actually be me who will make the magic happen but rather Anders Rosén and Jon-Erik Dahlin.


torsdag 5 maj 2022

Reduced emissions from business travel (presentation)


I recently published a round-up of things that happened in April (blog-worthy but didn't make it to the shortlist of stand-alone blog posts). That list included no less than two April talks about our Flight project. Well, we just held a third talk to a very particular audience and this time I was joined on stage by my project colleague Markus Robèrt

The Flight project (formally "Decreased CO2-emissions in flight-intensive organisations") has cooperated with KTH's Sustainability Office for a long time. Ours is a research project but we are interested in and can provide data and insights that supports the Sustainability Office in their efforts to transform the ambitious KTH targets into policy and then into action. The Sustainability Office similarly has an interest in supporting our research project (e.g. make sure we get the data we need etc.).

While there might not always be a Sustainability Office, but sometimes perhaps only a Sustainability Officer, each Swedish Higher Education Institution (HEI, "lärosäte") has someone who is responsible for sustainability, and these persons have a network and a distribution list. I'm not sure exactly what "MLUH" stands for but it's a combination of environment ("miljö"), management ("ledning") and HEI ("universitet och högskolor"). They also meet up now and then (I believe it's twice per year) and they just met for two days in Stockholm. KTH hosted the first day and Karolinska Institute (KI) hosted the second day. Me and Markus gave a talk at the tail end of the first day and then stayed to mingle and have dinner. 

Our talk didn't have any description and hardly a title, it was just presented in the program as "Research project about business travel", but most of the people in the audience already knew of us and something about what we do, since we have recruited no less than 16 higher education institutions to our research grant application, "Reduced emissions from business travel" through their own distribution list. That also meant that for the first time, the focus of our presentation wasn't on results from our current research project, but on our upcoming, not-yet-approved research project - that many in the audience were part of and wanted to know more about.

This was the most knowledgable and enthusiastic audience we have ever talked to! And we would love work with them! Me and Markus only talked for 15 minutes before we opened up for questions - and the questions never ended. Someone in audience asked what would happen if our application was not approved and suggested that perhaps the HEIs could pitch in money to make it happen anyway. My answer was that we had not considered that option but a more realistic option would be that we would rework the application and send it elsewhere - since the project idea itself is too good to be abandoned.

What has amazing was the extremely high level of collective knowledge in the audience. Some of them knew more than we do in the research project about how a travel agency works (but assumed we already knew everything they knew). For gods sake, some of them had colleagues who had worked at travel agencies and who had intimate knowledge of intricate details in the travel agencies' booking systems! The mingle and the dinner was a delight, and it was also fun to put faces to persons that I had mailed or talked to on the phone when we rallied support and partners for our application. 

The very best thing though was that two persons in the audience, representing two different big Swedish universities stated on the spot that they were interested in joining the application. Another person in the audience represented a university that had gotten in touch with us and wanted to sign up on the very last day (but it proved too hard to add them to the application since the budget would then have had to be updated and we were short on time). Yet another university had gotten in touch with us and wanted to join one week after the application was handed in! All in all we now have four additional universities who are interested in joining and that is an increase by 25% (from 16 to 20 higher education institutions). 

So I have these four universities to sign Letters of Intent and sent to me (preferably signed by the president or a vice-president). I will then get in touch with the funding agency and ask if it is possible to "adjust" (update) the application to add these four (for the most part Big) universities. I'm not sure we will be allowed to do that, but it can't hurt to ask. Also we now have 20 Higher Education Institution as prospective partners in our application and that is more than 50% of all HEIs that have signed the Swedish "Climate Framework for Higher Education Institutions". This is basically the same as having more than 50% of all Swedish Higher Education Institution being part of our research grant application. 

I think our application is pretty unique. After having done research in the area of "academic flying" for just about three years, I have certainly never heard of anything similar in any other country - and what is amazing is that the environmental officers at 20 Swedish universities hope that this project will be approved just as much as we ourselves do!


lördag 30 april 2022

April roundup


This blog post summarizes could-have-been blog posts from April, i.e. some of the things that happened in April but that did not merit blog posts of their own (but that could if there had there been fewer other things happening). 

I wrote a March roundup blog post a month ago so this the second in the series. It might become a regular genre of blog posts or it might not, the jury is still out.

April Roundup

- Adrian Friday will be a SF Lab Scholar in Residence this autumn (April 1)

Me and Elina sponsored an application from professor Adrian Friday (Lancaster University) to come to KTH later this year and it was approved! The application was sent to the cross-disciplinary research centre Digital Futures and their Scholar in Residence program which "aims to provide scholars at non-Swedish universities with financial support to enable short and longer-term visits to the Digital Futures environment (minimum 1 month, maximum 12 months)". You need to be an associate or full professor to apply and the funding covers housing, travel and other costs associated with the residency (but not salary). Upcoming deadlines for the program this year are June 6 and September 5 (hint, hint; get in touch if you would like to visit us!). 

Adrian is Professor of Computing and Sustainability since 2015 and was Head of School of Computing and Communications at Lancaster between 2017 and 2021 but is now on a sabbatical and will visit us for a month sometime after the summer (in August and September). We have met Adrian many times and me, Elina and Adrian also wrote a paper together back in 2016, "Limits to the sharing economy" (pdf). From Adrian's proposal:

"Adrian Friday is Professor of Computing and Sustainability at Lancaster University, UK. My work focuses on how ubiquitous systems, data and empirical studies reveal the environmental and energy impacts of everyday life, and offer new and more sustainable ways of doing. I am passionate about understanding the relationship between the digital and the future, and how to promote sustainabilty. My collaborative and multidisciplinary projects in this area have focused on various sites of energy demand aligned with 'digital futures'. These have included energy use in the home, thermal comfort, sustainable food shopping ('rich and healthy life'); and understanding last-mile logistics to promote sustainability ('smart society'). My ongoing projects are focusing on environmental and social justice for gig economy, and a significant new programme exploring a combined statistical, machine learning and qualitative approaches toward net zero from energy and IoT data, co-designed with commercial stakeholders.

Possible collaborative activities aligned to digital futures during my visit could include:
  1. Presentations, engagement, and mentorship of research students on topics relating to sustainability and digital futures (energy demand, impacts of ICT, thermal comfort, digitally mediated services).
  2. Joint author papers, for example repeating and extending research into academic flying practice [2], bringing a point of comparison from UK data.
  3. Explore specific funding opportunities, likely as part of Horizon Net Zero/ smart society calls.
  4. Contributing to the design of a new sustainability Masters programme, leveraging my 10+ knowledge and experience of research in this area.
We are extremely happy Adrian has chosen to visit us on his sabbatical and we are also thankful for Digital Futures Scholar in Residence program that made his visit possible! This will obviously be a topic to return to in the blog later. 
Welcome Adrian!

- Invited talk, “Academic mobility - Who gets to fly?” (April 8)

An unnamed high-flying division at the KTH Department of Learning in Engineering Sciences
Each post-it note represents an employee and each poker chip represents a one-way trip 
(green = short trips, red = medium-length trips, black = intercontinental trips)

On April 8, I gave a Higher Seminar, “Academic mobility - Who gets to fly?”, at the KTH Department of Learning in Engineering Sciences

Academic flying constitutes a large part of KTH's total carbon emissions. We need to reduce our flying if we are to reach our own climate targets, but how? To start with; who at KTH flies when, where and why? And how can we reduce ”unnecessary” flying? Welcome to a seminar about academic flying and the (many and varied) challenges of reducing academic flying.

I was invited by an old acquaintance, Associate Professor in Engineering Education Development Kristina Edström. She had read our open access book chapter "Who gets to fly?" and invited me to give a talk based on that text. While the first hour was open to all (at the Department), the second (Q-and-A) hour was reserved for phd students who took her course. The Department of Learning in Engineering Sciences consists of four divisions, "Learning in STEM" (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), "Digital Learning", "Language and Communication" and "The House of Sciences". Most participants came from the first division and a few from the second.

The most impactful part of the talk was when I presented the participants with data of their own divisions' flying in 2019 (the last year we flew like there was no tomorrow). It took quite a lot of time to prepare the data - but it was worth it! The image above comes from the division what flew the most at the Department of Learning in Engineering Sciences.

Parts of the Zoom talk was recorded and I asked Kristina for a copy. She thought it was easiest for her to put it on a USB stick and pass me by. When she delivered the USB stick only an hour or so after the talk, she told me how much they had enjoyed the talk - and especially the fact that they could see their own data (image above). My talk would surely be the number 1 topic to chat about at the lunch table the coming week and she also gave me a huge bouquet of flowers! 

What we realized only later was that I believe she stated that the talk had convinced her that a Very Big International Conference she helps organize from now on should be held online every second year. I would need to confirm this but if that is what she said, then our project has had a huge impact in terms of decreased CO2 emissions due to the outsized footprint of such conferences.

- Roch and Hamilton-Jones visited SF Lab (April 19-22)

The Sustainable Futures Lab had two guests from France, Emile Roch and Daphné Hamilton-Jones, visit us for a week. Emile and Daphné are Master Students in Design Research at the Ecole Normale Supérieure Paris Saclay, Télecom Paris (Institut Polytechnique) and ENSCI Les Ateliers, and while they study in Malmö for the whole spring term, they came to visit our research group at KTH for a week. This is how they presented their research interest and themselves when they gave a talk to our research group:

Title: Exploring Co-design for Sustainibility through Design Fiction

Our work: Responding to the environmental crisis as an individual demands agency. Hoping to facilitate the creation of that agency in individuals looking to have a real impact on this crisis, we have created a workshop using the stereotypical trope of the island. In our collaborative design fiction, participants work together to create tools for their survival. In that fictitious space, participants practice at responding to their basic needs through fictitiously embodied practice, collaboratively. The historical  tradition of codesign in Swedish culture offers an interesting perspective for this kind of practice. Our work aims to investigate these questions throughout the time we are spending in Swedish cultural and academic communities.

About Emile : Formerly trained in professional computer science studies I decided to reorient myself toward a more critical and academical practice. I specifically looked into design that surround the notion of agency through my technical perspective but more and more by the designer point of view.     
About Daphné: Trained in multidisciplinary design in London, I worked as a pedagogical designer before transitioning towards design research. I am particularly interested in the place of design in democratic practices and sustainability, convinced that one cannot exist properly without the other. Imaginaries of the Environmental crisis, fiction and co-design offer a response to this that I am eager to explore today.

They set up meetings with many members of our group, but since they also sat in my room, I also had several conversations with them throughout the week. They also visited a Hoffice event in my home. It was very nice to have them with us and I hope to meet them again, for example at some upcoming conference.

- Popular Science lunch lecture, “Who gets to fly? in the KTH Library (April 25)

I showed this image to the audience but am not sure I was allowed to do it. Nor to post it here
This information might be sensitive in several different ways according to KTH's Data Protection Officer.

I gave a lunch lecture at the KTH library (Web infoFacebook event):

KTH has ambitious goals for decreasing CO2 emissions from flying – but few governmental agencies fly more than we do. So how can we decrease our flying?

This particular talk had a twist since I only talked for 15 minutes and was then followed by 5-minute "rebuttals" from Rosa Lönneborg, KTH's Research Data Coordinator, and Robin Roy, KTH's Data Protection Officer. I then had 5 minutes to answer them before we opened up for questions from the audience. 

The KTH Library had invited me to give this lunch talk a long time ago and I had specifically suggested they should invite these two persons so that we could discuss issues having to do with "GDPR, research data, ethics etc.". I ended my 15-minute talk by handing over these questions to my discussants:
  • Do the poker chip visualization display information that is sensitive?
    • Who should be allowed to see this data?
    • Was it wrong to show it here?
    • Would it be wrong to use non-anonymized data?
    • Would it be wrong to make the data publicly available?
  • Can I as a researcher ask KTH not to disclose info about my flying
  • If so, how can KTH reach its climate targets?

I ended the talk by summing up the differences in perspective and the resulting clash between 1) following the (GDPR and other) rules (little will happen and the easiest thing is not to even try), 2) trying to change the rules (an arduous and slow process where changes could take years of effort with no guaranteed success) and 3) doing what is necessary to actually solve the problem (decreasing KTH's CO2 emissions from flying). My conclusion is this: it could be that no one wants us to fail to reach our climate and CO2 reduction targets - but that will still be the result if we stick to the rules/restrictions about who is allowed to see what "sensitive and potentially integrity-invading" info. Like where I (as a civil servant) fly in my line of duty. 

Is this sensitive data and can I an employee choose who will see it or not?

Expert Workshop on "Digital Sufficiency: A new perspective on digitalization as a driver for sustainability? (April 26)

It's quite embarrassing to write about this workshop because while I was invited and signed up two months in advance, I was extremely surprised when I got an email on April 25 welcoming me to the workshop on Digital Sufficiency "tomorrow". I then realized I had mixed up the dates and blocked time in my calendar two days later, on April 28. That meant I couldn't attend the workshop despite having looked forward to it. 

So I had to opt out of the workshop with short notice and this was a real pithy since I had in fact read the book that the workshop organizers Steffen Lange & Tilman Santarius had written ("Smart Green World? Making Digitalization Work for Sustainability"). 

- Our Limits paper was accepted (April 30)

Our paper "On the environmental sustainability of Ai art(s)" has been accepted to the Workshop on Computing within Limits (LIMITS 2022). The paper is written by Petra Jääskeläinen, André Holzapfel and Daniel Pargman. We are all at KTH and Petra is a phd student (we share room) whose advisors are André (main advisor) and me (co-supervisor). 

Petra is a relatively new phd student (she started to work at KTH in the autumn) and this is her first paper (as well as her first paper as first author). Petra works in a research project that André leads, "Ai and the Artistic Imaginary: Creative-Ai Technology in Sustainable, Ethical and Legitimate Practice". Here is the paper abstract:

"A wide variety of creative practitioners are currently exploring the use of Ai in their work processes, for instance in poetry, music, performance and visual arts. In this paper, we discuss the relationship between Ai and sustainability in general, but focus on the relationship between the emerging area of Ai art and sustainability in particular. We highlight the importance of pursuing research concerning the sustainability of Ai art and take initial steps towards understanding how Ai art practices may save or waste resources. Based on online fieldwork, we provide a conceptual approach that can be used to map the environmental sustainability of Ai art and use the resulting framework to analyze the environmental impact of three specific cases of Ai artworks. With this paper as a basis, we hope to elicit awareness among scientific and artistic communities about the environmental sustainability of Ai art."

- Beyond Stockholm+50 (application) (April 30)


KTH has a Climate Action Center that was launched at the beginning of the autumn. The "KTH Climate Action Centre is a multidisciplinary research centre where we work together to speed up climate action in synergy with the UN Sustainable Development Goals". Me and my colleague Elina are somewhat involved (Elina more than me) in their activities. 

The Climate Action Center recently launched its first call for smaller projects. The projects must address Climate Action, meaning solutions for advancing climate mitigation or adaptation, and they were looking for project applications that either proposes new projects or that adds a “climate lens” to an already existing project. The call also invited project proposals "addressing the communication of research-based climate action knowledge to different target groups" and one of the criteria for evaluation project applications was: "Does the proposed project communicate research based knowledge to the public or stakeholders in order to raise awareness and speed up action?" We think our application, "Beyond Stockholm+50", fulfills those goals and we handed in our 3-page application on the very last day (April 30):

This application is connected to but separate from the science + art project described above. During the beginning of June, there will be a high-level UN meeting in Stockholm, Stockholm+50. In relation to that meeting, there will be numerous activities that are organized by civil society and other actors, including the City of Stockholm. We have been invited by the City of Stockholm (through project leader Helene Mårtenson), to in cooperation with the City of Stockholm and Kulturhuset (Stockholm House of Culture) be part of the upcoming Stockholm+50 activities at Sergels Torg and in Kulturhuset in central Stockholm during June 2-5, and we have already participated in a planning meeting together with the City of Stockholm and other actors. We would more specifically design, develop and implement a 2-hour workshop format (multiple times) as part of the Stockholm+50 event and in cooperation with the City of Stockholm and Kulturhuset.

While we aim for creating a workshop format that works for youths and young adults for the Stockholm+50 activities in the beginning of June, our project has a tail that extends all the way until the end of the year and the project can be divided into four phases:

Phase 1 (May). In cooperation with the City of Stockholm and Kulturhuset, design and develop a Homo Colossus workshop format and contents aimed at 14-25 year olds for the upcoming Stockholm+50 activities in central Stockholm.

Phase 2 (June). Implement the workshop format (multiple times) as part of the City of Stockholm's and Kulturhuset’s Stockholm+50 activities. Phase 2 also includes observing, analyzing and redesigning the workshop format from one day to the next at the Stockholm+50 activities, as well as documenting workshop activities.

Phase 3 (early autumn). Analyse the experiences from the Stockholm+50 activities and work together with Tekniska Museet (or another museum) to (re)design a workshop format that could be used with school classes that visits the museum. In phase 3 we aim to together with Ingemar and Esther “transfer” and incorporate the Augmented Reality app from the Formas project into the workshop format.  Since our own students at KTH also fall within the target group of 14-25 year olds, we would furthermore in parallell adapt the workshop format and use in our own education at KTH.

Phase 4 (late autumn). Based on experiences from phases 1-3, design a final “kit” with materials and instructions on how to use the workshop format. Teach/hand over the workshop kit to museum personnel so they themselves can host and lead workshop activities for visiting school classes without support from KTH. It will furthermore be possible to formulate bachelors and masters thesis proposals that our students could do in relation to this project during the spring of 2023. e.g. perform user studies at a museum or further develop, adopt and integrate the Augmented Reality app and the workshop format.

- Books I've read (April 30)

I have read very few books this month for two different reasons. The first is that my workload has been very heavy (at times extreme) and I haven't been able to muster enough energy to read on my way to KTH or when I go back home (by subway). The second is that since I started my course in stand-up comedy, I have used the subway ride (and other short breaks) to write, enhance and practice my stand-up routine again and again and again. I have in fact only finished two books during the month of April and that is little in comparison to my usual tempo.
  • Jem Bendell & Rupert Read (eds) (2021). Deep Adaptation: navigating the realities of climate chaos
  • Ami Hallberg Pauli (2018). Stand up Handboken