söndag 5 december 2010

CESC workshop

I have just come through some very busy weeks where I have attended a variety of events that I have not written about here (yet). Instead of writing about something that happened this past week (Nov 29-Dec 3), I instead choose to write about an event I attended the previous week (Nov 22-23) - the annual Centre for Sustainable Communications (CESC) workshop.

I could unfortunately not attend the workshop last year and I have had a heavy teaching load this year, but I still managed to shoe-horn this event into a busy schedule. With the workshop running from lunch to lunch, I had to hurry there after teaching and I had to hurry back to KTH for more teaching directly afterward and so I missed most of the lunch on day one and all of it on day two :-( Still, I was very happy that I managed to attend anything at all...

The workshop consisted of three sessions interspersed with coffee breaks, dinner and breakfast. The first - early afternoon - session was a brainstorming session, the second - late afternoon - session was a more social/trivia event and the third - morning session - was a working session. My goal here is not to document the event in itself exhaustively and I will just mention a few for me memorable parts of the workshop.

At the brainstorming session, I lead a group that discussed how to handle "inconvenient truths" that are interesting from a perspective of research, but perhaps less interesting for CESC partners (companies) because they point at futures that are very not very "appealing" for most individuals as well as for most companies. All companies want "win-win" situations that are good both for the environment and for the company bottom line, but what if there are futures out there where what is necessary from an environmental perspective spells B-a-d N-e-w-s for most companies (such as lasting stagnant or negative economic growth)? What if the activities of CESC partner companies on the whole do more harm for the environment that they do good for people? How do you get those very same companies to "sign up" for projects that navigate that problematic space? With one single exception, everyone who wanted to discuss this issue was a (perhaps not surprisingly) researcher rather than a representative from a CESC partner company... One of several interesting suggestions proposed during the discussion was that the center perhaps needs some new partners with an emphasis on social entrepreneurship and social responsibility, NGOs and philanthropists.

At the social/trivia session, one of our tasks was to invent titles of future reports that we wanted CESC to publish. My group came up with four suggestions (the last one is my very own contribution):
  1. "The telecom revolution: Major forces and obstacles in the replacement of travel by telecom"
  2. "Learning from Africa: The transplantation of lean habits and values from millennium villages to Stockholm Royal Seaport"
  3. "Success factors for the acceptance of societal sustainability decisions"
  4. "Computing in a low-energy society: Problems, challenges and opportunities"
The third, morning session was a little misplaced in my opinion. There were half a dozen groups of so that convened, but some of them constituted ordinary-but-closed meetings in some of CESC's running research projects. I'm sure it is challenging to gather all the partners for project meetings at the best of times, but is it really the best use of the limited time at an annual workshop and where people from all over have gathered? I don't think so. Project meetings to me seem to be a poor use of breadth and mix of the gathered workshop participants. Having said this, people from my department formed a non-scheduled group where we first discussed a specific project and then more generally brainstormed about our CESC-related research interests. In the end, this session for me became the best part of the whole workshop.

The specific research project we discussed is called "Data driven sustainability". The person who will work the most in this project is Jorge Zapico, a Ph.D. student of ours (Media Technology). I was asked if I wanted to be a "scientific advisor" (or some such) to the project and I accepted this offer without (at the time) even having read the project plan. I have done so now and the project will run from the beginning of next year (2011) and for 2.5 years. I will most probably write more about this project at some later point in time.

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