torsdag 25 april 2019

From Homo Sapiens to Homo Colossus (application)

Project partners in our Formas Communication application, 
"From Homo Sapiens to Homo Colossus: Visualising our energy footprint"

Half a year ago I wrote a blog post about the fact that we received seed money from KTH (80.000 SEK) for a small sustainability-related project, "Homo Colossus In Real Life" (HC-IRL). The idea was that the money would be spent on a fact-finding mission with me doing the heavy lifting:

"I will personally do the major part of the work in the project [and] the other three members of the project (Mario Romero, Per Hasselberg and Åsa Andersson Broms) will function as a reference group/steering committee for the project (e.g. for me). We will meet regularly (once per month?) during 2019 and I will work with small fact-finding missions in-between these meetings."

This hasn't really happed yet. The four people who are engaged in the project have instead met regularly and talked and planned what will or what should happen in the project "later".

That has all changed as of lately. I got a tip from a colleague about a grant from the funding agency Formas. It is interestingly not a call for research projects but rather a "Communication Call" - a call for communication projects. Formas does not distribute a huge amount of money through this call (as research grant calls go), but they do fund smaller and medium-sized projects that "communicate and popularize research and research results about sustainable development".

It is not very strange that it's a requirement that each application/project has a project manager but it is definitely more unusual that "One of the project participants must have a degree or training in communication or equivalent experience [and] At least one researcher with a doctoral degree must be part of the project team". The call is also different fram and a lot freer than ordinary research grants since "Different types of communication projects may qualify for funding, including popular science seminars, publications, games, exhibitions, video productions, digital productions, or other popular science activities that communicate sustainability research."

To apply, we needed to expand our science + art project into a science + art + communications project and find a bona fide communications person who could join us. I have to that end recruited the excellent Belinda Hellberg to be part of the application besides the two researchers (me, Mario) and the two artists (Per, Åsa). I have known Belinda for 10 years or so but we have never worked together before. I have however previously invited her to give guest lectures in my sustainability course and also to be part of our concluding panel debate in that course.

Despite the fact that the text in the application itself is relatively short (9000 characters), we have spent a substantial amount of time during the last month "projectifying" our ideas about Homo Colossus in order to shape them into a three-year project that we would like to work on and that we think would be of interest to Formas to fund. Our project is called "From Homo Sapiens to Homo Colossus: Visualising our energy footprint" and we have also managed to recruited a bunch of interesting project partners (see the image above). Despite the fact that we have applied for the maximum amount of money that is possible (1.9 MSEK), that turns out not to be very much when it should last for three years and be divided between five persons. Our ambitious project just can't be accomplished if not for the fact that me and Mario have the possibility to recruit bachelor's and master's students every spring who will write their theses while working in/for this project. We think we can do that and we have also set aside enough money to pay some of these students to spend time working on the outcomes of their master's thesis projects so that the results can become more useful for us/the communications project. I think we can make this work and the project itself is super exciting. Here's the popular 2000-character summary of the project:

"This application proposes a four-step communication strategy to convey an understanding, both public and personal, of the energy footprint of Swedes from different walks of life. First, KTH, KKH and The City of Stockholm will investigate where to place a number of art installations in the city. Second, the project will create and release a smartphone augmented reality application to interactively enhance the physical art installations. Third, the collaborators will produce and distribute a publicity campaign over social media and other popular channels aimed at engaging the general public with the installations and the mobile app. Finally, in collaboration with Tekniska Museet, the project will curate a temporary exhibit at the museum, allowing its audience to explore the issues of energy footprints further.

The art installation will convey the concept of typical Swedes’ energy footprints through a thought experiment. The starting point is that the bigger you are, the more you need to eat. But what if we included not just calories from the food we eat, but all the energy we “consume” in our daily lives, such as the fuel that powers our vehicles, the hot water that heats our homes and the electricity that illuminates our cities and powers the Internet? How big would we be? Through careful models, we calculate that the average Swede would weigh 20 000 Kilos, or three times more than the largest elephant!

The idea of us being as big as our energy footprint is called Homo Colossus. The project aims to convey it through art, augmented reality, and a museum exhibit and by interactively visualizing the energy size of Swedes from all walks of life; from the poor single mother who struggles to make ends meet to the executive who flies several times per week. What do we look like through the lens of our energy footprints? We invite curious minds of all ages to explore this question through our public, interactive, artistic, technical installations."

The application itself had to describe the project through three different lenses (with at the most 3000 characters for each of the three parts): 1) societal relevance and research quality of the project, 2) communication activities, target groups and communication channel and 3) communication plan and competence. I choose to reproduce the last part below as it specifies what it actually is we will do during the next three years, should we get the money we have applied for:

"This application brings together unique competence in the form of research (Pargman, Romero), artistic (Andersson Broms, Hasselberg) and communication expertise (Hellberg) in a project that combines sustainability research, scientific visualisation and artistic/aesthetic expression. The project group has an even gender balance. The project utilises a number of innovative solutions to communicate knowledge about sustainability research through public art, Augmented Reality (AR) and a museum exhibition.

The project communication officer, applicant Hellberg, will manage project communication channels. This includes information dissemination, e.g. creation and management of a project web page, PR, press releases and contacts with journalists and the sustainability and art community during year 3. Communication channels also include “engagement”, e.g. creating Facebook and Instagram project accounts and regularly posting content there during year 3 (See Appendix 2 for further information about the communication plan).

The project can be divided into three phases:

  • Year 1: Research & Development. ​Research on how to adapt/represent the Homo Colossus concept through a pool of personas. Development of the AR infrastructure.
  • Year 2: Testing & Adaptation. ​Small-scale testing, evaluation and redesign of AR, adaptation of AR experience to artistic/aesthetic sensibilities, building sculptures.
  • Year 3: Roll-out. ​Deployment of sculptures and release of AR app, scale-up of communication activities, museum exhibition and large-scale longitudinal evaluation of deployment.

The project will work closely with three different 5th-year courses at the computer science and at the media technology engineering programmes at KTH: Advanced Graphics and Interaction and Advanced Project Course in Interactive Media Technology (each autumn) and the Degree Project (master’s thesis) in Computer Science and Communication, specializing in Interactive Media Technology (each spring).

This project will afford opportunities to further KTH students’ education through performing original research in advanced project courses and in the subsequent master’s theses. Applicants Pargman and Romero will make sure that one or two project groups will work with project-related questions in each (autumn) project course and will then recruit talented students to do their master’s thesis in the project (spring). Students who perform excellent thesis work will be offered the opportunity to continue to work in the project over the summer or during the following autumn (salaried by the project). KTH students will also work together with Andersson Broms’ students at the Royal Institute of Art (Kungl. Konsthögskolan) in their one-year course Materialities where students (who are active artists) explore computer visualization, 3D techniques, Augmented, Mixed and Virtual Reality, moving images, soundscapes, photogrammetry, projection mapping, photography etc."

Comment: This blog post was written at a later point in time and has been back-dated.