söndag 27 oktober 2019

Homo Colossus at Färgfabriken (exhibition)

Me pitching Homo Colossus at Färgfabriken. Photo by Per Hasselberg.

Less than a month ago I wrote a blog post about our just-approved research grant application, "From Homo Sapiens to Homo Colossus: Visualising our energy footprint". I have however talked about these ideas for year, including when I was physically located at the Center for Sustainable Communications (CESC), a research center that ended its planned 10-year run two years ago.

It thus came naturally to mention that the applications had been approved when I met ex-CESC director Mattias Höjer who immediately went about to put me in touch with Andreas Bergmark at Färgfabriken ["The Colour Factory"] by mail. Färgfabriken is an exhibition space which "since its inception in 1995 [has] served as a platform for contemporary cultural expressions with an emphasis on art, architecture and urban planning":

"It is important to create conditions for free and creative thinking. In this context, art is central. It acts as a catalyst for innovation in the meeting with the rest of society, as well as with individuals. Färgfabriken’s projects and exhibitions have a wide audience, including active decision makers, creators, artists and scientists – those who can make a difference today. Everyone is welcome to Färgfabriken.

Our approach creates space for exhibitions and projects that might not find its natural place elsewhere. Färgfabriken wants to make the invisible visible."

Me and Anders got in touch and I was quickly invited to give a talk at an event that Färgfabriken organised this past week, an "inspirational meeting" with short talks and workshops in preparation for an exhibition, "Symbiosis", that Färgfabriken will put together next year:

"We will discuss and develop ideas and examples of symbiotic thinking that have the potential to break habitual thinking patterns and which in the long run can create the conditions for a better future."

The Symbiosis exhibition will have four themes; "hinterlands", "de-signing ecology", "becoming human" and "planetary enterprise". I was a bit unclear about the exact purpose of the inspirational meeting, about who would be there and about my role in the event, but I got together with Anders to discuss these and other issues a week in advance. It turns out that Homo Colossus had made a quick career; the purpose of our presentation was not any longer to pitch our project to Färgfabriken, but instead to be part of Färgfabriken's pitch to their corporate partners/sponsors!

I was accompanied to the meeting by Homo Colossus project colleague Per Hasselberg (Konstfrämjandet) and I also met up with Mattias Höjer there (he has some kind of "advisory" role in relation to Färgfabriken). The presentation went very well so it does indeed seem that Homo Colossus will be part of the upcoming exhibition Symbiosis exhibition (more to follow on this topic next year).

I also met Jonna Holmstedt at the event. She's an artist who also has a ph.d. in visual arts and she is currently associated with the KTH Posthumanities Hub. It turned out that she too is an aficionado of brilliant Swedish social psychologist Johan Asplund and we will surely meet again at KTH in the not too distant future!

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

Addendum: The Symbiosis exhibitions has been postponed; it was supposed to open in the spring of 2020 but will instead open in the autumn. This is actually better for us and our project starts in January and it would have been hard to get something together already by April.

söndag 20 oktober 2019

The Train Conference Day (symposium)

Image: The long and winding road from starting a Facebook group to becoming an influence

I attended the Train Conference Day [Tågkonferensdagen] this past week. My new research project FLIGHT ("Decreased CO2-emissions in flight-intensive organisations") is the concrete justification for attending. Here's the background to why there was a Train Conference Day in the first place:

More than 100 000 Swedes have by now joined the [Swedish-language] Train Holiday Facebook group to get inspiration for holiday train journeys and more than 1000 persons attended the Train Holiday Meeting back in March. More companies and organisations now want to take the train to their meetings.
- But which destinations and conference facilities are suitable?
- How can the trip itself be made part of the conference?
- What have other companies already done?
- And how does it matter to the climate if we take the train?

These and many other questions will be answered during the Train Conference Day 2019 at Clarion Hotel Stockholm.

The founder of the Train Holiday Facebook group, Susanna Elfors, is an old acquaintance of mine and she gave a short talk about her own personal journal from being a researcher (she has a ph.d. from KTH Royal Institute of Technology) and a social entrepreneur to an influences. Her train event partner and fellow co-organiser, Andreas Sidkvist, gave a short talk about obstacles and possibilities for chartering trains (which can be compared to how some companies are in the habit of chartering a plane).

The day for the most part consisted of a long line of inspiring 10 or 15 minutes long talks and my FLIGHT research colleague Markus Robért gave one of these talks. I will present some of these talks and I start with the four talks that interested me personally the most first (but all the talks were interesting!).

- Susannas Elfors presented the background to it all and she is right now surfing on an incredible groundswell movement with a half a decade long pre-history; she participated in a charter train trip to lake Garda in northern Italy together with her family five years ago. The trip wasn't very smooth and it tried the patience even of someone who was very motivated to take the train so she started a Facebook group afterwards (2014) to exchange advice and discuss train vacations. At the end of 2017, the group had a few thousand members. Then it exploded and the group now has more than 100 000 members and it consists of 70% women who join primarily due to climate-related reasons and 30% men who join because they love trains! (More than a third of the group members are women between 35 and 54.) There have since been numerous interviews and media coverage. Susanna and Andreas have started an event company and they now try to find ways to secure a stable income from all of this (Susanna complained that many others make money of the massive interest in train vacations but they don't yet). Susanna also mentioned that in Sweden we have now gone from "flygskam" (flight shamemore, more and even more) and "smygflyg" (sneak flying, e.g. flying but keeping quite about it) to "tågskryt" (train bragging). Susanna has also edited a coffee-table book, Tågsemester ("Train vacation") that I bought - it's the perfect Christmas gift!

A to me really interesting talk was that of Jim Werngren who works at Folkhälsomyndigheten [The Swedish Public Health Agency] and who talked about "Train bonus - a tool for sustainable business travel". The agency has two offices, one in Stockholm and one in Östersund (550 kilometers north) and Jim had, as a union representative, done a wonderful job to promote travelling by train between their offices instead of flying (which has traditionally been the norm). It turns out that not only is train the better choice for the environment but it's also the less expensive choice and through his personal industrious and indefatigable work, they now have new rules at this governmental agency. Flying is taxed internally and anyone who takes the train at distances above 500 kilometers (e.g. between their two offices) gets a salary bonus of 550 SEK per trip AND can also account for the extra time if the working day becomes longer than 8 hours ["endagsförrättningstillägg"]. Due to his work, The Swedish Public Health Agency got Swedish Rail's diploma for sustainable travel this year!

Another talk that was both interesting and instrumentally useful was Maria Klint's talk about using the train trip itself for conducting a company workshop. Maria works at the service and UX design agency Antrop  and her talk was very super inspiring since we are discussing to pay for a train trip to the upcoming (June 2020) ICT for Sustainability conference in Bristol for our whole research group. Maria's talk was very practical as she shared her experiences and she also offered to share the "conversation cards" they produced and used on their trip.

Another inspiring talk was that of Joakim Crona who is a doctor and a researcher at Uppsala University Hospital who wanted to travel by train to the huge research conference about cancer research in Barcelona that "everybody" in his field travels to (we're talking about 20 000 attendees!). He gave a very practical talk with lots of pictures of him designing a sign (Greta Thunberg style), taking photos and recoding a YouTube video that "went viral" (within a limited community of researchers). He then took the train from Uppsala to Barcelona and got more and more company when researchers joined up as they travelled through Europe. Joakim mentioned that he did nothing but talk about taking the train to the conference at the week-long conference and that they are now planning a second trip through Europe (now with increased administrative support - two other persons from Academic Conferences (a full-service Professional Congress Organizer for Karolinska Institutet, SLU and Uppsala university) had joined him at the Train Conference Day to learn more).

Other really interesting (but to me less instrumentally useful) talks were:

Thomas Eneroth, Swedish minister for Infrastructure who discussed investments in trains and tracks and routes - he said he wanted to give us more and better night trains to the continent - Hamburg, Berlin and Brussels! He also wants it to be easier to book trips and discussed how work is being done to make that happen. Thomas is apparently is a fan of the Train Holiday Facebook group. He gave the opening talk and then had to hurry away and while he said many nice things about trains, others snidely mentioned that he says nice things about cars and planes when he talks to other audiences. Still, it was hard not to be affected and infected by his enthusiasm for trains.

Jens Forsmark from Naturskyddsföreningen [the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation] is their expert on sustainable transportation and he talked about the train as the obvious choice in organisations' sustainability work. His fact-filled 15-minute talk was a fountain of knowledge! He claimed and also seemed to be a calm and peaceful person but mentioned that his work makes him end up in conflicts all the time since he has opinions about issues (taxes, city planning etc.) where there are many strong stakeholders who have interest in disagreeing with his conclusions. His thoughts about the structural characteristics of car and road-based versus train and track-based cities were very interesting! I had a chat with him at the break and we "clicked" - I'm quite sure I will be in touch with him again and that something concrete will come out of it in terms of some sort of cooperation at some point.

Another inspiring speaker was Maja Rosén who started the movement "Vi håller oss på jorden" ("We Stay on the Ground") and the campaign "Flygfritt 2020" ("Flight Free 2020") which aims at getting 100 000 Swedes to pledge not to fly during 2020. What is needed for you to make that decision is oftentimes that other people you know make the same decision. Maja also talked about the psychological dimensions of questioning each plane trip versus the relief of making a decision once and for all. A researcher she knows had qualms every time she had to decide whether to fly to attend a conference in Europe. Then she decided never to fly within Europe and her life suddenly became easier. She also mentioned that a Swedish politician in the EU parliament said to her that "to me there are no airplanes between Stockholm and Strasbourg".

Camilla Lystrand who is travel manager at White architects talked about how they have worked for more than a decade to fly only when absolutely necessary. This is a challenge as architects travek a lot but the effort and the thought that has gone into their internal work is both inspiring and commendable! One example is that internal meetings are planned so that they fit the schedule for arriving trains. Another example is that they always travel first class by train to improve the possibilities to work. The biggest cost for them is of course salaries and they are much more concerned with getting the most out of their employees rather than skimping on the (price of the) train tricket.

There were also a few other speakers who taked at the conference (again including my colleague Markus Robért). The event was attended by 50 persons including representatives from Swedish Rail as well as two different start-up companies who both work towards the goal of making it easier to book train tickets. While it works well within Sweden, it can indeed be very hard to book tickets for a longer trip that passes several national boundaries.

All in all it was very inspiring and worthwhile to attend this event. While I was surprised by how few people attended, that in the end made it easier to connect to those who were there and these really were the right people to connect to in all matters pertaining to train travel.

torsdag 17 oktober 2019

Help save the world! We are hiring a ph.d. student!

The image comes from the web page "Being a doctoral student at KTH"

I've haven't blogged much in the last 12+ months. I did however write a blog post in January about a research grant application we submitted, "Decreased CO2-emissions in flight-intensive organisations: From data to practice" and I did in fact end that blog post like this:

"If there ever was an application where it felt like we hit all the marks, well, then this is it. We were definitely on a high as we handed in the application. The Energy Agency will hand out funds for at least 10 projects and we have so much faith in our application that we were confident there just can't be 10 other applications that are better than our. We hope."

I really ought to have written a blog post before the summer when we found out that the project was approved. I might in fact still do that retroactively (I will then edit this introduction) and I should also write a blog post about what has happened in the project this far/during the start-up phase (e.g. during the autumn). Do however also see this blog post where the first three master's-level project course proposals are related to this particular research project.

This blog post is however an announcement that we just placed an ad and that we are hiring! We are looking for a ph.d. student who wants to join our project and our research group! 

The job ad is available here (in English) and here (in Swedish) and the deadline to apply is Thursday November 7. We will then set aside time to sort out applications that do not fulfil the formal requirement and then try to further winnow down the applications to get between 3-5 applicants that we think are highly interesting.

Me and my colleague Elina Eriksson put together the ad. Much of it consists of boilerplate text - text that will be found in any ad for a ph.d. position at KTH (e.g. we offer "Work and study in Stockholm, one of Europe’s fastest-growing capitals, which is close to both nature and the sea"). I will here point out the significant parts of the ad that makes it different from other ads.

1) The super-short description of the project that the ph.d. student will work in and what his/her tasks mainly will consist of:

You will join an interdisciplinary research project that aims to decrease carbon emissions in flight-intensive organizations. We work collaboratively with other ongoing efforts to decrease carbon emissions at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. The project will develop interaction tools and methods to visualize, engage and help individuals and departments to become aware of and decrease unnecessary flying. You will help us explore and develop novel concepts and design proposals to support behavior change on an individual and organizational level. Our project will contribute to KTH’s overarching sustainability goal to decrease carbon emissions from flight with 20% during the current four-year period.

2) We are looking for someone who wants to work with sustainability and design and has (some kind of) background in design is a requirement:

To be admitted to postgraduate education (Chapter 7, 39 § Swedish Higher Education Ordinance), the applicant must [...]
• have a specialisation (or prior experience) in design, for example interaction design. 

Comment: there are several requirements that are non-negotiable such as for example having passed a degree at an advanced level (same for all ph.d. positions at KTH). We added this requirement to this particular ph.d. position and it means that many who might have wanted to apply will not be able to do so (or will be sorted away in the first pass). While design background/experience is a requirement, we are pretty open about what kind of design. While we exemplify with "interaction design" (something that allows students from our own engineering programme in media technology to apply), other types of designers are also welcome to apply, for example industrial designers, service designers, (user) experience designers etc. 

3) While some kind of design experience/background is a requirement, there is also a less binding wish list of characteristics of which most (again) consists of boilerplate text (e.g. the applicant should have the "ability to independently pursue his or her work" but also the "ability to collaborate with others"). The following two criteria have however been added by us for this ph.d. position in particular:

In order to succeed as a doctoral student at KTH, you need to be goal oriented and persevering in your work. In the selection of the applicants, the following will be assessed: 
• ability to come up with ideas and new approaches (creativity), and
• English proficiency in reading, writing and speaking.

Comment: it is hard for me to imagine hiring someone who isn't good or at least decent at writing. For someone who finds writing to be tedious and difficult, my general advice would be to not apply for a ph.d. position. Five years as a ph.d. student for for the person who hates writing would mean a world of pain. I'm surprised that proficiency in reading and writing in English isn't a requirement for all ph.d. positions at our university. 

Comment: the creativity criteria will be a bit tricky to evaluate but we felt that the project really needs a person who has an innovative way of thinking which can be put into practice and which leads to results. This criteria also fits together with the design requirement above. The project will include various "design interventions" and we want someone who is creative and can contribute with new ideas!

4) As to what background material to hand in as part of the application, we added the following two elements (besides a CV, a degree certificate etc.):

• Contact information for at least two reference persons. 
• Your master’s thesis or a representative equivalent publication or technical report. 

Comment: we will in fact check this up carefully for the last 3-5 applicants that we will choose between!

5) To those who have studied at KTH, who have met me elsewhere or will get a tip about this ph.d. position from someone who knows me, I imagine this could in fact make a difference:

Supervision: The doctoral student will be placed at the Royal Institute of Technology and supervised by associate professor Daniel Pargman.

6) Lastly, we want to emphasise that the ph.d. student will become part of an up-and-coming research group with many different research projects and and that he/she will become part of an exciting research environment:

What we offer: [...]
• You will be part of the sustainability research group at the Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design. This group has recently started several new research projects and is at the forefront of research and teaching in the area of computing and sustainability. For more information, see our web page.

Me and Elina spent half a day this past week disseminating the ad in various networks such as:
- Our department, our research group and in other research groups at KTH.
- Facebook, Twitter.
- In various relevant distribution lists.
- To people/in networks of researchers who look at problematising or reducing (academic) flying.
- To individuals we know personally who work with sustainability and/or design.
- We also hope to reach alumni from our media technology engineering programme through colleagues of ours but don't know if this has or will happen.

Some colleagues have helped further disseminate the ad on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you! Please disseminate the link to this blog post too!