torsdag 27 februari 2020

ICT4S summer school (Aug 17-21)

The poster for the previous  ICT4S Summer School (2017)

We will organize a summer school on ICT for Sustainability at the Lorentz Center (University of Leiden) between Monday August 17 and Friday August 21 - welcome!

At the most recent ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) conference (in Lappeenranta, Finland in June 2019), I suggested to Patricia Lago that perhaps it was time to organize a new ICT4S summer school. There first ICT4S summer school was organized at the hilariously great Lorentz Center back in August 2017 (and I was a guest lecturer at the summer school).

Me and Patricia recruited more people at the conference and later, at the end of September, Patricia submitted our proposal. The five applicants who have worked with this application are:

Patricia Lago (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Dan Schien (University of Bristol, United Kingdom) - co-chair of the upcoming June 2020 ICT4S conference
Daniel Pargman (KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden)
Jay Chen (New York University, Abu Dhabi)
Christoph Becker (University of Toronto, Canada)

The Lorentz Center has a relatively long application process and in mid-December the application was conditionally approved, but we needed to clarify some points and we submitted a revised proposal in the beginning of January. Our revised application has now been accepted and we thus know for sure that we will organize a summer school this coming summer between August 17-21.

Invited speakers to the upcoming summer school are (we hope all will be able to confirm their participation): 

Mon Aug 17, ICT4S and SDGs: 
Lorentz Hilty (University of Zurich, Switzerland), "ICT for Sustainability"
Tue Aug 18, Systemic Perspective:
Vlad Coroama (ETH Zürich), "Rebound Effects"
Christoph Becker (University of Toronto, Canada), "Critical Systems Thinking & Sustainability Design"
Wed Aug 19, Design for Sustainability
Elina Eriksson (KTH Royal Inst of Technology), "Research Through Design"
Patricia Lago (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands), "Software and Sustainability"
Thu Aug 20, Societal impacts
Jay Chen (New York University, Abu Dhabi), "ICT4S and ICT for Development - ICT4D"
Agha Ali Raza (Lahore University of Management Science)" Reaching Underserved Communities"
Fri Aug 21, Economics and Politics
Mattias Höjer (KTH Royal Inst of Technology), "ICT4S and Policy Making"
Steffen Lange (TU Berlin, Germany), "Economics and Sustainability"

We still need to jump through some administrative hurdles (such as an "intake meeting" with the Lorentz Center), but prospective participants (PhD students and postdocs but also junior and senior researchers) should keep their eyes open for an invitation to apply to the summer school during the spring! 

I have to press home the point that that there really is no better location for the summer school than the Lorentz Center (whose slogan is "you do the research, we do the rest"). I also want to emphasize that we are interested in reaching out to people and neighboring communities who haven't been to the ICT4S conferences and who could help broaden the field of ICT4S through their presence at the summer school!

Below is the "scientific case" and the a motivation for why we wanted to organize a (second) ICT4S summer school at the Lorentz Center:

Scientific case

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has a central role to play in digitalization and the transition to a sustainable society. ICT offers us a rich set of tools to collect and analyze diverse sources of data that helps us develop and share new solutions, and increasingly, ICT provides new low-energy alternatives to physically moving people and goods around the planet. At the same time, ICT can erode democratic governance, reinforce inequality and exploitation, increase energy consumption, and seduce us into patterns of over-consumption and waste as we buy and discard an ever-growing set of gadgets. While ICT can help reduce energy consumption through effects such as dematerialisation, at the same it generates new demands for energy consumption, for example for bitcoin mining [1,2] and artificial intelligence [3]. The complexities of these interactions between ICT, society and the economy must be disentangled in order to support the growing commitment to address negative impacts on the environment and society [4,5]. 

Since its inception in 2013, the ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) research community has coalesced around a common set of research challenges that address this dilemma, focusing both on how to make ICT greener, and how to leverage the power of ICT to develop sustainable solutions in diverse areas such as urban futures, transport, buildings, food, electricity, clean water, and the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The ICT4S community already organized six successful international conferences (Zurich in 2013; Stockholm in 2014; Copenhagen in 2015; Amsterdam in 2016; Toronto in 2018; and Lappeenranta in 2019); a seventh conference will be organised in Bristol in June 2020. The conference series has, over the years, been successful in developing an interdisciplinary community of researchers, and in providing a platform for discussing and presenting new ideas. The ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) research community concerns itself with sustainability issues that are related to ICT (both as a challenge and as a technology to address the challenges). This is what distinguishes it from others, specifically from the engineering communities that predominantly focus on the use of ICT methods and tools as a solution for more narrowly defined sustainability-related problems [6].

Interdisciplinarity, however, needs to be nurtured. This is especially true in this field of research, which (i) demands collaboration within- and across disciplines, (ii) requires the engagement of the next-generation researchers, and (iii) is in dramatic need of regular discussion and action. A conference once a year is insufficient to provide such collaboration context. Therefore, we are seeking intermediate opportunities for the ICT4S community to exchange results and ideas, and grow.

Why a second ICT4S Summer School

Motivation: In the closing session of the 2019 ICT4S conference in Finland, the attendees brainstormed on the status of the international research community. There was a general consensus that it would be beneficial to (1) actively stimulate growth in terms of both the size of the community, and its interdisciplinarity, and (2) reach out to young researchers. 

Many recalled the positive experience of the first International Summer School on ICT for Sustainability, which was organized at the Lorentz Center in 2017. At the time, the trigger for organizing a Summer school was for the community to meet between the two conference editions in 2016 and 2018 (which for organisational reasons would be almost 2 years apart). This time, however, we observe a more structural need to kickstart research collaborations in addition to the international conference and hopefully resulting in publications then presented at the conference. This structural need originates in the multidisciplinary nature of the field of ICT for Sustainability itself, in which it is challenging to establish careers.

Building upon past success. The summer school in 2017 was especially aimed at nurturing the next generation of ICT4S scholars and we would like to have the opportunity to follow it up with a new summer school. There are large differences in the support and training available for junior researchers in different countries and some research groups have since made significant progress in their own institutions. However, the international community would strongly benefit by developing its shared intellectual foundation for research and graduate education. 

The Summer School in 2017 was unanimously considered a great success. It attracted a broad range of PhD students and Postdocs from various disciplinary backgrounds and it kickstarted new research collaborations that led to three scientific publications the following year. Some of the contacts made at the summer school also had further consequences beyond 2017 and 2018. One example is that TU Berlin-based PhD student Johanna Pohl and University of Zürich-based PhD student Jan Bieser are currently (autumn 2019) visiting Stockholm where they cooperate with researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology (School of Architecture and the Built Environment) and the VTI Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute. In a similar way, the LUT-based PhD candidate Shola Oyedeji will visit the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam as a postdoc during 2020 on joint research in software sustainability assessment; and the Lancaster-based PhD candidate Kelly Widdicks will visit KTH Royal Institute of Technology (School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) as a postdoc during 2020. 

So, the 2020 summer school will be considered a success if it (similarly to the first edition in 2017) results in at least three academic papers that are written by various new constellations of researchers and in many new contacts and collaborations. We expect a summer school to have further knock-on effects, but such might take years to appear (as per the examples above). Should this second summer school be (as we hope) successful again, we will consider it as a recurring event. 

söndag 23 februari 2020

The Frequent Flyer Academy (public talk)

Our talk was held at the Restaurant Lab which was basically full.

Me and Elina recently gave a talk at the monthly KTH Sustainability Pubnight. The theme for this particular pub was "The Frequent Flyer Academy: how can we limit plane travel?" We talked about recent results from our research project, "Decreased CO2-emissions in flight-intensive organizations: from data to practice" (a.k.a. "FLIGHT"). FLIGHT project member Jarmo Laaksolahti didn't talk but also attended the pub. Our colleagues (we recently wrote a research grant application together) Nina Wormbs (KTH) and Maria Wolrath Söderbergh (Södertörn) talked about a report they have written in their research project, "Grounded - Beyond Flygskam".

The pub was held at Restuaranglabbet [The Restaurant Lab] on the KTH Campus and we did not have access to a project/screen which forced us to rethink what we wanted to say and how. We made do with a flip chart and a poker marker "exhibit" which represented all the air trips at one specific KTH department during a 12-month period (see picture below).

The pub was well attended - the Restaurant Lab was pretty full and I was told that 60 persons or so had signed up beforehand. It was also fun that many friends and acquaintances came to listen! This is the our second public talk about this project, we also gave a talk at the Stockholm School of Economics (HHS) in the end of November and we will give at least one more talk later this term.

We kept our talk short to leave time for (many) questions and our talk consisted of three parts:
  1. Background to the project and a walkthrough of local KTH goals for decreasing CO2 emissions from air travel. Our chancellor has recently (December) decided that KTH should reduce its CO2 emissions from flying with 60% between 2020 and 2030. This corresponds to annual CO2 reductions by 9% per year ten years in a row!
  2. Analysis of what flying can look like at a KTH department with 30 emplyees and 95 flights during a 12-month period (see image below). What is very apparent is that the flying is very unevenly distributed at this (and other departments). Half the employees did not make a single trip while a small number of persons are responsible for a large proportion of the flights. The data would show and even more skewed picture if the number of trips (poker markers) were replaced by CO2 emissions since every black marker (an intercontinental trip) corresponds to almost six times the CO2 emissions of a red marker (a trip within Europe). A 9% decrease of CO2 emissions at this department (and based on exactly what particular trips this particular department made during this period) is equivalent to 18.5 red markers or 3 black markers.
  3. A flip chart exercise that ran through the implications of reducing CO2 emissions from air trips by three fifths in a decade - when we today hardly even know for what purpose each trip is made, who (what project etc.) pays for it or even who makes the trip when KTH pays for the upwards to 30% of all trips that are made by a non-KTH employees. If those "unknown" trips would remain at today's level, KTH researchers would instead have to decrease their trips by 80% in a ten-year period...
After the talk we talked to people who wanted to know more. One interesting person was a woman (from Greece but I don't remember her name) who works at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). They have a project of their own where they work on adapting a Carbon Travel Tracker that was developed at the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research. This chat also made me realize that there might be a larger "market" for the visualization tools we are developing at KTH (more to come on this). It could be that we should consider spending some time and effort in the project to disseminate these tools. 

All air trips made at one specific department during a 12-month period.

måndag 17 februari 2020

FLIGHT spring 2020 bachelor's theses

Three groups of students will evaluate the FlightViz visualization tool during the spring term

My previous blog post presented three bachelor's theses that I will be the advisor of during the spring term and this blog posts presents the other five theses (10 students working in pairs) that I will be the advisor of. It is a bit misleading to say that I will (only) be the advisor of these eight bachelor's theses as my role is more complex. All of these eight theses are "generated" by two research projects, "Homo Colossus" and "FLIGHT". I am the principal investigator and project leader of both of these research projects. All of these bachelor's theses are the result of theses proposals that we wrote up in the research projects. That means my relationship to these students is not just as their "advisor" but also as a "client" who wants something done. This can be compared to a situation where a company wants something done (a "client") and where the students also have an academic "advisor" who helps them deliver not just what the company wants but who also (and actually primarily) helps them write a thesis and thus pass the course (in this case "DM128X Degree Project in Media Technology").

So I have two hats when I meet the students. On the one hand I am a client who wants (practical) things done (stuff should be delivered!). On the other hand I am also their academic advisor who makes (scientific) demands and supports them so that they get their thesis together and pass this 15-credit course.

These students do get more attention and support than "ordinary" students would get. The course has a budget and there are guidelines for how much time an advisor should spend throughout the spring term but since they are working with/for a research project, I am prepared to spend some more time with these students. Here are the five bachelor's thesis:

Evaluating FlightViz at KTH (Anna Gustavsson and Kristina Andersson)
I wrote about the FlightViz vizualisation tool in a blog post a month ago. A group of students developed FlightViz for the FLIGHT project during the latter part of the autumn term. The tool was developed to fit the needs of the four researchers in the FLIGHT project, but (how) does it fit the needs of other users at KTH who also would like to know about KTH flight patterns? Anna and Kristina will evaluate FlightViz with other user groups and will thus also find out what questions others would like to have answered that FlightViz currently does not satisfy. We expect this thesis to result in a list of needs/demands that we can take into consideration when we develop an updated version of FlightViz.

Evaluating FlightViz at other universities (Eliott Remmer and Nils Merkel)
Eliott and Nils will evaluate FlightViz at a number of other universities in and near Stockholm. Kristina von Oelreich who is Chief Sustainability Officer at KTH will help Eliott and Nils with contacts (other persons who have her role at other universities).

Evaluating FlightViz at other organisations (Albin Matson Gyllang and Billy Jansheden)
Albin and Billy will also evaluate FlightViz but in other, non-unviersity organizations. It seems like one of the organisations that will be part of their thesis is the Red Cross. Markus Robèrt who is part of the FLIGHT project will help Albin and Billy with contacts to relevant persons in these companies (organisations).

Engaging through design - visualizing the climate impact of aviation in KTH departments (Maria Jacobson and Nike Backman Eriksson)
We will visit one department/division at each of the five Schools at KTH during the spring. We will visit them again a year later and possibly make shorter visits a few times in-between. It would however be good if these departments knew how they are doing in terms of CO2 emissions from their flights throughout the remainder of the year. Maria and Nike will therefore design a leave-behind "installation" that will be updated with new data on a monthly basis and that will display some relevant information or measure that will help departments understand if they are on track to meet their goals (or not). Maria and Nike have basically taken on a task that we specified in our research project application, e.g. to "examine alternative ways to represent historic, present and future travel data and CO2 emissions to communicate and further increase awareness of the connection between data, habits and behaviors in relation to KTH goals".

Travelspeed (Martin Neihoff and Julia Huang)
Martin and Julia will do the same thing that Maria and Nike will do, but have already decided what specific data they will work with - data on the length of air trips (distance) and time away from Stockholm. Distance divided by time = speed. How can speed be used to benchmark or increase awareness of travel patterns at different departments? This is a far-out idea that came to us (the researchers in the FLIGHT project) when we met a group of students and we think this ides is very intriguing (there are parallells to the "time geography" that Swedish geographer Torsten Hägerstrand developed in the 1960's). We don't yet know what this idea will yield, but we think it is really intriguing and are happy that we have found students who will help us explore this concept!

fredag 14 februari 2020

Homo Colossus spring 2020 bachelor's theses

Augmented Reality book cover

The spring term is bachelor's and master's theses season. This year I am the advisor of eight bachelor's theses (our students write these in pairs). These 16 students are divided into two groups and this blog post treats the first group, e.g. the six students who write three bachelor's theses as part of the larger Homo Colossus project. (The next blog post will treat the other five bachelor's theses.) These eight theses are just about what I can manage so I'm not the advisor of any master's theses this year.

As part of, or rather latching on to the larger Homo Colossus project, three pairs of students are writing their bachelor's thesis on Homo Colossus-related topics and these three theses are geared towards the World Expo. That means that if these three theses are successful, we will continue to work with these projects also after the bachelor's thesis course ends. The aim would then be to develop Augmented Reality installations that can be exhibited at the World Expo at the end of the year.

Below are early descriptions of these three projects/bachelor's theses. They are based on the students' thesis specifications and some additional knowledge that I have of these projects.

An Augmented Reality rat ate all the cheese!

Imagine an animal that represented the energy footprint of the laptop in the background.

"Energy awareness through alternative visual representations" (Kevin Arnmark and Mattias Lundin)
The title is a bit dry, I personally think of this project as an Augmented Reality animal farm in your home (see images above). The basic idea is that all appliances, all devices and all gadgets in our homes (fridge, oven, hair dryer, lamps, computers, TVs etc.) use energy, and, the energy that each devices uses per day could be translated into an animal that needs (to eat) the same amount of energy to get by from one day to the next. A washing machine (with the energy label A+++) use less than 1 kWh per washing. The Swedish Energy Agency assumes that the average washing machine is used 170 times per year so the daily energy consumption of an average Swedish washing machine is thus ≈ 0.5 kWh. This is how much energy an animal (say a dog) that weighs around 12 kilos needs, so your washing machine could be represented by this dog. What other animals inhabit your apartment? Kevin and Mattias will explore this and populate your home with virtual augmented reality animals.

Augmented Reality children's book

Augmented Reality flashcards

"Living postcard: Augmented Reality on 2D printed surfaces" (Isak Pettersson and Gabriel Rosenberg)
Isak and Gabriel want to explore Augmented Reality on two-dimensional surfaces. There are examples of AR figures popping up when you turn the pages of a book (for example children's books, image above) and the same technology could obviously be used to endow a postcard (image above) or any other flat printed surface with "hidden information" (a "marker") that comes alive when you look at it through the screen of your AR-enhanced smartphone. The marker could of course also be placed on the ground. One intriguing idea that this thesis might explore are the possibilities that are opened up if you place two postcards near (or beside or partly covering) each other. This idea obviously has 1000 different application areas that could be developed and the effects of the interaction between postcards could for example vary depending on which particular postcards (out of a larger pool) that you place near/beside other or how you orient them in relation to each other!

McDonalds walk-up self-order kiosks

WWF's carbon calculator (which estimates your carbon footprint based on four simple questions)

"Homo Colossus Do-It-Yourself" (Linus Tegelmo and Hugo Helander)
Linus and Hugo want to create a system, a walk-up kiosk (image above), that efficiently collects data and calculates your energy footprint. This is basically similar to the numerous carbon calculators that exist (image above), but this system would try to figure out the individual's energy (rather than carbon) footprint. The idea is to collect data about your energy-consuming habits and summarise that into a number that represents your daily energy consumption. This number (say for example 200 kWh/day) could then be translated into the size you would be were you a huge animal that had to extract the same amount of energy from the food you eat each day (see the first proposal above). If you were to eat 200 kWh per day, you would then be 12-13 meters tall and weigh around 30 000 kilos.

tisdag 11 februari 2020

PAIN: Emotional aspects of goal conflicts in climate change (application)

Our co-applicants Maria Wolrath Söderberg and Nina Wormbs' just-out report!

I was part of yet another research grant application that was handed in last week, "PAIN: Emotional aspects of goal conflicts in climate change". This is a Big application where the work effort was led by professor Nina Wormbs at the Department of History of Science, Technology and Environment at KTH. The one other person who put the most work into this application was Maria Wolrath-Söderberg from Södertörn University. Everyone from the FLIGHT project is also part of the application (me, Markus Robèrt, Elina Eriksson and Jarmo Laaksolahti) and the other two senior researchers who are part of the application are Marco Armiero and Cecilia Åsberg.

The call to which we submitted our application is called "Realising the global sustainable development goals" and the application had to be between 10 and 20 MSEK large (we are much closer to 20 than to 10 MSEK). The project, should it be approved, will run between January 2021 -  December 2024. I attended an information meeting about the call four months ago (October) because our research group had decided that this call was interesting for us to apply to. At that information meeting Formas explicitly said that they are looking for post-normal, transformative and truly transdisciplinary research applications that work towards transformative rather than incremental change, and that they will fund a limited number of flagship projects. Should our application be granted, part of it will be used to hire a PhD student (at Nina's department) and a post-doc (at our department) and this is something we will know four months from now, in mid-June.

The application itself came out of open-ended discussion about the intersection between work that we do in the FLIGHT project ("Decreased CO2-emissions in flight-intensive organisations: from data to practice") and work that Nina and Maria have done on similar issues but from another angle. Where we look at professional travel in academia (travel that is done as part of your job as a researcher), Nina and Maria have looked at a type of "forerunners" - people who have decided to quit flying in their private lives and the reasoning behind that decision. Nina and Maria recently (end of last year) published a report about this called "Grounded: Beyond Flygskam".

Ours and their interests thus heavily overlap and as it so happens, both of us will talk at the upcoming (Feb 20) KTH Sustainability pub, "The Frequent Flyer Academy: how can we limit plane travel?". From the perspective of FLIGHT, this application constitutes a follow-up to our recently-started 2019 - 2022 research project - something we talked about already at the time when we handed in our application a year ago.

The application has six work packages and the (people who are part of the) FLIGHT project for the most part took responsibility for writing (and later running) two of the work packages; "Design for emotional engagement" and "Bargaining with emotions in real-life mitigation projects". These work packages connect to work we already do and would thus constitute a continuation of our current work. We are really excited about this application and about the possibility of working closer together with Nina, Maria and the other researchers who would be part of the project (Cecilia, Marco and others)!


We focus on the goal conflicts of climate change action (SDG 13) and in particular the true goal-conflict of knowledge production and mobility on the one hand and lowering emissions on the other. You cannot attain both goals at the same time and options at your disposal are to choose, to compromise or to abstain. This gives rise to emotions, often not allowed for in transition processes, but part and parcel of what it means to be human. Our inability to handle emotions contributes to the inertia in climate-change mitigation and we claim that a successful approach should also incorporate the emotional aspects of human behavior.

A focus on the knowledge economy is worth while since scholars have a high capacity to comprehend climate change, a responsibility to take the lead in a transition, and non- action undermines their own message; they have great resources, both material and immaterial; and they are also part of the problem. We will study the arguments scholars have around climate change and their own behaviour, what is considered OK for a scholar, and how to understand activism. We will design visualizations for engagement using data from climate change scholars' mobility and work with research groups that aim to lower their emissions. And we will commission a playwrite to write a manuscript for the stage.

The project merges environmental humanities and strategic sustainability studies with media technology and interaction design.

I also think the first paragraph of the application's "Introduction" is a powerful summary of what this project is about:

This project deals with the pain in unsolvable goal-conflicts and how emotion can be made into an asset rather than a hindrance in the transition towards a sustainable society. We argue that our inability to handle emotions contributes to the inertia in climate-change mitigation and we claim that a successful approach should also incorporate the emotional aspects of human behavior. This is easier said than done. “Most people have [...] oriented their solutions toward the easy, and often to the easiest of the easy, and yet it is clear, that we must trust in that which is difficult” as Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us (quoted in Moser 2019).

200213 Addendum. We just got this from Formas:

Dear Applicant,

Thank you for applying to Formas’ call for proposals “Realising the Sustainable Development Goals”. We are pleased with the enormous interest the call has generated – 174 applications were registered in Prisma before the call closed on 6 February.

Sweden’s research community has truly mobilised around Agenda 2030, which was exactly what we were hoping for. With this great response, we see the potential for Swedish research to help achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs). We are therefore pleased to announce that on 5 February, Formas’ Scientific Council decided that Formas will contribute an additional 100 million kronor to the call for a total allocation of 200 million kronor. Given the large number of applications, the grant award rate is still likely to be low.

To ensure a high-quality review process, we will postpone the decision date from June to September.

Here is an article about how we managed the large number of applications.


lördag 8 februari 2020

Symbiosis (application)


I'm part of a Färgfabriken application for funds

Besides the Communication application I submitted to Formas earlier this week, I'm also part of another application, "Symbiosis", that was submitted (same call) by Anders Bergmark from the art exhibition space Färgfabriken.

If this application is approved, I will be involved in a variety of activities around the planned exhibition "Symbiosis" during the coming three years (e.g. "Symbiosis summits" and "Symbiosis talks" etc.). The Symbiosis exhibition is planned to have four themes with different evocative titles: "Hinterlands", "Planetary Enterprise", "Re/Designing Ecology" and "Becoming Human". Homo Colossus has been invited to be part of the Symbiosis exhibition and that's also the main reason why I am part of this application.

I'm however just one of many participating researchers in the application and this application is only one of several things that is emanating from me pitching our "Homo Colossus" project at Färgfabriken at the end of October last year. The other participants/researchers who are part of the application are:

  • Anna Björklund, KTH, Associate professor Environmental Strategic Analysis
  • Nina Bozic, RISE, senior researcher innovation management & the future of work
  • Andreas Gedin, Associate Professor/Docent, Valand,Göteborgs universitet.
  • Janna Holmstedt, KTH, PostHumanities Hub
  • Mattias Höjer, KTH, Professor, Environmental strategies and Futures studies
  • Katarina Larsen, KTH, forskare och lärare. Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment David Nilsson, Director KTH Water Centre
  • Daniel Pargman, KTH, Associate Professor, Media Technology and Interaction Design
  • Karl-Henrik Robèrt, BTH, Professor strategisk hållbar utveckling
  • Giles Thomson, BTH, Department of Strategic Sustainable Development
  • Elsa Vaara, RISE, UX- & designforskare PhD
  • Josefin Wangel, SLU Director CEMUS - Center for Environment and Development Studies
  • Cecilia Åsberg, KTH Guest Professor of Science and Technology Studies with focus on Gender and Environment

Note: it was Mattias Höjer (above) who connected me and Färgfabriken in the beginning of October (only four months ago!),

Here's the summary of the project:

The term "symbiosis" summarizes how powerful trends and changes such as urbanization, climate change, digitization, migration, food supply, populism and globalization are intertwined and create new conditions for the future of our planet. We are all affected by this, from individuals, companies to large organizations and nations. The challenges are often discussed individually in an alarmistic fashion, not least in mass media and on social media. This creates fragmentation and leads to concerns and uncertainty about our common future.

At the same time, world-leading research in Sweden is initiated and many new constructive ideas on how the challenges can be adressed are taking shape. But the research is often specialized and doesn’t reach out to other disciplines, to decision makers or the general public. We believe that a symbiotic perspective is a way to increase cross-border cooperation for a sustainable future. In order to create opportunities for ”symbiotic thinking” and new types of knowledge to emerge we need new forums for meetings and knowledge exchange across fields and outside the academic system's discipline structure.

The aim of the project is to create new opportunities for our transition to sustainability through a close collaboration between research, art and culture and a symbiotic approach. It is achieved through a series of communication activities that create links between areas of knowledge (Symbiosis summits) and other target groups (Symbiosis Talks). The insights that arise will also be condensed into core messages and thought-provoking illustrations for further dissemination of methods and "best practices", be condensed into a "manifesto" and finally a "toolbox" for symbiotic thinking and method work. The concept is based on Färgfabriken's know-how and 25-year experience of conceptualizing complex content in an engaging and exciting way based on broad sector-wide collaborations. Processes and results are communicated on an ongoing basis to a general public in Färgfabriken’s channels, as well as via the participating researchers' communication channels.

This means that Sweden's world-leading research reaches far outside the academic community. A powerful approach to create conditions for new insights and opportunities, to communicate the need for interdisciplinary knowledge and to popularize and use research results, contributing to reducing anxiety and promote faith in our future.

torsdag 6 februari 2020

Travelling Colossus: From Expo to Eksbo (application)


From Dubai to Eksbo (15 kilometers east of Borås in western Sweden)

About nine months ago (April 2020), we applied for money for a project from Formas' "Communication call" and four months ago we found out that application had been approved. In a blog post that was published just 10 days ago, I wrote about how the spin-off Homo Colossus@Expo 2020 project has been scaled-up and now represents a significant work effort.

I called up Formas before Christmas to ask if it was possible to "repurpose" some of the money we got for our project towards the new Expo project. The answer was that it wasn't possible (which does make sense), but we also found out there was a new Communication call out and that we could submit a new application there.

So we did. We just handed in a new project proposal and will know in mid-June if it will be approved. In our application, the first year of the project is geared towards the World Expo and the second and third year will re-use and re-package the installations we will create for the Expo and show it to new audiences (in Sweden). Here's the project summary:

Travelling Colossus: From Expo to Eksbo

This project builds on our just-started 2020-2022 Formas-funded Stockholm-based communications project “From Homo Sapiens to Homo Colossus” (dnr 2019-01717). The concept of Homo Colossus builds on a thought experiment: what if we were giant creatures that ate all the energy we use in our everyday lives? The average Swede currently “consumes” upwards to 100 times more energy than the energy content of the food we eat. Preliminary calculations indicate that a giant human that ate that much energy would weigh around 30 000 kilos and we will illustrate the size of our energy footprint through Augmented Reality (AR).

Homo Colossus has made rapid progress. In November 2019, it was invited to represent KTH at the upcoming World Expo in Dubai for two weeks (Nov 2020, Feb 2021). In December, Homo Colossus was also invited to be part of the permanent exhibition at the Swedish pavilion for the duration of the World Expo (October 2020 - April 2021). Embracing the blatant contradictions of representing sustainability at the World Expo, Homo Colossus will nonetheless travel to Dubai to tell people why it’s grossly unsustainable to travel to the World Expo in Dubai.

A large part of the expected 25 million visitors to the World Expo will belong to a global elite of “decision-makers”. At KTH, we are currently developing a number of installations for the World Expo, but why should these exhibits be available only to a global elite that can afford to go to the World Expo? This communication proposal aims to reshape the most relevant Homo Colossus installations from the Dubai World Expo (year 1) and create a travelling exhibition (year 2) that will visit different cities in Sweden (year 3).

For the travelling exhibition, KTH cooperates with Konstfrämjandet, an organisation that has over 70 years of experience with organising travelling exhibitions together with its many districts and member organizations (for example educational associations, trade unions and social movements). We will recruit among Konstfrämjandet’s districts and members and develop a study plan and educational materials pertaining to Homo Colossus and related topics (sustainability, energy use, consumption, transport, social equity, the SDGs etc.). This material will be used in several (parallel) study circles in different parts of the country (autumn 2022) and will also serve to prepare local organisations to receive and display the travelling exhibition, “Travelling Colossus” (winter 2022).

I think we have handed in a good application and that it in several respects is stronger than our previous (approved) application. Despite the fact that we have yet to produce something concrete, we have already "proved" the soundness of the Homo Colossus concept by successfully pitching it left and right, including getting invited to be part of the permanent exhibition at the Swedish pavilion at the upcoming World Expo. The new application is more ambitious than ever:

Covering the research/education angle we have me, Mario Romero and a new Ph.D. student who will start to work at KTH later this spring. Covering the art angle we again have Åsa Andersson Broms (Royal Institute of Art) and Per Hasselberg (Konstfrämjandet/The People's Movements for Art Promotion). Covering the communication angel we again have Belinda Retourné (Changeancy) but this time also strengthened by Marianne Loor (KTH). Both me and Marianne will work 10% in the project without charging the project budget as our work would be paid by KTH. While Per would get paid by the project, the application fits what he already does at Konstfrämjandet and he would "double up" and perform additional work in the project that would be paid by Konstfrämjandet.

All in all, there are many moving parts that fit together nicely in the application. The point is that things should go together in a way that sounds "natural" in an application - but there is a lot of hard intellectual labor to get the ideas to align and fit together and then to be able to express that clearly and succinctly in text. This has kept me quite busy lately - but I believe we have succeeded with writing a strong application. Here is our communication plan:

This application brings together unique competence in the form of research (Pargman, Romero, PhD student), artistic (Andersson Broms, Hasselberg) and communication expertise (Retourné, Loor) in a project that combines sustainability research, scientific visualization and artistic/aesthetic expression. The project group has an even gender balance.

The communication efforts are divided between an operational part (Retourné) and a strategic part (Loor). Retourné will mainly focus on information dissemination and content production e.g. creation and management of a project web page, social media accounts and general PR, as well as contacts with journalists and with the sustainability and art communities. Loor will mainly focus on KTH communication channels and extended research communication related to open science and public engagement as well as contacts with educational stakeholders, e.g. academic channels and the adult educational associations (studieförbund). The project can be divided into three phases:

Year 1: Technical development & Deployment at the World Expo.
  • The first phase of the project (led by Pargman and Romero with input from Hasselberg and Andersson Broms) will develop and deploy several Homo Colossus-related installations at the World Expo (Oct 2020 - April 2021) and collect materials (PhD student) for evaluation. Note: there is already (Feb 2020) ongoing work at KTH to develop these installations. We are currently working closely together with our partners Tekniska Museet and the art exhibition space Färgfabriken and will be able to exhibit (demo and test) our installations there late summer/early autumn 2020 (≈ September 2020).

Year 2: Develop study materials & Develop a travelling exhibition.
  • The project (led by Pargman) develops a study plan and educational materials pertaining to Homo Colossus (sustainability, energy use, consumption, transport, social equity, the SDGs etc.). Pargman has extensive experience and has taught these topics at KTH for the better part of a decade.
  • The project (led by Andersson Broms and Hasselberg) develops a travelling exhibition, “Travelling Colossus”. Applicant Andersson Broms has worked in this field since 1996 with The Swedish Travel Exhibition, Living History Forum, Nordic Museum etc.
  • For organising the travelling exhibition, Konstfrämjandet (and applicant Hasselberg) will take the lead as it is an organisation that has over 70 years of experience with organising travelling exhibitions together with its many districts and member organizations.
  • The project (Hasselberg) recruits national and local organisations among Konstfrämjandet’s districts and members ( to form local study circles, with a particular emphasis on recruiting local artists, local K-12 teachers and representatives from NGOs.

Year 3: Study circles & Travelling exhibition.
  • Local organisations (recruited year 2) form several parallel study circles in different parts of the country (autumn 2022). The study circles will also serve to prepare local organisations to receive and display the travelling exhibition (winter 2022). K-12 teachers who participate in the study circles will bring in students to the exhibition. Local groups will be encouraged to continue their work/study circles also after the project ends by asking the question “what happens next?”.
  • Data collection and evaluation (PhD student).

The application itself is not very long, nor is the grant very large, but quite a lot of time has gone into thinking about this project.