torsdag 16 juni 2022

Traveling in style by train to ICT4S 2022 (Plovdiv, Bulgaria)


This is the trip we made from Stockholm to Plovdiv (Bulgaria) by train to attend the ICT4S conference.

Me and my colleagues Elina Eriksson and Arjun Menon took the train from Stockholm to Plovdiv, Bulgaria to attend the The 8th International Conference on ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S'22). The next blog post will treat the conference itself but this blog post is only discusses the trip (which was an adventure in itself). We hopped on the train Friday June 10 at 16.15 (but the train was delayed so actually more than one hour later) and arrived to Plovdiv Sunday June 12 at 15.00.

Elina took on the responsibility to book the trip and I commend her for her work - because it wasn't easy. KTH Royal Institute of Technology has procured a travel agency, Egencia, and we are mandated to use their services. We are indeed thankful for that in our research project Flight since they have (or should have) complete data about KTH air travel, but they are unfortunately not very good at catering to people who want to find alternative ways to travel (e.g. train). The problem is that as KTH employees we are mandated to use Egencia, but they are (apparently) not mandated to give us good service.

The best (or perhaps indeed the only) sensible way to book a trip by train is currently to do the research yourself and then send screen shots to Egencia so they can charge KTH for booking the trip we tell them to book. That sounds like a pretty sweet deal for a travel agency and I'm considering starting one myself. It would in fact be hard to not do a better job when it comes to booking trains than the "service" Egencia currently offers us. What I personally don't understand is how Egencia could win the bid to be our travel agency, but I guess they do fine with air travel and that train travel is not on the table when KTH procures a travel agency. That would then mean they can do a shoddy job booking trains as long as they don't screw up air travel. It has happened that they (probably) use the Deutsche Bahn website and book whatever option comes up first, even if it is totally unreasonable like suggesting a trip by train from Stockholm to Amsterdam where you have to change trains 10 times (true story!). 

In this particular case they followed our (e.g. Elina's) instructions and booked trips from Stockholm to Berlin (direct train with a sleeper car Friday 16 - Saturday 05.30) and then a train from Berlin to Vienna (Saturday 08 - 18). Both trains were delayed so it was lucky we had planned the trip with some slack between the trains!

Me and Arjun waiting for the train in Hamburg

Elina. In Germany you have to use face masks on all trains (not the case in Sweden)

Our travel agency Egencia could not give us adequate help traveling from Vienna to Bulgaria - they couldn't even book tickets with the bus operator (Arda Tur) that Elina found for them and that operated a direct bus line between Vienna and Plovdiv (Saturday 21 - Sunday 15). That meany we (Elina) had to book these tickets. The smaller problem that follows is that we (Elina) had to pay for the tickets in advance and only later get money back from KTH. The bigger problem is that when we book the tickets ourselves it's basically no longer a business trip where we can call the travel agency and get help should any problems arise. Due to train delays (a wildfire somewhere in front of the train in southern Germany) we arrived to Vienna not three but only one hour before the bus left and we had to hurry to buy food and take a taxi to the bus station - but we made it and arrived in time to Plovdiv to have dinner with Ivano Malavolta from VU Amsterdam (Elina's doctoral consortium co-chair)

The bus trip was better than expected. While there was no toilet on the bus, the bus stopped every 3-4 hours so people could go to the bathroom, buy drinks and food, or in the case of everybody else on the bus, have a smoke. At these pit stops we also discovered that there were many other bus lines that started in Germany or even further away (Italy, Netherlands, UK) and that criss-crossed Central and Eastern Europe as well as the Balkans with a fine-grained network of bus lines to a wealth of cities I had never heard of. 

Macedonian bus company Hak Komerc operating a bus line that starts in Italy

The one thing that didn't work that well was sleeping on the bus as the seats were not very comfortable. There were however not that many people on the bus so we could spread out a bit, but that didn't make up for the fact that you couldn't recline the seats very much. None of us got enough sleep on the bus and I felt stiff from the not too comfortable seats. 

The scariest moment on the trip was when we realized the bus from Vienna to Plovdiv travelled through Serbia. I'm currently waiting for my new passport (post-Covid waiting times are extreme in Sweden), but I have a "national identity card" that can be used within all EU countries - but Serbia is not an EU countries and we didn't realize the route would take us there. Phd student Arjun (with an Indian passport) had the same problem and we were both afraid we would be stranded on the motorway between Hungary and Serbia in the middle of the night. That fortunately didn't happen, they just let us through without any problems at all but it was still a bit scary. This is what Arjun wrote about the border crossings in our research group's Slack channel:

In the destination country [Bulgaria] at last.. further adventures ensued at passport controls between Hungary and Serbia & Serbia and Bulgaria, where my ‘exotic’ passport caused quite a flurry -

The Hungarian border police took a solid 3-4 minutes and meticulously went through each page of my passport and compared each photo to my face, before finally (and very reluctantly) deciding to let me leave the EU

The Serbian border control were more inclusive and merely said “Oh! Indian”, in the tones of a 5-year old  pointing out an airplane in the sky to their parents

The Bulgarian border control exclaimed “Indian! Where are you going” before running off with my visa and passport, presumably to show off to his colleagues - “Look guys! I got an Indian passport! Have you guys even seen one?!”. Mercifully, he returned and I'm now in Bulgaria and back in the EU.

All in all our trip from Stockholm to Plovdiv took less than 48 hours! Months in advance we consciously chose to frame it as an "adventure" - and it worked! It was a great adventure and we enjoyed it a lot. It's however a great advantage to travel with others, it wouldn't have been fun at all to travel all by yourself. The one thing that didn't work was nailing down the details of the trip in advance. Our plan was to have a route ready at least one, but preferably two or three months in advance and then spread it through the community in the hope that other participants would join up in Denmark, Germany or Austria (where the direct bus departed). Due to all the diddling and mails being sent back and forth to the travel agency we never did get around to do that. 

We also had a great idea for what the conference organizers could (should) have done when planning the conference. They should have booked two buses where conference attendees could have booked a seat. These two buses should then leave from central locations with good train connections and go directly to Plovdiv. One bus would catch people from Northern Europe and the suggestion is that it should depart from Vienna. The other bus would catch people from Western and Southern Europe and could depart from, say, Venice. It could even be that these two bus routes could join and merge in Zagreb (capital of Croatia). Zagreb is exactly a four-hour bus trip away from both Vienna and Venice and the trip from Zagreb to Plovdiv would then take an additional 10 hours (plus breaks etc.). That would surely have been the best way to travel to the conference and to arrive at the conference with an instant network of friends.

Furure scenario: hop on the conference bus either in Vienna or Vencie and go directly to Plovdiv together with other conference attendees!

This is surely how we all should travel to "local" conferences in the future, right? For further reference, see this blog post about the future of academic travel. The application was turned down but I think we will submit a new application within a year.

Last note: all three legs of the trip (Sth-Hamburg-Vienna-Plovdiv) had wifi, but only the trip from Hamburg to Vienna had good rather than shaky wifi and this is something that needs to be improved so that people can work during the trip! 


torsdag 9 juni 2022

Feel the energy! (approved research project)


We just found out our application for a two-year research project was approved! The money comes from The Swedish Energy Agency's call "Design for an energy efficient everyday life" (Design för energieffektiv vardag). 

It is my colleague Björn Hedin's application "Feel the energy! Tactile learning about everyday energy use" that got 4.7 MSEK in funding and the project itself will run between October 2022 to December 2024. 

While Björn unfortunately does not work at our department any longer (but rather at the Department of Learning in Engineering Science), we continue to do research together and this application is an example of that. The project money will be used for hiring a phd student who will work in the project, but it will also pay for 5% of my time and ≈ 25% of current phd project Arjun Menon's time. Arjun works at my department but Björn (who thus works elsewhere) is his advisor. Besides Björn himself an additional three persons are also part of the project and I expect I will meet them for the first time during the mid-September project kick-off:

- Daniel Rosqvist is "Science Center Manager" at the Technical Museum and has many years of experience in designing museum-based learning activities. Daniel also attended Björn's phd course on "Learning behavior" (about creating engaging learning experiences).

- Malin Lindstaf works as a project leader at the municipal energy and climate advisors (Energi- och klimatrådgivning, EKR) in the City of Stockholm. EKR are in close contact with citizens and can help the project identify knowledge gaps. EKR also has mobile energy-related exhibitions where the concepts developed in this project could be integrated and tested.

- Anders Blomqvist works at the same institution as Björn (Department of Learning in Engineering Science) but at another division, "House of Science" (Vetenskapens Hus). House of Science has 80 000 visitors per year and is another venue/platform where we can test concepts that are developed in the project. 

So this is a very strong team, but what then are we actually going to do in the project? The English-language project abstract states:

The public’s understanding regarding their own role in the energy system and how they themselves can influence their situation is very low - so-called “Energy literacy”. Energy issues are perceived as boring, abstract and complicated, and research shows that traditional learning about energy consumption quickly falls into oblivion and has little effect on individuals' choices and behaviors.

In this project, we want to explore how people's knowledge and engagement to everyday energy issues are affected if they actually get to “feel” the energy physically. We will develop a flexible concept for portable “exhibitions” with associated pedagogical instructions that can be used in classrooms, exhibitions, foyers and at festivals. With the help of these, participants can playfully interact with models of real objects and situations, where abstract quantities such as energy, power and carbon footprint are represented by the weight and and volume of physical objects.

Previous generations often had a direct physical relationship to their energy use (Borgmann 1987). They cut and carried firewood, dug ditches and used their legs to move around. Modern campaigns such as "two holes in the wall" (e.g. you don't need to know or care where the electricity comes from) have deliberately encouraged people not to worry or care about developing a mature conception of energy and energy use. The energy is instead available wherever and whenever you need it - as if it has sprung forth from a cornucopia of eternal and endless energy. We have become accustomed to energy being inexpensive, abundantly available and ready to be used at the slightest whim ("at the flick of the switch"). This has also led to low levels of "energy literacy" among the general population. An important objective of the project is thus to design and explore the possibility of helping people regain a more direct, physical connection to energy. The hope is that participants can gain a greater understanding of the large (but various) amounts of energy that different everyday chores require, an increased understanding of the importance of managing their energy use as well as knowledge that will help them "strain at a gnat and swallow a camel".

I will work 5% in the project and mostly as an observer/pollinator between this project and my own art + science + communication project "From Homo Sapiens to Homo Colossus: Visualising our energy footprint". I expect I will also be helpful primarily in writing articles, in supervising bachelor's and master's theses and of course also by designing and testing workshop contents and formats (these are three of the project deliverables). I will surely want to apply my evolving Art of Hosting skills to the design of new workshop formats! My previous blog post is about using Art of Hosting methods for designing a workshop format for the Homo Colossus project and it's also very good that also Arjun who will work in the project took the same three-day intensive Art of Hosting course half a year ago!

Last but not least, the project has budgeted money to buy a 3D printer and I look forward to see how it will come to use in the project!


söndag 5 juni 2022

Homo Colossus @ House of Culture (workshop)


Our science + art + communication project "From Homo Sapiens to Homo Colossus" organized a workshop at Stockholm +50 in cooperation with the City of Stockholm and Kulturhuset (House of Culture)!

A high-level UN meeting has been held in Stockholm this past week, Stockholm+50. The UN meeting also commemorates the 1972  United Nations Conference on the Human Environment that was held in Stockholm - the first large UN-held conference on the environment. Besides the UN meeting itself, numerous activities have been organized in Stockholm during the past week by the civil society and other actors, including by the City of Stockholm. 

We were invited by the City of Stockholm to be part of the activities that were planned to happen right in the center of Stockholm - at Sergels Torg and in Kulturhuset (The Stockholm House of Culture). This happened three months in advance and our research project have since designed, developed and implemented a 2-hour workshop format for the Stockholm+50 event - see the invitation to the event above.

During the first month, there was a lot of planning and decisions-making (who is the target audience, would you need to sign up in advance, should school classes or individuals sign up, what help would we need in terms of materials and personnel etc.). We decided to target youths and young adults (14-25 years old). They are also the audience for quite some activities at Kulturhuset and this is also a convenient group for us since it's basically "my students at KTH” and “their younger siblings” (e.g. my own teenage children). The City of Stockholm and Kulturhuset also offered support in the form of a cultural and theater pedagogue/educator with much experience of working with youths, Åsa Kalzén, who has been a sounding board during the development of the workshop format. Åsa came to the kick-off for our detailed workshop planning - a design meeting at KTH a month in advance of the workshop itself. 

 Our first planning session. 
From left to right: Daniel, Belinda, Per, Åsa K, Åsa AB. Behind the camera: Mario.

While there are five persons in our science + art + communication project, it was me and Belinda who took on the responsibility of planning and leading this workshop. While I have known Belinda for the better part of a decade, I have not worked that closely with her before, but we had a great cooperation and met at least once per week in the run-up to the workshop (often in front of a whiteboard).

There were certainly many challenges in the communication between us and the City of Stockholm. Less than a week in advance we had no idea how many had signed up for our Friday and our Saturday workshops - or even if there would be a workshop at all. It later turned out the project leader did not herself have that information without reaching out to another part of the City of Stockholm organization. And while the design of the invitation (above) is great, it could have been even better (for example with a QR code!) if we had been able to provide just a little more input - but the design was also done by "difficult-to-reach people elsewhere in the organization". I have not worked a lot with City of Stockholm but based on this experience, it seems to be a mature compartmentalized bureaucracy. The event accepted sign-ups up until the very last minute, so it wasn't until Friday we found out that not enough people had signed up for our Saturday workshop and we had to pull the plug and cancel it. This was very unfortunate as we had planned to show some really cool things (Augmented Reality!) on Saturday that we couldn't show on Friday.

Testing off-the-shelf Augmented Reality (not specifically adapted to our purposes and our project)

But also our Friday workshop was threatened at the very last minute. On my way to Kulturhuset at the day of the event, I called the school teacher who would show up with her class mid-day. Shen then apologized profusely as she told me on the phone (with just a few hours advance notice) that she had double-booked her school class and that they had to cancel our workshop. That was definitely the lowest point of the day. Me and Belinda (in a semi-panicked state) were very close to cancelling also the Friday the workshop at that point. 

BUT, this disaster was followed by incredible other-worldly luck. Our first stroke of luck was that we had two total heroes working as liaison officers between Kulturhuset and us, namely Åsa K (above) and Ingemar. As me and Belinda made emergency plans to reformat our workshop so it would work for more temporary walk-in passers-by, Åsa and Ingemar accustomed and propositioned a larger group of people who just happened to hang around outside (remember, this was in the very center of Stockholm) and they invited/convinced them to take part of the workshop - to which they agreed! This group returned one hour later since we (again) needed to rework and replan, including translating the workshop from Swedish to English on the fly. We thus in the end gave the workshop to a group of 16 who by an incredible stroke of luck consisted of 50% teachers and 50% students AND 50% of the teachers and students came from Sundsvall (northern Sweden) and the other half from Bogotá, Colombia (my father was born in Colombia! My uncle who just turned 80 lives in Bogotá! I've been Bogotá several times - but not in the last 25 years!). So we had a dream group of participants that was further strengthened by our specially invited guests Siri and Julia who works at Tekniska Museet (the Stockholm Technical Museum) and Per who works in the Homo Colossus project but who had not been involved in planning the workshop.

The workshop itself was planned together with Belinda and according to my recently-acquired Art of Hosting co-creation methods & skills (see more here and here), and, it was a success! Everybody loved it and everybody was thankful. Me and Belinda were thankful this particular group showed up and made the workshop possible, and they were thankful we organized a customized workshop "just for them"!

Siri and Julia from Tekniska Museet were also happy and they invited us to present our Homo Colossus project at a personell meeting at Tekniska Museet after the summer. We already cooperate with Tekniska Museet and we are interested in further developing this two-hour Homo Colossus workshop so that they can use it when school classes visit them. We hope to be able to work on this during the autumn, and having Siri and Julia experience the workshop themselves was a great start. All in all we went from the lowest low to the highest high and the workshop became a total success (by fluke of luck)!

Me, starting up the 15-minute mini-lecture to an audience of Swedish and Colombian teachers and students.

The core or the workshop consisted of a 15 minutes long mini-lecture and an hour-long World Café exercise with three separate discussion rounds that were structured around the questions:
  • 1) What is energy? What is energy for you?
  • 2) How do you use energy in your everyday life?
The third question was preceded by an exercise where participants self-sorted along an axis across the room and according to their answer to the following question: "As we heard [in the mini-lecture], we currently face a challenge that is a combination of 1) exchanging fossil fuels for renewable energy sources and 2) use less energy. Stand over there [at the other end of the room] if you think the answer is to aim for alternative 1 and over here if you think the answer is to aim for alternative 2 - or you can choose to stand somewhere in-between 1 and 2 according to your personal position on this question. I then divided the participants into four groups depending on where they stood in relation to the two alternatives. 
  • 3) Based on your position in the self-sorting exercise, please discuss "ways forward".

World Café round 2 (second color of post-it notes has just been put into play).

The major part of the last half hour was spend on "harvesting"; on giving the participants the opportunityu to think and discuss the workshop (contents, format) based on these three questions:
- What was the best part of the workshop?
- Do you have any suggestions for improvements? [This is a more polite way of asking what they didn't like about the workshop.]
- What is the next step (for yourselves in terms of thinking/acting/doing)? Back-up question: what's the next step for society?

Each person was encouraged to write one post-it note per question. We haven't really looked at the post-its yet but me and Belinda will go through and analyze the feedback we received after the summer!

My workshop colleague Belinda wrote a shorter and snappier text on LinkedIn a week after the workshop. Hers is the better text (and a much faster read) than this "more complete" blog post and her first half reads like this (the second half has already been covered by the text above):

What is energy? This was the core question Daniel Pargman and I explored on Friday last week during our workshop "Don't be a dinosaur!" The title refers to the actual weight of a human, if we were to EAT all the energy we consume in a day (food, but also fuel, electricity, heat etc). Rather than weighing somewhere around 50-100 kg, it would turn us into a creature of around 20 000 kg. This is the aprox weight of a dinosaur or, as we like to call it, a HOMO COLOSSUS.

torsdag 2 juni 2022

Our MID (department) Research Day


Me and Arjun organized the "Research Day" at our department; Dept of Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID). This was the second time we had a Research Day and the previous was held 18 months ago during Covid so it was virtual and probably did not lead to many new friendships. Our goal was instead to make it as interactive and physical as possible and the goal was for people at our department to meet and get to know people in other research groups better. I think this is particularly important for phd students who have been cooped up for the better part of two years and who might not know or indeed even recognize everyone who works at the department!

Me and Arjun used some of the methods we picked up at the Art of Hosting course we attended at the end of last year and most prominently we used Storytelling as a cornerstone for the event. We have six teams (research groups) at the department and each team has two team leaders. We invited one team leader from each group to become a "team storyteller" for a day and a large part of the schedule was structured around these stories. While neither Olle nor Olga could represent the Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) group, we had no less than five storytellers with us during the event (in order of appearance): Madeline representing the Interaction Design team, Elina representing (my/our group) the Sustainable Futures Lab, Roberto representing Sound and Music Computing, André representing Creative Media Technology and Eva-Lotta representing Social, Physical and Cultural Environments (SPACE). All storytellers received the following instructions a week in advance:


  • Each team has chosen a team storyteller

    • This is someone who currently runs a research project (OR has previous run a research project OR has written a research grant application

  • The team storyteller should prepare a (max) 10-minute story for the Research Day. 

  • You will have the privilege of talking uninterrupted.

  • Do note that there is a strict 10-minute limit. 

    • We will let you know when there are 3 minutes and 1 minute left

    • You might want to practice telling your story once in advance!

  • Use these questions as starting points and for inspiration:

    • Think of a current research project of yours (or alternatively a past project or a research grant application)!

    • What itch gave rise to this research project?

    • What motivates you to pursue this/these kinds of projects/issues/questions together with your collaborators/team?

      • What drives you, what motivates you, what raises your pulse?

      • Why is your research important to you, to MID, to society?

      • Were there any specific persons who inspired or motivated you to do this research? What role did they play?

      • What difficulties have you faced (or are you currently facing) in this line of research?

  • Be personal! Show people who you are, including what motivates you!

  • There will be no slides to prop you up – it will be just you talking to your colleagues! 

  • Somewhere between 30-35 have signed up/will be present at the MID Research Day!

During the event, everyone who listened to the storytellers chose to concentrate on one out of six Focusing Questions:

Choose one of these questions before you hear a story:
  • What motivations did you find in the story?
  • Why is the research in question important to the storyteller, to MID and/or to society?
  • Were there any difficult decisions in the story?
  • What role did other people play in the story?
  • What ideas did you get from the story that you might be able to use in your current or future work?
  • Illustrate!

Since Art of Hosting can (and in this case did) exude playful inclusiveness, I am certain very few participants understood how much time me and Arjun had put into planning the event (except those team-mates of ours who also attended the same course in Art of Hosting half a year ago). Most participants were just happy things worked and might not have spent a lot of time thinking about the work behind "making it work". While the portfolio of Art of Hosting methods is wonderful, it is still necessary to think about the purpose of an event (in this case a Research Day for colleagues at a department), to match that purpose to one or more methods, to think of a "workflow" and then customize the methods so they seamlessly latch on to each other, fit the event (purpose, venue, time, audience etc.) and fit the purpose of the event. So we started the planning process by stating goals we aimed for:

What feeling(s) would we like participants to have when the day comes to and end:
  • New creative ideas have been born in me
  • Oops, what exciting questions person / group X is working on…
    • New contacts across team boundaries
  • Ohh, the (previously unknown to me) method I could use to…
  • I have nice colleagues

We didn't ask participants to fill out a survey (the event was about our research, but we didn't perform research on our colleagues!). We just hope the participants enjoyed the event and made new friends among their colleagues and anecdotal evidence indicates at least some did!

The MID Research Day was followed by the MID Research Day mingle (with catered food at the department). I broke off and had an important meeting with a student during the mingle and then rejoined the ten or so participants who shot the breeze after others had left. I think the event might have finished around 10 pm at night and I would say it was a success - but I'm of course both partial as well as deeply implicated!

At this point it will sound as we only did a storytelling event but here are some other Art of Hosting methods we used during the four-hour half-day event:

- We arrived in good time and prepared the room so there was a large open space and tables around the walls. We also brought some objects to furnish the room and make it less university-mandated sterile (yoga mats, a salt lamp, a sheep skin etc.)

- We then started the afternoon with a playful check-in exercise ("everyone who 100% prefers to work from home stand over there and everyone who 100% prefers to work from the office stand over there and then distribute yourselves in-between these poles" + asking a few people to explain why they chose what they chose).

- We divided the storytelling event into two parts (3 storytellers and later 2 more storytellers). Those who listened were divided into groups depending on what Focusing Question they had chosen and had time to discuss and later share their "findings" with the larger group. Everyone also wrote down insights on post-it notes that we collected on sheets of A3 papers (that we had hung on the walls). 

- We then divided people into groups of 4 and had circle conversations and where we asked participants to discuss two questions:

    - Question 1: What questions were awakened when you heard the storytellers?

    - Question 2: How do you position your own work in relation to what your team storyteller said?

At this point we gave these groups more than 30 minutes to discuss these questions and whatever else they wanted to talk about, and the majority of the groups follow Elina's lead and took an outdoor walk in the lovely weather.

- We had a final harvesting (feedback) exercise where we invited each participant to write one or two short personal letters (or notes, and by all means anonymous) with feedback to storytellers. These notes were framed as "gifts" to the storytellers and we later sorted them and put them in individual envelopes (some of the envelopes are however still waiting on my desk to be handed over to storytellers.

- We obviously had breaks throughout the day and various mini-exercises to liven things up.

Me and Arjun came prepared with a detailed schedule for the 4-hours event (see image above) and with detailed instructions for ourselves and for the participants. We started planning the event more than two months in advance and met for an hour here and there (I can find at least five meetings in the preceding 5 weeks but it could easily have been more). But it turned out great and I hope my colleagues were happy with the Research Day. I would be willing to help/advise the people who take it upon themselves to organize the next Research Day but would prefer for the responsibility to pass to another research group at the department!