Making Sense is a European Commission H2020 funded project which aims at supporting participatory sensing initiatives that address environmental challenges in areas such as noise and air pollution.
The development of Making Sense was informed by previous research on a crowdfunded open source platform for environmental sensing, SmartCitizen.me, developed at the Fab Lab Barcelona. Insights from this research identified several deterrents for a wider uptake of participatory sensing initiatives due to social and technical matters. For example, the participants struggled with the lack of social interactions, a lack of consensus and shared purpose amongst the group, and a limited understanding of the relevance the data had in their daily lives (Balestrini et al., 2014; Balestrini et al., 2015). As such, Making Sense seeks to explore if open source hardware, open source software and and open design can be used to enhance data literacy and maker practices in participatory sensing. Further to this, Making Sense tests methodologies aimed at empowering individuals and communities through developing a greater understanding of their environments and by supporting a culture of grassroot initiatives for action and change.
To do this, Making Sense identified a need to underpin sensing with community building activities and develop strategies to inform and enable those participating in data collection with appropriate tools and skills. As Fetterman, Kaftarian and Wanderman (1996) state, citizens are empowered when they understand evaluation and connect it in a way that it has relevance to their lives. Therefore, this report examines the role that these activities have in participatory sensing. Specifically, we discuss the opportunities and challenges in using the concept of Community Level Indicators (CLIs), which are measurable and objective sources of information gathered to complement sensor data. We describe how CLIs are used to develop a more indepth understanding of the environmental problem at hand, and to record, monitor and evaluate the progress of change during initiatives. We propose that CLIs provide one way to move participatory sensing beyond a primarily technological practice and towards a social and environmental practice. This is achieved through an increased focus in the participants’ interests and concerns, and with an emphasis on collective problem solving and action.
We position our claims against the following four challenge areas in participatory sensing:
1) generating and communicating information and understanding (c.f. Loreto, 2017),
2) analysing and finding relevance in data (c.f. Becker et al., 2013),
3) building community around participatory sensing (c.f. Fraser et al., 2005), and
4) achieving or monitoring change and impact (c.f. Cheadle et al., 2000).
We discuss how the use of CLIs can tend to these challenges. Furthermore, we report and assess six ways in which CLIs can address these challenges and thereby support participatory sensing initiatives:
ii. Community assessment
iii. Short-term evaluation
iv. Long-term evaluation
v. Policy change
The report then returns to the challenge areas and reflects on the learnings and recommendations that are gleaned from three Making Sense case studies. Afterwhich, there is an exposition of approaches and tools developed by Making Sense for the purposes of advancing participatory sensing in this way. Lastly, the authors speak to some of the policy outcomes that have been realised as a result of this research.