UCD Earth Institute Citizens’ Observatory, a legacy of the CCAT project

Citizen Observatory

A starting point for the CCAT project was the work of the Scottish biologist and town planner, Patrick Geddes (1854-1932), who observed the need to engage the entire community in the transition to a future energy-efficient and healthy “neotechnic” city. Geddes employed mechanisms to help citizens observe and understand the need for change, including a participatory survey process where citizens engaged with local issues through mapping, and via systems thinking with global challenges. These ideas were used in the EU FP7 TURAS project for Reusing Dublin, where citizens mapped vacant spaces in the city, and a number of other subsequent participatory mapping projects in Ireland by Space Engagers, a spin-out social enterprise from TURAS. These projects prompted the idea of a University College Dublin (UCD) Earth Institute Citizens’ Observatory (EICO). 

A participatory mapping project from 1908, led by Patrick Geddes in Edinburgh. University of Edinburgh, Centre for Research Collections: Patrick Geddes Collection, Volume II,  ‘Map shewing the open spaces in the Old Town of Edinburgh’, A2.
“Reusing Dublin, a participatory mapping project by Space Engagers, developed from the TURAS project for the Peter McVerry Trust.”

A feasibility study was carried out in 2018 for an EICO that involved understanding users (interviewing 9 UCD Earth Institute members) and reviewing 13 existing software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools for participatory mapping. The interviews identified EICO as a tool for communications, engagement and awareness-raising, behaviour change, research, interdisciplinarity, and meeting funding requirements. The study produced a vision for an EICO as a ready-to-go and adaptable engagement tool for collecting crowd-sourced spatially distributed and visual data in a responsible, accessible and consistent way that could be used by diverse audiences, representing a broad cross-section of society and including some groups that might not normally engage with research. The study also set out a functional specification detailing roles, key features, and data protection protocols and considerations. The study recommended ArcGIS tools available on the UCD license as a cost-effective and fit-for-purpose option.

The recommendations of the feasibility study were taken up and progressed by the CCAT project, for example in the use of a combination of ArcGIS tools such as Survey123, Hub, Experience Builder, Storymaps and Dashboards. In CCAT, UCD worked closely with the Welsh partners to integrate these web-based GIS technologies into one experience for a number of participatory mapping projects. 

Coastal Communities Growing Together project – ArcGIS tools were employed in combination to develop a multiple-page web app for collaborative tree planting”

For example, the Climate Changes, Impacts, Actions participatory mapping platform enabled citizens in The Havens Community in Pembrokeshire, Wales to upload local information on climate change related issues, while the Reviving Carriage Drive public consultation tool provided the community in Pembroke Dock, Wales with an opportunity to share ideas for the redevelopment of a local green area. 

Over the past months, we have been working with UCD Earth Institute to ensure the CCAT projects live on beyond CCAT in a new EICO, using the same combination of ArcGIS tools. Each of the participatory mapping projects developed in CCAT will be available as a configurable template within the EICO, that researchers within UCD and other partner organisations can use to quickly deploy similar community engagement initiatives. 

Participatory mapping templates available within the EICO

EICO is conceived to be a browser-based platform in which
i) researchers and students will be able to sign in and set up a participatory mapping project without requiring specific GIS or programming skills, and
ii) citizens will be able to participate in ongoing initiatives providing hyperlocal information that, when integrated with authoritative data, will help better understand local challenges and needs, while at the same time engaging them with local issues and via systems thinking with global challenges. EICO is therefore a 21st-century translation of Geddes’ participatory survey process.

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