Public to play part in environmental policy making

An €8.5m (£6.9m) project, which aims to empower the public to collect and contribute environmental data for use in policy formation and governance, is now underway.

The four year project, COBWEB (Citizen Observatory WEB), is being led by the University of Edinburgh, which put together a consortium of thirteen partners from five European countries: UK, Germany, Greece, Netherlands and Ireland.

Citizens living within UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserves will collect environmental data using mobile devices and this crowdsourced data will be aggregated with data from more authoritative sources.

Funding comes from the EU’s FP 7 Programme, which is designed to respond to Europe’s employment needs, competitiveness and quality of life.

The infrastructure developed will explore the possibilities of crowd sourcing techniques and the concept of ‘people as sensors’ – particularly the use of mobile devices for data collection and geographic information.

Initially the project will be focused on the Welsh Dyfi Biosphere Reserve, where it is hoped that local community enthusiasm can be utilised to improve environmental decisions and to help develop technology that will eventually be more widely applicable.

UK-based data centre EDINA is working on COBWEB with the University of Edinburgh and its project coordinator Chris Higgins believes that empowering people and improving information flow is vital to addressing a range of environmental issues.

“Biosphere reserves are beautiful areas with people living in them who want to keep them that way. Using smartphone technology to get citizens more involved in decision making is a hot research area,” he said.

Another organisation working on the project, Environment Systems’ commercial director Steve Keyworth, added: “This is a really exciting project which not only leverages our experience in Earth Observation and professional survey but also empowers citizens’ associations in environmental decision making.

“There will also be considerable shared learning and knowledge transfer that will help to produce application models that work across different European countries and become accepted as the de facto information system of UNESCO’s world network of biosphere reserves.”

Conor McGlone

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie