Observatory Case

Citizen Sense

Citizen Sense is an interdisciplinary research project led by Jennifer Gabrys that explores new modes of environmental awareness and practice in Do-It-Yourself, and community-focussed environmental sensing. The team engage in experimental, participatory design processes – working with communities who already sense their environments as part of environmental campaigns, in order to understand how low-cost digital sensors can be used to extend these practices. What has emerged from the past seven years of embedded research and design is a suite of open access tools called AirKit, that can be used by interested individuals and communities to monitor ‘particulate matter’ (small particles in the air that are increasingly known to be damaging to heath) – and also to analyse and create ‘data stories’ from the monitoring data.  

Citizen Sense was selected because of its experimental focus on air pollution as an environmental phenomenon and focus of community concern, rather than as a clearly defined ‘problem’ that could be ‘solved’ through the application of technology. Citizen Sense practitioners and researchers have sought to understand the specific ways that citizens were – and were not – able to mobilise citizen data within air quality campaigns. Here, research and design are mutually supportive outcomes of the ongoing project.

“How do sensors and the environmental processes they trace influence relations and responsibilities toward environments?” – Citizen Sense

Photo: Citizen Sense, 2017

“This project continues to produce deep insights into the politics of citizen-generated environmental data, where sensing technologies are just one set of relations in a complex ecosystem”