Can we nudge farmers into saving water? Evidence from a randomised experiment

Paper by Sylvain Chabé-Ferret, Philippe Le Coent, Arnaud Reynaud, Julie Subervie and Daniel Lepercq: “We test whether social comparison nudges can promote water-saving behaviour among farmers as a complement to traditional CAP measures. We conducted a randomised controlled trial among 200 farmers equipped with irrigation smart meters in South-West France. Treated farmers received weekly information on individual and group water consumption over four months. Our results rule out medium to large effect-sizes of the nudge. Moreover, they suggest that the nudge was effective at reducing the consumption of those who irrigate the most, although it appears to have reduced the proportion of those who do not consume water at all….(More)”.

The 100 Questions Initiative: Sourcing 100 questions on key societal challenges that can be answered by data insights

100Q Screenshot

Press Release: “The Governance Lab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering announced the launch of the 100 Questions Initiative — an effort to identify the most important societal questions whose answers can be found in data and data science if the power of data collaboratives is harnessed.

The initiative, launched with initial support from Schmidt Futures, seeks to address challenges on numerous topics, including migration, climate change, poverty, and the future of work.

For each of these areas and more, the initiative will seek to identify questions that could help unlock the potential of data and data science with the broader goal of fostering positive social, environmental, and economic transformation. These questions will be sourced by leveraging “bilinguals” — practitioners across disciplines from all over the world who possess both domain knowledge and data science expertise.

The 100 Questions Initiative starts by identifying 10 key questions related to migration. These include questions related to the geographies of migration, migrant well-being, enforcement and security, and the vulnerabilities of displaced people. This inaugural effort involves partnerships with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Commission, both of which will provide subject-matter expertise and facilitation support within the framework of the Big Data for Migration Alliance (BD4M).

“While there have been tremendous efforts to gather and analyze data relevant to many of the world’s most pressing challenges, as a society, we have not taken the time to ensure we’re asking the right questions to unlock the true potential of data to help address these challenges,” said Stefaan Verhulst, co-founder and chief research and development officer of The GovLab. “Unlike other efforts focused on data supply or data science expertise, this project seeks to radically improve the set of questions that, if answered, could transform the way we solve 21st century problems.”

In addition to identifying key questions, the 100 Questions Initiative will also focus on creating new data collaboratives. Data collaboratives are an emerging form of public-private partnership that help unlock the public interest value of previously siloed data. The GovLab has conducted significant research in the value of data collaboration, identifying that inter-sectoral collaboration can both increase access to information (e.g., the vast stores of data held by private companies) as well as unleash the potential of that information to serve the public good….(More)”.

So­cial me­dia data re­veal where vis­it­ors to nature loca­tions provide po­ten­tial be­ne­fits or threats to biodiversity

University of Helsinki: “In a new article published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, a team of researchers assessed global patterns of visitation rates, attractiveness and pressure to more than 12,000 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), which are sites of international significance for nature conservation, by using geolocated data mined from social media (Twitter and Flickr).

The study found that Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas located in Europe and Asia, and in temperate biomes, had the highest density of social media users. Results also showed that sites of importance for congregatory species, which were also more accessible, more densely populated and provided more tourism facilities, received higher visitation than did sites richer in bird species.

 “Resources in biodiversity conservation are woefully inadequate and novel data sources from social media provide openly available user-generated information about human-nature interactions, at an unprecedented spatio-temporal scale”, says Dr Anna Hausmann from the University of Helsinki, a conservation scientist leading the study. “Our group has been exploring and validating data retrieved from social media to understand people´s preferences for experiencing nature in national parks at a local, national and continental scale”, she continues, “in this study, we expand our analyses at a global level”. …

“Social media content and metadata contain useful information for understanding human-nature interactions in space and time”, says Prof. Tuuli Toivonen, another co-author in the paper and the leader of the Digital Geography Lab at the University of Helsinki. “Social media data can also be used to cross-validate and enrich data collected by conservation organizations”, she continues. The study found that the 17 percent of all Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) that were assessed by experts to be under greater human disturbance also had higher density of social media users….(More)”.

Microsoft’s Open Notre Dame initiative calls for sharing of open data in restoration effort

Hamza Jawad at Neowin: “On April 15, a disastrous fire ravaged the famous Notre-Dame cathedral in France. In the wake of the episode, tech companies, such as Apple, announced that they would be donating to help in rebuilding efforts. On the other hand, some companies, like Ubisoft, took a different approach to support the restorations that followed.

A few days ago, Microsoft and Iconem announced the “Open Notre Dame” initiative to contribute towards the restoration of the ‘Lady of Paris’. The open data project is said to help gather and analyze existing documents on the monument, while simultaneously producing and sharing its 3D models. Today, the company has once again detailed the workings of this initiative, along with a call for the sharing of open data to help quicken the restoration efforts….

GitHub will host temporal models of the building, which can then be easily shared to and accessed by various other initiatives in a concerted effort to maintain accuracy as much as possible. Many companies, including Ubisoft, have already provided data that will help form the foundation for these open source models. More details regarding the project can be obtained on the original blog post….(More)”.

Open data could have helped us learn from another mining dam disaster

Paulo A. de Souza Jr. at Nature: “The recent Brumadinho dam disaster in Brazil is an example of infrastructure failure with catastrophic consequences. Over 300 people were reported dead or missing, and nearly 400 more were rescued alive. The environmental impact is massive and difficult to quantify. The frequency of these disasters demonstrates that the current assets for monitoring integrity and generating alerting managers, authorities and the public to ongoing change in tailings are, in many cases, not working as they should. There is also the need for adequate prevention procedures. Monitoring can be perfect, but without timely and appropriate action, it will be useless. Good management therefore requires quality data. Undisputedly, management practices of industrial sites, including audit procedures, must improve, and data and metadata available from preceding accidents should be better used. There is a rich literature available about design, construction, operation, maintenance and decommissioning of tailing facilities. These include guidelines, standards, case studies, technical reports, consultancy and audit practices, and scientific papers. Regulation varies from country to country and in some cases, like Australia and Canada, it is controlled by individual state agencies. There are, however, few datasets available that are shared with the technical and scientific community more globally; particularly for prior incidents. Conspicuously lacking are comprehensive data related to monitoring of large infrastructures such as mining dams.

Today, Scientific Data published a Data Descriptor presenting a dataset obtained from 54 laboratory experiments on the breaching of fluvial dikes because of flow overtopping. (Re)use of such data can help improve our understanding of fundamental processes underpinning industrial infrastructure collapse (e.g., fluvial dike breaching, mining dam failure), and assess the accuracy of numerical models for the prediction of such incidents. This is absolutely essential for better management of floods, mitigation of dam collapses, and similar accidents. The authors propose a framework that could exemplify how data involving similar infrastructure can be stored, shared, published, and reused…(More)”.

We’ll soon know the exact air pollution from every power plant in the world. That’s huge.

David Roberts at Vox: “A nonprofit artificial intelligence firm called WattTime is going to use satellite imagery to precisely track the air pollution (including carbon emissions) coming out of every single power plant in the world, in real time. And it’s going to make the data public.

This is a very big deal. Poor monitoring and gaming of emissions data have made it difficult to enforce pollution restrictions on power plants. This system promises to effectively eliminate poor monitoring and gaming of emissions data….

The plan is to use data from satellites that make theirs publicly available (like the European Union’s Copernicus network and the US Landsat network), as well as data from a few private companies that charge for their data (like Digital Globe). The data will come from a variety of sensors operating at different wavelengths, including thermal infrared that can detect heat.

The images will be processed by various algorithms to detect signs of emissions. It has already been demonstrated that a great deal of pollution can be tracked simply through identifying visible smoke. WattTime says it can also use infrared imaging to identify heat from smokestack plumes or cooling-water discharge. Sensors that can directly track NO2 emissions are in development, according to WattTime executive director Gavin McCormick.

Between visible smoke, heat, and NO2, WattTime will be able to derive exact, real-time emissions information, including information on carbon emissions, for every power plant in the world. (McCormick says the data may also be used to derive information about water pollutants like nitrates or mercury.), Google’s philanthropic wing, is getting the project off the ground (pardon the pun) with a $1.7 million grant; it was selected through the Google AI Impact Challenge….(More)”.

A weather tech startup wants to do forecasts based on cell phone signals

Douglas Heaven at MIT Technology Review: “On 14 April more snow fell on Chicago than it had in nearly 40 years. Weather services didn’t see it coming: they forecast one or two inches at worst. But when the late winter snowstorm came it caused widespread disruption, dumping enough snow that airlines had to cancel more than 700 flights across all of the city’s airports.

One airline did better than most, however. Instead of relying on the usual weather forecasts, it listened to ClimaCell – a Boston-based “weather tech” start-up that claims it can predict the weather more accurately than anyone else. According to the company, its correct forecast of the severity of the coming snowstorm allowed the airline to better manage its schedules and minimize losses due to delays and diversions. 

Founded in 2015, ClimaCell has spent the last few years developing the technology and business relationships that allow it to tap into millions of signals from cell phones and other wireless devices around the world. It uses the quality of these signals as a proxy for local weather conditions, such as precipitation and air quality. It also analyzes images from street cameras. It is offering a weather forecasting service to subscribers that it claims is 60 percent more accurate than that of existing providers, such as NOAA.

The internet of weather

The approach makes sense, in principle. Other forecasters use proxies, such as radar signals. But by using information from millions of everyday wireless devices, ClimaCell claims it has a far more fine-grained view of most of the globe than other forecasters get from the existing network of weather sensors, which range from ground-based devices to satellites. (ClimaCell also taps into these, too.)…(More)”.

Policies as information carriers: How environmental policies may change beliefs and consequent behavior

Paper by Ann-Kathrin Koessler and Stefanie Engel: “This paper discusses how policy interventions not only alter the legal and financial framework in which an individual is operating, but can also lead to changes in relevant beliefs. We argue that such belief changes in how an individual perceives herself, relevant others, the regulator and/or the activity in question can lead to behavioral changes that were neither intended nor expected when the policy was designed.

In the environmental economics literature, these secondary impacts of conventional policy interventions have not been systematically reviewed. Hence, we intend to raise awareness of these effects. In this paper, we review relevant research from behavioral economics and psychology, and identify and discuss the domains for which beliefs can change. Lastly, we discuss design options with which an undesired change in beliefs can be avoided when a new policy is put into practice….(More)”

How Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly helped climate action

Blog post by Frances Foley: “..In July 2016, the new government – led by Fine Gael, backed by independents – put forward a bill to establish a national-level Citizens’ Assembly to look at the biggest issues of the day. These included the challenges of an ageing population; the role fixed-term parliaments; referendums; the 8th Amendment on abortion; and climate change.

Citizens from every region, every socio-economic background, each ethnicity and age group and from right across the spectrum of political opinion convened over the course of two weekends between September and November 2017. The issue seemed daunting in scale and complexity, but the participants had been well-briefed and had at their disposal a line up of experts, scientists, advocates and other witnesses who would help them make sense of the material. By the end, citizens had produced a radical series of recommendations which went far beyond what any major Irish party was promising, surprising even the initiators of the process….

As expected, the passage for some of the proposals through the Irish party gauntlet has not been smooth. The 8-hour long debate on increasing the carbon tax, for example, suggests that mixing deliberative and representative democracy still produces conflict and confusion. It is certainly clear that parliaments have to adapt and develop if citizens’ assemblies are ever to find their place in our modern democracies.

But the most encouraging move has been the simple acknowledgement that many of the barriers to implementation lie at the level of governance. The new Climate Action Commission, with a mandate to monitor climate action across government, should act as the governmental guarantor of the vision from the Citizens’ Assembly. Citizens’ proposals have themselves stimulated a review of internal government processes to stop their demands getting mired in party wrangling and government bureaucracy. By their very nature, the success of citizens’ assemblies can also provide an alternative vision of how decisions can be made – and in so doing shame political parties and parliaments into improving their decision-making practices.

Does the Irish Citizens’ Assembly constitute a case of rapid transition? In terms of its breadth, scale and vision, the experiment is impressive. But in terms of speed, deliberative processes are often criticised for being slow, unwieldly and costly. The response to this should be to ask what we’re getting: whilst an Assembly is not the most rapid vehicle for change – most serious processes take several months, if not a couple of years – the results, both in specific outcomes and in cultural or political shifts – can be astounding….

In respect to climate change, this harmony between ends and means is particularly significant. The climate crisis is the most severe collective decision-making challenge of our times, one that demands courage, but also careful thought….(More)”.

Leveraging Big Data for Social Responsibility

Paper by Cynthia Ann Peterson: “Big data has the potential to revolutionize the way social risks are managed by providing enhanced insight to enable more informed actions to be taken. The objective of this paper is to share the approach taken by PETRONAS to leverage big data to enhance its social performance practice, specifically in social risk assessments and grievance mechanism.

The paper will deliberate on the benefits, challenges and opportunities to improve the management of social risk through analytics, and how PETRONAS has taken those factors into consideration in the enhancement of its social risk assessment and grievance mechanism tools. Key considerations such as disaggregation of data, the appropriate leading and lagging indicators and having a human rights lens to data will also be discussed.

Leveraging on big data is still in its early stages in the social risk space, similar with other areas in the oil and gas industry according to research by Wood Mackenzie. Even so, there are several concerns which include; the aggregation of data may result in risks to minority or vulnerable groups not getting surfaced; privacy breaches which violate human rights and potential discrimination due to prescriptive analysis, such as on a community’s propensity to pose certain social risks to projects or operations. Certainly, there are many challenges ahead which need to be considered, including how best to take a human rights approach to using big data.

Nevertheless, harnessing the power of big data will help social risk practitioners turn a high volume of disparate pieces of raw data from grievance mechanisms and social risk assessments into information that can be used to avoid or mitigate risks now and in the future through predictive technology. Consumer and other industries are benefiting from this leverage now, and social performance practitioners in the oil and gas industry can emulate these proven models….(More)”.