Cities4Cities: new matchmaking platform launched to support Ukrainian local and regional authorities


Council of Europe: “A new matchmaking online platform, Cities4Cities, developed to help Ukrainian cities was launched in Strasbourg today. The platform is a free online exchange tool; it allows local authorities in Ukraine and in the rest of Europe to share their needs and offers related to local infrastructure and get in direct contact to receive practical help.

The platform was launched at the initiative of Bernd Vöhringer (Germany, EPP/CCE), President of the Chamber of Local Authorities of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and Mayor of the city of Sindelfingen, with the support of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.

Bernd Vöhringer explained that the need for co-ordination of support action coming from the local level became very clear to him after the visit in the end of March to the Polish twin city of Sindelfingen, Chełm, situated near the Ukrainian border where he saw first-hand the “urgent need for material, financial and human resources support”. “The platform will be a place to match the demands/needs of Ukrainian cities with the capacity, know-how and supply of other European cities,” he noted, “It will enable faster and more efficient support to our Ukrainian friends and partners”.

Secretary General of the Congress, Andreas Kiefer, said that the Congress “welcomes the efforts of local and regional authorities of the member States of the Council of Europe and their associations in support for their Ukrainian counterparts and citizens”, and the Cities4Cities initiative is an example of such result-oriented solidarity action at the local level. “In the recently adopted Declaration the Congress stressed that democracy, multilevel governance and human rights are stronger than war, and reiterated its firm stand by Ukraine and its people”, Kiefer concluded.

Ambassador Borys Tarasyuk, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the Council of Europe, stressed that the initiative will serve well the purpose of providing practical assistance to the most vulnerable, amidst the immense human tragedy and challenges, and will complement the political support and solidarity expressed by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and the Council of Europe as a whole…(More)”.

Airbnb enabled a movement to help Ukraine. Free housing is only part of it.


Article by Sarah Roach: “When Airbnb announced its goal to provide 100,000 people fleeing Ukraine with free temporary housing, it received an outpouring of support.

Barack Obama promoted the effort on Twitter, and those who could not offer their help decided to support the cause with donations instead.

Now, about 30,000 hosts have signed up on Airbnb.org, the company’s philanthropic site, to provide free housing, according to an Airbnb spokesperson. That figure is already more than the 20,000 Afghan refugees that Airbnb hosts extended free or discounted housing to last summer. Airbnb.org’s goal of providing housing to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees would equal the total number of people Airbnb.org helped through crises between 2017 and 2021 combined.

The company’s nonprofit arm has been slowly building the infrastructure to support more people escaping natural disasters, war and other crises over the past decade. Airbnb’s work started in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy struck and a host wanted to offer free temporary housing. Shortly thereafter, Airbnb launched a tool that allowed hosts to offer their homes to people displaced by natural disasters. After that, Airbnb began extending free or discounted housing to people fleeing conflicts like the Syrian refugee crisis and disasters including hurricanes and earthquakes. By 2020, Airbnb.org broke off into the company’s own philanthropic arm focused on these efforts…(More)”.

Citizen science air quality project in Brussels reveals disparity in pollution levels


Article by Smart Cities World: “A citizen science air quality project in Brussels has revealed a striking disparity in air pollution levels across the city.

It shows socio-economically vulnerable neighbourhoods more likely to suffer from poor air quality. The dataset also shows air quality in the city has improved, but there is still a major health impact.

Between 25 September and 23 October 2021, 3,000 citizens participated in CurieuzenAir, the largest ever citizen science project on air quality in the Belgium capital…

The project is an initiative of the University of Antwerp, urban movement BRAL and Université libre de Bruxelles, in close cooperation with Brussels Environnement, De Standaard, Le Soir and Bruzz. This programme is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Brussels Clean Air Partnership.

For one month, citizen scientists mapped the concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a key indicator of air pollution caused by traffic – in their streets via measuring tubes on the facades of their homes.

The project resulted in a unique dataset showing the impact of road traffic on air quality in Brussels in great detail. Results range from ‘excellent’ to “extremely poor” air quality across Brussels, with a stark contrast in air quality between socio-economically vulnerable neighbourhoods and green, well-off ones.

An interactive dot map shows how the air quality differs greatly from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, and even from street to street. From blue dots (0-15 µg m-3; “very good”) to a number of jet-black dots (>50 µg m-3; “extremely bad”), the CurieuzenAir dataset makes it clear that these differences are explained by emissions from Brussels traffic….

Alain Maron, Brussels minister for climate transition, environment, social affairs and health, said: “CurieuzenAir is a great example of the importance of citizen science. Thanks to all the citizens that took part in the project, we collected unprecedented results on air pollution in Brussels, which help us to better understand the problem in our city.

“While we see that the situation is slowly improving, the concentrations measured still remain unacceptable, and call for urgent, in-depth action. We need to make sure that everyone in the city, wherever they live and whatever they earn, get to breathe a clean and healthy air.”…(More)”.

The Role and Impact of the Right of Petition as an Instrument of Participatory Democracy in the European Union


Paper by Alberto Alemanno: “Petitioning represents the oldest, most accessible, permanent and general-purpose participatory mechanism for any individual who intends to enter into contact with the EU institutional apparatus. As such, the right to petition provides EU citizens and residents with a simple means of contacting the European institutions with complaints or requests for action in relation to “orphan” or “dormant” issues that fail to get the attention and action of other European Parliament committees or EU institutions, in particular concerning problems related to the application of EU law at the national and local level. The right to petition plays different and complementary functions, from administrative and political oversight over the EU Commission and the Member States to legislative agenda-setting, while offering a unique mechanism of representation for individuals and minorities – such as non-EU citizens, migrants and minors – who currently lack such representation. There are, however, still some major structural issues over effectively ensuring the exercise of the right to petition and the full realisation of its multiple democratic functions within the current EU participatory infrastructure. It does so at time the EU undergoes a major democratic exercise – the Conference on the Future of Europe – that, for the first time since 2007, may lead to institutional reform and put to test democratic innovations, such as citizens’ assemblies at the transnational level. Against this background, this study identifies and systematises the EU petition system’s major flaws – focusing on its design, accountability and actual practice – in order to provide a set of recommendations on how to strengthen the role and impact of the right of petition as the privileged instrument of EU participatory democracy…(More)”.

An ad hoc army of volunteers assembles to help Ukrainian refugees


Eric Westervelt at NPR: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II as the U.N. refugee agency says more than 1.5 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland in just the first 12 days of fighting.

The bulk of the refugees — more than 1 million — have left Ukraine through one of eight border crossings in Poland. At more than 20 reception centers along the Polish border, NGOs, charities and the U.N. refugee agency are being aided by an ad hoc army of volunteers from Poland and across Europe who are playing a vital support role serving food, directing donations and helping to drive refugees to friends and family across the continent.

“This is not job for me. If I can help, I can help,” says Krstaps Naymanes, a deliveryman from Liepaja, Latvia, who hit pause on his day job to aid Ukrainians. With friends and a charity, he helped organize cars, RVs and a large bus to take refugees anywhere in Latvia, where others on the ground there are ready to help.”We have flats, houses, food, everything,” he says. “Don’t charge, like, money for this. Peoples want help, and can help. This time need to do! That’s it.”…(More)”.

Crowdsourcing and COVID-19: How public administrations mobilize crowds to find solutions to problems posed by the pandemic


Paper by Ana Colovic, Annalisa Caloffi, and Federica Rossi: “We discuss how public administrations have used crowdsourcing to find solutions to specific problems posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to what extent crowdsourcing has been instrumental in promoting open innovation and service co-creation. We propose a conceptual typology of crowdsourcing challenges based on the degree of their openness and collaboration with the crowd that they establish. Using empirical evidence collected in 2020 and 2021, we examine the extent to which these types have been used in practice. We discuss each type of crowdsourcing challenge identified and draw implications for public policy…(More)”.

“Medical Matchmaking” provides personalized insights


Matthew Hempstead at Springwise: “Humanity is a collection of unique individuals who represent a complex mixture of medical realities. Yet traditional medicine is based on a ‘law of averages’ – treating patients based on generalisations about the population as a whole. This law of averages can be misleading, and in a world where the average American spends 52 hours looking for health information online each year, generalisations create misunderstandings. Information provided by ‘Dr. Google’ or Facebook is inadequate and doesn’t account for the specific characteristics of each individual.

Israeli startup Alike has come up with a novel multidisciplinary solution to this problem – using health data and machine learning to match people who are alike on a holistic level. The AI’s matchmaking takes into account considerations such as co-morbidities, lifestyle factors, age, and gender.

Patients are then put into contact with an anonymised community of ‘Alikes’ – people who share their exact clinical journey, lifestyle, and interests. Members of this community can share or receive relevant and personalised insights that help them to better manage their conditions.

The new technology is possible due to regulatory changes that make it possible for everyone to gain instant electronic access to their personal health records. The app allows users to automatically create a health profile through a direct connection with their health provider.

Given the sensitive nature of medical information, Alike has put in place stringent privacy controls. The data shared on the app is completely de-identified, which means all personal identifiers are removed. Every user is verified by their healthcare provider, and further measures including data encryption and data fuzzing are employed. This means that patients can benefit from the insights of other patients while maintaining their privacy…(More)”.

Repeat photos show change in southern African landscapes: a citizen science project


Paper by Timm Hoffman and Hana Petersen: “Every place in the world has a history. To understand it in the present you need some knowledge of its past. The history of the earth can be read from its rocks; the history of life, from the evolutionary histories and relationships of its species. But what of the history of modern landscapes and the many benefits we derive from them, such as water and food? What are their histories – and how are they shifting in response to the intense pressures they face from climate change and from people?

Historical landscape photographs provide one way of measuring this. They capture the way things were at a moment in time. By standing at the same place and re-photographing the same scene, it is possible to document the nature of change. Sometimes researchers can even measure the extent and rate of change for different elements in the landscape.

Reasons for the change can also sometimes be observed from this and other historical information, such as the climate or fire record. All of these data can then be related to what has been written about environmental change using other approaches and models. Researchers can ascertain whether the environment has reached a critical threshold and consider how to respond to the changes.

This is what repeat photography is all about…

The rePhotoSA project was launched in August 2015. The idea is to involve interested members of the public in re-photographing historical locations. This has two benefits. First, participants add to the number of repeated images. Second, public awareness of landscape change is raised.

The project website has over 6,000 historical images from ten primary photographic collections of southern African landscapes, dating from the late 1800s to the early 2000s. The geographic spread of the photographs is influenced largely by the interests of the original photographers. Often these photographs are donated to the project by family members, or institutions to which the original photographers belonged – and sometimes by the photographers themselves….(More)

User-Centric Services Repository


Repository by UserCentriCities: “…Including world-class innovative services such as Rotterdam’s Digitale Balie, a digital counter for public-service delivery through video calling; Madrid’s Madrid Te Acompaña, a mobile application for the elderly to find accompanying volunteers; Tallinn’s AvaLinn mobile application where citizens give feedback on city development plans; Milano Partecipa, Milan’s citizen participation platform, the User-Centric Services Repository will serve as a place for inspiration, knowledge-exchange and for highlighting genuinely user-centric digital services in Europe….(More)”.

Tracking symptoms of respiratory diseases online can give a picture of community health


Article by Mvuyo Makhasi, Cheryl Cohen and Sibongile Walaza: “Participatory surveillance has not yet been implemented in African countries. There has only ever been one pilot study, in Tanzania. In 2016, a pilot study of a mobile app called AfyaData was implemented for participatory surveillance in Tanzania. The aim was to establish a platform where members of the community could report any symptoms they encountered. Based on the clinical data provided these would be grouped into categories of diseases. In the pilot study most of the reported cases were related to the digestive system. The second most frequently reported cases were related to the respiratory system. This demonstrated the potential of obtaining close to real-time data on diseases directly from the community….

Participatory surveillance is in place in 11 European countries that form part of the InfluenzaNet network. Here it’s been shown to address some of the limitations of traditional facility-based systems. For example, it can detect the start of the flu season up to two weeks earlier than traditional facility-based surveillance. This allows public health officials to plan and respond earlier to seasonal outbreaks.

Self-reporting systems provide similar and complementary data to facility-based surveillance. They show:

  • variations over time in cases of acute respiratory tract infection
  • time to peak of incidence of acute cases
  • the peak intensity of acute cases
  • a comparison between participatory and facility-based surveillance trends.

The same analysis can now be done for COVID-19 cases, which were previously not included in participatory surveillance platforms.

The systems enable analysis of health-seeking behaviour in people who don’t see a doctor or nurse. For example, people may use home-based remedies, search for guidelines on the internet or consult traditional healers. Health-seeking surveys are often conducted in research studies for a defined period of time, but data is not routinely collected. Participatory surveillance is a longitudinal and systematic way of collecting information about health-seeking behaviour related to respiratory diseases.

Vaccine effectiveness estimates can also be determined through participatory surveillance data. This includes vaccine coverage for seasonal influenza and COVID-19 and information on how these vaccines perform in preventing illness. These data can be compared with vaccine effectiveness estimates from facility-based surveillance…(More)”.