DEBRIEF: Environmental Information – The Roles of Expert and the Public

This is a cross-blog post written by Muki Haklay, Professor of Geographic Information Science in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, University College London and Director of the UCL Extreme Citizen Science group.

On April 29th I gave a talk on, ‘Environmental Information – the Roles of Experts and the Public’ which is based on a forthcoming chapter in a book that will be the final output of the EveryAware project.

The talk (and the chapter) are building on the themes that I discussed in a presentation during the Eye on Earth user conference in Dublin in 2013, and earlier talks in Oxford Transport Studies UnitUCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis and at University College Dublin School of Geography, Planning & Environmental Policy in 2010 (see also my reflection from the Eye on Earth summit in Abu Dhabi in 2011). In the talk I discussed the three eras of environmental information that can be identified: information produced by experts, for experts (1969-1992); information produced by experts, to be shared by experts and the public (1992-2012); and finally, information produced by experts and the public to be shared by experts and the public.  I covered some of the legal frameworks about production and use of environmental information, including laws and international agreements, as well as using specific demonstrations of the information systems themselves, as to demonstrate the practice. I also tried to suggest the trends that are behind the changes in the eras, and levels of education is quite central.

On reflection, the 4 years that passed since I started thinking about the ‘eras of environmental information‘ allowed me to think how to communicate them, and I hope for the better. It also made the writing up of the chapter easier, as the responses and comments that I received in previous talks provided the needed feedback and peer review to structure the text.

Although I was setting specific dates as markers for the eras, the reality is that the boundaries are more flexible and the transition was over time – it is especially difficult for the latest transition of public participation in environmental information production.

The talk was followed by a discussion that lasted almost 45 minutes, and during the discussion, the common issue of data quality of citizen science data or the interesting point about the issue of dissemination as Rob Baker noted: ‘Is the role of experts as facilitators extend to dissemination of information or just collection? Who closes the loop?’ or Susan Wolfinbarger question about citizen science: ‘How do you know when the quality of a #citsci project is bad?

Kate Chapman posted an interesting reflection to the talk over at H.O.T website.

To see the slides from Muki’s presentation and further resources please visit the Wilson Center website at:



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