Saturday, January 30, 2016

myObservatory (mO) for Empowering Communities – Part I (Natuf, near Ramallah, Palestinian Authority)

Providing tools for communities is an important part of our vision for mO.  Information is power, and it can be used in useful and creative ways to improve life quality, including reporting environmental hazards, documenting (and reporting in real-time) violations of environmental regulations, or monitoring of environmental resources. In this and in subsequent blogs, I will provide some insights into projects that tapped into such capabilities.

The Natuf Experience
How did mO get to Natuf? Well, we provided pro-bono support for a UC Berkeley project, a collaborative effort with Bir-Zeit University. The project is documented here:

Jon Sege from UC Berkeley was the prime mover in this project. He travelled several times to the region, and established a network of contacts. I traveled there “by proxy”, meaning, looking around through Jon’s eyes and listening to his stories. To prove my point, here’s a funny story I heard from him (I cannot vouch for its accuracy). So one day a local branch of Starbucks was opened in Ramallah, much to the delight of local residents and ex-pats. People were queuing to get their fill of latte’ and other types of designer coffees. Then it turned out that this outlet was not an officially-sanctioned Starbucks, much to the chagrin of the local aficionados.. who decided to boycott the Starbucks wannabees.. How was this crisis in a cup of coffee resolved? The coffee outlet changed its name to Stars and Bucks.. and everyone’s happy again. I hope we have similarly quick resolutions of the other pending issues in that troubled area.

OK, back to empowering communities. So there is a detailed report developed by the joint Bir-Zeit UC Berkeley team. Take a look at it, it is pretty good (it would be provided upon request, write to me at yoram.rubin at My favorite part is this figure (see below) that shows how an environmental hazard is recorded in the field, reported on a mobile app using simple-to-use forms, and then, with one press on the “Save” button, find its way to the Natuf web site where it is nicely displayed (geo-tagged, geo-dated, with pictures and notes)

Now, let’s extrapolate a bit. Imagine now dozens of reported being filed on a given hazard, or a water leak, or a traffic hazard... and a flag showing how long that hazard has been reported using some sort of a color code to denote the persistence of the hazard (like green for one day, yellow for up to one week, and red above that). Now this could translate into some timely response, right? This approach was not implemented in Natuf, so it is just an idea, for now.  We are waiting for someone to raise the flag, so to speak (just let us know if you want to give it a try).  

In the field, users can collect information on pollution hazards using a smartphone and upload it directly to the site. The information will be geotagged using coordinates from the smartphone’s GPS, and will instantly appear on the map in the location where the user gathered the information. The images above demonstrate the pollution hazard collection form for the Natuv risk map. While at the pollution site, the user fills in prescribed data entry fields to collect all necessary information, and can include notes and pictures taken at the site. The user then submits these data directly to the map, where the information appears as a clickable icon.

1 comment:

  1. Yoram: I love the story about Stars and Bucks! I wonder if there are any environmental projects state-side that already collect environmental hazard data and might want to try out your idea for changing color icons.
    Any ideas readers???