Citizen Sense

Citizen Sense

Postdoctoral Researcher, Urban Sensing


Project Info –

Led by Jennifer Gabrys, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK

Funded by the European Research Council


Summary –

The Citizen Sense project aimed to understand the democratisation of networked sensing technologies. Given that everyday consumer devices can now be used to undertake environmental monitoring—how effective are these practices of citizen sensing in not just providing “crowd-sourced” data sets, but also in giving rise to new modes of environmental awareness and practice?


Our Urban Sensing research strand was based in the Deptford and New Cross neighbourhoods of South-East London—the area in which Goldsmiths is located. As part of our participatory methodology, we began by learning about the environmental monitoring that residents and community groups were already engaged with, in order to contest rapid changes in land-use, increasing traffic congestion and the loss of green space. Over a year, we then worked with these groups to build a realtime air quality monitoring infrastructure that measured fine particles of air pollution (particulate matter 2.5), which have a negative impact on respiratory health.


Residents deployed the “Dustbox” air quality monitors at sites of their choosing. Consistent monitoring took place at up to 18 monitoring sites over a period of 7 months. Data was posted to our web platform Airsift, where it could be visualised using different graphs and plots, and in relation to weather data and regulatory standard monitoring data.


Deptford Data Stories—

Data was collaboratively analysed with residents in workshops and ‘Data Drop-In’ events. Drawing on residents’ existing monitoring techniques (including observation, photography and mapping), we produced the Deptford Data Stories: narratives that highlight patterns in the data relating to high and low emissions, set into the context of likely local emissions sources. These were accompanied by a set of recommendations for policy change jointly authored with residents.  The Data Stories were used by participants in campaigns to protect and enhance green space and by local neighbourhood planners to draft planning policy. The Member of Parliament for Lewisham, Vicky Foxcroft asked a question based on our research in Parliament. Our research was featured in London press outlets including the Evening Standard and the South London Press.


Public Engagement –

The Tuning Earths Symposium was held at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK as part of their public programme in December 2017.


Urban Sensing Dustbox prototypes were included in The New Observatory exhibition, at Fact in Liverpool, October 2017.


The Urban Sensing project was included in the City Now / City Future exhibition, and an Air Quality walk was held as part of the events programme at Museum of London, October 2017.


The Citizen Sensing Participatory Lab visited the Tate Exchange as part of “Who Are We?” Curated by Tate Exchange Associates, Counterpoints Arts, The Open University, University of Warwick and Loughborough University, March 2017.


Publications –

Houston, L., Gabrys, J. and Pritchard, H. (2019). ‘Breakdown in the Smart City: Exploring Workarounds with Urban-sensing Practices and Technologies,’ Science, Technology & Human Values, Preprint, viewed 27 May 2019, DOI: 10.1177/0162243919852677. [PDF]

Pritchard, H., Gabrys, J. and Houston, L. (2018). ‘Re-Calibrating DIY: Testing Digital Participation across Dust Sensors, Fry Pans and Environmental Pollution,’ New Media and Society, 20 (12) pp. 4533-4552. [Open Access]


Awards –

Our Urban Sensing Deptford Data Stories won the 2018 EASST Ziman award for public engagement with science and technology.