Greenspace Hack: An IoT and crowdsource-enabled mobile app to design healthier and smarter green spaces

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< Project Overview >

Urban planners typically rely on macro-level data (e.g. census data) to develop long-term plans for urban infrastructure provision. On the other hand, crowdsourced data is growing in popularity and use, capturing information through citizen engagement to provide more localised, individual and frequent information. Despite the promise and potential of crowdsourced data for use in policy-making, a lack of knowledge and experience exists when combining crowdsourcing approaches with new technology platforms, such as Internet of Things (IoT), which can translate to barriers in adoption rates and relevance to stakeholders involved in the planning process. This project is looking to overcome such barriers to ensure the potential health benefits of green space are maximised, through innovative, community-focused evidence gathering. The project brings together colleagues from the George Institute for Global Health, UK, at the University of Oxford and Oxfordshire County Council, to develop a crowdsource-enabled smartphone survey with multiple choice items and free text based on understanding and usability of green space.

Project aims

The purpose of the project was to address these barriers by designing, building and pilot-testing a prototype of a crowdsourcing smartphone app that will enable citizens to capture information about characteristics, perception, utilisation and provision of green space. Specifically, this project aimed to:

  • Hold a design thinking workshop with key stakeholders from government, non-profits, and academia (Oxford University) to design the mobile crowdsourcing app and inform IoT sensor deployment.
  • Build the mobile crowdsourcing app to leverage local knowledge about greenspace use and access. The Oxfordshire County Council’s GIS team will build the app by adapting their existing crowdsourcing platform.
  • Pilot test the app with our partners at Oxfordshire. The pilot was conducted by commissioning local “crowdsourcing groups” to collect data on greenspaces in their localities. The Oxford University team was responsible for producing scientific summaries by analysing and visualising the crowdsourced data.
  • Hold a post-pilot workshop to collect feedback on any modifications we can make to improve the mobile app and will collect ideas for how the insights garnered from the crowdsourced data can be used to improve the design and build of greenspaces.

What was done?

The main activity was to develop the greenspace app and pilot test the app in Oxfordshire. For the app development, we first reviewed 11 different green space audit tools currently available and decided to use the Natural Environment Scoring Tool (NEST) previously developed and validated by Chris Gidlow’s team at the Staffordshire University. We then worked with the GIS team in Oxfordshire County Council to develop an app version 1.

For pilot testing, we recruited 28 volunteers to do a pilot data collection in 87 different locations in Oxfordshire.

We hosted a stakeholder workshop on October 2019 to get some feedback from our stakeholders and participants of the study. Based on the feedback from the workshop, we improved our app to create a version 2 app. For piloting this app, we hired seven paid auditors to do more focused data collection in 80 different green space locations in Oxfordshire. Based on this work, we built a website (https://www.greenspacehack.com) to showcase our work, share findings, and recruit further participants to our project. A public engagement event, showcasing some of the work from this project, was held in Kellogg College in Oxford University on March 11, 2020 (https://www.kellogg.ox.ac.uk/news/urban-green-spaces-and-wellbeing-watch-the-film).

Results

We demonstrated the feasibility of co-developing a crowdsourcing tool with local governments (i.e. Oxfordshire County Council). The tool was developed using Survey123, a popular ESRI GIS platform, for which the Council has an organizational license. Even after the project ends, the Oxfordshire County Council will be maintaining the crowdsourcing tool. Any data collected using this tool will be shared publicly through an open source license.

We demonstrated that the tool was capable of capturing very detailed information of various types of green spaces.

This data will help the County Council to identify local green spaces that would need further improvement and maintenance. The data collected from this project will be used as a basis for green infrastructure assessment and will facilitate future design and planning processes to meet the health and wellbeing objectives of the Healthy New Town scheme.

Deliverables and outputs

  • Publications:
    • Book chapter: Jani, Anant and Hong, Andy (forthcoming) Urban Transitions, Green Infrastructure and Planetary Health. Economics of Planetary Health. The Rockefeller Foundation Planetary Health Economic Council. Oxford, UK.
    • Working paper: Greenspace Hack: Capturing green space from the bottom up (preparing for submission to Environment and Planning B).
    • Working paper: Neighbourhood green space and health inequalities in Global South: Evidence from Cali, Colombia (preparing for submission to Landscape and Urban Planning).
  • Smartphone app: Greenspace Hack available through the ESRI GIS Platform (Figure 2 in Page 8)
  • Dataset: detailed characteristics of 167 green spaces in Oxfordshire County
  • Website: https://www.greenspacehack.com (Figure 3 in Page 8)

Impact

Next steps

Building on the success of this project, we have embarked on the second project (Nature Sensing, C16) funded through the same Pitch-in funding. This second project leverages the data and feedback from the first project to specifically focus on employing IoT-based acoustic sensors (AudioMoth) to assess tranquility of green spaces in Oxfordshire. We are partnering with Alex Rogers of Oxford Uni’s Computer Science Department and Andrew Hill of Open Acoustic (https://www.openacousticdevices.info), a university spin-out dedicated to building open acoustic devices for monitoring the environment.

Lessons learned

The partnership with Oxfordshire County Council was the key to success of our project. The council provided the core GIS platform that we could build our app and enabled us to make connections to local stakeholders.

As we were making progress on our project, we found other similar projects relating to green spaces. It would have been very helpful to have a better understanding of other similar projects earlier on so that we can make synergy by partnering with them. However, we acknowledge that discovering other similar projects is a gradual process, and we may not have been able to do so in the early stage.

It would have been useful to allocate some funding to support research-related activities. Rigorous data analysis and manuscript development requires additional staff, but we were not able to hire any staff due to some restrictions on staff hiring. Although the funding size is small, it would be possible to hire temporary staff to support research functions of the project.

Access to deliverables, resources and media content

Figure 1. Greenspace Hack App Key Functionality

Figure 2. ESRI GIS Platform set up for the Greenspace Hack Project

Figure 3. Greenspace Hack Website (https://greenspacehack.com)

Figure 4. Stakeholder workshop held at the George Institute for Global Health, Oxford Uni on October 2019

Figure 5. Public engagement event held at Kellogg College, Oxford Uni on March 2020

What has Pitch-In done for you?

The Pitch-In funding was instrumental in setting up a new project that enables strong partnership with local governments and stakeholders. The flexibility in funding allowed us to be bold and experimental in our approach to design and execute the project. The focus on new technology and IoT helped us venture into innovative  that leverages new technology to not only pilot test new research methodology but also enable our stakeholders to experiment new methods which would not have been possible otherwise. Communication support from the Pitch-In consortium was very helpful to create our initial presence on the internet and attract interests from local stakeholders.

Project lead:

Dr Andy Hong, University of Oxford. View Andy’s staff and personal webpages.

Partners:

Follow the project on twitter @GreenspaceHack