Developing and applying persuasive technologies and system science for social innovation that can help humanity to move toward sustainable, wise, adaptive living, realising that our well-being and prosperity are very much dependent upon the Earth life-support system.
Contact: Distinguished Prof. Alexey Voinov
The goal of the Centre is to develop and apply persuasive technologies and system science for social innovation that can help humanity to move toward sustainable, wise, adaptive living. We realise that our well-being and prosperity are very much dependent upon the Earth life-support system. In many cases, by simply changing our behaviour we can achieve more than all the technological progress can bring us.
The Centre brings together scholars from various disciplines to make science actionable, by developing advanced persuasive systems that deliver information and knowledge that is relevant and understandable to inform decision making and public discourse.
The September 2015 Royal Geographical Society annual general meeting was discussing a new geological period – the Anthropocene. Indeed, the global footprint of humans and their activities has equalled the geological scale and is impacting climate, natural disasters, perhaps even earthquakes and eruptions. Voltaire (1829) noted that “With great power comes great responsibility”. It is yet to be shown that we are able to take on this responsibility. So far, we are not really proving that. As Albert Einstein warned in his letter to Heinrich Zangger (1917): “All of our exalted technological progress, civilisation for that matter, is comparable to an axe in the hand of a pathological criminal”. We cannot be sure if the Anthropocene will really be a geological epoch lasting for tens of millions of years, as geological epochs should by definition. Or if it will end in a matter of a few decades with the collapse of the civilisation, as we know it.
Technological progress as such is hardly able to solve the problems of humans on planet Earth. What matters is how we choose the technologies that we develop and how we manage them. So far humans mostly behave as children: we expect our needs to be met, and our waste to be taken away. When natural resources were plentiful, this was usually provided. As humans become dominant and natural resources shrink, we need to learn to control our own behaviour and grow up to become responsible adults. Unlike children, adults can foresee the outcomes of their decisions and choices; they can build on their prior experience and act accordingly. However, in many cases we already know more than we can act upon.
The classification, outlined by the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), sees processed meats termed "carcinogenic to humans", the highest of five possible rankings shared with alcohol, asbestos, arsenic, and cigarettes. Yet there is no evidence that meat consumption is declining. Similarly, it took almost 20 years for science to convey to the people that smoking is hazardous. Why?
Twenty-five years ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more than 1700 independent scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates, published the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”. They cautioned against further environmental destruction and claimed that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided.” They expressed concern about damage to planet Earth’s life-support system, involving ozone depletion, freshwater availability, marine life depletion, ocean dead zones, forest loss, biodiversity destruction, climate change, and continued human population growth. Since 1992, with the exception of stabilising the ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse. Why? Why last year scientist had to repeat their warning message, this time supported by 15,364 signatories (Ripple et al., 2017)?
In many cases it is not that the science is uncertain or unknown, it is more that the public prefers to ignore it because the change is unwelcome and is against prevailing biases, beliefs, norms, traditions and values. It is not that they cannot change. In fact, there are proven methods that are used to form human preferences, and in many cases, information technologies play an important role in assisting humans in making their choices. These are known as public relations, marketing and advertisement, and they have been successfully explored and are constantly used to manipulate us in our consumer behaviour. There are also other methods broadly covered by the growing domain of social innovation, which attempts to understand how individuals, organisations, and networks may work to generate, select, and institutionalise novel solutions with specific social goals (Olsson et al, 2017).
We focus on developing the following methods and tools, with a particular interest in the behavioural and human side of information technologies:
- Participatory modelling – Models often do not get used properly if at all. PM is seen as a purposeful learning process for action that engages the implicit and explicit knowledge of stakeholders to create formalised and shared representation(s) of reality. In this process, the participants co-formulate the problem and use modelling practices to aid in the description, solution, and decision-making actions of the group.
- Conceptual modelling – Conceptual modelling aims to model systems and their behaviour as a set of interrelated concepts. The concepts themselves are abstractions of aspects of the system. The extent of the abstraction of the concepts will depend on the prescribed intent of the modelling.
- Agent-based modelling – A particular type of models that is best suited to account for various behaviour choices, values, preferences and rules chosen by different agents or actors.
- Social computing and peer-to-peer platforms – Social computing technologies refer to the information technology-enabled social applications and services such as online communities, peer-to-peer services, and social media platforms that facilitate collaborations within a network of actors through the exchange of experiences and specialised competencies and evolution of aggregated knowledge. These technologies are the main facilitators of social interactions, hence increasingly play a vital role in shaping social innovation as well as manipulating and educating people’s behaviours.
- Data visualisation and visual storytelling – Data are not sufficient to influence and change human behaviour. Data need to be presented as stories, in highly interactive visual ways. Visual storytelling can produce various patterns of “visualisation through data” that could be used to educate, influence, motivate or involve wide groups of stakeholders (e.g. policy makers, citizens, politicians, researchers, educators). By creating open environments for data exploration, we empower stakeholders to examine data in their own way guided by their own decision needs.
- Serious Games and Gamification – Serious games traditionally combine a typical game structure (objective, procedures, rules, challenge, rewards, etc.) with a serious, problem driven, educational dimension. They are a powerful tool for engagement and education due to their inherent fun factor. In blending game mechanics with existing dynamic models, we are able to present players with hypothetical situations and scenarios allowing them to make decisions motivated by their own values and preferences. By tracking these decisions, we can learn about their preferences, motivations and behaviour.
- NetworX Analytics - We are surrounded and are part of various networks including genetics, genealogy, social, economic, and environmental networks. Add to these the so-called critical infrastructure networks (e.g., telecommunications, water, gas, electricity, and transportation). The key challenge in dealing with networks is to understand how they adapt, evolve, and behave. We can study them by describing and modelling them, using network theories and borrowing knowledge from various disciplines and applications.
Our application areas focus on health, sustainability and conservation of natural resources. For example:
- Health Informatics & Analytics: How digital platforms support and facilitate peer to peer health support? In what ways various actors in online health services interact? How machine learning and natural language processing can help automating professional health support? How to model online behaviours and needs of health users (e.g. patients, carers)? How to take advantage of analytics for informing health policy and service development?
- Energy and water demand and supply: Every kW that is not consumed is the same as a kW produced. By investing in energy saving, we can offset energy demand in the future. Instead of building new power generation facilities we can insulate our houses, add a couple of degrees on the thermostat in summer, take a bus or a bike, eat less red meat, etc. It is up to us to decide.
- Resilience and adaptation: How do we adapt to our changing environment? Is it smart to invest in the floodplain when flood probability is increasing? Where and how should resilient urban development take place given exacerbating risks of fires, storms, floods, heat waves?
- Smart cities: Making our cities more environmentally friendly by providing better public transportation, improved spatial planning, close monitoring of our choices and behaviour, and informing us constantly about our consumption levels, etc.
- Transitions to low carbon futures: Why are wind turbines beautiful? Can we reduce bush fire hazard by collecting biomass and using it for bioenergy production? How to convince people that it’s better to collect the biomass than to burn it? Where is this feasible to do? What low carbon futures may look like? How can virtual environments help to envision our futures and help society to properly identify the pathways and possible game changers?
- Sharing economy: How social and collaborative peer-to-peer platforms can help us to share resources (e.g. land, electricity, knowledge, time), and generate value rather than simply wasting them?
If Anthropocene is to stay, our social goals should prioritise care for the life support system on planet Earth, and our priorities should change from individual wellbeing and maximising consumption to saving, rationing, sharing and community building. There are numerous social information technologies that can help us make these changes. We just need to improve them and put them to work.
|Prof Alexey Voinov (ISM) – Director, Participatory Modelling Track|
|Dr Babak Abedin (ISM) – Social Computing Track|
|Dr Flavio Pileggi (ISM) – Conceptual Modelling Track|
|Dr Gnana Bharathy and Prof Tatiana Filatova (ISM) – Agent-based Modelling Track|
|Dr Juan Castilla (ISM) – Visualisation Track|
|Dr William Raffe and Dr Jaime Garcia Marin (SoS) – Games and Gamification Track|
|Dr Kaveh Khalilpour (ISM) - Network Analysis Track|
|Dr Amara Atif (ISM)|
|Ravindra Bagia (ISM)|
|Prof. Ghassan Beydoun (ISM)|
|Dr Subrata Chakraborty (ISM)|
|Dr Eila Erfani (ISM)|
|Dr Faezeh Karimi (ISM)|
|Dr Thorsten Lammers (ISM)|
|Dr David Milne (ISM)|
|Dr Nagesh Shukla (ISM)|
|Firouzeh Taghikhah (ISM)|
|Layla Boroon (ISM)|
|Tsholofelo Sethibe (ISM)|
|Diah Priharsari (ISM)|
|Elena Bakhanova (ISM)|
|Madiha Anjum (ISM)|
|Daniel Kenny (ISM)|
|Peter Dupen (ISM)|
|Wipa Loengbudnark (ISM)|
- Three open-topic positions
- Disasters and urbanisation
- Adaptive resilient economy: responding to shocks under boundedly-rational economic expectations
Find out more about our PhD positions