Ecological Citizens: Tools, technologies and means to enable sustainable digital citizens

Lead Research Organisation: Royal College of Art
Department Name: School of Design


To realise the transformational impact of digital technologies on aspects of community life, cultural experiences, future society, and the economy, the RCA proposes to host a DE Network+ focused on digital interventions that would create 'the conditions to make change' towards a sustainable post-industrial society - where the 'product' is the experience, where experiences promote human wellbeing and personal resilience, where the digital interventions are sustainable and promote societal resilience.

To achieve a sustainable society, citizens require agency to control the impact they have on the natural environment. Therefore, an Ecological Citizens (EC) Network+ sustainable digital society would use digital technology to: Decouple the use of materials resources from economic development; add value to products through experiences and services; give citizens agency to take care of their environment (relating to waste reduction and reuse, energy generation); give citizens agency to design their own experiences involving products, which promote wellbeing, learning, self-advancement; enable experiences that empower citizens to do, to make, to repair, to learn, to create, to connect, to communicate, to interact, to understand, to share, to enjoy.

This Network+ foresees the next move in technological interventions is in creating and implementing "the conditions to make change", i.e. the experiences and interactions, and digitally networked societal actors that enable sustainable transitions for societies and communities. To enact this vision, this proposal focuses on a model of 'distributed everything' - knowledge and know-how, design, materials flows, fabrication and hacking, energy generation - as the fundamental societal transformations that are needed to achieve sustainability require a re-examination of how knowledge is produced and used. Co-production of research is a key mechanism for improving the knowledge required for the fundamental societal transformations needed to achieve sustainability [1], and is central to the approach of the EC Network+.

With leading partners, we will inform a truly sustainable 'digital society', built within communities, ensuring legacies through ambassadors, and setting agendas for future transdisciplinary research teams. The EC Network+ will provide a scaffolding to spawn new projects about sustainability at a range of scales (Village, Town, City). This collaborative trans-disciplinary approach is essential for tackling our unprecedented environmental challenges. The network will be built through activities including pump priming, collaborative residentials, learning webinars, strategic roundtables, media and communications, reports, podcasts, and a micro funding scheme. The academic consortium covers the core areas of computer science, sustainable engineering, human-centred design and citizen science. Led by the Royal College of Art (RCA), this proposal builds on Dr Phillips' My Naturewatch, a DIY wildlife camera project that engaged 3 million+ people with UK based wildlife, the circular economy work of the RCA's Materials Science Centre (Prof Baurley), the sustainable engineering and physical computing expertise of the Faculty of Arts, Science and Technology at Wrexham Glyndwr University (Prof Shepley), and expertise in citizen science and policy of the Stockholm Environment Institute at The University of York (Dr West).


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Description Open Data Institute (Roundtable), What is Ecological Citizenship, within the context of Data 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The Open Data Institute is an NGO that lobbies and informs policy around; data collection, data handling and was integral to the GDPR. This roundtable was an event that covered a number of scenarios about data handling, good practice and citizen participation. The event was run by the ODI with a small group and invited some of the EC team to participate. This has led to a more strategic relationship with the ODI as a existing partner for the EC network.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
Description What is Ecological Citizenship? defining this practice to students & academics 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The Talk was organised by The Fashion and Lifestyle accessories Department, National Institute of Fashion Technology, Patna (India). The talk shared early concepts of what Ecological Citizenship is, how it can be used and what we are trying to achieve. Over 400 students were present in over 18 campuses over India with academics and leading experts. The talk lead to a vibrant Q&A, the sharing of research materials and the desire for further engagement in the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023