Are You Up for an Innovation Challenge?

By August 17th, 2015 at 9:00 am | Comment

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Guest post by Carrie Freeman

In the new world of Big Data, we’ve learned how to acquire great data, but we’re still struggling with accessing it, understanding it, and putting it to work. That’s especially true with environmental data, where the urgency of problems facing people right now is driving efforts to turn raw digital input into information leading to concrete solutions.

One global group, the Eye on Earth Alliance, is addressing that problem directly by convening the Eye on Earth Summit 2015 and organizing the related Data Innovation Showcase. As a competition intended to spark fresh thinking about how to use data, the Showcase is calling for entries from citizen scientists—professionals, too—and from artists who have a brilliant idea for applying publicly accessible data to solving environmental challenges. But time is running out—entries must be submitted online by August 20, 2015. Winners get a free trip to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to participate in the summit (October 6–8), which will focus on informed decision-making for sustainable development.

The Showcase’s Data Visualization Challenge invites artists, designers, and other creative types to submit data visualizations that bring to life the impact of poor air quality, rising ocean temperatures, or natural disasters. Entries should creatively package data to stimulate decision-makers and others to spot new insights and connections, then go on to solve real-world environmental problems. Individuals or teams can submit any kind of data visualization, such as a videos, 3D models, computer simulations, or, say, an interactive map showing where on the globe poor air quality triggers a higher rate of respiratory diseases. The winner will present their work at the summit.

The Citizen Science Challenge calls for hardware, software, technology platforms, or even non-technological approaches that apply data to solve food-waste problems, reverse trends in forest degradation, or increase biodiversity for resilient cities. So, for instance, an entry might be a smartphone app connecting restaurants that have excess food with organizations serving those in need locally. Or it might be an invention that enables real-time forest monitoring at the community level. Three teams in this challenge will be selected to present their ideas to the summit delegates, who will then select the winner.

In both challenges, entries will be evaluated for their originality, their likely impact on their intended users, their relevance to the selected theme, and their technical soundness.

Simply attending the summit might be the biggest prize. The brainchild of the Eye on Earth Alliance, this event draws global thought-leaders to collaborate on better understanding the supply and demand dynamics—and the enabling conditions—of data to support sustainable development. That purpose neatly underscores the mission of the Alliance, which seeks to give open access to environmental, social, and economic data that anyone can use to stimulate sustainable development. Member organizations are the Environmental Agency–Abu Dhabi through the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative, the Group on Earth Observations, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Resources Institute.


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Carrie Freeman is a partner at SecondMuse and has been studying how business can be a key contributor in an ever-advancing civilization for 20 years. A strong advocate for using information and communication technologies to help solve global challenges, she has worked with organizations such as Intel, Nike, NASA, USAID, World Bank, the EPA and The Nature Conversancy to address complex challenges with technology. Currently, Carrie is working with the United Nations Environment Programme and the Eye on Earth Alliance to engage citizen scientists and data artists in the Data Innovation Showcase. Carrie regularly speaks at global forums and sits on several advisory boards. She lives in and enjoys New Mexico with her husband and son.

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