The Social Life of Environmental Data: Lessons from Crisis Informatics

When and Where

Thursday, February 07, 2019 11:00 am to 12:00 pm
Rm. 1210
Bahen Centre for Information Technology
40 St. George Street, Toronto ON


Robert Soden


Advances in algorithms, sensors, databases, and computing power in recent decades have led to the development of fundamentally new approaches in science and policy for supporting safe, healthy, and sustainable communities in the around the world. These new technologies promise to improve our ability to monitor the natural and built environments and more effectively respond to crisis and disaster, but they can also limit public participation in planning, focus attention only on what can be measured with current tools, and reinforce existing social inequalities. To realize the promise of emerging technologies, we need to develop a better understanding of how they intervene in the governance of complex technological and environmental challenges. In this talk, I will discuss my research in this area drawing from studies on flood hazard mapping Colorado, post-earthquake damage assessment in Nepal, and sea-level rise modeling the San Francisco Bay Area. I show that an expanded agenda for crisis informatics research that draws on insights from science and technology studies, design research, and the humanities can improve the development of technologies used for responding to environmental challenges.

Robert Soden is a PhD Candidate in Computer Science at the University of Colorado Boulder working on crisis informatics, human-centered computing (HCC), and science and technology studies (STS). His research examines the implications of changing technologies on efforts to address environmental challenges including disasters and climate change. He holds a Master’s Degree in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development from American University, and Bachelor’s degrees in History and Political Science from the University of Illinois, Chicago. Prior to starting his PhD, Robert was a professional software developer and a consultant to the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), where he launched the Open Data for Resilience Initiative, a worldwide effort to harness open data, open source software, and civic technology to improve disaster and climate risk management. His research has been awarded multiple best paper awards and honourable mentions at ACM’s CHI and CSCW, as well as other computing venues.

This is a joint seminar with the Department of Computer Science and the School of the Environment.

For more information, contact Eyal deLara (


40 St. George Street, Toronto ON