A wishlist for sustainable computing?

Posted on July 21, 2011

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Last week we won the CITRENZ Award for Research for our paper  “A research framework for sustainable software“.

In this paper we propose a Sustainable Lens as the basis for a research agenda.  This Sustainable Lens could be an actual augmented reality headset, or it might be a way of describing how we see the world.  Between these two extremes is all the work being done in computing – whether or not explicitly “sustainable” computing, the same perspective is needed – the same questions need to be asked.

Sustainability requires a systems approach. People need to have awareness that their actions will have impacts. These impacts may be intended and unintended, across scales: temporal, spatial, social, and have positive and negative effects. They need to understand forms of relationships (hierarchies, partnerships, feedback) and that humans form part of a complex web. Systemic thinking emphasizes patterns, trends and feedback loops.

Scale is a recurring theme in sustainability – multiple scales of time and space nest around local contexts. A goal is to make the future seem more real, recouple costs of mitigation borne by current generation and benefit of avoided harm accruing to future generations.

In an earlier paper we described some initial requirements for a Sustainable Lens:

  • See opportunities for sustainable practice skills
  • Recognition of unseen elements
  • Identify un/sustainabilityness of actions – that is recognise if something is unsustainable, or distinguish degrees of sustainability
  • Present options and ways of framing alternatives

So, what else do we need to know? Here are some questions to get us started:

  1. How can our Sustainable Lens be able to operate on multiple scales of space and time simultaneously?
  2. How can we develop systems that explicitly account for both our ancestors and future generations?
  3. How can a collaborative approach based on motivational interviewing be used to overcome barriers in behaviour change?
  4. To what extent will solutions need to be tailored to individual situations?
  5. How can we to communicate across these divides of understanding form an opportunity for collaboration?
  6. How can support for the sustainable practitioner adapt to changing understandings?
  7. How might we begin to describe sustainability in terms of patterns?
  8. How can Sustainable Lens provide engaging, accessible and understandable interactions?
  9. What would be the consequence of considering an basis of interaction that is a collaboration with the environment (rather than on, or about the environment)?
  10. How can Sustainable Lens position human as actors rather than stressors?
  11. How can Sustainable Lens combine human and biophysical information into a single coherent narrative?
  12. How can Sustainable Lens allow people to ‘‘drill down’’ past the charisma (of the surface) and access the back stories – the researchers, management?
  13. How can Sustainable Lens represent uncertainty?
  14. How can Sustainable Lens support situational awareness – directing attention, integrating elements to understand meaning of critical elements, and considering understanding of possible future scenarios?
  15. What is the nature of the complexity of models and engagement with degree of participation?
  16. How can Sustainable Lens encourage and actively support sharing solutions and understandings?
  17. How can we integrate and visualise data from multiple sources across multiple scales of space and time? What are the implications of doing this in real time and in participatory situations?
  18. To what extent should we expose the models used?
  19. What are the requirements for a code of ethics for such visualisations?
  20. How can we make use of existing frameworks related sustainability fields: environmental management; decision making; behaviour change? (and so on).
  21. Do emerging models such as social ontology provide a basis for ongoing development?
  22. How can open modelling frameworks encourage an effective and efficient structure for collaborative sharing, reusing and critiquing of elements in a Sustainable Lens worldview?
  23. How can Sustainable Lens support situations where there is no single right answer?
  24. How can Sustainable Lens use make use of multiple understandings to improve understanding?
  25. Should we move to a position where we accept that all technology development is inherently a value proposition?
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Posted in: agenda, research