EcoCompass: A Compendium of Educational Resources

  • i. Introduction
    The EcoCompass is the instructive companion to the EcoCitizen World Map Project (EWMP). It represents both an educational training program with a distinctly participatory pedagogical approach as well as a resource platform that is customizable and dynamically evolving.

    The EcoCompass tests a replicable set of methodologies and tools within institutional environments, such as universities and non-profit organizations, that can then adapt these for local and cultural relevance before transferring such knowledge base to ordinary citizens.

    In doing so, the EcoCompass provides the incentive and understanding for communities to crowd-source urban data and holistically assess their condition. Throughout the process, EcoCitizens are born who can thereby plan for interventions that enhance the sustainability and equitability of their neighborhoods and cities.

    This data, its assessment, and the interventions in response are documented through the EcoCitizen World Map. The EcoCompass therefore builds capacity in EWMP pilot cities for EcoCitizens to populate the Map with global data.

    Reciprocally, the Map provides a platform for training EcoCitizens, fostering a transition towards EcoCities and building cooperation between them throughout the world.

  • ii. Framework
    The EcoCompass uses a framework known as participatory action research (PAR), which challenges structural barriers to information and provides opportunities for communities to directly lead the research process, thereby leading to community-generated solutions in urban planning and public policy. PAR is collaborative at every stage of the project and intends to result in some action, rather than research for its own sake.

    PAR processes differ in the extent and frequency to which they involve diverse stakeholders, but typically consist of four stages. These stages are that of planning, acting, observing and reflecting, prior to planning again. This cycle can repeat itself multiple times over the course of a project to refine the methods used and their implementation.

    In the case of the EWMP, this iterative approach is necessary as the data is being collected by, for and with the community; it is imperative that the questions asked, the techniques used, and the interventions proposed are defined and led by the participants.

    The concepts and practices used as part of the EcoCompass can be defined according to three canons of knowledge: urban metabolism information systems (UMIS), geographic information systems (GIS), and public participation techniques (PPT). UMIS describes a system, along with all of its components, to account for and analyze resource flows as they move from the natural environment (i.e. a source) through the built environment (i.e. a city) back to the natural environment (i.e. a sink).

    A GIS is a virtual method, such as a computer system, capable of assembling, storing, manipulating, analyzing and displaying geographically referenced information. It also includes the personnel operating the system and the data that goes into the system.

    PPT applied to land use planning provide opportunities to spatially engage citizens through the use of GIS and UMIS; techniques covered include media campaigns, guided tours, facilitated meetings and groups, visioning exercises, visual preference surveys, design charettes and computer simulations.

    Given its PAR processes, EcoCompass materials are developed in such a way so as to maximize participation, ensuring that community-based resources are offered in the appropriate language or dialect, framed using accessible terminology and concepts, and delivered in a meaningful way.

  • iii. Scope of Engagement
    The EcoCompass is comprised of different types of engagement undertaken in a chronological format. The ten steps involved in the EcoCompass span two phases:

    PHASE I : Knowledge Sharing

    Step 1 — Introduction and Alignment
    Step 2 — Partner Identification
    Step 3 — Academic Courses
    Step 4 — Leadership Roundtable
    Step 5 — Bootcamp Training
    Step 6 — Debrief and Adaptation

    PHASE II : Implementation

    Step 7 — Tool Refinement
    Step 8 — Community Intensives
    Step 9 — Neighborhood Planning
    Step 10 — Project Development

    The last step of the EcoCompass involves educational support for project development, and includes strategies such as establishing a database of best practices and construction standards for sustainable and equitable interventions; such a database is further populated by interventions implemented as an outcome of the EWMP.

    The six steps that comprise the first Phase, that of ‘Knowledge Sharing’, have already been piloted in two cities as part of the EWMP activities. The following sections summarize this Phase’s activities.

  • 1. Introduction and Alignment
    At the initial stages of identifying a pilot city and prospective international organizational partner (e.g. an academic institution, non-profit organization, neighborhood group), the Ecocity Builders team introduces the EWMP along with the core concepts of the EcoCompass.

    Points of alignment are determined with existing programs and projects of the organizational partner. Ecocity Builders and its partners assess internal capacity, community engagement, and mapping priorities going forward.

  • 2. Partner Identification
    Initial meetings may include facilitated mapping of community assets and networks to determine further partners in the city to support the EcoCompass activities.

    Such partners may include community-based organizations in the potential study areas, social and environmental non-profit groups, academic researchers, media developers and urban data repositories.

  • 3. Academic Courses
    A main objective of the courses is to prepare students for leading knowledge transfer activities when working with the community-based organizations, to build citizen capacity in the research, analysis and planning as part of the Bootcamp Training and beyond.

    There are two proposed scenarios for academic institutions, such as colleges and universities, participating in the EWMP. They can either weave EWMP activities into an existing course’s curriculum, or adopt and customized the EcoCompass Course developed for the EWMP. In either case, the course curriculum may be more survey-based or more focused on data analysis.

    In the first scenario, relevant resources are integrated into the course syllabus while select seminars and labs, that complement course objectives, are offered in accordance with the Project’s needs. This may be more compatible for engaging classrooms at the undergraduate level, senior high school, or in technical programs at colleges.

    In the second scenario, the school adapts and institutes the EcoCompass Course; a curriculum specifically crafted for the intended purposes of the EWMP. This may be particularly suited for the ongoing research activities at the graduate level. In this scenario, the course uses seminars and labs to methodically cover five distinct areas relevant to the EcoCitizen World Map Project. These areas are: EcoCities and Sustainability Indicators, Systems Approaches, Participatory Mapping, Neighbourhood Audits, and Citizen Engagement.

    The courses are also a critical step in collecting background and base map information about the city and study area that will serve as a foundation for the UMIS and GIS established as part of the EcoCitizen World Map for the pilot city. For example, as part of the classroom activities, students are expected to collect figures on UMIS resource flows, set up the relevant GIS geodatabase, and determine what existing PPT have been applied to the study area.

  • 4. Leadership Roundtable
    The Leadership Roundtable is an event coordinated by the course students inviting community elders, youth and leadership from the selected study area to a presentation on the EcoCitizen World Map Project.

    The event includes a discussion that refines the purpose, scope and participatory process (including decision-making models, and data-reporting standards and questions around ownership of research outcomes) for Phase I.

    It also serves to ensure that such leaders can identify how they would like to be engaged in the future project activities, particularly the Bootcamp which represents the next step in the scope of engagement. It is an opportunity to propose realistic targets and relevant forms of participation for the data collection, input and analytical processes. Examples of specific participatory activities may include training on GPS devices, co-facilitation methods, computer data entry, digitizing and geocoding techniques.

    Finally, the Leadership Roundtable includes an initial discussion on neighbourhood boundaries, with the recognition that perceptions of these can differ depending on different resource flows and may become more refined during the Bootcamp activities.

  • 5. Bootcamp Training
    The Bootcamp Training is a two-day event where participating schools and organizations coordinate workshops and citizens collect data relevant to their neighborhood.

    Students transfer skills learned pertaining to UMIS, GIS, and PPT methods and resources, to community members in a study area defined according to the boundaries established during the Leadership Roundtable.

    Teams are configured according to the different data collection methods and needs to establish baselines. Such needs include environmental assessments (e.g. air and water quality tests), quality of life questionnaires, as well as household and neighborhood audits of resource management (e.g. water demand, energy consumption).

    At the designated workstations set up within the study area, data is digitized, testing samples are assessed, and results are analyzed.

  • 6. Debrief and Adaptation
    As part of its PAR framework, the EcoCompass includes activities to guide the reflection by participants—including the students, community leadership and organizational staff—on the technical, social and environmental outcomes of the EcoCompass activities.

    Activities include feedback forms, focus groups, surveys and final reports. This information is collected and synthesized by Ecocity Builders and its participating partners to modify and refine the EcoCompass methods and resources.

  • Glossary
    EWMP: EcoCitizen World Map Project
    GIS: Geographic Information Systems
    PAR: Participatory Action Research
    PPT: Public Participation Techniques
    UMIS: Urban Metabolism Information Systems
Click on image to download EcoCompass Compendium PDF.

Contact for more information about the EcoCompass and Participatory Information Technologies (PIT):

Dave Ron, PIT Programs Manager, Ecocity Builders