Matthew, an MPA student at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service, contacted me about six weeks ago and asked to do an online interview. Matt is currently studying open government and innovation in a class with Beth Noveck (former head of the White House’s Open Government Initiative). He is using the class as an opportunity to study innovation in the field of environmental policy (which is his particular area of interest). He had an assignment to identify and interview an innovator in his area of interest, and he contacted me. I readily agreed – I enjoy helping students, I love chatting with new people about our research, and honestly, I was honored he asked me (this being my first ever online interview too!). I also asked him how he found me, as I think it is really amazing how people do find us on the interwebs these days… and he replied that he first found me through the WeRecycle App I co-created for the US EPA’s Apps for the Environment Challenge, and then looked at this website and blog. He also read my interview with Waste360. I think that “open access” through blogging and outreach through websites and social media are really positive things for professors to do… and it is important for our work since we are trying to make an immediate impact on the world.
I was excited to see the work that Matt was doing for his class (see their blog) and looked closer at what Beth Noveck is doing at NYU: The Governance Lab (GovLab) is at the forefront, pioneering the issue of open governance. In their words, GovLab brings together exciting minds from academia, government, and the private sector to consider the impact of technology on democratic institutions. Right on! This a big part of what we do in our research group! I believe that technology can re-engage citizens in issues they felt disconnected from previously, and ultimately, that was my goal with tools like Marine Debris Tracker, WeRecycle, and our smart recycling bin. Engaging citizens and re-connecting them so they feel ownership of our world, and empowered to help sustain it, will ultimately make us more sustainable. It is kind of a paradox in environmental engineering – while technology allowed us to greatly improve our sanitation, water and waste management, it also disconnected us from it. We no longer walk to a water source (e.g., river or well) to get water. If we had to, I bet we would be really careful about how much water we used for any little task. We simply turn a faucet on and fresh clean water comes out! But do you know how much effort, time and energy goes into making that clean water? And that it is important to conserve it? Without that connection to the source (allowed by great advances in engineering and technology), it can be difficult to get people to conserve water, energy, use less waste, etc. Especially when all of these resources are managed and operated by the government… people feel somewhat helpless to feel like they make a difference. But technology can re-engage them to realize that they do, and as a community, they can have a huge impact… on so many levels! I believe people and communities will be a part of our environmental engineering solutions in the future. I encourage you to check out the amazing work at GovLab and I discuss some of these issues in the interview with Matt (below).
Matt is a really great guy and we chatted quite a bit before we even began the interview. As we were starting the interview, I asked how long he wanted me to spend on each question. He said there was no time limit (he was going to edit), so I was not very concise! But it was a lot of fun to be asked about the work I feel so passionate about and I tend to enjoy talking about all the exciting things we are doing in our research group. Although, I have to admit, I found it difficult to just talk to the screen and my office (messy since cleaning is low on my priority right now as I work towards tenure!) is not set up well for video chat (awkward camera location). But we managed and Matt did a great job putting it all together in a post on his class blog… well two blog posts. So head over to the blog (where there are other great posts too!) and check out the interview Part I…
and Part II..
It is a great way to hear more about what we do in our research group and thanks again, Matt, for your interest in our work!