Mutual understanding and compromise have presented challenges to collaboration since before the efforts could have even been documented. The Metropolitan State University of Denver Sustainability Hub and the National Science Foundation are partnering through a $1 million grant to seize on the opportunities modern technology can lend to these classically human issues. 

The grant will be administered by Daniel Pittman, Ph.D., assistant professor of Computer Science, as principal investigator, as well as co-principal investigators Jessica Salo (University of Northern Colorado), Gregory Newman (Colorado State University), Kerstin Haring (University of Denver) and Sylvester Kalevela (Colorado State University-Pueblo). 

More than just a data platform 

The Sustainability Hub project is a transformative initiative that consolidates sustainability and well-being data from across Colorado into a single platform. This initiative fosters collaboration among community members, policymakers and researchers, empowering users from diverse backgrounds to engage with and draw conclusions from the data. By making this data accessible in one place, the hub facilitates evidence-based decision-making, leading to improved community well-being, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability.  

The hub is not just another data platform; it is an integral part of a researcher’s sharing pipeline for results, thereby promoting the progress of science. It moves beyond being a simple data warehouse, developing new connections among information in a process known as data democracy. This approach empowers users to “own” their data, maintain their information, contribute new research and create new datasets, which in turn inform decisions affecting their well-being.  

“This platform is designed to be intuitive and user-friendly, enabling users from diverse backgrounds to engage with the data effectively,the proposal by Pittman reads. A standout feature of the platform will be its conversational interface, similar to a chatbot, powered by advanced machine learning techniques, allowing users to interact with the platform in a natural, conversational manner. This innovative approach enhances user experience and engagement with the platform.” 

The projected impacts

As artificial intelligence becomes increasingly widespread and sophisticated, the question of how to effectively communicate has come full circle. Decades’ worth of research has been gathered regarding explanatory models in expert-novice environments (e.g., the conversations that happen in a doctor’s office), the burden in communication for the purposes of innovation and information synthesis and the best modalities for shared understanding. All these efforts and more have led to Natural Language Processing, the programming strategy this project is based in.

For communities, the project is expected to enhance access to useful data and interactions, serving as a critical tool for the community’s journey toward successful sustainability. The team believes that enhanced access to data and information about opportunities is critical to the promotion of just, equitable, diverse and inclusive community development through education.