Prof Steven Bishop

Past News

4 October 2013

Global System Dynamics and Policies: Best Practice Guidelines. The full report is available on PDF here

23 August 2013

Steven will go to Kenya as part of his Dream Fellowship to see Animesh Kumar, who works for the UN in Nairobi and also visit Maseno University near Kisumu. More >

19 July 2013

Giving a talk at the 3rd European PhD Summer School and workshop on "Mathematical modeling of Complexity", 17-19 July More >

10 July 2013

Steven in Malta till the 13th visiting the Malta Information Technology Agency and holding a UCL Alumni Event. More >

13 June 2013

Steven will participate at the 3rd Technical workshop: Adapting to climate change, in Brussels. You can read the programme here >

10 - 12 June 2013

2nd Open Global Systems Science Conference in Brussels organised by GSDP, the Global Climate Forum, EUNOIA, FOC, INSITE, MULTIPLEX, NESS, HLRS and ECLT. Read the Agenda here >


Trip to Kenya


From 23rd August to 3 September Steven will be visiting Kenya as part of his Dream Fellowship. He will visit Animesh Kumar, who works for the UN in Nairobi (to learn about strategies for risk reduction) as well as visiting Maseno University near Kisumu (to learn about the use of GIS as a decision support system).

UNISDR in Kenya

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction was established in 1999 to serve as a focal point within the UN for the coordination of disaster reduction. Their website also says that they campaign, advocate, and inform and the acronym UNISDR comes from the strategy set in place to try and make societies more resilient standing for United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. They have regional offices in Nairobi, Panama and Bangkok, Cairo, Brussels and Almaty (which I had to look up, and its in Kazakhstan). The UN had (have) a plan of action for 2005-2015 based around a framework of action named after the region in Japan - Hyogo - which was at the centre of the Kobe earthquake in 1995. The UN chose the name since they were impressed how the Kobe region had recovered after one of the most damaging earthquakes of recent time.

I had come across someone - Demetrio Innocenti - from UNISDR before and was keen to visit and learn more about UNISDR for two reasons. Firstly my overarching idea is to understand how we transmit ideas through a story, or narrative, and wanted to find out how the UN approached this, particularly in Africa rather than in the confines of Brussels. Secondly, as I am involved with the Institute of Risk and Disaster Reduction at UCL I was interested on their take on disaster reduction, disaster management and especially their interest in the design of critical infrastructure.

UNISDR want cities and local governments to be ready for disasters, to reduce the risks and become resilient. The end of the 2015 time line is getting closer and so my guess is that they are taking stock of the progress to date and considering what to put in place for 2015-2025 (Horizon 2025 perhaps if they want to follow the EC, not that they will).

The three strategic goals are:

  • The integration of disaster risk reduction into sustainable development policies and planning.
  • The development and strengthening of institutions, mechanisms and capacities to build resilience to hazards.
  • The systematic incorporation of risk reduction approaches into the implementation of emergency preparedness, response and recovery programmes.

What interests me most is:

  • How to achieve these goals using a web based approach incorporating citizen science projects to engage the whole community and increase acceptance of action taken.
  • How to consider a multi hazard, integrated approach to disaster reduction.
  • How to understand, model and guarantee social equity in the action taken as a result of disaster reduction decisions.

Another prime objective for the UN is to get to grips with the funding available in the event of a disaster. I am not sure that I can engage with this issue but it is interesting nonetheless.

On the narrative front, since my fellowship leads me to think about the use of language to create a narrative I consider that their over-use of acronyms to be un helpful to everyone outside of UNISDR. But there are good bits. I liked the fact that Demetrio talks about improving “mechanisms for coordination and dialogue, definition of indicators and ways to monitor and report” and emphasising “the need to mobilize growing capacities of academic and research institutions in Africa for building resilience” (presentation of Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, Geneva, May 2013) both of which fit well with my fellowship goals. Much of the task relies on collecting and sharing information, and so the connection with citizen science projects is interesting.

In Nairobi my local host will be Animesh Kumar - more information to follow.

University of Maseno

The University of Maseno is not the biggest and not the highest ranked university in Kenya (although they have improved their position) but nonetheless and interesting to visit being in the west of the country far away from the Capital. I felt it was important to see something of the real country, shunning the usual tourist hot spots on the coast but instead go for a road trip to Kisumu and spanning a good deal of the country. It is so easy to get a false impression of a country based on fancy restaurants in its capital and this visit will help me understand how communication becomes important with such vast distances involved. To sit alongside the goals proposed by the UN team in Nairobi, I want to see how citizen science projects, which engage local people, can be instigated to guide our decision makers. My primary local host will be the Vice Chancellor, Professor Dominic Makawiti, who gained his PhD in reproductive biochemistry from Kings College London. But I have also planned to see other academics including Jennifer Adhiambo Otieno, who has done some work on the use of GIS to support decision makers to avoid flooding.

I was interested to see that Maseno University had its own anthem - this seems to indicate the strong influence of music and narrative in the society as a whole.


I chose to venture through Kenya by car rather than taking an internal flight - a decision that has proved good an bad. On the negative side I did not know that much of the time I would be on a rutted, rocky road rather than a smooth Tarmac. This meant arriving In Kisumu I was more exhausted than you can imagine. On the plus side I have seen real aspects on Kenyan life. It did show me the huge logistical challenges for large infrastructure projects here.

I met some people of Masai origin who gave me an insight into how the Masai tribe incorporate story telling into their dances. I was immensely impressed of how committed they are to keeping their landscape free of rubbish - I only wish this attitude was spread to my local environment where it seems ok to drop and leave litter on the assumption that someone is paid to pick it up. I was also pleased to meet Manoj Shah who, with his brother, has documented huge elements of African wildlife through photography. They clearly deliver a message but when questioned Manoj said that they did not start with a narrative but just took pictures And let the pictures tell the story. Definitely something to follow up. 

Meeting People

Five days after I arrived to Kenya I went to visit Maseno University, which is just north of Kisumu where I am staying. Met the Vice Chancellor- prof Dominic Makawiti, who was welcoming and charming. He did his PhD at Kings so we. Had lots to discuss. I also have a talk to the maths group. The maths people are looking for joint projects while the VC said it would be useful if we could send any unwanted text books.

Maseno is a wonderful, peaceful place and everyone was so friendly. So thanks to the staff and students.

The next day, I visited the Kisumu campus of Maseno University. Frederick Onyango is the head of Statistics at Maseno assisted when I had conversations with Dr Kowino, who covers education, and Jennifer Otieno who does GIS. Jennifer has a particular interests in how markets develop (the ones that sell food and odds and ends on the streets) - closer to work of Alan Wilson and Mike Batty from CASA. They have some interesting data which I am hoping to get my hands on.

There was also quite a debate about e-learning.

David Stern and Frederick Onyango

                                                                                With David Stern and Frederick Onyango

From Kisumu to Nairobi

One aspect that interests me here in Kenya is design of infrastructure projects which span such a vast region. In Kisumu there was a railway station but it did not look as if trains had passed that way for a long time. The houses nearby were obviously built by others - more than likely the British during colonial rule - and still very much intact. In fact it seemed slightly odd to see these houses, spaciously laid out for the railway worker, apparently only semi occupied while just up the road there was the omnipresent group of shacks accommodating people, tiny shops, beauty parlours and food stalls galore. The tracks are still there and I can't help thinking that they are missing a trick by not bringing the railway back as both a means of transport and a tourist attraction - both for locals and visitors like me. I am told that the line to Mombasa does still run but the countryside from Kisumu to Nairobi is really stunning. Travelling by car, you just don't see the countryside the way you would by train because you have to have your eyes pinned to the road all the time. The road surface near Kisumu is being renovated but this meant that there were long stretches of tutted dirt track. I had a driver for my entire stay called John. He drove well but I still also spent too long looking for the next hole that was going to jolt my spine. It seemed that even when the road was metalled (now there is an odd, old term coming from the Latin for quarry since Roman roads were made with quarried materials. Today probably easier to say a tarmac road) there were many speed bumps, most of which came without warning and many were just made of dirt possibly by the locals so that while you slowed down they could dangle their wares in from of you (and another thing - I call them speed bumps but I tried to get a meal at a restaurant near the National Park in Nairobi and there they called them humps).

There is now an International airport in Kisumu but my guess is that most of the goods are transported by road. It took me 2 days to get to Nairobi. Yes you can do it in one but it is pretty hard going and I chose to stop.

Last reflections on my trip

Looking at the countryside around Maseno and Kisumu, as well as en route to Nairobi, it seems that they can grow almost anything. Maseno is bang on the equator and the heat of the day - even in the cooler month of August while I was there - the sun on lake Victoria causes moisture to rise so that pretty much every day the evening sees spectacular but short storms which return the water to earth. It is a lush region with tea, coffee, fruit and sugar cane all growing in abundance. It is therefore slightly odd that even Kenya underwent famine conditions in 2008. True this mainly in the north near the boxer with Somalia and on the coast near Mombasa but what seems clear is that they can produce food but just not in the places it is most needed. What is more, the infrastructure is not in place to be able to transport stocks of food to where it is most needed. All the more reason for me to talk the the UN people today, whose role it is to try and coordinate strategies to alleviate disasters.

  • Frederick Onyango
  • Jennifer Adhiambo Otieno
  • Dr Kowino
  • Dominic Makawiti
  • David Stern and Frederick Onyango
  • Lecture at Maseno University
  • John the Liberty driver
  • 8 Nairobi Newspaper

Page last modified on 04 sep 13 19:37