About a month ago, Francois Grey put out a suggestion that we should replace the term ‘bottom-up’  science with upscience  – do read his blog-post for a fuller explanation. I have met Francois in New York in April, when he discussed with me the ideas behind the concept, and why it is worth trying to use it.

At the end of May I had my opportunity to use the term and see how well it might work. I was invited to give a talk as part of the series Trusting the crowd: solving big problems with everyday solutions‘ at Oxford Martin School. The two previous talks in the series, about citizen science in the 19th Century and about crowdsourced journalism, set a high bar (and both are worth watching). My talk was originally titled ‘Beyond the screen: the power and beauty of ‘bottom-up’ citizen science projects’ so for the talk itself I have used ‘Beyond the screen: the power and beauty of ‘up-science’ projects‘ and it seem to go fine.

For me, the advantage of using up-science (or upscience) is in the avoidance of putting the people who are active in this form of science in the immediate disadvantage of defining themselves as ‘bottom’. For a very similar reason, I dislike the term ‘counter-mapping‘ as it puts those that are active in it in confrontational position, and therefore it can act as an additional marginalisation force. For few people, who are in favour of fights, this might make them more ‘fired up’, but for others, that might be a reason to avoid the process. Self-marginalisation is not a great position to start a struggle from.

In addition, I like the ability of upscience to be the term that catches the range of practices that Francois includes in the term, from DIY science, community based projects, civic science etc.

The content of the talk included a brief overview of the spectrum of citizen science, some of the typologies that help to make sense of them, and finally a focus on the type of practices that are part of up-science. Finally, some of the challenges and current solutions to them are covered. Below you can find a video of the talk and the discussion that followed it (which I found interesting and relevant to the discussion above).

If any of the references that I have noted in the talk is of interest, you can find them in the slide set below, which is the one that I used for the talk.

 

 

More or Less‘ is a good programme on BBC Radio 4. Regularly exploring the numbers and the evidence behind news stories and other important things, and checking if they stand out. However, the piece that was broadcast  this week about Golf courses and housing in the UK provides a nice demonstration of when not to use crowdsourced information. The issue that was discussed was how much actual space golf courses occupy, when compared to space that is used for housing. All was well, until they announced in the piece the use of clever software (read GIS) with a statistical superhero to do the analysis. Interestingly, the data that was used for the analysis was OpenStreetMap – and because the news item was about Surrey, they started doing the analysis with it.

For the analysis to be correct, you need to assume that all the building polygons in OpenStreetMap and all the Golf courses have been identified and mapped. My own guess that in Surrey, this could be the case – especially with all the wonderful work of James Rutter catalysed. However, assuming that this is the case for the rest of the country is, well, a bit fancy. I wouldn’t dare to state that OpenStreetMap is complete to such a level, without lots of quality testing which I haven’t seen. There is only the road length analysis of ITO World! and other bits of analysis, but we don’t know how complete OSM is.

While I like OpenStreetMap very much, it is utterly unsuitable for any sort of statistical analysis that works at the building level and then summing up to the country levelbecause of the heterogeneity of the data . For that sort of thing, you have to use a consistent dataset, or at least one that attempts to be consistent, and that data comes from the Ordnance Survey.

As with other statistical affairs, the core case that is made about the assertion as a whole in the rest of the clip is relevant here. First, we should question the unit of analysis (is it right to compare the footprint of a house to the area of Golf courses? Probably not) and what is to be gained by adding up individual building’s footprints to the level of the UK while ignoring roads, gardens, and all the rest of the built environment. Just because it is possible to add up every building’s footprint, doesn’t mean that you should. Second, this analysis is the sort of example of ‘Big Data’ fallacy which goes analyse first, then question (if at all) what the relationship between the data and reality.

mukih:

An interesting blog post from Matt Artz in ESRI about Citizen Science and GIS. I have written about it in 2010 in ‘Geographical Citizen Science’ http://web.ornl.gov/sci/gist/workshops/2010/papers/Haklay.pdf – and it is important that more people who are dealing with GIS at government and scientific organisations be aware of citizen science (disclosure: ESRI provided generous support to ExCiteS)

Originally posted on GIS and Science:

“Citizen science is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists, often by crowdsourcing and crowdfunding.”

Wikipedia

Applications of geospatial technologies have already proven themselves invaluable for scientific research and understanding. But is there an opportunity for citizen scientists to leverage geospatial technologies in their quest for knowledge and entertainment, and still make valuable contributions to society?

Citizen scientists have a strong interest in some facet of science, but pursue this interest outside of mainstream academic, research, and industrial organizations. These self-directed individuals might very well be using their own resources, working in their garages to develop “the next big thing.” But more often they are networked, working together with fellow citizen scientists. And this is where they become a powerful force to be taken seriously within the scientific community.

Scientists, as well as “professionals doing science,” are often the ones organizing these citizen…

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At the beginning of April, the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) held its first Annual General Meeting in Copenhagen. In the meeting, which lasted a long afternoon and an evening many topics were covered – from membership (it’s now possible to join) to reports from the working groups. With an aim to be transparent and open ECSA has published all the material from the AGM on its website – including the slides from presentations and talks and the main points from the discussion. I have been involved in the ‘Committee Principles and standards in citizen science: sharing best practice and building capacity’ which was is led by Lucy Robinson from the UK Natural History Museum. One of the first activities that Lucy guided was the development of 10 principles of citizen science, with the aim that they can help ECSA in defining what types of projects to endorse. The tentative principles – shared between the people in the committee and now are provided on the AGM site – see her presentation. However, they are of wider interest and we are, as a group looking for comments. So the principles are:

  1. Citizen science projects involve citizens who actively contribute to scientific research. Citizens can act as contributors, collaborators, or as project leader and have a meaningful role in the research project (they are not simply research subjects).
  2. Citizen science projects have a genuine scientific question or goal, if possible resulting from discussions between citizens and professional scientists.
  3. Citizens are encouraged to participate in multiple stages of the scientific process, from developing the research question to co-designing the research process, gathering and analysing data, co-evaluating the research results and finally publishing the results for different audiences.
  4. The data gathered and/or analysed are shared and made publicly available either during or after the project, unless there are security or privacy concerns that prevent this. If the results are published academically, where possible this should be in an open access format.
  5. Participants receive feedback from the project lead on how their contribution adds to the project e.g. how their data will be used and what the research findings are. This adds both reward and opportunity to learn more about the science. The more communication and two-way engagement, the better!
  6. Citizen science activities celebrate and value the contributions of the citizen, and these are actively acknowledged in project results and publications.
  7. Citizen science programmes are characterised by mutual respect and acknowledgement of different skills and perspectives. Where possible, steering committees should integrate both scientists and citizen delegates. The scientists and organisers should be mindful of the power relations that exist within this social interaction.
  8. Citizen science projects should be inclusive. Where possible, inclusiveness should be proactive and not only reactive. Considerations of inclusiveness should include (but are not limited to) level of education, gender, age, religious belief, socio-economic factors and access to technologies.
  9. Being at the frontier between science and society, citizen science programmes have the opportunity to actively promote transdisciplinarity and links between natural and social sciences.
  10. Citizen science programmes should be evaluated for their scientific output, data quality, and the impact on participants.

The principles are open for discussion – they are not set in stone. In the discussion that followed the presentation and in a meeting of the ‘committee’ (more like sitting on the floor in a corner of the building), we explored the need for policy connection and how the aims of the project interact with these principles – for example, how applied ecological observations influence their applications. We’re still looking out for comments to develop these principles until they become part of ECSA ‘code of practice’. Comments are welcomed and will be passed to the working group. Copenhagen

On 29th April, I gave a talk in the Wilson Center in Washington DC on ‘Environmental Information – the Roles of Experts and the Public. The event was organised by Lea Shanley, who is heading the ‘Commons Lab‘ initiative of the center, and Dr Jay Benforado, from the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) provided a response to the talk.

The talk is based on a forthcoming chapter in a book that will be the final output of the EveryAware project, and I can share a copy of it if you email me.

I described the content of the talk as:  ‘Access to environmental information and use of it for environmental decision-making are central pillars of environmental democracy. Yet, not much attention is paid to the question of who is producing it, and for whom? By examining the history of environmental information, since NEPA in 1969, three eras can be identified: information produced by experts, for experts (1969-1992); information produced by experts, to be shared by experts and the public (1992-2012); and finally, information produced by experts and the public to be shared by experts and the public.

Underlying these are changes in access to information, rise in levels of education and rapid change due to digital technologies. The three eras and their implication to environmental decision-making will be explored, with special attention to the role of geographical information systems and to citizen science.’

The talk (and the chapter) are building on the themes that I discussed in a presentation during the Eye on Earth user conference in Dublin in 2013, and earlier talks in Oxford Transport Studies UnitUCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis and at University College Dublin School of Geography, Planning & Environmental Policy in 2010 (see also my reflection from the Eye on Earth summit in Abu Dhabi in 2011). In the talk I covered some of the legal frameworks about production and use of environmental information, including laws and international agreements, as well as using specific demonstrations of the information systems themselves, as to demonstrate the practice. I also tried to suggest the trends that are behind the changes in the eras, and levels of education is quite central.

On reflection, the 4 years that passed since I started thinking about the ‘eras of environmental information‘ allowed me to think how to communicate them, and I hope for the better. It also made the writing up of the chapter easier, as the responses and comments that I received in previous talks provided the needed feedback and peer review to structure the text.

Although I was setting specific dates as markers for the eras, the reality is that the boundaries are more flexible and the transition was over time – it is especially difficult for the latest transition of public participation in environmental information production.

The talk was followed by a discussion that lasted almost 45 minutes, and during the discussion, the common issue of data quality of citizen science data or the interesting point about the issue of dissemination as Rob Baker noted: ‘Is the role of experts as facilitators extend to dissemination of information or just collection? Who closes the loop? ‘  (https://twitter.com/rrbaker/statuses/461157624592203776) or Susan Wolfinbarger question about citizen science: ‘How do you know when the quality of a #citsci project is bad?’  (https://twitter.com/SWolfinbarger/statuses/461166886043262976)

The presentation and discussion were captured on YouTube, below

and the slides are available on SlideShare

Kate Chapman posted an interesting reflection to the talk over at H.O.T website.

In citizen science, you always learn new things, and one of the aspects of this area that I like most is the cross-over between different areas of science. By learning about citizen science projects, you also learn about current research activities in Astronomy, Ecology, Conservation, Environmental Science and many other areas.

Some occasions, however, provide an opportunity to explore things in a deeper and more concentrated way. The catalyst meeting in the US National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) in Durham, NC, on anthropogenic sensory stimuli as drivers of evolution was such event. The meeting was organised by Caren Cooper (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) Jesse Barber (Boise State University) and Clint Francis (California Polytechnic State University) and they assembled an outstanding group of researchers for it, with diverse backgrounds including ecology, astronomy, geography, social science and citizen science. So ‘anthropogenic sensory stimuli as drivers of evolution‘ translates to 4 and a bit busy days of concentrated work on research questions that link sound and noise; light and darkness; animals and wildlife; and citizen science. In particular, the meeting explored the scientific issues of light and noise pollution on humans and other animals (with some attention to birds and insects in particular because of expertise of participants) on the one hand, and thinking in what ways citizen science activities can be included to understand and manage these issues on the other.

In many academic meetings, most of the time is dedicated to tell other people ‘what have I done’ and even if the aim is to develop something from the meeting (say, a book), still most of the time is dedicated to the pattern: presentation, Q&A, presentation, Q&A … with discussion and further discoveries during breaks, dinners or over a drink. Workshops where new directions are explored, are commonly restricted to a day or two, which doesn’t give enough time to explore issues in depth, especially in situations were the participants are not familiar to one another. By the time you get to know people from different area of research, the meeting is over! Only rarely there are longer meetings of 4 or 5 days – so far in my academic career, I attended one – a European Science Foundation exploratory workshop on the internet of things and sustainability almost 3 years ago. The NEScent catalyst meeting belongs to the latter group of long and detailed workshops.

The workshop brought together people who are researching how to understand and model night light or noise at global and local scales, as well as people with experience in citizen science, and experts in ecology, evolution and biodiversity with an interest in the impact of light and noise. To start the discussion, we have used the framework of ‘programme logic model‘ and considered the range of long term impacts of academic and citizen science research, and what sort of research questions can be addressed. The set of questions range from considering social impacts, perceptions, health – with some potential causal chains emerging.

The synthesis work explored how to integrate different areas of research – from concepts to methodologies to data. NESCent meeting

After setting up the general model, we set out to work in groups – and at this stage the group was split between those who focus on social science and citizen science projects, and those that are more focused on evolutionary biology and ecology. By focusing on the development of specific models and aiming to start seeing how concepts in each area match, it was possible to identify gaps. It was especially fascinating to see how people shared their knowledge and provided to each other short introductions about their research areas. For example, I have learned a lot about the concepts of coupled human-nature systems and how it is linked/subsumed in social-ecological systems. An example for the synthesis that can happen in such a workshop is the expansion of the later concept to “social, ecological and evolutionary systems”. Another group explored what is possible to discover from data that is already available and used in different projects.

The workshop also provided hands-on opportunity to explore how to measure darkness, using the ‘loss of night‘ app, as well as ‘Globe at night‘ and having the researchers that are leading these projects, Connie Walker and Chris Kyba, provided more understanding of the activities and the way the information is collected.

The outcomes of the workshop will be academic papers and research projects that will emerge in the near future – and a network of researchers with much better understanding of each other area.

Thursday marked the launch of The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) report on volunteering impact where they summarised a three year project that explored motivations, changes in pro-environmental behaviour, wellbeing and community resilience. The report is worth a read as it goes beyond the direct impact on the local environment of TCV activities, and demonstrates how involvement in environmental volunteering can have multiple benefits. In a way, it is adding ingredients to a more holistic understanding of ‘green volunteering’.
TCVmotivations One of the interesting aspects of the report is in the longitudinal analysis of volunteers motivation (copied here from the report).  The comparison is from 784 baseline surveys, 202 Second surveys and 73 third surveys, which were done with volunteers while they were involved with the TCV. The second survey was taken after 4 volunteering sessions, and the third after 10 sessions.

The results of the surveys are interesting in the context of online activities (e.g. citizen science or VGI) because they provide an example for an activity that happen off line – in green spaces such as local parks, community gardens and the such. Moreover, the people that are participating in them come from all walks of life, as previous analysis of TCV data demonstrated that they are recruiting volunteers across the socio-economic spectrum. So here is an activity that can be compared to online volunteering. This is valuable, as if the pattern of TCV information are similar, then we can understand online volunteering as part of general volunteering and not assume that technology changes everything.

So the graph above attracted my attention because of the similarities to Nama Budhathoki work on the motivation of OpenStreetMap volunteers. First, there is a difference between the reasons that are influencing the people that join just one session and those that are involved for the longer time. Secondly, social and personal development aspects are becoming more important over time.

There is clear need to continue and explore the data – especially because the numbers that are being surveyed at each period are different, but this is an interesting finding, and there is surly more to explore. Some of it will be explored by Valentine Seymour in ExCiteS who is working with TCV as part of her PhD.

It is also worth listening to the qualitative observations by volunteers, as expressed in the video that open the event, which is provided below.

TCV Volunteer Impacts from The Conservation Volunteers on Vimeo.

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