Rob Simpson (Zooniverse)

Now, that the Citizen Cyberscience Summit is over, come the time to reflect more widely on the event and what it say about the state of citizen science. My previos posts, covering the three days of the summit (first day, second day, third day) were written every day during the summit – this is something I learned from Andrea Wiggins and the way she blogged about the 2012 summit (here are her descriptions of the first, second and third days). However, unlike Andrea, my notes focused on my immediate thoughts from each day and less on a synopsis of what I’ve been listening to.  The current post reflect on the event as a whole, in terms of my personal expectations and hopes for the summit. It also covers the rational behind the summit’s design, so it can be evaluated against the practice. As a result, it’s a long piece!

The structure of the summit follows the model that we first tried in 2012 and that proved to be very successful. When trying to explain the summit’s organisation, I use the description ‘starts fairly formal, and end with organised chaos’ which inherently tries to mix traditional academic conferences with open and creative events such as hackathons, but doing that in an inclusive way so people from different communities of practice can feel that there is something for them in the summit. In practice, this translates to the three days of the summit in the following way.

The first day, which uses the formal settings of the Royal Geographical Society, provided the needed academic gravitas to send the message that citizen science is noteworthy. About half of the talks in this day were from speakers that we have invited to ‘set the scene‘. We didn’t provide a detailed brief to speakers to set them ‘on message’, rather inviting them to discuss their work and how it links to a general theme. The rest of the talks were selected carefully from the open submissions to provide the breadth of citizen science.

We deliberately chose an open submission format which falls somewhere between community-led conferences (such as OpenStreetMap State of the Map) and academic conferences, to make both groups comfortable. We were aware that for the volunteers who participate in citizen science we will need a different, more proactive way of encouraging them to join. In  previous summits they were the least represented group. So to encourage them to come we created two special ticket categories (for the whole summit and for the citizen science cafe) and actively contacted different projects to encourage their volunteers to come.

Policy track (Image: Poppy Lakeman Fraser)

In the past, the first day was deliberately ‘single track’ to create a common vocabulary for all participants. This time, because of the perceived increase in the policy implications of citizen science (e.g. the creation of the Citizen Science Association or the European Citizen Science Association, or the activities of Eye on Earth initiative) we decided
to split part of the day to two sessions: one that focuses on the technology and another on policy and engagement. The aim was to attract people who might be less interested in the technology or the specific scientific domain and more with its implications, as well as a recognition that the citizen science community is growing with people that have different interests.

The second day signaled the importance of the citizens of citizen science in two elements in the programme: the citizen science panel (which happen to be only women) and the citizen science café as the closing reception. Setting the summit in such a way that this day fall on Friday is also important, as it allow people to come to the event after work and meet
with other participants who are enthusiastic about citizen science. More generally, the day was submission-led and included workshops, opportunities for discussions and shorter presentations. Only one talk was organised by invitation. This was the opening talk, to bring everyone into one place so it is possible to welcome new people and link to the previous day. Also important is the provision of central space with chairs and tables that was used as the coffee & lunch area to allow people to start or follow up discussions that started the day before. The day also included sponsored sessions (sponsors are important and need to be treated well!)

Finally, the third day was dedicated to the hackday. This was done so people with technical skills or interest in citizen science can come on a weekend day and help with the challenges (the tasks that were explored in the hackday). The posters for the challenges were on display from Friday to start the conversations about them. Saturday also include more short talks on a range of topics (mostly because we wanted to accept all the submissions) but also make sure that we left space for an unconference session – a set of very short talks (5 minutes) for people who came to attend the event and decided that they also want to talk about their work. The final keynote is schedule to keep people interested and to bring them together for the hackday presentation. This is based on a lesson from Over the Air event.

The ideas for this plan came from all the people who planned the summit, through discussions that were facilitated through an open Skype channel in the last month before the summit, regular ‘Google Hangouts’ in the 3 months before the summit and, of course, email, Google Docs and all the other collaborative tools that are now available.

So did the summit live up to these expectations? 

Mostly ‘yes’. First of all, we’ve done much better than in the previous summit in terms of representation and participation of the people who actually involved in citizen science and not only the scientists, coordinators and other people who are running citizen science projects. Catherine Jones post about the summit is exactly what we set out to achieve, so I was delighted to read it. At the same time, I think that we can do better and in future events we need to consider bursaries or grants for volunteers to attend the event. Just dropping the event price to zero is good, but not enough.

Another strength of the summit is in bringing together the community of practice of those who are involved in citizen science or are in their early stages of developing a citizen science programme. The seahorse programme at UBC is an example of a project that benefited from the interactions last time, and I’ve noticed that similar knowledge and best practice sharing this time. This will hopefully improve the projects that are run by the people who came to the summit. I’m pleased that we managed to bring people from across the domains in which citizen science is evolving and that despite the growth in number of participants, there was enough space for meaningful exchanges. The Citizen Science Café served as much for this aspect of the summit as in bringing citizens and scientists together.

It is interesting to notice how many people already knew each other from citizen science events, and there is a need to avoid creating a clique that is less welcoming to newcomers – something for the new associations to think about!

While the policy session was excellent, I noticed that we failed to get significant attention from academics and practitioners who work on science policy, public engagement in science, and people from policy making areas. The number of participants from these areas is relatively small, and include people that are already ‘converted’ (e.g. Katherine Mathieson or Erinma Ochu) but my feeling was that there wasn’t attendance on the basis ‘I need to know what this thing is because it’s important‘.

The same can be said about the commercial sector – we had some attendance from people who are involved in start-ups, and Esri showed their generosity by supporting the summit (disclaimer: they are also strong supporters of ExCiteS) but we weren’t in a situation of fending off sponsorship offers.

I find the last two points very interesting, as that signal to me the amount of ‘leg work’ that the new citizen science associations, the academics that are involved in this field and the practitioners still need to do to get the attention that the field deserve.

Another fascinating aspect that came out from the summit is a clear demonstration of the many facets of every single citizen science project – technology, education, science communication, specific scientific domain knowledge, usability and Human-Computer Interaction, community development, legal and philosophical aspects – all those were mentioned in different sessions. This calls for ongoing conversations and collaborations across the wider area of citizen science to ensure that we indeed share knowledge effectively.

The final reflection is on the size of the summit. The first summit had less than 100 participants, the second about 200 and this time over 300 participants visited the summit. Not everyone was there for the whole event – but it was clear that those that been for the whole event benefited the most. This can be expected at this size, and it feels like the maximum size to make it still effective – I know of several people that I follow but didn’t had chance to have a proper conversation (though admittedly, I was busy organising). Hopefully, with the online resources from the summit can provide a way to go beyond those who physically attended the event.

Geographical Information Science Research UK (GISRUK) is a research conference that has been taking place in different university campuses around the UK (and once in Ireland) since 1993. Despite the name, it is open not just to researchers from the UK, but also to international participants, who are very welcome.

For me, GISRUK was the first international conference in which I presented a paper eleven years ago, so I have a soft spot for it. It was very friendly and welcoming for a starting research student (which I was at the time). It was especially useful to discover that all the famous academics who attended it were friendly and open to questions.

The conference will be held at UCL in April 2010, and the call for papers is now out, so consider submitting a paper.

The papers are rather short, about 1500 words, so there is plenty of time to write one in time for the deadline of the end of November.

The following presentation is a summary of the OSM quality assessment paper that I’ve posted here in August. It was presented in the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) S4 event which was held on the 8th January 2009.

The presentation does not include additional analysis to what included in the paper, apart from a graph that analyses the bias of coverage in comparison to the Index of Multiple Deprivation (Slide 37) which shows the analysis for urban areas only. In the slide, only areas with size up to single standard deviation from the average are shown. By and large, this means that only urban areas are included.

As I’ve noted, the AGI GeoCommunity ’08 was a great conference, but it was especially pleasing to end up with the paper that I wrote with Kate Jones being selected as runner-up for the best paper competition by the conference team (and I kept myself at arms length from the judging!). Maybe it is a sign that the message about the importance of usability and interaction is starting to gain traction within the GIS community, though I should also note that Clare Davies from the OS raised the issue in the AGI conference in 2005 – so it’s still one usability paper every 3 years!

While you can download the full paper from here, or look at the presentation below, the short explanation of the argument behind the large monitor is actually raising a very significant and overlooked aspect of interaction with GIS.

Inherently, the issue is that interaction with maps is all about the context. You can’t design the position of a telephone pole if you can’t see the other poles, and you can’t understand where you are in relation to a local tube station without seeing it. This is where the abysmal resolution of current computer monitors causes a problem. Because the information density (the amount of information that you can cram into a specific area, say a square inch) of a monitor is low – it’s 10 times lower than a printed map – it’s actually very rare that you can put all the information that the user needs on one screen.

This is why all GIS developers are giving too much attention to zoom and pan operations, as they are perceived as the solution to this problem. However, and this is the most important point – zoom and pan are never part of the user’s task. The user is not interested in zooming and panning for their own sake, but in manipulating the map so they can see the area that they need to perform their task (adding a pole to the map, analysing neighbourhood, etc.). In an ideal world, the GIS will ‘know’ what area the user is looking for and will show it so there is no need to manipulate the map. However, we don’t have this so we must use zoom and pan…

Here is where the productivity issue kicks in. An average zoom or pan operation in a GIS application can take up to 30 seconds. Over a working month, this can accumulate into many hours for a heavy user of a GIS. A larger monitor (24 inch or even 32 inch) will reduce the number of zoom and pan operations, and thus increase the productivity of the user. Considering that a GIS analyst’s minute is costing about £0.30 (a conservative estimation), the large monitor will return the investment within 2 months.

But even more important is the issue of GIS interface design – this analysis emphasises why the decision on how much screen assets are dedicated to the map should take into account the user’s task, and not assume that they’ll zoom and pan!

AGI 2008 logo

As in 2007, I am a member of the Association of Geographic Information (AGI) conference organising committee. Judging by the 2007 conference, this is going to be an excellent event. The range of papers, speakers and more importantly participants created an entertaining and educational two days, in addition to the networking and meeting of some familiar faces, including former students who are now part of the GIS industry.

However, over the past few years, the relationships between the academic side of GIS and industry – especially through the AGI – have not been as close and collaborative as they should be. This is a shame, as the many MSc courses in GIS programmes across the country are a significant entry route to a career in GIS. As I’ve noted, it is crucial for GIS professionals to keep up with the wider field and to learn about developments at every opportunity. This is not just true for people who are working with GIS on a daily basis, but also for academics who are carrying out research with or about GIS and GIScience and who educate future generations of GIS professionals. It is therefore unfortunate that only a few academics showed up to the AGI conference last year.

This year, the AGI has very generously put in a special effort to outreach academia. Two opportunities are available – for students there is a competition for a free day pass and an opportunity to meet prospective employers. For academics and researchers who submit a paper to the conference, there is another competition which is based on the papers that have been submitted with an award of significantly subsidised conference fees. So that’s a clear signal that the AGI is keen to see the academic side of GI at the annual conference – now we, as academics, need to do our part!

As part of a research project with UnLtd, the foundation for social entrepreneurs, I’m co-organising a session in the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, 27-29 August 2008, on the geographicla aspects of social enterprise research. The detailed call is:

Social enterprise and social entrepreneurship have grown in quantity and strength in the last decade in the UK. Positioned within ‘Third Sector’ social enterprises are characterised by their business-like approach to social action and have grown in the UK under New Labour. The relevance of social enterprise to Geography has previously been by-passed by particular discourses that debate the political-economic and socio-economic nature of non-state, non-commercial organisations – namely volunteer or non-profit organisations. This work helps to define and map the landscape of the Third sector but is yet to give adequate attention to organisations and individuals who use their entrepreneurial ideas to deliver social change while aiming to be financially sustainable.

There is a need for more social and cultural geographers to examine the nature and emergence of social enterprise/entrepreneurship in the UK. Whilst some work has explored the interrelationships between people, place and volunteering (Milligan, 2007), work on social enterprise/entrepreneurship in this field is scarce. Social entrepreneurs identify social need at the local, national and global scales; generate interest from a variety of social, cultural, economic and political spheres; and create tangible/intangible social impacts on individuals, communities, and cultures through their encounters with people, environment and place.

For social and cultural geography, social entrepreneurs not only present the opportunity to revive long-standing debates over agency, community, citizenship, space and place but also to make contributions to recent work on mobility, diasporic geographies, geographies of enchantment and especially to rethink the links between modes of economic activity and the creation of social goods.

This session aims to move current debates in geography, e.g. within geographies of volunteerism, forward by looking at individuals as drivers of social change from a new perspective. This is also pertinent given that social entrepreneurship/enterprise is fast becoming the major force of change in UK society. This session stems from a collaborative research between UCL and a leading supporter of social entrepreneurs (UnLtd), and we want to create a forum for debate about the emergence of and contribution to be made by geographies of social enterprise.

We invite proposals from geographers to present papers on:

  • Geographical patterns of social entrepreneurial activities
  • The role of Social Enterprise, Voluntarism and Charities in shaping places
  • The concepts of space within the third sector, and how its geometry changes as result of social enterprise
  • The merits and demerits of mapping social impact
  • The relevance of non-spatial mapping to better understand social entrepreneurial activity.

If you are interested, please send expressions of interest to both m.haklay@ucl.ac.uk and LauraFry@unltd.org.uk

Deadline for title and abstracts (c. 200 words): 10 February 2008

This session is part of two planned sessions about Social Enterprise. The second one is a closed session organise by Dr. Sarah-Anne Munoz, which will focus on Social Enterprise, Social Theory and Geographies of Empowerment.

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